God's Judgement Seat
What gives a center to your life? What helps you make decisions when no alternative is completely right, and none fully wrong either?
Years ago, shortly after we married, my husband and I moved to a new state, and searched out a new home church. We settled into a little congregation of about 40 people, where we lasted a year before finally deciding this place just wasn’t for us: our values were in all ways too different from what this group thought right and desirable for followers of Christ. The pastor took our decision personally. He parted from us with, “I’ll see you at the judgment seat of God.”
This was said in anger, but it’s something I’ve thought on since. Christians believe all things reach settlement when we stand before God on the final day. That pastor’s words were evocative for me because the judgment seat, which I suppose I didn’t much separate from the His throne, often rose in my mind when I prayed, or I visualized it because it produced in me an honesty I couldn’t reach any other way. Self deception cleared when I saw Him there. The judgment seat (or the throne) helped me locate truth.
What gives a center to your life? What helps you make decisions when no alternative is completely right, and none fully wrong either? Anyone who knows me well knows I dislike criticism, and avoid conflict whenever possible. (I hear this is a personality type, so I let myself off the hook for the time being over this being a character flaw.) How strange that I would find God’s judgment a sanctuary.
I see the judgment seat as an essential part of my history. I expect to end my temporal life there, and from there enter into my eternal life. It stands as the fulcrum between the two, casting its rays in both directions. The following is from Kristin Lavrensdatter, a novel set in medieval Norway. As a protestant I don’t believe in purgatory, but this deathbed scene could not express my emotions better: “Lavrens spoke much now of purgatory fire, which he looked soon to enter; but he was quite without fear….He had heard that he who was firm in the faith would never for a single moment lose from before his eyes the bliss to which the soul was going through the scorching fires. Kristin…remembered dimly from her childhood that time when the King’s sworn men from the Dale set out for war against Duke Eirik – it seemed to her that now her father looked forward to his death as he had looked forward then to adventures and battles.”
Judgment extends peace to us, but how we reach that peace matters. The pastor from the first paragraph isn’t the only person to see in God’s judgment an opportunity to settle personal scores. He had no venue to control us and might never see us again: if he needed the last word and felt confident enough, invoking Judgment Day might work. Personally, I don’t much feel this sort of confidence.
Another story: I was once in a library and overheard an elderly gentleman asking the librarian to show him photos of the atomic bomb hitting Hiroshima. As she opened a large book on the table, he quietly told her that he liked to look at these pictures because he was stationed to Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. His face had a dreamy quality, ash pillaring up before him. Did those photos soothe the terror and helplessness he experienced as a young man, as the warplanes screamed overhead? After all these years, was the cup of revenge not full? Did it just feel good?
This is what I don’t want God’s judgment to turn into for me. I sorely need it to be more meaningful than my wrongs, however real they are. I wasn’t planning to see Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, but a friend wanted company. As I watched those scenes of horrific violence I responded in a way I hadn’t expected: peace stole over me. This suffering I now witnessed healed the world’s wounds. We could stand before God because of this. I envisioned the judgment seat for years, and disliked the cross so much I couldn’t bring myself to wear one. In that theatre, for me they fused: one made the healing of the other possible.
Crosses, abcdz2000 http://www.flickr.com/photos/abcdz2000/
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