One of my favorite Christian thinkers is C. S. Lewis. I wish I could have been present at the Eagle and Child when he and Tolkien sat around discussing their writings, sharpening one another’s skills. I long for someone of his intellect to sharpen my own with, but alas, I must content myself with his writings…..
I recently read an essay an essay he wrote extrapolating two views on judgment in the Scriptures: the Hebrew view and the Christian view. I was glad to see he later pointed out they are both present in one another. It would be too simplistic to divide them. Plus, if our God really is the same yesterday, today, and forever (which we know Him to be) than there must be some homogeny between the two.
The Christian view was said to be one of dread. After all, we have the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the judgment seat of Christ. Protestantism also has sermons like Jonathon Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. When Mr. Edwards read his sermon to his church, the congregants were clinging to the columns of the building for fear of falling into the flames of hell on the spot. I myself sometimes tremble when I read Scriptures that teach that we will even be held to account for every thoughtless word uttered. Can you think of any thoughtless words uttered you’d like to take back? I can and am ashamed by them.
The Hebrew view, however, is said to be one of rejoicing. God is the Righteous Judge who will avenge all the wrongs. They look forward to His judgment. “O Let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge…” Psa. 67:4 As Lewis pointed out, judgment is great if you are the plaintiff and not the one “in the dock”.
The reason judgment is accurately portrayed as something we should both dread and rejoice in, is because we are consistently in need of both. I have often said that what we humans really want is justice for ourselves, but mercy from others. Though, it really should be the other way around. We have all done things, often inadvertently, that harmed others. On the flip side, we have all experienced wrongs done to us. Some wrongs, like a scraped arm, are easy to overlook. Other’s leave gaping wounds that need attending to or we could perish.
The Scriptures are clear in what to do on both sides of judgment. If you’ve sinned against God, repent. If you’ve sinned against man, repent and make it right. If you’ve lied about someone, correct the lie. If you’ve stolen, pay restitution. Sometimes you need your bishop to step in and help with this, if the issues are serious enough. Other times they can be dealt with between one another. However, human help sometimes fails. So, what do you do then?
I once sat in the car of a woman who was in distress and needed an ear. After we talked about her current situation, I told her she should go to her bishop. This was serious and needed more authoritative ears than mine. She began crying and told me stories of former bishops she’d had dealings with that handled things….well, badly, is the only word I can come up with, and she was afraid to go to her bishop now for fear of the same thing happening. My heart ached for her. Her testimony was shaky because of those previous instances. She wondered how the gospel could be true if those bishops didn’t hear the Spirit correctly and know who was lying in her situation. After all, don’t they receive a special endowment of the Spirit to be the judge in Israel?
While it is true they are set apart for their position, it is naïve and, I will add, unfair, to think they will do their job perfectly. After all, I am set apart for my callings at church. Does that mean I will never miss a beat while conducting music, or that I will always have an answer when someone asks a tricky question during one of the times I’m teaching? Absolutely not. I’m human, and I suspect everyone around me knows it very well. So, are bishops. They will make mistakes, so don’t judge them too harshly. It is a fallen world and none of us are immune.
The problem is, we have to live in this fallen world. What if you are the one with a gaping wound and everywhere you turn there is no help? I think that is how the woman who spoke to me felt. I have had some gaping wounds myself. This last year I have run many times to my Jehovah-rapha, the God who heals. A wrong had left me feeling like someone had ripped out all the essential parts I needed to live. I no longer trusted anyone. But, I’m not the kind of person who wants to live like that. I want to love people, to serve them, to communicate with them thoughts and ideas. So, I went to my Father in Heaven and asked Him what to do.
He took me to His Son. The Savior, who had lived His life in service to His people. Think how many weary days He spent teaching and healing them. Then, when they were there for so long that they ran out of food, he miraculously fed them all too. He gave away many of His nights too. They ate up His service, following Him everywhere. Everything He offered they took. For a while they adulated him, even laying palms at his feet as He rode into Jerusalem. Then, just a few days later, these same crowds cried, “Crucify Him!”
They abandoned him to the Roman barbarity guised as justice, called Him a heretic, and allowed Him to be executed. Even those friends who were closest to Him abandoned Him. The horrible agony He felt at His crucifixion must have been intensified by the emotional pain He felt being alone. Then, when things could get no worse, even His Father in Heaven had to leave Him briefly, something neither you nor I will ever experience.
There have been times in my life, weary and wounded I have knelt in prayer, and felt His hand on my shoulder saying, “I understand.” Normally when people say that, they don’t. But He does. Yet, He came out whole and righteous, still able to love and serve His Father. How did He do it? The first epistle of Peter tells us how:
“For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps:
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth;
Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously;” I Peter 2:21-23.
There is that Hebrew sense of judgment again. There is a judge in Israel who does not err. When you deal with the wounds of others righteously, it makes you more like Christ. You come out as a shining star leading others on a path of righteousness. You can do that, because you know there is a God who will one day right all the wrongs.
I’ve spoken the above passage to people many times. Once a woman said, “Good. I hope he never repents now and gets a taste of what he did to me at the judgment.” I don’t agree with that line of thinking. It wasn’t Christ’s thinking. He wanted them to repent. Even in the midst of His suffering He asked His Father to forgive them. We should too. Pray for those who’ve wronged you. I try to diligently pray for those who’ve harmed me, though not always as graciously as I could. Fortunately, He pricks my heart when I’m feeling callous. One day, if they repent, we can sit down in heaven together. Hopefully they’ll repent quickly and I can trust them even sooner and even sit down on earth with them-with all wrongs put aside.