Archive

Posts Tagged ‘judgement’

God of love, God of judgement?

March 5th, 2012

This question goes to the very nature and character of God. Why, if God is loving and merciful, is he not be more tolerant and accepting?

The Home Office has a motto, used on its stationery, “creating a free, just and tolerant society” but is it not entirely possible that tolerance can become the enemy of freedom and justice?

Tolerance is regarded as a positive virtue in Western society, yet the word is often still used in a negative sense (e.g. telling someone that their cooking, or company, was “tolerable” is not likely to be seen as a compliment!). Tolerating someone implies that you hold yourself superior to them. You cannot tolerate someone and disagree with them but you can respect someone and disagree with them. The old mediaeval idea of defending someone’s right to disagree with you is much closer to “respect” than “tolerance.”

Justice involves defending what is right and thereby refusing to tolerate what is wrong.

How then can a God of love and compassion also be a God of justice?

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy tells Elizabeth Bennet that he loves her against his judgement and better character, and is shocked when she is insulted by this. We live in a world where people often project a better image of themselves than they really are and so end up not knowing true love because other people fall in love with the image and not the real them. True love can only exist in the presence of true judgement.

This is also seen in a quotation from a Black Eyed Peas song, “If you’ve never known truth, you’ve never known love.” God’s love is meaningful because God has a true judgement of us – he knows what we’re really like.

To act with compassion is to make a moral judgement about something and be moved in the depths of our being to do something about it. If we are not moved in this way, or don’t act, then we do not have true compassion, only moralism, yet we can’t have true compassion in this sense without the moral judgement. God, who passes judgement on our hearts, also has true compassion for us.

How then is it fair that God must sacrifice his Son in order to have mercy on us?

Mercy always comes at the expense of justice. How then can God be both merciful and just? The answer is that God exercises his mercy through his justice, by fulfilling the law on our behalf and suffering the punishment of his justice on our behalf so that justice can be upheld and mercy extended to us.

But isn’t God’s judgement a massive overreaction to our sin?

There is evidence to indicate that more people are sold into slavery via sex trafficking in modern Britain than were enslaved when the slave trade was “abolished” in the 19th century. Whereas earlier movements fought against treating people as objects, we now live in a society where people are encouraged to treat themselves as objects (e.g. we “market” ourselves). The reason why God is so angry at sin is that sin dehumanises us, destroying our capacity to relate to him and to each other.

What is the appropriate emotional response to sex trafficking? God’s wrath at our sin is the appropriate emotional response to our sin.

Isaiah 42: 1-4. God’s justice is described in terms of repairing bruised reeds and not quenching dimly burning wicks. This passage was written in southern Iraq where the marshes produce strong reeds (strong enough to build houses with, unless bruised) to a Jewish community who were not permitted even to snuff out wicks on the Sabbath (dangerous if you live in a reed house!). God is telling us through this passage that his justice will not discard those who are broken from the outside or exhausted from the inside.

Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the church to return to true radical justice and love from his cell in Birmingham, Alabama. The modern church too needs to regain its compassion.

Michael Ramsden

Author: Categories: General Tags: , ,

A matter of exclusion – Michael Ramsden

March 9th, 2011
  • We are asking why is the Christian faith so exclusive?
  • Whenever you say that something is true, you are automatically saying that any contrary statement is untrue.
  • For someone raised in an Islamic culture, Christianity can clearly be seen as a different message from Islam, however, in the West, many would argue that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism are basically the same. Maybe we need to allow the adherents of these beliefs to explain their own systems.
  • Surely if God is loving, isn’t being a good person all that matters? Jesus was very clear, all good people are going to heaven. When someone came to Jesus, asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good, but God alone” (Mark 10:17-18) If good people are going to heaven, and only God is good, then who is going to heaven?
  • In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a story that is pertinent to our situation, which shows us that there are only two possibilities as to how a person can become righteous, either (1) we make ourselves righteous or (2) someone else makes us righteous.
  • A Phariseeand tax collector were both praying at the same time in the temple. The Pharisee thanks God for making him such a good person, the tax-collector beats his breast – a strong gesture of remorse. The tax collector literally prays, “may this sacrifice be for me“. Jesus has come into the world as the sacrificial lamb which takes away the sins of the world.
  • Richard Dawkins argued after the Asian tsunami that it is morally reprehensible that an innocent man should be sacrificed for the guilty.
  • Why this emphasis on sacrifice, why is the cross at the centre of Christian teaching?
  • The answer is that we cannot separate love and judgement.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett rejects Mr Darcy’s eloquent proposal of marriage, because Darcy states that he loves her against his will, reason and better judgement. He claims to love her though he does not know her.
  • Most of us project an image of ourselves which is better than the person we really are, the danger of this is that people fall in love with the image, not the real person. Love is only truly meaningful if the one who loves us truly knows us, but God sees everything, therefore, his love is truly meaningful.
  • True love can only exist in the presence of judgement, “If you never know truth then you never know love” (Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the Love?”).
  • If your sister is raped, and the judge lets the offender go free, saying, “we must be merciful” then where is the justice? In Christianity alone, God exercises mercy through the exercise of his justice.
  • Jesus, teaches us that the man who prayed, “may this sacrifice be for me” went away having received God’s gift of righteousness. Christianity is radically humbling – not only does it teach that no-one is good, but also that no-one can make themselves good.
  • Jesus’ answer to the question, “don’t all paths lead to God?” is that there are no paths that lead to God, only the path that God has made in coming to us.

Responses to questions

(In response to a question asking why each religion confirms the truth of the previous religion, but persecutes the followers of the religion that came after it) – The first point is not true, the later sayings of Muhammad abnegate the earlier sayings (which are more tolerant of Judaism and Christianity), Buddhism arose out of the rejection of the Vedas and the Hindu caste system. The second point is, sadly, true. People have persecuted others on the grounds of religion, however, Jesus explicitly denies the use of the sword for the propagation of the faith, and Paul argues that the fruits of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) should be what people taste when they bite into the life of a genuine follower of Jesus.

(In reponse to a question asking why, in Romans 2, Paul argues that people will be judged by what they know, and whether this means that people can be saved through Christ indirectly) – We are not saved by an idea, we are saved by a relationship, even if that relationship is confused – is this relationship with God a reality in your life?

(In response to a question, asking that, if love is inseparable from truth, how it is that God can only love us when we have been given a righteousness which is not ours, and is therefore untrue)  – The message of the gospel is more radical than that God forgave us when we begged him for mercy, God loved us and paid the price to make forgiveness possible, long before we sought him, when we were still his enemies. We forgive people when we think that they have earned forgiveness, but this is not the message of the gospel, God is offering us forgiveness BEFORE we repent, our repentance is the means whereby we receive God’s forgiveness and the relationship is restored.