You Want a God of Judgment

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Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Frederick Douglass asks this question in his autobiography after recounting the tragedy of his grandmother’s death. After a lifetime of bondage and servitude to her masters, when she was too old to be of use to them, they callously sent her off to die alone, apart from her family.

Douglass could’ve asked the question, though, at nearly any point in his harrowing story of hope and fortitude amid inhumanity and cruelty. The beatings. The murders. The calculated theft of time, family, and dignity. Since I read his story, that question has been reverberating in my mind.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

It continues to echo, though, for more than just the past injustices of American slavery. The crimes and atrocities reported by the 24-hour news cycle—the cycle that threatens to churn up our souls most days—lead me to turn this question over and over again in my mind.

Every headline I read about yet another sexual abuse victim coming forward, testifying to abuse by a major Hollywood mogul. Or worse, by the victim’s famous youth pastor and the church who covered it up.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Every victim of political injustice who makes the nightly news, both abroad and at home.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Every report of a child who has been abused and traumatized in an immigration detention center for the last few years (despite the fact most of us are only hearing about it now).

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Every day abortion mills are open in America, legally ending the lives of thousands of unborn children—children never held, never loved, never even given the dignity of a name. Children we never think about because their lives are snuffed out behind closed doors in sterilized rooms with white-gloved hands. Children known only to the all-seeing God.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

You know I could go on because you know the crimes, the depredations you can’t think on too long without shutting down for the day. One person captured this feeling well when he tweeted, “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry feels morally irresponsible.”

But while the strain of our anger-inducing media culture affects us all, there is at least one small benefit. We’re finally in a place where we can see the goodness of David’s praise: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11).

Righteous God Who Judges

We’re often told our culture doesn’t want an angry God of judgment. This age can’t abide any more teaching on a God full of wrath, who will prepare his weapons for battle with the unrepentant oppressors of God’s people.

But I don’t entirely buy that view. Not when I think of our rage. Not when I think of our righteous anger at injustice. In a world crooked and ruined with rebellion, I think deep down we all know we need a God who “feels indignation every day.” We know it would be a greater tragedy if God never visited for for these things. We would be terrified to discover he was an unrighteous judge who never condemned, never punished, never dealt with the crimes of the world—which is no judge at all.

In a world crooked and ruined with rebellion, I think deep down we all know we need a God who ‘feels indignation every day.’

Isn’t that part of what feeds our anxiety and disquiet? Are we not like Jeremiah, wondering “why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jer. 12:1). Are we not plagued with the suspicion that nothing is ever going to get done? That no matter how we vote, or whom we call, or where we protest, the powerful will keep getting away with it? The violent will keep grinding the weak into the dust? That, even though some get caught, many will still prosper because they know how to game the system and pervert the law? Are not our fears those of the psalmist, who worries the Lord is hiding himself in these times of trouble (Ps. 10:1)?

At these moments our hearts need a God who names, judges, and punishes sin. We need a God to whom we can call, “Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted” (Ps. 10:12)—in confidence that he will answer. We need a God who will eventually visit for these things.

Judgment Deserved

Of course, that’s not the only source of our anxiety and disquiet, is it? Because just as the overwhelming flood of news may fill us with righteous anger at injustice, it also engulfs us with a sense of the thousand different ways we are complicit in injustice.

We might not repeat racist jokes, but we don’t say much when we hear them. We might not traffic sex workers, but we’ve watched porn that does (not to mention its inherently degrading nature). We might not steal from our neighbors, but we keep and spend money on ourselves we know we could give. We are enmeshed, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

Indeed, I have a hunch this nagging sense of culpability is an unspoken motivator behind some of our most frenetic and angry political engagement. Many of us are on a quest—a quest we may not realize or admit—to justify and atone for our unrighteousness. If we can spot the sins and hypocrisies of our neighbors—however subtle to the untrained eye—we must not be guilty of them ourselves. And so we work for the good, not just because it’s right, but because we need to prove to ourselves and the watching world we aren’t complicit. Our very sense of self is on the line.

In the back of our minds, then, the thought that a righteous God will visit for these things isn’t entirely good. We wonder, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).

Here we see the way the old-time gospel of the cross has a word to speak to our conflicted age—an age wavering between outraged and guilty consciences.

Judgment Bearer

This clear word comes to us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the death of the Son, God “condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). By visiting judgment for sin at Calvary, we witness an unveiling of God’s holy will. The cross shows that God forbears human sin because he is patient toward sinners, not ambivalent toward sin (Rom. 3:26). God truly does hate injustice, though he often stays his hand. But we also see that his patience won’t last forever (2 Pet. 3:7–10). We can know a righteous God will visit for these things, because he has visited for these things.

Nevertheless, there is hope to stand on in that day, since in the cross we also learn that “with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (Ps. 130:4). For those who trust in Christ, he has stood in their place, suffered the condemnation of God, but also has been raised up and vindicated for our justification (Rom. 4:24). There is grace for those who repent and receive Christ by faith; our sins have been forgiven, and we’ve been cleansed from a guilty conscience (Heb. 9:13–14).

The old-time gospel of the cross has a word to speak to our conflicted age—an age wavering between outraged and guilty consciences.

Even more, the gospel of the cross is a massive motivator in the present. For those who persist in oppression and unrighteousness, it stands as a sign of God’s justice: “Turn from your sin before my patience reaches its end, and I come visit for these things.” But it also offers hope: “Turn from your sin, and I will pour my grace on you. Leave your wickedness behind.” Even more, it tells those who work for righteousness: “Keep at it. Walk faithfully with your God and do as much justice as you can, and trust that he will vindicate.” And it frees us from the burden of needing to justify ourselves. Instead, we can simply work to imitate and serve our justice-loving God.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things? we ask.

He did 2,000 years ago, and he will again. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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