One of my pet peeves in the world is that so, so many of us do not seem to understand the difference between civil and criminal court, or the 3 branches of checks and balances within our government. Obviously this is a serious problem that impacts our politics, but also our culture and our faith.
Take for instance “judgement,” almost always that is a fear driven word, a negative word, a word related to criminal court and proclaimed guilt. Perhaps it is simply because I am from the wrong side of the tracks, but almost nobody in my world goes to court enthusiastically, expecting a redress of grievances, grateful to finally get to see a judge, eager to receive justice.
We take these same attitudes over into our faith, “judgement” usually being perceived as a negative thing, you the defendant found guilty and trying to avoid being fried. Judgement is thought to be all about punishment.
People often disagree with me, but read about “judgement” in the Bible and in Jewish tradition, and about the whole nature of judges. Solomon for example, was a judge, not trying to sentence anybody for a crime, but granting the mother of a baby a redress of her grievances, a court willing to right her injustices. We see that same kind of thing all throughout scripture, the persistent widow insisting she be heard and given a favorable ruling from a judge. We forget that our cultural concept of criminal court, a fair trial, defendants rights, sentencing guidelines, is all a modern invention. Until fairly recently, criminal court didn’t work like that, if it existed at all. Pretty much you were just guilty. Court, “judgement,” was far more prevalent for those who had been treated unfairly. Judgement was the righting of wrongs, it was a civil process often related to property crimes, not necessarily the sentencing of criminals.
Over and over again in the Bible we see the word “judgement” used to actually indicate favor. You have found favor with the Lord. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” An inheritance is a judgment, a ruling, a form of favor.
I have the hardest time conveying this concept to people! They think it’s all very liberal, wishy washy, allegedly threatens the very foundation of our doctrine. Without a wrathful God prepared to come in vengeance and rain down criminal judgement and punishment on all people, our whole Christian narrative falls apart. As it should! Yes indeed, as it should. If our narrative is actually built on the idea that God is a wrathful judge coming to punish sinners and condemn our enemies, well then we have bought a lie, swallowed a false narrative, and missed the message of the gospel.
So, I shall continue to trickle like water on stone or perhaps like dripping rain on a tin roof, but I beg of you all, if you hear the word “judgement” and it just conjures up images of condemnation, punishment, fear, vengeance, and the joy of watching all your enemies slain, you are missing the message. Dig a bit deeper. Get into His word.