Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cry Mercy

Further thoughts on God’s judgement:

The cross:
The crucifixion is a moment of judgement [HT to David Bole]. It is an ironic moment: humanity, represented by the Jewish religious and Roman civic authorities, passes judgement on God, represented by Jesus; while God, represented by Jesus, passes judgement on humanity, also represented by Jesus.
God’s judgement is that all humanity has fallen short, and the required consequence is the death penalty. That’s a stark, and all-encompassing, judgement. But God chooses to take on our penalty in our place. [Now, penal substitution may be problematic for some, implying some sort of monstrous cosmic child-abuse in a Father who allows his Son – even sends his Son – to suffer and die. But it seems to me that such an argument is only possible if we view Jesus as some kind of junior God, or God Jr. From a fully Trinitarian perspective, if Jesus is God, then the cross is God’s sacrificial self-choice – a choice not only made in the safety of heaven, but re-made in the horror of Gethsemane – to which God is entitled.]

Jesus’ return:
Jesus will return, to judge the living and the dead. The crucial question will be, How do we respond to God’s judgement that we fall short, and that he pay the penalty? The choice is to seek to save our own life, and die in the attempt, so losing it; or to die to self, through accepting God’s ruling, and so to live. We find ourselves in our own Gethsemane, wrestling with whether or not we will say, “Not my will, but your will” – which is that none should be lost; which was to die in our place – “be done.” In this sense, we pass judgement on ourselves, and God ratifies our decision. His judgement has already been passed, at the cross.

Mercy triumphs over judgement:
I must confess to being uncomfortable at the idea of God passing or imposing judgement between the two events of Jesus’ crucifixion and his return. At least, I am uncomfortable with the idea of his judgement, as it is usually expressed by people: in terms of loss of [quality of] life – flood, famine, HIV/AIDS…
I think that I am uncomfortable with such an idea because the cross proclaims that God’s judgement on humanity comes to us expressed as mercy. And if his judgement comes to humanity as mercy, how much greater is the coming of his mercy to us!

Where, then, does the idea of mercy triumphing over judgement leave the mission of the Church? Not in trying to convert people – for that is, and always has been, the work of the Holy Spirit. Nor in trying to save people from hell – for that is, and always will be, the work of Jesus Christ. But – as has always been the case – in making disciples: people who can live out a life, in this life, that follows after God; through whom judgement might be expressed through mercy, and mercy might be expressed through…love.

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  1. the 'mercy over judgment' bit & the post below about the flood have been helpful - i'm reading jeremiah at the moment, with obviously a lot of judgment type prophecies, & have never figured out how that whole post-jesus judgment thing works.
    one of the things i didn't like about the bishops' declaration was that, even if God does still operate the same way as he did in jeremiah's time, there was always a call to repent first, not a condemnation after the event.(that's probably all badly explained but i can't think straight at the moment)

  2. hey, dan! great to hear from you. i'm glad these posts have been helpful. to be fair on the bishops - though i still think what has been reported of them since the floods is regretable - it is very possible that they have spoken out calls to repent, but that the media are not interested in reporting them. calls to repent are not so easy to sensationalise, nor so easy to lampoon as declarations of wrathful judgement.

  3. Great to see you and Kate yesterday evening, btw!