The Justice of God
One of the grandest scenes in the Bible must be the vision of the Last Judgement. The great white throne, and the one who sits upon it, from whose face the earth and the heavens flee away. To whom the sea gives up its dead. And death and hell are emptied of those within them. And they are judged, every one according to their works.
It's a picture of absolute power. Of all things cowering before the terrible justice of God.
Once people lived under the shadow of that judgement, with the kind of feelings we reserve today for the threat of nuclear destruction. And even now most of us treat the idea of God's final judgement with mild respect. But human justice is a different matter. In every age, in every culture, our bumbling attempts to deal justly with each other have inspired not fear, but laughter.
From Africa comes the story of a woman who went looking for some goats which had wandered away from her village. As she walked along she met a man resting under the shade of a tree; so she asked him if he'd seen the animals. But the man happened to be deaf; and he thought she was asking the way to the nearest waterhole.
He pointed in the direction of the river, so the woman went on, and by sheer luck found the missing goats there. But the youngest one had fallen and broken its leg, so she picked it up and turned for home. When she came to the tree she stopped to thank the man who'd given her directions; and she held out the young goat to show him what had happened.
But once again he couldn't hear what she was saying, and thought she was blaming him for the accident. 'I had nothing to do with it', he said. 'But I found them where you said they'd be', she replied. 'Go away and leave me alone!' cried the man, and in no time they were arguing violently.
People gathered to watch the quarrel, till in a rage the deaf man struck the woman. 'You all saw that!' she yelled. 'I demand justice!' Then the woman, still carrying the baby goat in her arms, the deaf man, and all the spectators went off to find the local judge. And the judge listened carefully to each of them, nodding wisely as they talked.
But that meant very little, for the old judge was as deaf as the man in front of him; and what's more, he was blind in one eye. When everyone had finished arguing and shouting he raised his hand for silence. And then he pronounced judgement. 'These family rows are a disgrace to the country', he declared. 'The man must stop beating his wife. And you, woman, in future don't be late with your husband's meals! But as for that beautiful child in your arms, may she have a long life, and be a joy to both of you.' Then the crowd broke up, and the people went away, saying to each other, 'Ah, what a wise judge he is! How did we ever manage before Justice came among us.'
I rather like that old judge. I feel more comfortable with his foolishness than I do with the terrifying God of the last Judgement. But perhaps we don't have to choose between the awesome perfection of divine justice and the ridiculous muddle we humans get ourselves into when we try to sort out right from wrong.
That scene of the Last Judgement isn't the only biblical description of God as judge. And from what's said elsewhere in the Good Book God must be even dottier than the judge in the story. For he makes the sun rise on the evil as well as on the good, and he sends down the rain on both the just and the unjust. In Christ, he meekly suffers the brutality of jailers and the injustices of human law. And he finally takes the place of a criminal, stretched out on a cross. This judge has one great failing: he loves us. Though earth and heaven may flee away, we needn't fear such a God.
© Colin Gibson