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The Compassionate Truth About Judgment

It’s too simple to merely say that our God is a God of love and nothing else. If God decided to put his gavel down once and for all, don’t we see that this would create many more problems than it would solve? If a judging God did not exist, then we would be living in a world of Darwinian chaos in which the strong eat the weak and only the powerful and cruel survive.

Miroslav Volf, a Croatian familiar with the effect of injustice on victims, believes that in order to fight injustice, we must believe in a God who holds bullies accountable for their bullying. In his masterpiece called Exclusion and Embrace, he delivers a hard truth to those of us who want a God of love with no judgment:

“My thesis . . . will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. . . . I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone. . . . Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. . . . The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect non-coercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.”

This statement should hit us mostly sheltered, comfortable, and protected folks right in the chest.

For love to be truly loving, there must be judgment. If there is no judgment, then there is no hope for a slave, a rape victim, a child who has been abused or bullied, or people who have been slandered or robbed or had their dignity stolen. If nobody is called to account before a cosmic judgment seat for violence and oppression, then the victims will never see justice. We need a God who gets angry. We need a God who will protect his kids, who will once and for all remove bullies and perpetrators of evil from his playground.

‘How Much Do You Have to Hate Somebody?’

Jesus spoke so much about eternal fire and brimstone, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the everlasting miseries of hell precisely because he loves us. His warnings about judgment invite us to flee beneath the shadow of his wings for shelter and refuge. He talks so much about God’s wrath because he desires earnestly that we never have to taste it.

One of the most loving things we can do is compassionately voice the truth that hell, just like heaven, is for real. Consider the words of Penn Jillette, an atheist comedian:

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward . . . how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

If we believe in God, and if we love the people God places around us, then we must at some point risk social awkwardness and tell it true. As we do, we must also remember that hard truth must be delivered truthfully—in a spirit of gentleness, respect, and love-saturated tears.

True compassion demands it.

This essay is a modified excerpt from Scott’s first book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking SidesUsed by permission from Tyndale House.

This article about the compassionate truth about judgment originally appeared here.