I know I’m not alone with all my troubling questions about how God will judge me. If everything that I’ve ever done has been and is being written down, shouldn’t I be scared?
I know my questions are not crazy. They aren’t out of turn either. Because He’s judging me right now. So I need to have some basic facts. What is wrong? I don’t want to be doing it. And: What is right? And: What are my rights? And: How should I view judgment in light of such verses as this one: “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18)? Why should things be so scary for even the righteous? They’re barely making it! So the rest must be hopeless. And maybe that’s me, because I know I’m not barely anything—especially righteous! When I was growing up, these queries were always in my mind. And I think many people will relate to the answers I give, because I’m no pastor or theologian, just an ordinary person.
Growing up in an Adventist home I learned that I should always do what was right because angels are writing down everything we do. Keeping our hands from being idle was very important; so was making sure our eyes and ears stayed pure, thinking only about whatever was true, noble, right, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). At the end of time, they said, my life would be laid out for all to see. However embarrassing that may turn out to be, I would know—and everyone else looking on would too—that God is just. When I was a child, my strongest motivation for doing right was fear.
Just as earthly priests had a two-phase ministry in the earthly sanctuary, so Christ has a two phase ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
Adventist education at home, church, and school taught me that God is a taskmaster, and informed me of the investigative judgment. I understood that one day something called “probation” would close and Michael would stand up (Dan. 12:1). Then those who were just would be just, and those who were not would suffer the consequences. I was one of those scared kids who decided to follow the rules: I wanted to be just.
My goodness lasted for a little while. But high school was a challenge. Many of my schoolmates were supposed to be Adventists, just like me. But sometimes you could see that we were mostly Christian in name only. We did believe in doing right to avoid “suffering the consequences,” but my fear for the future failed in the face of greater present consequence: I was terrified of being the odd girl out. Between fear and peer—fear of God and peer pressure—peer consistently won out. We all wanted to fit in and be cool. So we went wrong instead of right. I didn’t ask everybody else, but I imagine that they decided the same as me. Whether or not, I decided I would worry about the other consequences sometime later.
Satan makes such a fool of his followers; he did for all of us. I was searching for something I could never find by following him. Hanging with the cool crowd didn’t satisfy my yearnings. It didn’t because it couldn’t (and still can’t). And when the judgment questions got their chance inside my head, as happened sometimes, then guilt tied my belly in knots and made me sick. I was disobeying the God of the rules. It left me dirty and naked before Him, the judge of the universe. And His verdict was always the same: GUILTY! I could not hide. I could not run. I could not stand.
As a coed, even when I could tell myself that I believed Jesus’ sacrifice paid for my sin, I still felt a weight on my shoulders. Until that Sabbath day, my sophomore year, when our college pastor, John Nixon, preached a sermon on the concept of forgivenessthat would forever change my view of the Mighty Judge. I experienced in my soul the God who is love. For the first time I saw a being who desired to save me more than I desired to save myself. I saw a God who chased after me for “goodness and love . . . all the days of my life,” leading to David’s conclusion: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6). The Lord is my shepherd.
I found myself reading the Bible through different eyes. I read with a light I had not had before. I came across Zechariah 3, where Joshua stands before God’s judgment, dirty and accused by Satan. But the Lord’s words silence Satan: “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (Zech. 3:2). Then the Lord replaces Joshua’s filthy clothes with clean, rich garments.
I read and realized that I was the same: filthy like the high priest, with Satan ready to accuse, but with God already committed to protecting me. The angry, condemning eyes whose look overwhelms me with shame . . . : those are Satan’s eyes, not God’s. No! God gives me His fresh, clean clothes to wear. His miracle takes my filthy-ragged righteousness, and all the rest of my sin and shame away in a “single day” (Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:9). God is not the “hard, exacting taskmaster”; He is my “best friend.”*
After too many years of fears and cravings, God brought me to realize that the grief I felt all that time was unnecessary. Sure, I was disobedient. But being scared of God means being afraid of love, and that makes no sense. But even though I misunderstood His character, He knew that I needed Him, and He kept seeking and wooing me. I am so thankful that our God is one who will chase after us even in our sin. I am so thankful that our God is willing to take off our dirty clothes and dress us up nice and clean.
I am so thankful that I have been able to overcome the misconceptions of God’s ongoing judgment. I don’t have to live in fear of judgment, because instead of “GUILTY!” I know now what my verdict is: forgiven!
* Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 103.
Anna Miller, happy pastor’s wife and mom of three, is an English as a Second Language [ESL] specialist in Colorado Springs, Colorado.