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A Theology of Judgment

I saw a quote by Bill Johnson the other day, saying “Let God’s goodness be the cornerstone of your theology.” Let me preface my reaction to that quote by saying I have the utmost respect for Bill Johnson. I am incredibly thankful for his influence on my life and have learned much from his teachings and lifestyle. In short: I love this man. But that does not mean that I cannot respectfully disagree with a position or two of his.

Now I actually want to agree with this particular statement of His, just not with how I think he intends it to be understood. Kris Vallotton summed up Bethel’s position on judgment in this article, where he does a good job of highlighting the real dangers of false judgment. My problem with the article, however, is that no where in it does he state how to discern true judgment. In fact, the overall thrust of the article is to discourage any kind of warning of judgment, implying that all negative things that occur are the work of Satan. So here’s my big question:

If it was clearly God who judged nations in the OT through Noah’s flood and the Canaanite genocide (telling Israel to kill women and children), were those judgments made from God’s goodness? Were those judgments expressions of His love and mercy?

My understanding is that Bethel (and many other Christians) would say that the cross has radically changed how God judges in this age. The problem with that argument is two-fold.

Firstly, it ignores all the prophesies that speak of future judgment (including Revelation) including those where God judges the nations in terrible ways. Isaiah 63 speaks of God “treading the winepress” of the nations, killing multitudes. This prophecy is repeated in Rev. 14 and 19. Psalm 2 speaks of Jesus dashing the nations to pieces like pottery. If the cross has atoned for all sin, and God no longer judges nations, why then does Scripture speak of future judgment against nations? Sadly, many here resort to spiritualizing everything, which reinforces the second problem.

The second problem with this argument is that it fails to provide real understanding of why God executed those judgments in the OT. How could a loving God command genocide? Many Christians have no idea how to answer that question, and their lack of understanding here is what really drives them to a theology that cannot comprehend judgment in this age.

So, let me offer what I think is a biblical understanding of why God judges nations, both past and present. He judges them to ensure that sin does not get out of control. It is essential to understand that death in this life is not the true tragedy, biblically speaking. Though such a comment may seem callous, the focus of Scripture’s warning is the second and final death at the Final Judgment. As Jesus said, “it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Therefore any treatment of judgment—including Canaan’s conquest or the Great Flood—that fails to see God’s mercy as the motivating source is misguided. The principle is simple: God will destroy people groups rather than allow the corruption of their sin to spread to ever more people and so doom all to everlasting condemnation. In bringing judgment, the spread of sin is halted and others are humbled. Such a paradigm is necessary if one considers that God gives true freedom to men to rebel against His ways. If such freedom actually exists, then judgment is the means by which God ensures that rebellion does not get out of hand.

“Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” Psalm 96:13, NIV.

 

We should recognize that God’s judgments are good and true. Nothing He does is evil. He never rejoices in destruction, and neither should we, but we should recognize that His judgments are necessary and good because they put an end to evil. When Christians fail to see the goodness in judgment, they give a mixed and confusing message. Today, our culture is actively trying to redefine the biblical God in its own image, and the Church’s lack of understanding and discernment on this issue are exposing it as a weak moral compass. Jesus speaks of this also:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mat. 5:13) When the people of God are no longer influential in a culture, they are thrown out and “trampled,” which is a judgment. This is the same thing repeated in John 15 for unfruitful branches and Rev. 3 for lukewarm water. Make no mistake, the Western church is currently being pruned, which again, is not a bad thing! His judgments are to be treasured more than honey or gold.

The decrees (judgments!) of the Lord are firm,

and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the honeycomb.

By them your servant is warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

But who can discern their own errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:9-14