There’s a rather squirmy line in the Apostles’ Creed: "From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."
I admit that reading those judgment passages of Scripture is uncomfortable, to say the least. And yet I think we have made them much worse than they need to be. The doctrines surrounding God's judgment of us humans have been some of the most misused words in Christian history, and unfortunately, we don't have to go back very far to see that abuse of those words continues in modern culture.
For instance, 9/11 had people declaring that the tragedy of the planes being flown into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was God's judgment on us for any number of reasons.
If you have a devastating illness, there are plenty of people willing to label your illness as God's judgment. And there are hordes of people who think that the problems and tragedies that hit their families are God's punishment for past misdeeds.
In the face of all of that, I want to stand up and say, "Stop it!" If those types of judgments were handed out in our criminal courts today, we would be declared barbaric and probably put on trial ourselves for crimes against humanity. So where do we get off thinking that such behavior is characteristic of God?
If God is love, why on Earth would we think that God would give us some dread disease as a punishment? Would we do that to someone we loved?
Here’s the thing — judges also declare people to be innocent and our deeds to be righteous. To judge is simply to make a determination about the nature of an act.
Judgment is not condemnation. If there was to be no judgment, there would also not be the opportunity for us to hear the words "Well, done, thou good and faithful servant."
If I have finally wrestled a bad habit into the ground and learned to live my life better, I want a God who will recognize that. When I faced a difficult challenge with grace, it will be nice to hear God's judgment of that. I don't just want to hear about the bad things I've done. I also want to hear about times when God was pleased with something I did and to have a chance to see how little seeds of kindness might, at times, have become huge strong trees of good in the world.
When I really think about it, I want there to be a time of judgment. I can sit with that comfortably, only because I know the judge. The matter of judgment is one of the reasons that the Christian message is so important.
The Christian proclamation is that Jesus reveals to us the nature of God, which is that Jesus is God in the flesh, and we can know what to expect from God by looking at how Jesus behaves. And what do we see in Jesus? When someone strikes him, he does not strike back.
When a woman is brought to him caught in the act of adultery he does not condemn her. The one who dies and rises and ascends to God, so that we might do the same, is the very one who returns to judge the living and the dead.
There is absolutely no reason to be afraid because Jesus is God, and God is love. Amen.
“On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.