Some people don’t believe that God has a judgment. Others who do are terrified about their standing in that judgment. Before we hear the judgment story, here are seven truths about God’s judgment, selected from a multitude of others. The first of the seven enumerates seven truths about God Himself, selected from a multitude of others:
Now here’s the Bible’s account of God’s judgment story.
Earth’s history began with judgment—keen, discriminating judgment—that summarized God’s doings through earth’s first week as “very good” (Gen. 1:31). There was neither flaw nor guilt.
Then things went awry, and judgment had to play a different role as God initiated a one-on-One meeting to let Adam and Eve know how He would correct their violation, restoring all things to life from the death they had brought to earth (Gen. 3:15).
First, Adam and Eve needed to face what they had done: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (verse 11). God’s words showed, with gentle firmness, that He knew, understood, and cared enough to want them to take responsibility and show their willingness to be accountable. Only then could He really help them.
Senselessly, the man and woman tried their worst to not be accountable, with a God before whom “everything is uncovered and laid bare” (Heb. 4:13), whose omniscience fitted Him to handle their loss of the Beginning before they brought it on themselves. Their rebellion did not change God’s nature of love (1 John 4:8). But clinging to sin separates humans from Him and life; it keeps Him from flooding us with all the gorgeous expressions of His love. It does us no good (Isa. 59:1, 2; Prov. 28:13).
The fear behind the first couple’s denials and distortion of facts inspired creative stupidity. First it was the woman’s fault, or God’s, rather: He had made the woman; He had given her to the man (Gen. 3:12). The woman used her chance to take responsibility as her cue to be more creatively stupid: it was the snake’s fault; the snake had outsmarted her (verse 13).
Human duty begins with accepting responsibility and ends with giving account of our stewardship (1 Cor. 4:2; Luke 16:1-13). Instead, Adam and Eve opted for dissembling.
Cain’s judgment, like Adam and Eve’s, was primarily an offer to show transparency: “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen. 4:9).
Cain responded like his parents, missing his turn, his chance to acknowledge the truth: “I don’t know.” God always knows when we’re lying, even when we don’t. Cain didn’t seem to: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (verse 9). “Cain had gone so far in sin that he had lost a sense of the continual presence of God and of His greatness and omniscience.”1 Rather contradictorily, his murderer’s mind still demanded fairness for himself: “My punishment is more than I can bear” (verse 13). He was criticizing God’s judgment.
God’s verdict—individual, regional, or cosmic—consistently includes an investigative phase that gives thinking, choosing creatures an opportunity to admit their actions and review the possible consequences.
Centuries after Cain, similar elements invest the Sodom and Gomorrah story: omniscient God conducts an investigation to give human beings the chance to receive mercy (Prov. 28:13). But the people muff their chance and miss their turn to be pardoned. Note the possibility of mercy that brings the Lord out into the heat of Mamre at midday: “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me” (Gen. 18:20, 21).
God’s verdict—individual, regional, or cosmic—consistently includes an investigative phase that gives thinking, choosing creatures an opportunity to admit their actions and review the possible consequences. The divine lawsuit is one of His more significant postures, in which He “enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people” (Isa. 3:14). These investigations are for the sake of creatures dwarfed by the universe of facts and ever attracted to personally sympathetic explanations. They are for our information, not for God’s, because He knows the correct order of everything.
He enquires because He is humble, not because He is ignorant. But we take His meekness as license to be freely judgmental about Him, denouncing Him for everything—fussiness about trivia like distrust, disobedience, and rebellion; books of record that document everyone’s behavior; arbitrary punishments; destruction of innocents; and generally, the commitment to having any kind of justice system at all.
But God’s justice system is not unique to Planet Earth. Our interaction with extraterrestrial intelligences does not require monumental IT departments, endless translation code, multiple satellites in the sky, and access based on affordability; or searches for funding, extended doctoral training in Rosetta Stone decoding, and communication ingenuity across the light years; or teams of careful scholars in biological and sociological research spooling out hypotheses and tests, and finally reeling in valid generalizations and established theories.
Had it not been for sin, we all would freely interrelate with both natural and supernatural orders throughout the universe, whether we eat with chopsticks or knives and forks. Diet and attire are negotiable across space-time. Conformity to God’s law of life is not. Witness Jesus: “Looking unto Jesus we see that it is the glory of our God to give. . . . All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. . . . Through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life.”2
Sin, in Eden or elsewhere, makes an argument contrary to the nature of existence: that ordinary life runs by getting, and life supreme by getting everything that God, manifestly selfish, withholds. Agreeing with this lie meant defying and contradicting the universal law of life, and bringing death to the planet (Rom. 6:23): death to violated nature, death to nature’s violators. This is why God sometimes includes nature as a witness in His lawcourts (Ps. 50:4). A trial isolating Adam and Eve would not do: everything in God’s universe is connected.
Jesus personally holds everything together (Col. 1:17). Piecemeal fixing—Band-Aids for Adam’s shins, surgery for the violated Eden tree branch, and physical therapy for angels’ wings—would not do either. Grace would sustain existence for as long as necessary. But fixing everything would require sin’s elimination from the physical realm and from the queries of fallen and unfallen intelligences, as well as the eternally secure restoration of God’s original gift called life. God would have to bring everything back from the dead.
God’s judgment shows that He has taken everything and everyone into consideration. In His inexhaustible devotion to us He has also borne the blame for our sin. Infallibly innocent Himself, He has paid the penalty of death on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21), in an unimprovable judgment that fits the contours of eternity. By living sinless and dying for guilty sinners God has triumphed over the forces of cosmic evil (2 Cor. 2:14; Col. 2:13, 14), quashed every accusation of Satan against Himself or us through past, present, or future ages (see Zech. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:10; Rom. 3:21-26), destroyed Satan’s works (1 John 3:8), and given eternal and total victory to every saint who will believe in His name and accept His sacrifice on their behalf (2 Cor. 2:14; Col. 2:10).
Now, sinners who come to know the heart and way of this God, whose love does not change, relate very differently to His judgment than do those who do not understand the basics, or are still determined to dissemble and self-justify. Instead of hiding in fear, they enthusiastically invite His examination: they know that it is the way to sure and complete vindication because His righteousness has become theirs and equips them to stand, whatever the scrutiny, when God brings all into judgment. As the psalmist petitions: “Judge me, O Lord”; and at the same time declares, “I have trusted in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide” (Ps. 26:1, KJV; see also Pss. 7:8; 35:24; 43:1).
The metaphors vary, but the truth is the same: we are enveloped in Christ’s righteousness (Phil. 3:9); Christ lives out His life in us (Gal. 2:20); Jesus, our Savior, is our judge (John 3:16; 5:22, 27); Jesus is our advocate (Zech. 3:1-5; 1 John 2:1); Jesus is both our lawyer and our judge (John 5 and 1 John 2); judgment is passed in our favor (Dan. 7:22), and our accuser is consigned to eternal damnation (Rev. 20:7-10). The message is the same: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Those who do not grasp the basics of God’s judgment perceive everything differently. Satan’s fiction of life by getting distorts all their adjudication: in the hard sciences their study of natural phenomena proves that chaos is the order of things; in the social sciences their analysis demonstrates that selfishness is the single strongest indicator of viability; in their sport, aggression pays and deference is pathetic; in their art, irreverence and the bizarre earn more plaudits than unselfishness and respect; and in religion they, in all the rainbow colors of diversity, placate conceptions of humans’ ugliest red and yellow, black, white and green selves that they project as their gods.
Nevertheless, before God, for love’s sake, metes out His final executive judgment, all thinkers, even the most skeptical, will acknowledge that He is fair: His exhaustive documentation (Dan. 7:10; Mal. 3:16; Rev. 20:12, etc.) and the thorough review He provides for, including millennial review even after the resurrection of the just (Rev. 20:4), will move His enemies to concede His justice. Hence the confidence of Paul writing to the Philippians, that “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10, 11).
Lael Caesar, Adventist Review associate editor, is glad for the judgment at Calvary.