When driving my 9-year-old (twin) daughters to school in the mornings, I will often discuss with them an aspect of God’s character. Regularly, we find ourselves returning to divine justice–specifically, to the idea of a future divine judgment. One day, Rosemary said, “I just love that idea. It frees me from having to worry about lots of things.”
How so? Consider three ways. If there is in fact a future Day of Judgment, it means that…
1. we are free to repent: that is, there is still time. A future day of judgment means that today we can still turn. When the prophet Jonah announced to the horribly corrupt megalopolis of Nineveh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown!”, the entire point of the “forty days” is to give the Ninevites time to repent (which, to Jonah’s self-righteous dismay, they actually do). In 2 Cor. 6.2, Paul says, “Now is the day of salvation.”
2. we are free to obey: no good deed will go unrewarded. Jesus said, “If anyone gives even a cup of water in my name to one of these little ones because he is my disciple will certainly not lose his reward.” Many will not see the good things we do. And even when they do see them, they fail to appreciate them. Our parents, our teachers, bosses, spouses, et al. will often forget what we have done. But God will never forget. To some deeply struggling followers of Jesus, who are contemplating walking away from Christianity, the author of Hebrews writes not “your good deeds are terrible, nasty, half-baked, and lukewarm and will never get you anywhere with God” but this:
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (6.10).
Similarly, Paul tells slaves at the Ephesian church: “the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (6.8).
3. we are free to love (esp. our enemies): the evil deeds of unrepentant men will be punished. The wicked will not get away with anything. As suggested in a previous post, it is the knowledge of future divine justice that enables us to love our enemies (see Rom. 12.17ff). we are free to follow Jesus’ example:
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2.23)
It may not look like it, but the message of a future day of judgment is good news. That is, it is a part of the gospel. It may not be part of the typical Protestant “grace” gospel. But it was part of the Apostle Paul’s gospel, for he wrote of…
“…a day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Rom. 2.16).