By David Norris
When I was twenty years old, I had to go before a judge. I was a Bible college student, and the issue was my car. I lived in Minnesota, and because we had three other cars in our household, mine would not fit in the driveway. I didn’t mind parking on the street except for one thing. When snow removal was taking place, it was illegal. Unfortunately, in Minnesota, snow removal happens a lot. As a consequence, I got a ticket. Rather than pay what I deemed to be an unfair fine, I decided to fight for my rights. I would speak reasonably to the judge, explaining the facts of the case. There were mitigating circumstances. The law was unjust. I was a poor student studying for the ministry.
In the courtroom, I sat and awaited my turn. Case after case was called, and each time the judge not only handed down a stiff penalty, she visited upon each defendant stern rebukes. In the two cases before my name was called, the judge issued jail time to the guilty, along with severe chastisement. By the time I stood before the judge, I was very happy it was only a parking ticket that was at issue. She demanded, “How do you plead?”
Although I was now a little tentative, I leaned on the bench to offer my most persuasive argument. But before I could get three words into my oration, the judge rebuked me with a harsh voice: “What do you think this is�a bar? Get your hands off my bench!”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Was your car issued a ticket?”
“Yes it was, your honor.”
“And were you parked in the street the day snow removal was taking place?”
Well, yes but…”
“But nothing. You are guilty. What are wasting my time for?”
There was something about the absolute certainty of the judge that stole away all my
self-righteousness. Her stern face peering down at mine made it evident that just because it did not please me or was not convenient, I could not disobey the law. I might just as soon have asked the courthouse to move to another state as to have presumed that the law should bend to my will. I paid the fine.
While standing before a human judge can be sobering, more sobering still is to understand that one day the Judge of all the universe will hold court. On that day, the small and great, the rich and poor, and the weak and the strong will each stand before Him. Revelation 20:11 declares that on that day His unmitigated glory will cause the earth and sky to be ripped away. Every knee will bow to Jesus Christ; every tongue will give Him proper homage. As each answers to God for himself, any pretense will be stripped away as every thought and deed is reviewed (Matthew 12:36; Revelation 20:12-13). Those whose names are not found in the Lamb’s book of life will he cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
Final judgment doesn’t get much press these days. Pulpits and pews are too polite to mention it, while the culture ridicules the notion. I witnessed this firsthand in a debate some months back when Christopher Hitchens, one of the “new atheists,” cast his teeth into the face of God in a debate against Dinesh D’Souza. Hitchens’ most repeated refrain against the Divine was related to what he perceived was the unfairness of God. “How could a loving God damn someone for eternity because of what they did in a few short years of life?” he scorned.
There are really two challenges posed by such a question. The first challenge has to do with why, in the first place, God should be in charge of things; the second has to do with the relationship between time and eternity. Let us consider each of these challenges in order.
The challenge as to who gave God ultimate authority is an old one. It was first proffered by Lucifer in heaven when he defied God’s authority and in open rebellion attempted to ascend to the very throne of God. Lucifer’s complaint against God’s authority was then imported to Eden. The serpent lamented to Eve the utter unfairness of her ban from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan intimated that God was holding out on her, and by choosing her own path, Eve could have incredible benefits without unnecessary submission. Satan sold Eve on the idea that God’s attempt to be in charge was unfair, in essence insinuating, “Who does God think He is; God?”
As a matter of fact. God does happen to think that He is God. Indeed, the essence of sin is to insist that we rule our own lives, for in so doing we appropriate to ourselves authority that can only belong to God. Satan is at work once again in our culture purporting that because God has no right to judge, it makes no sense to believe in Him. Such a complaint is telling, for it acknowledges God’s existence even while complaining against it. It is a toddler’s tantrum.
D’Souza, the man debating against atheist Christopher Hitchens, challenged Hitchens as to why he was so angry with God. If, after all, God didn’t exist, it was nonsense for Hitchens to write books and form organizations that spew out venom against the Deity. Analogously, D’Souza explained, it would be as senseless as forming societies against unicorns and issuing vehement protests against such creatures. Indeed, at its base, rejection of God’s existence is about one thing�an effort to eliminate His authority.
Hitchens raises a second issue: How is it that God allows temporal actions to have eternal consequences. The topic is much larger than what can be addressed here and has implications beyond Hitchens’ complaint. We all have questions about how God will render judgment. While the gospel message freely offers eternal life through Jesus Christ, what about those who live a good moral life but are not Christians? Or what about babies who cannot believe? What about the aborigine who never even heard the name of Jesus?
Some time back, I did a study of the early twentieth century Pentecostals Andrew Urshan and G. T. Haywood. Interestingly, both these men focused on this same question and speculated as to how God would judge those who were not filled with the Spirit. Further, I have read other religious and philosophical perspectives as well. Analogies are used, principles offered, and the Bible is mined for hints. In the end, though, any such speculation is just that; speculation. Much of God’s ways stands beyond our grasp. As tiny creatures on this little speck of the universe called earth, we seek to fathom the mind of the One who simply spoke the cosmos into existence. We are finite; we seek to grasp the infinite. It is a bit like looking through a telescope backwards.
Two things, however, are certain. First, God is good. We must trust the very character of God. However it is that God judges, in whatever way God ultimately shows mercy, He will judge righteously, and we must leave judgment in His hands. The biblical presentation of the final judgment is a place where wrongs are made right. It is a place where the egregious deeds of tyrants are condemned before all, where malicious words and selfish actions are weighed on God’s balance, where sin is purged and eternity begins.
The second thing about which we must be clear is that the church has just one message: The gospel is good news. We have no other plan to offer. Through the work of Christ, the God who created us invites us into relationship�a relationship that begins in time and consummates in eternity.
When I was twenty years old I stood before the judge who pronounced me guilty. No excuses were allowed nor exemptions granted. Yet the fine was small; the judgment minimal. But the stakes are much higher when it comes to the final judgment. Defenses will fly before the power of the One from whom the cosmos flees. Yet, the good news is that for those who are born from above, the final judgment holds no terror. Not only are sins forgiven; from the perspective of God, they are forgotten. Mercy holds sway, peace has been purchased, and through the work of Christ, eternity has already been won.
From, “Pentecostal Herald” /www.penterostalherald.com / February 2009/Page 10-11, by David Norris
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