Knowing God, Chapter 14

God the Judge

How comfortable are you with the idea of God the Judge? Now God as Father, or God as friend, or God as One who loves you in spite of all your weakness and failure, indeed those are images we embrace. But I think that our minds recoil at the thought of divine judgment, or at least we feel a bit of unease at the idea that the God, who is love, is also portrayed in Scripture as the just Judge. And yet, if we are going to take our ideas about God from his word, rather than from our own imaginations, we must recognize that the Bible presents divine judgment as a central theme from Genesis to Revelation. Instances of God’s judgment are recorded throughout the historical books in both the Old and New Testaments, and the justification for those judgments is explained thoroughly in the law and the prophets, as well as the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Clearly, if we are to take the Bible seriously, we must admit along with J. I. Packer that, “The Jesus of the New Testament, who is the world’s Savior, is its Judge as well.”

But what are the attributes of the divine Judge? Packer lists 4 as taught in Scripture:

  • The judge is a person with authority. God has the right to sit in judgment of all men, by virtue of his being the Creator. He is the supreme ruling authority who has the power to make laws and carry them out.

  • The judge is a person identified with what is good and right. God is not impartial in his judgment in the sense that he is waiting to be convinced one way or the other. He is a just judge. In fact, Packer explains that “an unjust judge, one who has no interest in seeing right triumph over wrong, is by biblical standards a monstrosity.”

  • The judge is a person of wisdom, to discern truth. God, being all-wise is eminently qualified to sit in judgment of the affairs of this world. “Nothing can escape him,” Packer says, “we may fool men, but we cannot fool God. He knows us, and judges us, as we really are.”

  • The judge is a person of power to execute sentence. In this way God differs greatly from modern judges, who can pronounce a sentence but, having no power to carry it out, must rely on another arm of the judicial system. Not so with God, for “God is his own executioner.”

If these things are true, then God’s work as Judge is an integral part of his very nature, and it affirms to us that God will reward good with good and evil with evil, an idea known as retribution. According to Packer, “Retribution is the inescapable moral law of creation; God will see that each person sooner or later receives what he deserves – if not here, then hereafter.” In fact, if God fails to uphold the law of retribution, then he becomes, himself, a moral monster. His commitment to judge the world, Packer says, is “the final proof that God is a perfect moral Being.”

But what is the standard of his judgment? According to Ecclesiastes 12:14, “God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” In other words, all men will be judged according to our works, and this is also plainly seen in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31-46, where our actions provide an index of the heart, displaying its true nature and content. Packer explains this teaching: “It is not that one way of acting was meritorious while the other was not, but that from these actions it could be seen whether there was love to Christ, the love that springs from faith, in the heart.” And so, ultimately, it is the heart’s disposition toward Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by our words and deeds, which determines the final destiny of each individual. In light of this fact, we must conclude that none of us are fit to face the Lord in judgment, so what must we do? Packer points to the New Testament teaching when he says, “Call on the coming Judge to be your present Savior. As Judge, he is the law, but as Savior he is the gospel. Run from him now, and you will meet him as Judge then – and without hope. Seek him now, and you will find him.”

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