I heard it in the days, weeks, months and now even years following 9/11. I heard it when the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004. I heard it when the country of Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. I heard it in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. I’m hearing it now, after the powerful tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma. And I’ll confess, I’m sure I have contributed to the conversation myself. What I’m talking about is what I call “a theology of judgment”.
I hear that these tragedies are happening because of God’s displeasure toward nations and people who (some assume) do not believe in Him. That these people have somehow done something to merit God’s wrath being poured out upon them. That somehow the condition of the world is irredeemable. That God has lost patience with us, His image-bearers, and that He’s just tired of this redeeming business. That an unseen line has been crossed and now judgment must be meted out.
If this is true, why then do any of us yet live? Why haven’t I been struck dead yet? If that’s the criteria we use, then who of us should still live? If we live in the economy of judgment then I should have long ago been zapped with no chance for redemption. But no, here I am, there you are, still living and breathing, sustained by the very Spirit of God as is every person on the face of the earth.
To be honest, I can’t wrap my head around this. It makes me wonder if we believe in God at all.
Scripture does seem to bear this out, particularly in the Old Testament. But then we come to the New Testament and the advent of Jesus, where He has a few things to say about this line of thinking. Jesus turns much of this stuff on its head. In Acts 17, we read that some of the Jews were incensed because the followers of Jesus were turning the world upside down. I would submit that Jesus Himself turned the world upside down. He showed us a different way, a better way. He did not go around striking people dead because of their sins. He gently drew them to Himself. He was the perfect reflection of God. What He did not do while He was here on earth should say as much as what He did do. What Jesus did and did not do here on earth reveals to us the heart of the Father.
I wonder if, when we uphold this type of theology, we are not actually going back to living under the law? Do we really believe the Gospel that Jesus came to live and teach – the Gospel of Grace and Truth and Redemption? I’m not saying I don’t believe that God is not a just God – He is. But I wonder if we’re making some of these things out to be something they are not.
It seems to me that this theology of judgment has been borne out of an abundance of truth, grace having been cast off along the way, thrown into the ditch together with redemptive time. Jesus showed us how to speak Truth with Grace, within the context of redemptive time. Dr. Henry Cloud says “Truth (without Grace), can be called judgment.” Is it then any wonder that we end up with judgment theology? Let’s not forget to couple truth with grace. Otherwise, we’re probably merely passing judgment. And we’re likely missing the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.