The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
IT IS A SAD COMMENTARY on the human race to find that the word "judgment" is so unstable and liable to deterioration. This must be because men are so unjust and vindictive themselves. The word has come to mean condemnation and punishment almost exclusively, when it ought to be neutral. How seldom is it used in a good sense among us! It will be worth a good deal of effort to restore its true meaning, if only to keep us from distorting it in connection with the great white throne. Let us note first what company it keeps in the Greek Scriptures.
The Pharisees were not slow to condemn others. Yet our Lord rebuked them for passing over judgment and the love of God. They neglected the reparatory side of judgment. The poor (Prov. 29:14; Psa.72:4) they failed to judge, and the fatherless (Isa. 1:23; Psa.10:18), that is, they did not protect them in their rights. Our Lord combined judgment with mercy and faith. These, the weightier matters of the law, they neglected. Such a "judgment" certainly did not mean punishment. Instead of so judging, the scribes devoured widows' houses, though they were swift to condemn those who did not keep the traditions (Mark 12: 40).
Perhaps the best place to show that judgment is always right, is found in Abraham's appeal to the Lord, when He spoke of the state of Sodom. The Authorized Version reads, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen.19:25). I agree that they expressed the sense correctly, yet I deplore the fact that, in doing so, they passed up a notable opportunity of anchoring the true meaning of the word judgment in our language. The Hebrew reads, "The Judge of the whole earth, is He not doing judgment" It is clear that anything wrong would not be judgment in Abraham's eyes. If anyone in Sodom should suffer unjustly that would not be judgment, and would be wrong. There is absolutely no injustice in divine judgment. It is rather, the righting of what is already wrong.
A short-sighted glance at God's judgments will lead to perplexity and atheism. We instinctively think that God must set matters right, and we are quite correct in this assumption. But we fail to see that simple restitution, without any gain, is also a failure, for the sufferings entailed in the process are not properly paid for. There is no solution except a future consummation, and that cannot be accepted except by faith. Even a brief survey of God's judgments, if comprehensive, will serve to satisfy us with God's plan as a whole, and with His present operations, though they entail some suffering on our own part. These we will gladly endure, in view of the overwhelming compensation in the future.
After God, through the serpent, had brought about the sin and offense of Adam, He judged the first man by making him and the race mortal, so that they would sin without the direct intervention of Satan. Up to the deluge they were left without corrective measures, so that they had to be wiped out with a flood. From that time on, judgment was put into the hands of man, and there has been a weak attempt on his part to see that each one gets his rights. But, as individuals failed when they sought to do that which was right in their own eyes before the deluge, so, now, governments fail in dispensing justice, and will be judged in the coming day of His indignation.
But, in this, man's day, God has come in, in various ways, in order to vary His great demonstration of human incompetence. First, He gave a revelation to Job and to his associates, and to the rest of humanity through them, of the function of evil. It is not confined to the punishment of sinners, but is essential to the revelation of God's grace, so is the portion of the saints as well. Moreover, it is not fruitless, but produces a double blessing. This revelation should have enabled all man kind to endure evil with fortitude, but only a few of the saints have understood it up to now. In the future it will be a magnificent testimony to all mankind of the very lesson which it is intended to teach.
But a much clearer revelation was given to Israel in the law. Instead of leaving them in the dark in their judgments of one another, He revealed to them statutes and judgments by which they could decide righteously. Moreover, He gave them intermediaries, priests, through whom they could find out His mind in any case. They were well equipped to know what is right, but not to do it. Thus there is a much deeper humiliation in lawlessness than in ignorance. The law was not given to be kept, but to transmute sin into offense and shortcoming into law breaking. It only intensified the fact that judgment, in the hands of man, is a monumental failure.
The failure of nations to judge righteously will be corrected by fearful outpourings of divine indignation at the time of the end. They are now ripe for judgment, for they are ruining the earth by their injustice and strife. Even as individual judgment had to be delayed before the flood because a corrective was not in keeping with the character of God's demonstration of human depravity until it had come to the full, so national judgment cannot be executed until the time is ripe for setting up Christ's kingdom. Then the demonstration will be complete, and corrective discipline is imperative in order to clear the ground for the righteous rule of God's Messiah.
But individuals will not be judged until later, at the great white throne. During their lifetime both saint and sinner sigh for the correction of injustice and misfortune. Many efforts are made, apart from government, to remedy wrongs and cure inequalities, but the net results are very disappointing when we consider the world as a whole. In the city where this is written there is a "community chest" and an enormous public hospital, besides numerous other agencies designed to deal with poverty and distress, but the poor and the ill only increase, even under the most favorable circumstances. God could end this condition in a short time if it were His intention, but He does not interpose. Crime increases and injustice abounds, but He does not intervene.
THE POSTPONEMENT OF JUDGMENT
The postponement of both national and individual judgment brings with it one of the most perplexing problems for the unbeliever, and the delay in giving their awards to the saints is very trying for their faith. Although it is of the utmost consequence and for the highest benefit for the race, men do not want to be brought low, and do not wish to wait for a future recompense, because they do not realize that this is God's prepared plan for their own benefit, as well as for the blessing of the universe, and for His own highest bliss. All of mankind must learn to realize what He is to them by an actual experience of what it means to be without Him. Then they will be able to give Him the unforced outflow of their hearts. Then they will appreciate it when His judgments permanently right all wrongs and eliminate all evil, through the suffering Sacrifice He has provided.
Today the saints mix a measure of atheism with the Mosaic law and Paul's epistles, and seldom realize what a mess it makes. They want judgment now, so as to get their rights according to the law, but they realize also that they need grace for their shortcomings. As they do not get what they want, they lose the sense of God's presence, if they ever had it, and shut Him out of their lives whenever He does not come up to their expectations. It is only as we see by faith that, at present, the evil in the world is according to the Scriptures, and an essential ingredient in God's, plan, and also the only way to the highest blessing for ourselves and for the race, as well as all creation, that we grasp its necessity as a background for the display of His grandest glories and perpetual praise. And then are we prepared to endure with thankful hearts all the trials and tragedies which He sends to us.
Is God judging now? This is a very practical question for all of us. If He is, how can we be satisfied with what He does? A Bible reader who applies the Psalms to himself must be sorely disappointed at times, for there God promises to protect and bless all who trust in Jehovah. He does not redeem such assurances now. The reason is clear. He was judging indirectly then, through the law given to Israel. None of the Psalms, not merely the so-called "imprecatory" Psalms, are applicable now.
Judgment is further complicated in our minds by nature and nature's laws. They operate without fail or favor for either saint or sinner. The just and the unjust are often engulfed in the same doom. The saintliest of the saints seems to have no prerogative. They are swept away by the same storm or crushed by the same earthquake. An "act of God" has come to mean the destructive force of nature. It is seldom, if ever, applied to the beneficial blessings which abound in the physical forces that surround us.
A comprehensive knowledge of God's postponed judgments should help us to endure with patience and longsuffering the "light afflictions," which seem such a heavy burden to us now. These are essential features of the evil eons. It is not neglect or carelessness on His part, but perfect planning. In the future land of glory that awaits us, God will be all in His saints. Their bliss in resurrection will depend on the continual and unbroken operation of His spirit in them, so that judgment will be unneeded and unknown.
THE CONDEMNATION OF ALL
About a dozen times the Authorized Version renders the word judgment condemnation or damnation, and half as often they change judge, to condemn or damn, and judging to condemnation or damnation. This itself is to be drastically condemned, for when the translators damned others, they themselves were far more guilty, because they sinned against light and mutilated the most precious possession of mankind. With this before him, the editor of the Concordant Version text was inclined to choose the word judge rather than condemn, when the reading of the original was not absolutely certain. In the final occurrence of judge, dealing with the fate of those before the great white throne, however, he was compelled against his inclination to read condemn, where the Authorized Version has simply judge. The Greek texts differ at this place, but the best of them, Sinaiticus, reads condemn. In this text there are many omissions, and, as the three letters kat which made the difference, could easily be omitted, but hardly be added, they deserve a place, as they probably were found in the original. Even if rendered judge, the fact that all were condemned is clearly established from other passages.
The apostle Paul makes it clear that Adam's one offense brings condemnation to all mankind (Rom.5:18). Not only shall God judge the world (Rom.3:6), but not one will be found justÄÄnot even one (Rom.3:10). One sin brought condemnation (Rom.5:16). These things are racial, and go back to Adam for their origin and scope. It is not an individual matter. The great white throne judging does not determine this. It was known long before. It simply confirms the previous verdict, after considering the acts of those who inherited mortality from Adam. The same is true of justification. It will not depend on the acts of those who enjoy it, but upon Christ, and His obedience. When Paul, upon a later occasion, speaks of condemnation, he makes it worldwide (1 Cor. 11:32). Moreover, everyone who accepts Christ thereby acknowledges condemnation apart from Him. Only in Christ Jesus is any mortal of Adam's race free from condemnation (Rom.8:1).
"Punishment" is a word that I have come to hate, for men have so fearfully misused it of God's operations. Once we see that all of God's dealings are with a view to the eventual reconciliation of all, the idea of punitive retribution, introduced by corrupt theology, will become abhorrent. If the great white throne sentenced all those who stand before it to eternal torment or annihilation, such a thought might be entertained. But we must remember that the object of all God's operations are rooted in love and fruited in reconciliation. If God is love, He cannot be orthodox. The experience before the great white throne must prepare each one for the consummation, for that is what lies before him. Before there can be a universal reconciliation, each one must be set right with God, and this is accomplished at the judging. Such, indeed, is the true meaning of judgment, which is almost lost, because of the penal character of human adjudication.
The orthodox "hell" completely nullifies all judging and justice. What is the sense of bringing anyone before a judge if be has already been suffering torment for a thousand years and is due to undergo the same eternally, no matter what his sentence is? Such a system would not be tolerated even among the most unjust and cruel of mankind. Justice demands that the sentence suit the crime. It must be adaptable to the most innocent infant as well as the most ungodly adult. This is impossible if the term is infinite, for infinity does not admit of gradations. Moreover it is highly immoral to torment anyone without some useful end. A man who would be guilty of such a thing would be adjudged mad, and confined in an asylum.
RIGHT AND WRONG
The only possible way to determine right from wrong is to acknowledge first of all the place and purpose of God. None of our rights can rest on injustice to Him. We cannot have any clear idea of the nature of the great white throne judgment unless we know what will accrue to God by means of it. Perhaps the most terrible misconception of its function has come from the unscriptural and abominable teaching that all who are judged will be tormented forever in the lake of fire which follows it. In that case it is utterly futile and harmful, and so sheer injustice to God, for He will lose all and gain nothing as a reward for His vast expenditure of creative power and provision. The injustices that men have practiced toward menÄÄand how great is the sum of them!ÄÄnot all of them together would amount to so unspeakable an injustice as that men's acts should not be righted in their relation toward the Deity, so that He may reap the harvest of His work.
What is right? Man has no standard by which to determine this except the feeble flicker of conscience and the munitions of nature. We will probably discover, some day, that most of his rights were wrongs, and even that which seemed altogether right contained an admixture of wrong. This is difficult to discuss unless we take a concrete example. The best is property rights. You have a certificate of title to a piece of land. You can trace its ownership back until someone took it "by right of discovery" perhaps. But what right is that? The land was created by God, and belongs to Him until He gives a valid title, which He will never do because you cannot pay for it, and it is not for sale. Property rights! They will never be right until they revert into the hands of the only rightful Owner and Creator. With this background it would be easy to quiet all the titles in the world in an instant, and, at the same time give God His rights, and His creatures theirs. In this way God will become the universal Owner. All their rights will be found only in Him. So He will become their All.
Is it not significant that, at the great white throne, both earth and heaven flee? Those who are raised at that time cannot claim that part of the earth which they owned at death. In some cases there might be a thousand claimants, and that would only lead to interminable contention, not to a final, righteous settlement. During their lifetime some of them laid claim to vast estates, while others did not even own the ground in which they were buried. But now none have even standing room on the earth, which seems to show that they had forfeited what they had, and that it has reverted to the rightful Owner. Some probably laid claim to a "mansion," or at least a corner in heaven, on the ground of their goodness and gifts. They also find that their title to a celestial place has no foundation. This alone should impress them with the utter unrighteousness of their rights and their failure to recognize God's.
This is the fatal failure in almost all human justice. The relations between men are adjusted without any regard for the rights of the Creator, the Sustainer, the true Beneficiary. All is for Him, first of all. This modifies and may cancel every right that we seek to claim for ourselves. The innumerable and inextricable maze of man's inhumanity to man would present an almost impossible and interminable problem at the judgment if human rights were not readjusted to God's. The Son of God will be there to affectionately press His Father's claims, which will open the eyes of mankind to see that the "rights" for which they otherwise would contend are selfishness, egotism, unfounded pride, the repudiation of God's rights. The Pharisee will not stand up in the judgment to boast in his tithes. He once imagined that he had settled his score with God, that he had given Him what was right. Then he will see that he had robbed God of nine-tenths of His due, for all that he had was a gift from the All-Sufficient. The Pharisee prayed to himself, and was well pleased with his treatment of Jehovah, but all his righteousness was iniquity.
The tribute collector did not talk to himself, or compare himself with others, but anticipated the judgment by renouncing all claims to righteousness. He had no confidence in himself that he was just, so asked only for a propitiatory shelter. Yet he was justified, rather than the Pharisee. I suppose that, from the merely human viewpoint, this was a gross miscarriage of justice. The Pharisee probably was an exemplary character, who tried to keep the law, and was orthodox in his interpretation of the Scriptures. He claimed that, if others were unjust, he was not. Under ordinary circumstances such people would rise in the judging and contend for their own righteousness. The Pharisees would insist that they are right and the tribute collectors are wrong. What an endless debate there would be if all of those before the great white throne should try to settle all disputes among themselves as they do in this life! But if all is made bare and open, the opposite will be the case. All will be condemned by the realization of their utter failure to be just to God.
We know two things concerning the human race. All will be condemned and all will be justified (Rom.5:18). Before they can be justified they must realize their condemnation. This cannot come about by debating the matter from the human standpoint, as Job and his friends did, but by divine intervention, as when Jehovah compared Himself with Job and asked him if he needed to condemn God in order to justify himself (Job 40:8). Elihu's anger was hot against Job for justifying his own soul rather than God (32:2). Even the Psalmist knew that no one of all the living shall be just before God (Psa.143:2). But what a tedious and terrible and interminable time it would be if every case were tried as Job's was! If such a session were held today almost everyone, like him, would seek to justify himself, although few, if any, would have as good a right. At the same time others, with a different standard of right, like Job's friends, would condemn all who do not agree with them. As Zophar said to Job, it is all lip-talk, man's many words of self- justification (Job 11:2).
When it comes to right and wrong, men and nations have forgotten and ignored God. They have lost the fear of Him because He does not interfere. There have been notable attempts to deal justly among men, but seldom, indeed, are God's rights taken into account. William Penn refused to recognize the claim of the English crown to the territory of Pennsylvania, although he paid the king his price. Later, he bought it again from the Indians. Most men would consider this much more than just. But was it? Or was it simply buying from the receivers of stolen goods? The king's title to it was a very poor one, as Penn himself realized. But was that of the Indians much better? Who knows but that they also took it by violence. Even if they were the first settlers, that did not make it theirs. What rivers of blood have been shed in order to seize lands in the possession of others! It could all have been spared if the contending parties had recognized the only Owner of all things and based all their claims on His right to dispose of it as He wills. At the great white throne, right will no longer be based on the futile claims of men. They never believed this, but then they see that their rights are wrong, because they rob God of His rights.
In contrast to human judgments, our Lord emphasized the character of His judging. It is always just and true (John 5:30; 7:24; 8:16). He will not condemn without cause. Indeed, it would almost seem as if, in judging, He will not need to condemn at all, for men themselves will attend to this (compare Rom.2:3). Ninevite men, who heard and heeded the heralding of Jonah, will condemn those who heard and did not heed our Lord. The queen of the south will condemn them also, for she came from far to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and they would not listen to the One Who is the Wisdom of God (Matt.12:41,42). I am practically certain that the judging will be of such a nature that all will condemn each other, and be themselves condemned when all is exposed and made bare in the presence of the great white throne.
Today all is camouflaged. No act is seen as it is. Sin seeks to work in secret. Motives behind men's acts are hid. Men pay more attention to the outward appearance than to the inward reality. In the judging this will be reversed. Everything that is now covered shall be revealed. What is hidden shall be made known (Matt.10:26; Mark 4:22; Luke 12:2). Then the hidden things of humanity will be judged (Rom.2:16). This will probably reverse many a human judgment automatically, without any tedious investigations, or any attempts to evade or distort the open evidence. To my mind this, though painful, will be most wholesome for all concerned, and is absolutely essential to their future welfare. There can be no consummation without it. No reconciliation with God can be considered apart from it. How can God be All in anyone who harbors secret sin, and who does not begin to realize how far he falls short of His holiness? Once we see that judging is the necessary preparation for reconciliation, we will not only bear with it, or acquiesce in it, but we will be thankful for it, and praise God for this provision.
Men send criminals to the penitentiary for life in order to shield society from them. God deals with sinners during a short judgment period in order to prepare them perfectly for endless association with their fellows and with Him. The object of His judging is not to requite the sinner evil for evil, and make him suffer for his badness, but to correct and remove the hindrances to his company. In many cases this may involve severe suffering, but, when compared with the benefits that spring from it, we are reminded of the "light" afflictions of the apostle, which were very heavy, yet lost their weight when compared with the eonian glory to which they were the prelude. Indeed, Paul's glory was limited to the eons, while the reconciliation of God's enemies at the consummation will be endless. The greatest sum imaginable dwindles down to nothing when compared with infinity.
David was given his choice of being judged by Jehovah or by men. His experience with both led him to decide instantly, and he exclaimed, "Let me fall now into the hands of the Lord, for very many are His mercies. But let me not fall into the hands of men." It is instructive to note the alternative judgments, especially their length. He was given the choice of three month's fleeing before his foes, overtaken by the sword of his enemies, or three days of the sword of the Lord, the pestilence (1 Chron.21:13). Everywhere we see that God's judgments are swift, and are soon over, while man's are slow, the agony is long, drawn out. So, we have every reason to think the great assize will be a short period of time. David's penalty was, indeed, severe, for seventy thousand died before their time. But it accomplished its object. The king had been provoked by Satan to count the number of Israel. This showed that David was trusting in numbers, not in God. He was leaning on man, not on Jehovah. Therefore a large part of his host was taken from him, and David was moved to prepare for the temple on mount Moriah, where Jehovah's worship was carried on during the reigns of the rest of the kings of Israel. Satan was defeated and God glorified, and David recalled to trust in Him alone. God, to a great degree, became his All.
In our Lord's description of other judgments we may gather some idea of what He deems the just procedure. To His disciples He said that a slave who knows his lord's will, yet ignores it, shall have many lashes. But one who does not know, even if he deserves blows, will have few. Then He laid down a rule which will probably apply at the great white throne also: As to everyone to whom much was given, from him much will be sought, and to whom they committed much, more excessively will they be requesting of him (Luke 12:47,48). This has a direct bearing on the case of infants, who know practically nothing, and the heathen, who are ignorant of God's Word and will. I shudder, not at the fate of these two classes, but at the terrible fate which would overtake those who have delved deeply into His revelation, if they were not exempt from judgment through the sacrifice of Christ. Yes, we, who know His will, and are such great failures in carrying it out, we would probably receive the most lashes, and deserve the severest blows.
JUDGMENT IS ADAPTED TO GUILT
The severity of judgment will depend largely upon opportunity. The same sin will call down heavy inflictions on one and light correction on another. All agree that it is not just to punish indiscriminately. Those who sin against light are ever so much more accountable than those who fail for lack of light. Most people imagine that, of all cities, Sodom was one of the worst, hence its citizens will suffer the severest penalties in the judging. And it is very likely that the cities of our Lord's day, to whom He sent His kingdom heralds, deemed themselves the most righteous of all mankind, so that their correction, if any, would be very mild. Our Lord reversed this in the case of those who did not receive His heralds. He said that it would be more tolerable for Sodom in that day than for that city (Luke 10:10-12)! Is it too much to deduce from this that it will be more tolerable for the "heathen" than for "Christendom?" I am convinced of this. Consequently, if the object of our "gospel" is to save people suffering, there is more need at home than abroad.
More than this, Tyre and Sidon, we are told, would have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, if they had had the same display of power in their midst as Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, His own city (Luke 10:13-15). Is it right, then, to put them on the same level? What an indictment of the nominal people of Jehovah! Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum were not among the cities that refused to receive His heralds. He did many of His marvels in their midst, Yet the despised cities of the nations shall be dealt with more leniently than they. Does not this reverse our traditional ideas of the place which the "heathen" will have in that day? How blessed it is for those in enlightened lands who actually accept God's grace and Christ's salvation! If they had not, they would be answerable to a much greater degree than the heathen. And does this not throw some light on the fate of infants and children as well? How inexpressibly more tolerable will it be for them than for more mature members of the race!
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