The Truth About Divine Judgment

They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?” (Revelation 6:16-17)

My thoughts about divine judgment have evolved over the years. My first turning toward God with complete devotion was largely due to my realization that I faced the displeasure of God with as much power to survive as a lone child against a perfect storm. The idea of judgment, then, was at the heart of my discovery of divine love.

In spite of that early comfort with the subject, I see that over the years I have become more vexed with the idea of this God I love bringing wrath on mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — the tangible people I see.

It may only be my perception, but I sense a lessening of dogma about such things as hell and wrath in religious writings and talk. I could speak specifically of theological trends which gain wider acceptance now than I could ever imagine they would have fifty years ago.

I believe we are right to both doubt and affirm concepts of divine wrath which we can humanly describe and imagine.

That is, we have grounds to doubt whatever we might imagine are the parameters and the measures of God’s retribution. Even reading a verse of scripture does not settle the matter because scriptures about retribution are likely to be dumbed down descriptions of notions too intricate for us.

And yet we also have grounds to affirm the ire of the “one who is seated on the throne” and the “wrath of the Lamb.”

When we doubt the truth of divine judgment, because we want to let everyone off so easily, we make the mistake of underestimating the potential of humankind. We let people off too easily as if it does not matter that man is capable of so much more.

We tell ourselves that we can understand why so few have faith in God in a troubled world. We make excuses for the pettiness and crime that pervades. But in a deeper place within us we must admit that we know better.

Humankind is capable of sublime literature and storytelling, stunning works of art, and elaborate inventions. This same humankind which discovered the magnitude of space and the near infinitude of the subatomic should be able to arrive at the realization of God. This same humankind which rejoices in literature and stories and movies of bravery, sacrifice, faithful love, and so on, should be able to live better by these ideals.

I am left with the middle ground of doubting any specific interpretation I might hold about the whos and whens and wheres of divine judgment while being certain of the inevitability of it. We all choose which rock we will hide under when the day of revelation comes and I know my Rock and hope you do too.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Faith, Life to Come, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Truth About Divine Judgment

  1. peterygwendyta says:

    Thankyou Derek for your honest take on this subject. Too many people say one thing in public on this subject so as not to be declared a heretic or something else but when you speak to them in private they are not too sure. About 5 years agao I would say that I was pretty adament in what I believed concerning Hell and what you call Divine Judgement, but now I am more confused than ever. The more I read, whether it is the early church’s understanding, greek text, hebrew text, Jewish understanding etc you begin to realise that it is maybe not so black and white you would think. I have been troubled by questions such as what happen’s to people who have never heard? Take for example the situation in North Korea where they have been closed to not only the Gospel but all outside influence for nearly 60 years now. Will a Just God send all these people to hell because they have never heard? This is just one question among many that trouble me. I think it was you (I could be wrong) who said a few weeks back that the older you get the less dogmatic you become on certain issues, I this is the way I fell also. I know which interpretation of Hell I would like to be true but whether it is or not that is another matter.

    Thanks again for your blog.

  2. kendman1 says:

    Derek, thank you for bringing up such an important and sensitive topic. And thank you, peterygwendyta, for your good follow-up comment.

    I am a Jewish believer who came to Y-shua about 4 ½ years ago. I am still learning, striving, & struggling to improve my life in scripture. It’s an ongoing process, but I like to believe I am on the right track. I find that most hardcore fire & brimstone evangelicals will argue that the Bible is clear cut on most (if not all) things, and that there is very little room for individual interpretation of scripture.

    Granted, there are many things, and many statements concerning the most basic fundamental principles of Christian behavior, that are clear as day, which to deny them would be sheer heresy. However, I feel there are issues which leave room for reflection, debate, and more reflection, even though through debate and serious analysis we very well may never know the real answer (being that we’re not G-d).

    The issue of what exactly happens after we die is a one of the great examples of this. We can assume there is a waiting place, a sort of weigh station if you will, where people wait for the resurrection and judgment day. We can logically assume that there is a good section, and a bad section (as per the account of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus in the Gospel). Do we know much more about this place? Do we know the climate, the landscape, what exactly we do to pass the time there? Although we may form ideas in our heads, the answer is clearly “No.” We who are currently existing on earth in human form don’t exactly know.

    I have come to the belief that the one way into the Kingdom of Heaven is through G-d’s mediator, Y-shua. Does this necessarily mean that anyone who was never heard confessing him as Messiah while they were still alive is going to suffer d-mnation forever for time unending?

    What if they had a vision and became born again while they were unconscious on their death beds? What about people who have never had the Gospel preached to them, or who even predated Jesus’ human existence on earth (as peterygwendyta pointed out in the previous post)? Will they eventually be given the chance to acknowledge Y-shua and get into Heaven some time after the first death (and perhaps a bit of wrath and punishment)? Is it really blasphemous to consider that these might be possibilities?

    The main reason that many hardcore evangelicals denounce Christian universalism is they believe the Bible, as it is written in it’s modern day English (and other) translations, is cut and dry in this regard. That there is no grey area. Heaven or hell they say. Nothing else. No purgatory, no punishment, “remedial” therapy. etc… And wherever you go, it’s forever. It doesn’t matter how many good deeds you did, or how many bad things someone else may have done. We’ll pray for you, but if G-d didn’t see fit to reveal his son to you, and have you accept him while you were on Earth, that’s you’re “tough luck“…

    Does scripture provide a basis for them to argue this? Yes. Do those who propose different ideas (such as Christian universalists) also have a basis to argue their case using scripture? Yes. Are any of these arguments more feasible than the other? I don’t know. As of yet I haven’t experienced the first death and am not a first-hand witness to what actually happens at judgment. Consider the following, though:

    The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:22 “As in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.”

    The Bible also tells us in Matthew 21:31 that Y-shua said (to certain chief priests and elders) “Assuredly I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of G-d before you. For John [the Baptist] came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.” Notice, that Y-sua was telling these certain chief priests and elders that certain harlots and tax collectors would get into Heaven BEFORE they did. He did not (necessarily) say that they would NEVER get into Heaven.

    There have also been various arguments made by individuals over the years about how the term “eternal” in ancient Greek or Aramaic may not have meant ’forever’, but an rather an indefinite period of punishment.

    Universalism was a also a theory said to be subscribed to by many church leaders during the first few centuries of Christianity.

    How many new believers, especially Jewish ones, are turned away from believing by well-meaning but recklessly hardcore fire & brimstone evangelizers who basically tell potential new believers that (based on their interpretations) “Your parents, grandparents, & ancestors are all burning forever, don’t be like them”! Pretty tactless and heartless, huh? Not a lack of class and tact, and are they really sure they’re correct?

    I am very careful to tell people concerning this that I really don’t know whether the Christian Universalist assumptions stated above are true or not. It would be nice if they were. I hope they are. I see possible scriptural arguments that could be made for them. But we are sternly warned against preaching things that we not only know are Biblically false, but that we also have no clear proof are true.

    Yes, there is a danger in taking universalist theories for granted. Even accepting the universalist argument regarding our post-worldly existence, wouldn’t you rather aim to be ‘first fruits’ in the ‘Book of Life’ and hope to minimize the inevitable wrath and punishment heading your way? Even most Christian universalists feel that there will be wrath and punishment, and it could be quite harsh and for an indefinitely long period of time.

    As far as my feelings on the subject go, I would just encourage everyone to read the Bible (preferably a good reference one). You might also consider attending a good study group aimed toward ‘beginning‘ believers. There are also very good ones dealing primarily with Jewish seekers. Don’t let flawed evangelical methods, anti-missionary bias, or “worldly” cynics turn you away from the Bible. Give Y-shua a chance to come into your life now, in this world, and hold tight to him. He will be not only a source of hope and life for the next world, but also show you to how to deal with and properly live in the present one.

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