Three Answers For When God’s Judgment Seems Problematic
Our theology breakfast book reading has been tackling the difficult issue of election and the various doctrines of grace. One of the issues that arises during these kinds of discussions is the matter of God’s justice. How it is just for God to choose some and not others? How it is just for God to create so many people only to send most of them to Hell? How is it just for God to send people to hell when they are dead in sin and cannot obey God’s commands and the gospel?
So the matters of justice and hell are regular features in these discussions. It is one of several reasons why this topic is so big and creates such powerful responses. Weighty matters are on the line; and there are a variety of answers for all of these questions. But I want to look at three different approaches to this question. First, a theological answer. Second, a biblical prayer answer. And third, a look at how the occupants of heaven respond to God’s justice. Consequently, this will also answer the question many have about lost family members. How can heaven be wonderful and sorrow-free if we know that children and other loved-ones are in hell?
Theologically, R.C. Sproul gave some good answers about this in a past Ligonier Conference. He understood the scoffing that arises within us when we are told we will see things differently in heaven than we do now. He felt this once as well, but eventually came to understand some fundamental realities from the Scripture. First, we don’t really know God. Not fully. We can’t conceive of infinite holiness, and that consequently means an inability to understand true justice. Secondly, we don’t really know ourselves. Even at the simplest level we have trouble knowing ourselves, and hence the command in Romans 12:3 that we should have “sober judgement” about ourselves. This problem increases a thousand-fold when it comes to our sin because none of us grasps the depth and extent of our own sin. Therefore, we have a double-blindness. We are blind to our own sinfulness, and we are blind to perfect holiness. This double-blindness means true and full justice is well outside the scope of our vision. We understand it to a degree, and feel it, for instance, when we see children abused. But never fully. Finally, we don’t know the depth of the change that glorification in Heaven will mean. As 1 Corinthians 15 says, it is as different as an acorn compared to a mighty oak.
All of this is to say that when we start to feel distrustful that heaven will be as wonderful as it should be, and hell is too extreme for far too many people, we must remember that we are like toddlers distrustful that the scary process of nuclear fusion that is happening in the sun is really a good thing. God is so much bigger and better than we can grasp. Holiness is so much more glorious than we can imagine. Sin is so much more horrid than we can believe. We only have a glimpse of this now. Let us put our hand over our mouth when we start to cast doubt upon what God says.
Secondly, in regard to prayer, we can recognize that there is a depth of holiness that we are uncomfortable with when we read the imprecatory prayers in the Psalms. These are the prayers in Psalms where judgment upon people is prayed for in vivid detail. These passages make people squirm and make preachers sweat. But Jesus was not ashamed of these psalms. He embraced not only the whole OT, not only the whole book of Psalms, but even those specific imprecatory psalms. Jesus quoted from Psalm 69 in John 15:25, as did Paul in Romans 15:3. These imprecatory prayers are hard, but they are right. They are flowing out of a prophetically inspired writer who had prophetic insight into the justice that was needed upon these people. We may not have that prophetic insight, but we can still hold that those prayers are true and right. They were prayed by God’s people, and those prayers were about real world people and situations. If we don’t like them, it is not the Scripture that is skewed, but our understanding of justice that is skewed.
Finally, what do those in heaven think about God’s judgment poured out on people who were born dead in sin and incapable of obedience? Do they cringe? Do they ignore it? Do they just go along? No, they rejoice in it. They exalt in it. In Revelation chapter 5, only one is worthy to open the scroll. Christ alone can unseal it. But that scroll is the title deed to the universe and the seven seals are judgments which are due upon the world of unbelievers. When Jesus takes the scroll, it unleashes wave after wave of worship and hallelujahs, first from the four living creatures and 24 elders, then from all the angelic host, and finally from all creatures everywhere. Worship is the response to Jesus’ judgment.
In chapter 6 verse 9, the fifth seal judgment is the prayers of martyrs poured out. These are Christians in heaven and they are praying for judgement upon the world of unbelievers, for that world system was what martyred them. They don’t hedge regarding judgment, they pray for it, just like the imprecatory prayers of the psalms.
In chapter 18, a mighty angel is seen coming to bring judgment on the idolatrous system called Babylon. That angel is calling for judgment, especially in verse 6 and 8. That same angel is joined by a great multitude in heaven who sing hallelujahs, specifically for God’s judgements. Just like in chapter 5, wave after wave of worship comes from different groups as they witness and rejoice in God’s judgement.
Therefore, we see that theologically and biblically (in Psalms and Revelation), the judgement that flows from God’s justice is something that is prayed for, encouraged and exalted in. If we cannot understand God’s judgment upon those he hasn’t chosen, we can be sure that those in heaven understand it, and they rejoice in it. This means that our hesitance, our cringing, our dubiousness is all because we are still really fleshy and worldly-minded. When we are perfected, the problems we have with this will melt away under the truth of God’s holiness and justice. We will understand for the first time the rightness of what the Scriptures have said all along.
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