One thing I am certain about is the inevitability of judgment. I do not claim to know the exact measures of divine judgment, but I admit that it is necessary. While our judicial system may not always get things right, it indicates our awareness that justice is needed. To deny the need for judgment is to mistakenly deny the dignity of life. That the evil and wickedness that pervade our troubled world are excused is one reason why few have faith in God. Deep down, we all know that justice is important. We all hope for a fairer world in which every act of kindness matters and every act of injustice brings comeuppance. I don’t believe in a distant or exacting judge but in a biblical judge who comes to deliver people from oppression and sin. Biblical judgment portrays an astounding picture of God acting in salvation to rescue justice-deprived people, causing them to shout for joy. It describes extinguishing evil and bringing universal harmony and peace, causing the trees in the field to clap their hands in praise. For those suffering and longing for such justice, God must bring His judgment into the world, making all things right so love can thrive.
The traditional view considers the judgment scary. We’ve been taught that it brings punishment. Because the Judge of the Universe determines every verdict, there is no need to explain or reveal anything. The kind of judgment that plays out in our courtrooms, however, makes it hard to see the theological beauty and sense behind God’s judgment.
When we emphasize a judicial scene with God presiding as a stern judge enacting decisions, understanding is not part of the scenario. We forget that God has chosen to subject His ways to the evaluation of humans, angels, and principalities. To be sure, the judgment includes an account of ourselves and decisions regarding our eternal destinies, but it goes beyond the expressions of guilt and innocence that make us uncomfortable. God desires to reveal Himself and to make things known to us more than we desire to see or comprehend Him. As the all-knowing Judge, He needs no proof or evidence to be convinced about us, but we do. God’s interest in making things known is part of His revelatory judgment, and this theme should change the way we look at it.
Many struggle with fear of judgment, seeing God as an intimidating judge, but through the whole process of judgment, He wants to answer questions. For those who submit themselves to God’s rescuing love, this judgment is fabulous. When I appear before God, I will be presented with my life’s work. In the light of divine reality, I will recognize that God’s love has succeeded beyond anything I could have hoped or expected. As I review each chapter of my life, sequence by sequence and scene by scene, I will comprehend all the events and aspects of my life. I will see that God has always been on my side, which will help me realize the full meaning and purpose of my life. As God brings all this together for me, I will gaze with fresh fascination at each unfolding scene, which will combine to form the most complete and beautiful life imaginable. The more I look, the better God will seem, and I will be completely overwhelmed with joy and fulfillment. Tears will stream down my face as God brings closure to the current chapter of my life. I will be awestruck at the marvelous magnitude of His love for me. I will see how patterns of injury and offense are removed and how forgotten elements of my life are reintroduced within the larger story of divine reality. What will remain after this revelation is a truly human life that I can celebrate.
Once my eyes are opened to how God has defined and affected my life, what will I say to Him? There can be only one verdict: “God, you are magnificent! Just and good are all your ways!” God will grant us each a personal audience. With unfathomable rejoicing, we will all exclaim, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God for true and just are His judgments” (Revelation 19:1–2, NIV).
Instead of abandoning justice or placing it beyond our understanding, God chooses to work through it—exposing the causes of all pain and providing intelligible answers to all troubling questions. During the millennial judgment, God will help us deal with every trauma and doubt we experience, never leaving us in the dark, unable to make sense of it all. In addition, those who have been wronged or oppressed will be set up in loving authority, given the opportunity to judge (Revelation 20:4). Such victims want to be reassured that God will not let hypocrites, abusers, and unrepentant criminals off too easily. God will not overlook these concerns and will give us opportunity to question the measures of His judgment by involving us in His counsel (1 Corinthians 6:1–3). Like Abraham of old, who questioned God’s judgment of Sodom, we may have questions about God’s judgment of people we know. We may ask God about our nephews, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. We may be vexed by the idea of God judging those we love and know. Like Abraham, we may boldly assert, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25, KJV).
How will the judgment address our questions? “Aunt Mary was a good person—why isn’t she here, God?” The judgment provides perspective and confirms the commitments people made, but God doesn’t want us to take His word for it—He wants us to examine the evidence for ourselves until we are completely satisfied.
Instead of refusing to judge, God makes revelation the central theme of His judgment. He emphasizes those who have spurned His love, refusing to be drawn into fellowship, not for the petty purpose of “finally getting even” but in earnest desire to see the world rightly aligned at last (Luke 3:5–6). God will not judge without including other created beings in the decision process. The world must become a perfectly safe and happy place for everyone, and God will reveal what He will do so that we can be satisfied with His decision. God will even accept our sanctified suggestions because He does not want to imply that He punishes people to suit His own needs or lets people off too easily. We can have complete confidence that God will not condone evil or give the slightest appearance of injustice. The evidence will show that God must let some go because they have refused to respond to His absolute goodness. While this involves judgment of the wrongdoer, in the end, everyone passes judgment on themselves.
God will eventually recognize the choices of those who have been persuaded by evil and have refused to be rescued by divine love. When this day of revelation comes, it will expose each person as they are (Revelation 22:11–12). “The judgment at this moment is then: to be what one has actually wished to be but seeing in the light of God what it was” (Jacques Ellul, Apocalypse, 1977, p. 176). This is not an arbitrary judgment but a process of accepting and allowing what we have already done to ourselves. It will become the outworking of the consequences of the decisions we’ve already made. When this process concludes, everyone will have exercised their own say-so toward the accomplishment of God’s judgment.
Judgment is not a frightening court action that we must avoid but God’s right-making actions that we have the privilege of participating in. God desires to make these matters known for our investigation, even accepting our assessments as we all come to realize that He is good and wonderful beyond our imaginations! Such a view of the judgment changes our perceptions about God. At the judgment’s close, everyone will come to the same conclusion, deliberately declaring that God is right and just in all that He does (Philippians 2:10–11). What a moment of discovery it will be, when we all experience these realities for ourselves. God’s plan to reveal Himself and make His ways known ensures not only a just and final outcome but a meaningful climax that celebrates His ever-flowing commitment to make all things right.
Craig Ashton Jr.