Judgment

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Are you ready for your final exam?

When I taught in the university, my final exam was never a surprise. The week before the final I would pass out ten questions as homework and announce that five of these questions would be on the final exam. Now these were not easy questions—my questions were designed to encourage my students to master the subject. My good students invariably typed up answers to all ten questions and simply turn all of them in on the day of the examination; my lazy students showed up empty handed and unprepared to answer the questions.

God’s judgment works a bit like a take-home exam. We know the questions from scripture and from our ongoing relationship with God and His people, the church. Jesus’ commands and teaching are not a surprise.

So why does judgment create such drama?

One answer comes from a surprising source. Immanuel Kant observed that an evil person was not one who wills evil, but one who secretly exempts themselves from judgment, perhaps hoping that God does not exist (Arendt 1992, 17) [2].

Another answer is that many people avoid making decisions, hoping that they can escape accountability. Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who, having escaped Nazi death camps before coming to America, was asked to report on the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961) for the New Yorker magazine. Eichmann was the German officer during the Second World War who organized Adolf Hitler’s program of extermination of the Jews known as the “Final Solution”. Arendt attended the trial expecting to see a hateful, anti-Semite only to discover that Eichmann was more of a petty bureaucrat, someone unable to think for himself. In the case of Eichmann, the face of evil was that of someone unable or unwilling to think for themselves (Arendt 1992, 97–101).

Why do we care about the Hannah Arendt story? Because we worship a righteous judge in heaven who expects that we will exercise sound judgment here on earth. We must be good stewards of the wisdom and knowledge of truth entrusted us. Not judging is not an option—robotic thinkers walk the path of Adolf Eichmann, not the path of Jesus Christ. We are accountable both for judgments we make and those we refuse to make.

So what does God’s judgment look like?

The picture of God as a divine judge brings to mind the story of King Solomon and the two prostitutes. Both women had babies but when one baby died the women fought over the living child. Solomon tested the hearts of the women by threatening the child with death. In doing so, the women revealed their true feelings for the child and he was able to return the child to its rightful mother (1 Kgs 3:16–28).

Just like Solomon, God is a passionate judge who pursues truth and refuses to accept lies at face value [3]. Woe to the person who invites such testing! This is perhaps why the Lord’s Prayer includes the petition: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt 6:13)

Footnotes

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Kant further speculated that true justice requires that our lives be examined in their entirety which is only possible if resurrection and eternal, impartial judge exist. Therefore, justice and accountability require both eternal life and God!

[3] If you do not like Solomon test, think about the testing of Job who innocently lost everything (Job 1). Or, how about testing of Jesus in the desert? (Luke 4:1–13).

References

Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Judgment

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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