What about justice? We hear the word justice being thrown around a lot. Everyone’s trying to get justice but when was the last time anyone anywhere ever said anything about God’s justice? People certainly love to pin God’s name on their version of justice, whether it be the social justice of today or the “Gott mit uns” justice of yesterday. The idea that God has his own justice escapes most people entirely, along with the idea that he judges people based on his own justice – his own standard. In the minds of many God is everywhere else but never on the throne of judgement deciding fates – and certainly not sending people to hell for ever and ever. “That’s all just scare tactics. I’m sure God’s not really like that.” And oftentimes when people attend funerals – even of people they never got along with – even people who did them lasting harm, they’ll assure themselves and others that such and such “has gone to a better place.” It makes sense if you don’t know the real God; if you think God is altogether like you (Psalm 50:21); tolerant and liberal. Especially so if you think that everyone deep down really does have a good heart and that it would be rather unfair for God to send anyone to… “that other place”. And viola! Just like that you can get rid of hell, sin, and a God who judges and you can replace him with a god who’s “nice”.
But is this the real God? Not by a long shot. And I’m so glad of this to be honest. Just think of all the monstrous people past, present, and future. Imagine if God granted them all entrance in to paradise: Foucault, Ishii, Stalin, Dawkins, Cortes, Kinsey, Mao, Epstein, Longshanks, Soros, Gengis, Abagnale, Capone, Hitler and all these other horrible people. Imagine if he welcomed all the gangsters, con artists, ruthless businessmen, perverts, fight starters, liars and well…pretty much anyone if we’re honest. Heaven would be ruined! The most precious jewel – the sparkling city, burned and looted. It’s citizens molested, oppressed and trampled. It’s spender desecrated and defaced. And God himself profaned and blasphemed! How awful a place would heaven be if God let in everyone. No! God is a good God. He will not suffer the insolence of wicked men. He will not mix his children in with the children of the devil. Hallelujah! God is a God of justice. God is a God who judges.
“He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people:” (Psalm 50:4)
“It is God who judges, he brings down one, he exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7)
“Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:9)
How does he do this?
Firstly, God judges by his law. This isn’t just limited to the ten commandments, but also to the teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the mount. Someone might claim to follow the ten commandments and be a ‘good’ person but God’s standard isn’t good. God’s standard is perfection. Jesus was an example – not for us to follow, but an example of perfect righteousness showing us that nobody except Jesus has ever kept the law of God. James 2:10 backs this up: “For whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles just at one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” As if this weren’t enough Paul says in Romans 3:20 (although not Paul but God) “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” and later he says in 5:20 “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” (emphasis mine) God gave us the law, not so we could obey it, but to reveal and magnify sin in our lives so we would have a good reason to put our faith in Jesus. But for those who put faith in themselves, the law brings death. “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” (Romans 7:7-11)
Secondly, God judges by his record. This is a book that we don’t have access to. God has given us the saga of the patriarchs, law and it’s surrounding context, the historical literature, the songs, the proverbs, the writings of the prophets, the gospels, as well as the new testament letters and the apocalyptic literature, but we do not have the book/s of the record. This book remains closed until the final day when everything will be revealed.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small. standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-13) “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-11)
Imagine this for just a second. Everything that everyone has ever thought, said, or done is recorded. Nobody gets away with anything. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Luke 12:2)
Thirdly, God judges by the witnesses. I honestly don’t know why God does this seeing as he has a perfect record, nevertheless we have written in scripture that God calls forth his witnesses when he sits in judgement. Although we know about Satan being the accuser of the saints (Revelation 12:10), we’re not told of him being a witness. Lies are his native language (John 8:44) so he cannot be trusted. Furthermore, we don’t have any record of him accusing his own children. This might lead them to repentance and he certainly doesn’t want that.
One of the witnesses is Moses. Jesus says to the pharisees; “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.” (John 5:45) God himself is also a witness; “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God.” (Psalm 50:7). Another witness is a person’s own conscience “Since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their own hearts. their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2:15-17). Still another, is sin itself; “For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us…” (Isaiah 59:12). Perhaps most frightening is the witness of inanimate objects. Yes they have a voice, one that only God can hear! He hears the blood of Abel and brings it forth to testify against Cain; “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) and in Habakkuk the house built on corruption testifies against the one who built it! “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin…The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.” (Habakkuk 2:9 and 11). Imagine how many will be put to shame when God makes their smart phone talk, or their computer, or even money! (James 5:4)
Lastly, God judges based on what people do.
“Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Psalm 62:12)
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:10)
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27)
God doesn’t let people off the hook because they had a bad day, because they had a headache, because they belong to an oppressed minority. Nothing. God judges people based on what they do. He doesn’t look at all the surrounding factors and say to himself “Well you came from a bad family in a lower socioeconomic area.” He doesn’t do that. There is nowhere in the Bible we see God judging people like this. His judgement is perfect. He goes through people’s lives with a fine tooth comb. Nobody gets away with anything. “But I tell you that men will give an account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36). People are held responsible for their actions. They won’t be able to blame society, they won’t be able to blame the alcohol, they won’t be able to blame their anger. They will give an account. God is a God of justice. God is a God who judges.
This can be strangely refreshing for those who have so often seen justice perverted in our world. In fact the Bible often draws on the rejoicing of God’s people that takes place on the day of judgement because of God’s judgement. You’ll find this theme throughout the Bible. God rescues his people from Egypt in the book of Exodus and judges Pharaoh and his whole army by drowning them all in the Red Sea. Then look at what happens. Are God’s people ashamed? Are they embarrassed about what God has done? No. They sing a song: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1) We see something very similar at the last judgement. God calls his people out of Babylon and brings judgement. Then God’s people shout with joy: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgements. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants. ” And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” (Revelation 19:1-4) Perhaps the most graphic picture of God’s people rejoicing at the judgement of the wicked comes from Psalms where the David prophesies about the final judgement: “The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalm 58:10)
There will come a day of reckoning. Those CNN reporters who lie about everything. They won’t get away. Those thugs that roam the streets at night. They won’t get away. Those ruthless billionaires who grind the faces of the poor. They won’t get away. God will bring all of them together on the last day, and they’ll give an account for what they’ve done. Nobody gets off scot-free. God is a God of justice. God is a God who judges.
Lastly, it should be acknowledged, that sometimes it can feel like we’re under the judgement of God. I personally remember I felt this way for several years. My whole life just wasn’t working the way I wanted it to and I didn’t know why. I thought God was angry with me and that he was punishing me. It was only later on that I realized this couldn’t be further from the truth. The same is true for you if you belong to Christ Jesus. If you belong to him there is no condemnation. (Romans 8:1) All the wrath that you deserved has been spent on Jesus. All judgement has been taken away and God sees you as pure, and righteous, and good. There is nothing left in you for God to judge! Sometimes though when life is filled with pain it certainly can feel like God’s angry with us, but that just can’t be because of what Jesus has done for us. But God does shape us through suffering, and he does refine us through fire. In a talk I heard a while back, Joni Eareckson Tada quoted this poem and I found it encouraging so I thought I’d share it with you all here.
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man, and skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world might be amazed,
Watch His methods; watch His ways.
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay
That only God understands,
While his tortured heart is crying,
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes.
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about!