Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Good News on Judgement Day

So this month I'm reading Romans 2:12-3:20.

In the last post in this series I asked myself, how can it possibly be good news that Christ will one day judge the secret thoughts of my heart? I was kind of hoping that the secret thoughts of my heart would be, well, forgotten. Now that would be good news! But Paul says it at 2:14 and 15:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, a according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Now this pure-hearted Gentile that Paul mentions here is a hypothetical case. In fact, he doesn't exist. Paul is making the point that circumcision is not the crucial thing when it comes to salvation. In fact, as he will say in a moment, everyone is sinful, and therefore all our talk of justice (on the day of judgement) is at best troubling and problematic.

But (here's where it gets tricky) even the hypothetical Gentile do-gooder has conflicting thoughts in his heart which either accuse or excuse him, and even these will be judged on that day. If even he has thoughts which accuse (and he keeps the law!), how is it good news that those thoughts will one day be judged by God in Christ?

A few thoughts: first, deeds matter, but deeds spring from the motivations of the heart. The heart matters too. True justice will not focus only on the tree, but also the root. There is no sin that is excused by the supposed good intentions harbored in the heart. And there is no outward law-keeping that is not undermined by the conflicting thoughts of the heart.

Second, the heart is a mess. Even the hypothetical Gentile has conflicting thoughts; some that accuse, some that excuse. But that fellow's measuring stick is probably crooked anyway. Note: the accusing and the excusing thoughts have their source in that same heart from which the sin itself sprung. In other words, it's untrustworthy. The bottom line is, whether his thoughts accuse or excuse is not really important. He is not the judge. To give you an infamous example, Adam and Eve judged that their own disobedience was small enough, insignificant enough, as to be covered up by a fig leaf. Surely God wouldn't notice....

Third, as Paul will state later, we all come into this world as children of Adam. Which is to say, like him, root and branch. Sorry to have to break the news....

But all this begs the original question. Paul says, and I wonder how it can be, that it's good news that God will judge our inmost thoughts "by Christ Jesus." And my question is, you call that good news?

I'm going to venture a guess at the answer to this question. I think the "good news" part of this statement hangs on the last three words of the passage. God will judge our hearts, Paul say, "by Christ Jesus."

This is where the mercy is. In Christ Jesus. God will look into our hearts, see what is there in all its inglorious reality, and look to Christ Jesus for the judgement. And Jesus will say, that sin also is one that I bore to the tree.

As I've mentioned before, I've been reading a book by Darrell W. Johnson called Discipleship on the Edge. On page 32 Johnson is summing up what it means to say that Jesus is the alpha and omega. The fact that Jesus is first and last says something very important about him. The fact that he is first (arche) means that he is the archetype of all creation. "Everything has its beginning in him and takes it shape from him."

And the fact that he is last (telos) means that he is victorious. He is the "inherent destiny" written into creation, the inevitable consummation, just as the telos of the acorn is the towering oak. The shape of eternity is Christ Jesus.

Here's Johnson:
The implications are staggering. For one thing, Jesus' claim finally explains the anguish of life. We were made to live his way; either we do, or life does not work. At the heart of so much of our anguish is choosing to go against him or his way. But Jesus' claim [that he is the first and last] gives tremendous hope. Jesus is going to have his way. We are going to become like him.
Christ Jesus bestrides history, but he also came into history, took on mortality, for the purpose of bringing about his vision for creation. That is, as Paul will soon say, so that he would be the first of many brothers.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
That my judgement is in his hands is good news indeed!

1 comment:

Nate said...

That is quite a message!