Judges have been in the news recently. The most controversial ruling is the 5 to 4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that our nation’s healthcare plan is legally valid. According to a New York Times/CBS poll, more than half of Americans believe the decision was based on the personal or political views of the justices rather than the constitution. The result is that only 41% of Americans trust the Court to do their job without partiality. This decay of trust can’t help but further weaken our nation’s stability, for if anything is fundamental to a society, it is the assurance that its judges will do what is just. For that reason, expect even greater debate and scrutiny when the next justice is nominated to the Court. Americans will want to be convinced that he or she is fully qualified for the task.
But, then, we want to know the same thing about God, don’t we? Before we put our lives in His hands and let Him determine our destiny, we want to be sure He’s qualified to do so and that He’ll always be fair. So let’s ask the question: What gives God the right to judge us? And how can we be certain that His rulings will always be fair? In reading my Bible, I have found 4 answers to that question:
He is our Creator. To qualify as judge, the first thing a person needs is authority. Supreme Court Justices derive their authority from our Constitution, which they promise to uphold. But God’s authority is based, not on a human piece of paper, but on much more authoritative grounds—His position as our Maker. As our Maker, He owns us, and as our Owner, He has the right to judge us according to His standards. Psalm 24:1 reminds us, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and all who dwell in it.” Everything in this world belongs to God—the ground on which we walk, the food that we eat, the air that we breathe. Even our bodies belong to Him because He made them and gives us life. For that reason, we are accountable to Him for all things. As Psalm 100:2 points out, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”
He is impartial. Because God is perfect and complete and not dependent on anyone else for His life and happiness, there is nothing with which we can ever hope to bribe Him. Nor do we have to worry that He will favor someone over us because of their power, position, popularity or intelligence. For who can give to God anything He didn’t first give to us? All that we have and ever hope to be is a gift from Him. He is therefore not a respecter of persons. Nor is He ever guilty of favoritism. This is the reason for Paul’s command in Colossians 3:24-25, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
He is all-knowing. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Breyer, and Kennedy are brilliant human beings. But they can be wrong because they can only see the short-term impact of their decisions. They can also be fooled because they can only judge what they see on the surface. Whereas Hebrews 4:13 says there is nothing hidden from God’s sight, but “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Furthermore, the Lord understands the consequences of all His rulings for generations to come. Acts 15:18 declares, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.”
He is never cruel. Severe? Yes! Cruel? Never! Take babies, for example. Some time ago, a mother came to me nervous and asking me to baptize her newborn son. When I asked her why, she said, “Because if anything happens to him, I want to make sure he goes to heaven!” So I showed her from the Bible that she didn’t need to worry about that. After all, if we human beings are righteous enough not to punish children for their crimes, how can we think that the Judge of all the earth would be less merciful? God holds us accountable for what we know (“To whom much is given, much will be required.” Luke 12:48), but for the one who knows nothing about sin, there is no accountability. They’re exempt from judgment. That’s why, speaking of little children, Jesus said, “Of such is the kingdom of God,” indicating that what babies receive from God is not judgment but love, because they’re too small to be accountable for their actions. So even though we urge parents to dedicate their children to God, we wait until they can understand their need of salvation to baptize them as believers.
Nor is it babies only who are shown God’s mercy. It’s all of us! Remember Jonah? Jonah fled to Tarshish because he didn’t want to preach to the Ninevites. So God put pressure on him. “Preach to the Ninevites or drown in the sea.” So Jonah gave in and preached to the Ninevites. But he wasn’t happy about it because the entire city immediately repented and was spared God’s judgment. That made Jonah mad because he didn’t like the Ninevites. Chapter 4 says, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O, LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
God’s anger isn’t like ours. When we get angry, it’s often quick and explosive with little warning or self-control. We say, “Enough is enough,” and BOOM! We blow up at those around us with little thought about the fallout. The news is filled with sad stories like the article about the father who became frustrated while toilet training his little boy. What did he do? He upended him in a moment of anger and deposited him headfirst in the toilet saying, “That’ll teach you to mess your pants!” That’s human anger—quick and violent. Whereas God’s anger is patient and preceded by countless offers of divine grace to help us change.
For example, when God decided to destroy the world with water, how much time did He give the people to repent? 120 years. For 120 years, Noah not only built the ark, the Bible says he was also a preacher of righteousness, warning everyone in his generation to repent. And once more God has warned us that He will judge the world, not with water this time, but with fire. And how much warning has He given us so far? 2,000 years! Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
For these reasons—because of His wisdom, patience, impartiality, and authority as our Creator—only God has the right and ability to judge us. But that raises a third question I’ll answer in my next post: What should God’s justice teach us?