Kneeling Before the Impartial Judge, Part 2
To say that our cultural moment is judgmental is to make a point so obvious that it verges on being inane. The engine of our public discourse seems to be equal parts vindictiveness and character assassination. In this charged environment, Christians are often accused of being especially judgmental, and Scripture (the Old Testament in particular) is often singled out as depicting a capricious and judgmental God. However, when we press into scripture, we find that humanity always struggles most with God’s mercy—not his judgment. In this two-part series, we’ll explore the surprising hope that comes from resting in the God whose mercy never comes as the expense of his justice.
Want to listen to this later?
Please Note: Vital Signs is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to the Vital Signs Podcast. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. Thank you so much for tuning in today. This is part two and the final installment in our series Kneeling Before the Impartial Judge. The first episode was fairly heavy territory, but what I really wanted to do was get across, at least in persuasive terms, why human beings can never be ultimate judges, why we can never condemn somebody in the ultimate sense, and why that right is reserved for God alone. That is my true and sincere conviction as a Christian. If you're not a Christian, I'm very glad you're listening. I hope that this gives you some food for thought. But in this episode I want to talk about why we need to be introspective.
I mentioned that we're exploring this series here, Kneeling Before the Impartial Judge, under three headings. The first of those was withholding ultimate judgment from others, and that was episode one. If you haven't listened to that, you can go back and listen to it. It will definitely give you a lot of context for what is said today, but then the other two are wait with patient expectation, and finally, rest in God's justice. Withhold ultimate judgment, wait with patient expectation, and rest in God's justice. Waiting with patient expectation has got to be one of the more difficult features of human life. We are always waiting. We are always in between events.
If life carries with it no expectation whatsoever, that is often when real depression sets in and that can be the road to despair. If our desires are healthy, we are always living a life filled with expectation. We're expecting a meeting with somebody. We're expecting some sort of goal to be met. We're expecting some future event. You name it. Our lives revolve around expectation. Maybe you're just waiting in the DMV and finally waiting for your number to get called, but expectation is part of human life. But the most difficult form of expectation certainly has to be those who have been serious victims of injustice. Now, there's a sense in which all of us, as we open our eyes to the state of the world, we are all waiting an expectation for justice to be served.
But there is an especially poignant and painful aspect of this for those who are victims of serious injustice, whether that's systemic injustice, whether they have been violated, whether they have had somebody taken from them. It is so difficult. This is what often leads to very, very obsessive forms of behavior if we try to figure this out on our own, if we try to deal with justice on our own terms. We know that even when some serious crime has been committed...Let's say a murder has been committed. When the suspect actually is apprehended, and that doesn't always happen. In fact, it's disconcerting to know how many people are getting away with very, very serious crimes all the time.
But when it does happen, the responses afterwards are maybe at best, at best victims will get some form of closure. But nothing here on earth will restore the person who is lost. Nothing in an ultimate sense will really settle those matters, and that's why there's so many very wise parables, there's so many very wise stories, there's so many very wise pieces of literature and art that show us how hollow revenge is as well. Because in the end, it can't...Revenge is not restorative. It's just retributive, right? It's just eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. It doesn't restore the person to us. It doesn't restore what we have lost in terms of our life. It doesn't restore to us what has been lost. Waiting. Waiting is so difficult.
Waiting with expectation. Waiting with hope. How do we do that in a world that is so gravely unjust? We live in the United States. This is a largely affluent region, but we know that vicious deeds are done here all the time. We know that there are high levels of corruption here as well, and we all experience this in our lives. But there's this growing awareness, this growing global awareness, which is a good thing by and large, of the state of the world. It's in those moments where Christians have traditionally said, "How long, oh Lord, will you wait, return, come back to make all things new?" I have said this often. I'm kind of in the habit of saying this a lot as I travel these days, but we know that this world, as we really look at it, does not need a manicure.
It doesn't need some new social program. It doesn't need some new environmental program. All of these things are good things, and we should fight for justice, and we should fight and invest in this world, but we know that in the end, if we hope to completely remake this world, it's not going to work. This world will be shattered and remade. That's the hope of Christianity. It's an eschatological hope. It's not in this world alone because this world is passing away and this world is corrupt and fallen. But as we said in the last podcast, drawing from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that corruption, that wickedness, that evil cuts through every human heart. Here's something else I'm in the habit of saying more and more these days.
I wish I could say to you that if I look at the news, it confirms the state of the world for me, but I don't have to look at the news to confirm the state of the world. All I have to do is look at myself. All I have to do is look at my own heart. By the way, when I say heart, you know what that is? You know what the biblical writers mean when they say heart? They are speaking about heart in ancient terms. Your heart is the very center of who you are. It's the core of who you are. In fact, scripture will use the terms heart and spirit interchangeably. The very core of who you are, that's your heart. Sigmund Freud famously said, "A person pushed to their visceral limit will reveal who they truly are." Well, who are you and your pushed to your visceral limit?
A very practical example of this would be when you are in the car and when somebody is driving aggressively around you or when you're in traffic. How do you respond? Which finger is going up? It's probably not your thumb. What does that say about you? This is coming from your heart. What comes from our hearts should give us pause for thought. We wait with expectation because we know that we cannot solve this problem. We cannot solve the human predicament. We cannot be ultimate judges and ultimate justice is not in our hands. I want to tell you, again, one of the most radical facets of Christianity is the call to love one's enemies. Now, it is impossible without God. Let me give you the ultimate example of this.
The ultimate example of this, by the way, you want to talk about being pushed to visceral limits. The ultimate example of this is Jesus Christ. If you want to see the ultimate example of Christianity, and by the way, if you're struggling because you have been hurt by people who claim the name of Christ and say that they're Christians would've done vicious things, by the way, I want you to hear this very carefully. Look to Jesus Christ. He, after all, is the center of Christianity. He's the heart of Christianity. He is Christianity. By the way, there is a line that runs through scripture and it says over and over again, it's a metaphor and the metaphor is fruit. Jesus says you will know them, that is Christians, his followers, by their fruits.
Now, all of us make mistakes. I would say that every human being...As a Christian, I'll say every human being has fallen. We all make mistakes. That's one of the reasons we need to be saved. That's one of the reasons the problem of evil cuts through every human heart. But if you are seeing somebody who is in the habit of hatred, of vicious behavior, totally unrepentant, I can say with confidence, that's not Christian. That is not the fruit of Christianity. It's totally inconsistent, and that's not me being legalistic. That's not me being graceless. That is me drawing directly from scriptural data. That is what it says. If you are seeing total viciousness, if you are seeing routine mistreatment of people, that is not Christian.
We are in a nation where I think one of the major problems in the church here in North America, and I think one of our major problems in North America period, not just limited to Christians, is that we put so much stock in skill, success, and influence. Those are not necessarily indications of character. Now, skill, success, and influence in and of themselves are good things and they can be used for great good, but look at our cultural moment. What is happening? Every week we're hearing a new massively talented individual being named for all sorts of terrible crimes and misdeeds. What should that tell us? We need to stop confusing success with character. Christians, we have to stop confusing success and gifting with devotion to Christ.
They are not necessarily the same thing. Some of the most unskilled people, terrible public speakers, probably not the most intellectually gifted, are some of the most amazing men and women of Christ you will ever meet, and conversely, some of the most gifted, some of those who could speak in front of many, many people and who could do all sorts of amazing acts. We're finding that in fact they are vicious individuals. But again, this shouldn't surprise us. Paul has been saying this over and over again and we're drawing our thinking again. Reminder for those of you who have been listening, if you haven't listened to the first episode, we are drawing our thinking from the apostle Paul, specifically his letter to the Corinthians.
In that letter, he talks about the fact that you can have all this massive gifting. You could deliver your body up over to be burned, to lay down your life. You could do all of this, but if you do it without love, this is in 1 Corinthians 13, it benefits you nothing. You are nothing. The one thing that distinguishes Christians is Christ-like love. Don't hear me as disparaging. Influence, by the way, influence can be used for wonderful redemptive ends. Don't hear me as disparaging success. Success can be a wonderful thing.
But here's what you can hear me as disparaging, loud and clear, I am disparaging the routine confusion of success with character, or in some cases, unfortunately people will go so far as to say, "Well, in the end, the ends justify the means and success is always what counts. Results are only what counts and character takes a back seat." By the way, we're not talking about this on this particular episode, but that is definitely a very distinctly post-truth mindset. The idea that the ends justify the means alone. Go with what works.
Success, and this is usually success in earthly terms in terms of receiving either financial gain or self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, that that counts above all else and everything else takes a back seat even if other people are hurt and crushed in the process. That is very, very wrong and that is unfortunately very prevalent, but that is not what we need to be doing. We need to recognize that character does not necessarily go hand in hand with our earthly visions of success. The one distinguishing feature of Christians is Christ-like love. Let's look at one of the most radical and amazing instances of that.
When Jesus Christ goes to the cross, when he is being mocked, physically assaulted, beaten, crown of thorns on his head, when he is nailed to that Roman instrument of torture, pushed to his visceral limit, what is his response? Now, just a side note here, I've said over and over again, as Jesus comes up and all of these podcasts in the last series I did on the significance of Christianity, I kept stressing that Jesus' responses are always counterintuitive in the sense that they're not the way I would respond. They are not the natural responses of human beings. They are perfect responses. I think they testify to his perfection, his beauty. When he is on that Roman instrument of torture, does he curse those who are hurting him, who are killing him?
Does he spit at them? Does he revile them? Does he do all the things that most of us would do, that all of us would do? Does he cower? No. He says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." This is the man pushed to his visceral limit. That's what he says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." You know what? Let me step out on a limb here. Let's engage in a little bit of a speculative exercise. I think we can do this in a healthy manner. Let's say you're there on the scene of the crime, so to speak. Let's say you're one of the disciples or one of one of Jesus' followers, whether a man or a woman, and you're standing there. You're watching this man, this rabbi, this mighty teacher, in whom you had invested so many hopes.
Let's say you're watching this happen to him and let's say your faith is faltering, but there's still a hankering, there's still a glimmer of hope that he really has the kind of power he says he had. Now remember, you've witnessed him performing miracles. You have seen him cast out demons. You have seen him heal lepers. You have seen him heal the blind and the lame and the sick. You've seen him bring people back from the dead. Now remember, Jesus at one point says he has legions of angels at his command. What are you hoping if that glimmer of hope is there? You know what I'm hoping? I'm hoping destroy these people, Lord. Get off that cross and wipe them out. Annihilate them. You know at one point the disciples say this very thing to Jesus?
When people aren't receiving them very well and condemning them, they basically call him to bring down fire from heaven and destroy them. Jesus rebukes them. Again, this is to reiterate what we said in that first podcast. We always struggle with mercy. We don't struggle with condemnation. But you know what? Do you know who Jesus is dying for? Who's he dying for? You and me. Everyone. All of us. Not just those who are hammering the nails into his hands and feet, but us. You see, it's our sin just as much as those arms hammering that put him where he is. It's you. You have to be saved too. You see, we're not in separate categories. Those soldiers aren't in separate categories from us. You see, mercy is really something that we all need.
Do you know what? Let's just state the obvious. If divine justice were carried out instantly in just a very, very efficient, quick manner, all of us would spend eternity apart from God. We all have violated his commandments. We have broken the covenant. We all deserve to spend eternity apart from him. This is why we can have hope. When we look to the cross, and I'm drawing my thinking here from the great thinker John Scott, great theologian. He points out in his great book, The Cross of Christ, a book I recommend to everyone, but he says this. He says, "At the cross, God's justice and God's mercy met and they kissed." Now, that's not just poetic fancy.
Only in Christianity do you have a vision where justice does not come at the cost of mercy and mercy does not come at the cost of justice. You know why? Because the perfect sacrifice is made. A perfect human being lays down his life for all of us and justice is carried out. He suffers the punishment that all of us should be suffering, every one of us, so that we can experience mercy, so that we can experience mercy. He is the impartial judge, and he is the one who offers hope to all of us. We have cause for hope. Well, we also have cause for real introspection. We need to remember what we are capable of. We need to remember our own hearts.
You know, the bible reserves its harshest words, its most powerful condemnations for those who are in power and who exploit that power to crush the vulnerable. Justice will be carried out. You know, cosmic justice will be carried out. Because when you turn to Revelation, the message is clear. Christ is coming back. He is returning to judge the quick and the dead. If we choose our own selfish inclinations at the cost of everyone else, we can keep doing that. We can keep doing that. We can keep doing that. We can keep deadening our conscience. We can keep hardening our heart.
We can reach a point where, as C.S. Lewis said in his very sobering wording, “There are those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and there are those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’” Do not become enslaved to your own selfishness and your own will. It is a form of bondage that leads to all sorts of evil behavior, and it can lead to your total undoing. We need to examine our hearts, and we need to wait patiently. This brings us to the final point. We need to rest in God's justice. He is the impartial judge. Nothing is lost on him. You know why? Because he alone has access to the very core of every human being, every human heart. All the intentions of every human will are laid bare before him. He knows it all.
If you know your own heart, and I'm going to suggest you haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what you're capable of. You ever had an outburst? Ever had a moment where somebody says where did that come from or you say where did that come from? It comes from inside you. You have to be rescued. You have to be saved. Put your heart into God's hands. If you don't put your heart into God's hands, you are in harm’s way. You are in grave danger not from others, from yourself, from yourself. We need to rest in God's ultimate justice and entrust our hearts to him. Let me say something here that is very counterintuitive and we've mentioned it on the Vital Signs Podcast before, but here's a notion of success that's quite foreign to us here.
There was a debate among the ancients, and I believe this debate. I believe that Aristotle... I don't think Aristotle ever really resolved this one, but I believe it was Plato who initially suggested that you can never really understand...You never can declare a person successful or not until they are dead because you can't see their whole life until they're dead. Their life is now complete and now you can actually evaluate their life. Now, that's a pretty shrewd observation. It runs against all of our expectations because we tend to really value short-term success. We love stories about people who are really, really young and who do really, really well and rise up the ranks and just accomplish all of this stuff by age 19 or age 27.
But here's the other feature, so many people begin so well and end so badly. So many people have a lot of...They attain a lot of financial success, maybe a lot of career success, but then we see their whole story and they've destroyed people along the way. They've exploited others. They've abused others. They've hurt their families on and on the list goes, or it's been built on a bunch of nothing more than lies. We're obsessed with these kind of stories right now. Perhaps the most popular right now would be the story of Elizabeth Holmes and the whole Theranos fraud that's still under investigation. But we love these stories of short-term success, but the long-term picture of a full and complete life, but the picture of Christianity is one of long-term success.
Take one specific example. Let's look at Saul of Tarsus who would eventually become the apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus experiences massive success as Saul of Tarsus. He really does. In earthly terms, he's trained under Gemayel, one of the greatest scholars in the Pharisaical tradition. He's gone to the best school. He's been educated by the best people, and he's one of the most...He points out clearly that he was one of the most zealous of the Pharisees, fiercely persecuted the church. He becomes a Christian. The Lord reveals himself to Saul on the road to Damascus. He ends up becoming a Christian, following Jesus, and suddenly all the earthly success dwindles and goes away entirely.
He ends up spending so much time in prison and eventually he's going to die a martyr. What does that say to us? The long-term vision of Christian success is all about where your heart belongs. Who does your heart belong to? Do you view it as your own? Do you view it as somebody else's? In some cases, when you prize only pleasing other people, whether that's family, whether that's a tradition, or whether that's simply somebody else in a relationship who's got a kind of stranglehold over you, who owns your heart? I think here in North America, most of us think we own our own hearts. It's my heart and I'll do with it what I want to do. If you were made by God for God, give your heart to him. True success you will see in the long run is all about giving your heart to him.
He alone can save you. We need to rest in God's justice, and we need to remember that we're looking at a vision of long-term success. We are looking at the long-term picture and the long-term picture here is that all things are in the Lord's hands. He is the one who will carry out justice. We need to rest in him. You see, if we don't do that, if we think the alternative for that really is that somehow it's in our hands, we have to take care of justice, we have to move beyond. We have to try to fight and fight and fight and fight. It can be this road to despair. It can be this road to absolute restlessness and no closure ever. It really can kill hope in a very powerful way.
But if you are resting in the fact that the Lord is just and that all things are in his hands and that mercy comes not at the expense of justice, but through it because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, that can liberate you and free you to even love your enemies. Look at the first martyr recorded in the Book of Acts, Stephen. When. Stephen gives this magnificent sermon recounting really the whole story of faith and the Pharisees and the religious leaders stone him to death. Right before he dies, he says something and it's the same thing that Jesus said from the cross. He says, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." Then we are told he is received into heaven and to the arms of his Lord. See, that's our hope, but look at that.
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, he is able to say that. On our own strength, we cannot do that. Human beings are not capable of that kind of love. But through the empowerment of Christ and his Holy Spirit, we can. Give your heart to him and rest in him. He is the impartial judge, and we are told in Revelation that he's coming back to judge the quick and the dead, and that is good news. There is good news in the fact that God is coming back to judge as well. One part of that good news is that he's doing it and we don't have to do that ultimate judging. We can't. We're incapable of it. Thank the Lord. It's in his hands.
The other good news is that means that our actions, human actions, carry real moral weight and there are actual consequences for those who unrepentantly exploit and devour the weak and the vulnerable and others. There is justice. Professor John Lennox once put it like this. He said there's a reason why there's so many Psalms extolling the fact that God is coming back to judge. Praise God because God is coming to judge. He says it means our conscience isn't mocking us. There's real moral weight to our actions. While we are here on earth, we need to remember that none of us are beyond the Lord's mercy. None of us. Cry out to him. It doesn't matter what you've done.
Now, what you've done may not preclude earthly justice and consequences will need to happen, but you are not beyond being saved by Christ. That's the radical message of grace. Because what all of us have done is so drastic, it sent Christ to the cross. But Christ's love for us is so drastic that he went to the cross for us. We need to remember that. We need to balance that colossal truth in our heads. It's mind splitting. It really is, but this is the radical nature of grace. We need to learn to rest in God's justice. There is peace to be found there, even an earthly turmoil. We also recognize that this world is not our final hope, and thank God for that.
If you've been listening to this series here on Kneeling Before the Impartial Judge, I hope this has been helpful to you. I understand that these may have been some fairly heavy episodes, but I hope that this has been a helpful experience for you. I hope that you will walk away not only challenged, but with a real sense of peace in your heart. Maybe this is something you need to wrestle with more. My prayer is that you will wrestle honestly and that you'll consider some of these things. But thank you so much for tuning in. This has been Vital Signs Podcast, exploring signs of life in today's culture. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. I'm a speaker and a writer here at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
Every article, podcast, and video on this website is made possible by the kindness of our supporters.
If you'd like to support our mission of sharing a thoughtful Christianity to the world, you can donate through our site.