Transcendent Truth in a Postmodern World: The Judgment of God

In any age, scripture is squeezed into the particular mold that culture creates.During Medieval times people were crushed into a system of works run by an institutionalism that didn’t always play by the “rules”. This called for Luther, Calvin and others to reinforce ancient truths. Near the end of the Enlightenment, scripture was subjected to an onslaught of speculative and imaginative criticism from people who wanted to learn about the “historical Jesus” but could not stand the Jesus of scripture. These ‘rational’ minds were met by other scholars who reinforced, and continue to reinforce ancient truths. Today it seems, in a culture where the feelings fueled mob rules without any objective reference point to guide, the Bible is commandeered to accommodate a myriad of personal preferences. Scripture, it seems, has now become servant of peoples personal whims and worries. And while this always seems to be the case, man now, however, has an unprecedented loss of respect for divine architecture of scripture and this laissez faire attitude has not been adequately guarded against in the Church. Of course, this was the point that the counter-historical Jesus scholars were making, but today, years after the initial battle, it seems that society by and large, Church included, has yielded to the flippancy which pervaded early criticism.

We can see this in the way the contemporary Christians meet societal norms. Since feelings are paramount today, and no one wants to be bothered with anything that feels bad, it has since become acceptable to gloss over several foundations of the Christian faith—appreciation for the authority of scripture being one of them. In what follows I hope to touch on at least a few of these foundations, the first being divine judgment.

Judgment

Unbeknownst to the modern world, actions do not speak into a void, they have moral consequences. When evil is committed, there is a price to pay and it isn’t simply time in rehabilitation. While God’s ultimate goal is restoration and salvation for His creatures, those who do not receive His forgiveness will remain spiritually dead after physical death and be held accountable for their actions after they leave this world. Philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that without the Christian understanding of eternal judgment, morality becomes incoherent since good and evil are not rewarded or punished—a zero sum game where points are scored but no one wins or loses. Jesus believed this as well, in fact the entire gospel is predicated on the wrath of God. Although some may argue, justifiably perhaps, that this isn’t the sole foundation of Jesus’ message, it remains a predicate nonetheless. We all know that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but save from what? His gospel proclamations make it clear that God’s wrath is on the horizon (immediate or not) and He is now in the process of gathering His elect before the storm.

Consider some of the first sermons preached by John the Baptist, and Jesus:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near …  You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” John in Matthew 3:1, 8-10.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

“And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell … If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:22, 29-30.

As Jesus continues His ministry the idea of judgment and His purpose in saving others from it only becomes more clear (cf. John 3:16-19, Matthew 20:28, 26:28, Luke 13:2-4). The foundational truth of Jesus coming to save people from the coming judgment is neatly summarized by John after Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36).

Jesus did indeed bring us the greatest message of hope, reconciliation and comfort that humanity has ever had the privilege of hearing. Our world has been flipped upside down through the message of His foreign, heavenly love. But this love is only as potent as it is because of the fact that it is foreign, and comes from a world where perfect righteousness exists, and alongside of it, perfect hatred for evil—without compromise. J.I. Packer speaks about the “otherness” of the gospel without the idea of judgment:

“if we are silent about these things (sin and judgment) and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are, in effect, bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is “another gospel.” J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, (parentheses mine).

I hope that this does not come across as simply wanting to push the idea of hell, that is not my aim, nor was it the intention of Jesus I believe. Instead, hell is simply a real consequence for sin and the basis for Jesus’ message of redemption. Without it there’s nothing to ‘save’ from and the sacrifice of Christ was only some kind of twisted message of self-denial. No, my friends, Jesus came to pour out His life so that we would not have to face the destruction of ours. God loves us and is not willing, that is not desiring, to punish anyone, His heart is to redeem and save (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-10, John 3:17). Judgment is not a comfortable thought, nor should it be since even God is pained at the prospect of people having to suffer it. But the Bible paints it as a reality that undergirded much of Jesus’ message. Those who wish to call themselves followers of Him are required to stay genuine to the substance of His truths. For the contemporary Christian this means first, adhering to the truth of scripture, and secondly being “unashamed” (cf. Romans 1:16) to share it with their surrounding world. One should think upon the consequences of not communicating God’s judgment if it is in fact a reality that God is trying to warn us of. In the final run, the question always returns to whether scripture is allowed to speak to us, or if we desire to impose upon the words of Jesus.