“After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” – Rev 19:1-2

It is not normal for us to think of the judgment of God as a cause for celebration–but there it is, right there in the biblical text. The great multitude in heaven lauds the Lord of all for the truth and justice of his judgments. A similar refrain can be heard in the Psalter where the Psalmist declares:

“Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.”
(Ps. 98:1-3)

Resound, o sea! Clap your hands, rivers! Sing and dance for joy you mountains! And why? Because the Lord is coming with judgment. The world will be governed no longer according to the caprice of human beings, but by the righteousness and equity of God.

Judgment, to the biblical mind, is not bad news. Judgment is good news for a world blighted by wickedness. By God’s judgments, the world and its inhabitants are put right. Human life can flourish again, when God rises up to judge.

When was the last time, I wonder, that you thanked God for his judgments?

I grew up in a great home. My parents were (and are) principled, godly, and – above all – attentive. Nothing escaped them. One night when I was 11 or 12, after dinner, I pulled a package of Certs out of my pocket, and casually popped one into my mouth. Something about it struck my dad as odd, so he asked me, “Where did you get those from?”

“From the church bookstore on Sunday,” I replied.
“And where did you get the money from?” he returned.

He knew I didn’t have money, and I knew that he knew that I didn’t have money, and so the question had an air of inquisition about it. And I was starting to feel the heat.

“I found it…?” I answered.
“Found it where?” he replied.

I concocted some half-baked answer. He didn’t buy it, and sent me on an errand: “Go let the dog out, and when you come back, come back with the truth.”

Now the truth was that I had swiped a silver dollar off the bathroom counter of one of my friends’ houses, and used the filthy lucre to procure my minty contraband. But there was no way in heck that story would fly without penalty, so I needed to construct an alibi.

I came back to the table. “Where did you find it?” he asked. I tried another alibi, which again he did not buy, sending me on yet another errand in the hopes that I would come to my senses and more or less willingly admit the truth.

We did this for ten or fifteen minutes perhaps, until finally I confessed that I had “found” the money at my friend’s house. My mom looked horrified and exclaimed, “Andrew Arndt, you do not ‘find’ money at other people’s houses. You ‘take’ money from other people’s houses. You ‘steal’ it. That was stealing. Where exactly in the house did you ‘find’ it?” When I told them that I had discovered the increasingly-filthier-looking lucre on their bathroom counter, my mom and dad’s reaction was tantamount to apocalypse, and the judgment was swift:

“You will call them and confess your crimes. We will drive you there and you will give them the change back. You will pay them the difference as soon as you are able.”

Humiliating. The kicker really hurt: “You will forfeit Saturday morning cartoons in order to write, by hand, one hundred times, Proverbs 19:22, which says, ‘It is better to be a poor man than a liar.’”

Oh, and I also had to fork over the rest of the Certs. Lesson learned.

I think that when the Bible speaks of God’s judgment, it is speaking of something like that. Judgment is the process whereby a righteous God names the evil of our lives and does something about it – he exposes, quarantines it, and finally destroys it. He does this for a single, simple reason: he loves us. Divine judgment is what divine love looks like when it meets the evil in us and in the world around us and takes action to destroy it.

C.S. Lewis put it memorably when he said:

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’ … concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring…” (The Problem of Pain)

Advent is a season that puts the issue of God’s judgments front-and-center. John the Baptist came to prepare the people for the first “advent” of the Lord Jesus. God is coming to clean house, he said. “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9). His ministry fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:5-6). The proud will be brought low. The lowly will be lifted up. Those whose lives are producing fruit inimical to the kingdom will be cut down. Order will be restored. God is coming…

The promise of the judgment of God I think is one of the things that rings most true for me about the Christian faith. I know that many hear words like “judgment” and “wrath” with different overtones, but to me they bespeak God’s abiding interest in us. In an extraordinary passage, Barth writes that God “receives” us in his judgment. He notes, “He judges man because he wills to treat him as his own” (CD II/2). That is, judgment is not God’s rejection of us. It is not his “no” first and foremost. It is his “yes.” In a similar vein, the holocaust survivor Elie Weisel once said that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.

Let that soak in.

For God to overlook the evil of the world, for him to overlook the many gross inconsistencies and blatant hypocrisies of our lives, for him to overlook our greed and covetousness, our pride and vanity, our preferential treatment of those we stand to gain by and our disregard for those who cannot benefit us, our racism, sexism, and serial abuse of power, our low grade contempt for those who differ from us, our lack of respect for the created order and our indifference to the living conditions of those who come after us… for him to overlook those evils and many more would not be love. It would be indifference. It would be God’s throwing the white flag of surrender over us, a sundering forever of the bonds that unite him and us. It would be the dissolution of all things, the unmaking of the cosmos.

But God is love. And love is anything but indifferent. God cannot – God will not – give up on us; for to give up on us would be for God to stop being God – a thing God is quite unwilling to do.

And so God judges us. And will judge us. He will put the world right – and us with it. The process will hurt – at times we will feel like we are dying. But the promise is that we will be made whole, and holy through it. All things new.

And that is good news.

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