The conversation about Heaven and Hell is really hard to tackle so I am going to try to be as graceful and careful as I possibly can. I also want to try my best to be honest and Jesus focused. This blog post is also quite long so brace yourselves. There are many scripture references and sections. Alright, let’s begin:
We have exalted ourselves to the judgement seat.
Sometimes, in the church, when people talk about judgement/heaven/hell, we either feel pressure to say hell/judgement are non-existent OR we feel pressure to decide who’s going where. Those are tough tasks.
The pressure to decide who is going where gives birth to debates such as whether certain people are in heaven or hell based on what little we know of their lives. It is cringe-worthy (especially on facebook… come on, guys).
Alternatively, the pressure to say there is no hell or judgement is difficult because Jesus talked about judgement and hell quite a bit. He also purported to be a just and loving God but we find it hard to harmonize those 2 ideas:
“How could a loving and just God possibly have the whole judgement and hell thing going on?”
It shows what we’re really thinking: we don’t trust God to be fair in His judgement. Both parties are freaking out because they don’t think God can handle the intense mental pressure of judging the hearts of people and they are just dying to help Him out. Somehow, we believe we have a deeper heart of compassion and justice than God does (even though both those things originate from His heart).
We just don’t believe God is who He says He is. If that’s the case, why worship Him then? I am not being facetious. Seriously, why should you even bother worshiping a wicked God? Because of fear? If He’s that awful, then you probably wouldn’t want to be in Heaven anyway. If He’s unjust, you shouldn’t worship Him. Throw out your bible and stop going to church. Close this tab.
So, why are you still here? Because I think deep in your heart, you suspect that God is good.
A proposed solution
Let us all remember that the judgement seat belongs to Jesus.
In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father… And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man… I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.
– Jesus (John 5: 22, 23a, 27, 30 – NLT)
For those of you who say, “Only God can judge me” and then proceed to commit a heinous crime? B+. It’s really “Only JESUS can judge me” but whatever. Semantics.
My point is, the judgement seat belongs to Jesus. Good intentioned as we are, we really have no place deciding how to judge people because it is too complicated a task. We’re about as useful as Yzma, pictured above.
By trying to handle the issue of judgement, we are sitting somewhere we have no place sitting. And honestly, it’s a huge task to take upon your shoulders. I think every Christian reading this has been there and has hated it. Here’s a verse that made me do a double-take one time:
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you…”
They would have repented? It will be more bearable for them? Wait. Jesus, you mean to tell me you have already worked out a whole system by which you will judge people? And somehow, you’re judging them based on their HEARTS and not just their actions?
Yes. Scripture seems to suggest just that.
You may believe you are doing right, but the Lord judges your reasons.
But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t look at how handsome Eliab is or how tall he is, because I have not chosen him. God does not see the same way people see. [People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart]…”
It feels a bit silly to finally admit this but I think God has it handled. If God is who He says He is (and I suspect He is which is why I follow Him), then He is just and He is merciful and He is loving. He knows us and He knows us better than anybody. The precondition is that we trust in His wisdom and fairness otherwise, we will drive ourselves insane trying to run the world from that little room in our minds. Breathe. Calm down. He has it under control and He is going to do a fine job at it.
Once upon a time, I was angry at God’s response at the end of the book of Job but I will use that as a reference today. I think it paints a perfect picture of what we all struggle with when we call God’s heart of justice into question:
Then the Lord said to Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”
[then Job said something]
Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:
“Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.
Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?
Are you as strong as God? Can you thunder with a voice like his?
All right, put on your glory and splendor, your honor and majesty.
Give vent to your anger. Let it overflow against the proud.
Humiliate the proud with a glance; walk on the wicked where they stand.
Bury them in the dust. Imprison them in the world of the dead.
Then even I would praise you, for your own strength would save you…”
– Job 40:1-2, 6-14. Read the rest of God’s comeback here
we can shout out our man-made rules and use it to beat down innocent people (and some of the most beautiful hearts have been hurt by the blows of man’s shallow judgments) but God is the only one who really knows what’s going on.
We can also try to erase judgement but then that leaves the problem of a God who condones evil and does not bring justice to victims of violence, genocide etc.
God doesn’t fall for the show. God doesn’t fall for the optics or the hype. We as humans are susceptible to that. I can be (and have been) deceived by people who seemed good on the outside. The humility in us must rise up to admit that this is too complicated for us.
Sometimes innocent people make mistakes and sometimes cold-hearted people start charities. Jesus is the only one who is able to tell wheat from tares. To Peter who called himself unclean, the Lord said, “I will make you a fisher of men” (Luke 5:8-10). While some of the Pharisees who did the right things, He called, “unmarked graves” (Luke 11:42-44).
When it comes to judging people one way or another, sometimes, the best response is, “I don’t know” because we don’t. We would do well to focus on judging our own selves; at least we actually know our hearts.
I know sometimes, really zealous people put pressure on other Christians to take a stance on every issue and condemn/vilify other people. Choose not to be trapped by that vicious spirit. Submit the government of the world to it’s true King then walk away and do what you were actually called to do: Love God; Love your neighbor. You were not called to judge.
Here’s something I think we should actually consider more: You will be judged with the same degree that you judge others and you will be forgiven to the same degree you show mercy to others. If that’s the case, I won’t lie. I don’t want to be judged by Jesus. He knows too much. I would rather run to the mercy seat.
To wrap up my heart, here’s a quote from a dear friend of mine:
“But I think a better question is who is Christ? I know him to be more unlimited than limited. I know him to be more loving than hateful. I know him to be more unexpected than predictable. I know him to be more scandalous than our traditions. I know him to be the husband and lover of all, men and women. I know him to be accused of being a lawbreaker in order to bring people closer to himself. I know him to complicate ways of thinking rather than always using simple language. And the truth is he lives within us and nothing in all creation, not even ourselves, can separate us from his love.”
Grace and Peace,