Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Judgment and Justice

I was reading a passage of scripture the other day - one of those places where Jesus talks about judgment - you know, separating the good and the bad at the end of the age. Heaven and Hell stuff, for a lack of some better terms.

These passages often terrify and/or anger people. I'll admit I'm still occasionally scared that I won't measure up to God's sense of justice, which is, I suppose, a cut above being constantly scared, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. We always seem to be our toughest critic. I know I beat myself up for not living up to this ideal I've got planted in my head. Yeah, I'm not as terrible as some people, but I'm pretty pathetic most of the time. Sometimes it's tough to think God's going to see me and think, "this is what I'm looking for."

Of course, when I think like that, I'm substituting my own sense of what God's justice should be for what God's justice actually is. We're scared or angry with the concept of judgment because we just assume God is going to get it wrong. We might not think that consciously, but we're so accustomed to what passes for "justice" in the world around us, we just assume justice is not all that close to just. We've seen how tough it is to apply a strict set of expectations across the board without getting someone unfairly convicted. These experiences really throw off our perception of God.

In the end, though, God is going to get it right. That's what justice means. Just because what appears to be justice in our world is often wrong or corrupt or unfair, does not mean "justice" in general behaves that way. It's a bit of a nebulous concept and there's some measure of circular logic involved: God will get judgment right... why... because God is the kind of person who gets judgment right.

That's just how it work, though, at least in the intellectual exercise of predicting the future. I'm not sure of the details, of course, but I suspect real judgment and real justice are more about relationship than rules and laws. We humans have this innate desire to treat everyone as if we're all the same. The same crimes deserve the same punishments, every kid gets the same education, every person in the same job deserves the same pay. That kind of thing.

We're all different, though. And while we humans may not be able to appreciate the full nuances of our fellow human beings, I suspect God will. In the end, I don't believe anyone will have any problems with where they end up.* People who don't end up in heaven will really not want to be there.

That's not to say hell is an enjoyable place, but I suspect the misery of heaven could be worse than the misery of hell, to the right kind of person anyway.

It's not just paradise vs punishment after all. That stuff comes from popular religion, weak generalizations, and our tendency to make our theology reflect our culture and not the other way around. If you read scripture closely, heaven is not "whatever you love best in the world," it's not a self-indulgent, individualized Utopia. It's just not like that.

I'm not sure exactly what it is like. I'm not someone from one reality can fully appreciate another. Between here and now, something changes. I can make a lot of guesses, but they won't really get us anywhere. Whatever happens, it's going to be what we deserve and we're all going to be ok with that. I imagine, in some form, our future is going to be an extension of our present. That's why it seems pretty imperative to get our present right.

There's a lot of be said about what exactly those options are - heaven, new creation, hell, annihilation, etc - but for the purposes here we're going to say heaven and hell in the classical sense.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Good post Ryan. I, like you, struggle with reconciling my own human experience of justice with God's justice. More than that, I think many of my friends who object to Christianity do so because they fear God's justice will be no different from man's. I tend to see heaven/hell and judgement as very much like what C.S. Lewis lays out in "The Great Divorce" (and to a lesser degree some of what Rob Bell talks about in "Love Wins"). Very much a free choice made by each person and not one that is made in an uneducated sense. I think the "rules" that await us in heaven will be very much about tearing down some of the walls we have here on earth that prevent us from loving each other completely and I think our eyes will be open to what the best way to live in community is. Anyway, good topic and interested to hear what others think about this as well as it certainly seems to be one of the biggest objections to the Christian life I have heard.