Last week I was meeting with a weekly men’s group from my local church when the subject of divine judgment came up.
One of the blessings, though some might call it a curse, within United Methodist small groups like this is that our beliefs typically run the gamut of opinion from conservative or traditional all the way to liberal or progressive.
One man held to the belief that Jesus would come again to earth and pronounce God’s judgement upon all of humanity, both “the quick (living) and the dead.” We were all heading for a future judgement. Another opined that God’s judgement was in the past, ending upon the cross of crucifixion where Christ died to render all humankind innocent. The verdict was in and there was no double jeopardy ahead.
So what do you think?
No consensus was reached in our group. We are, after all, United Methodists. But the very question of divine judgment leads us to do more thinking about such an idea.
In case you’d care to know what I think, my own views would probably be rooted in my prior blog in which I claimed that non-accountability itself is at the root of social injustice in our world. I’m one of those who likes human freedom but can’t see it happening apart from human responsibility; also, can’t see justice for all happening without accountability for all.
What’s more, I can’t see the biblical account of God’s just character and ultimate Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven happening apart from God’s judgment. Nor any form of social justice happening apart from our social judgment as humans. That, for me, forms a critical part of the God-human relationship. God’s Kingdom requires a “buy in” from us as human beings, or else it doesn’t come about. That’s my thought, anyway, and I dare say it is biblical in foundation, which is the Methodist way.
So the notion that God’s judgment, as expressed by the prophet Micah, requires humanity to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” doesn’t strike me as anything that would end with the crucifixion of Jesus. Where my own mind meets the Bible, this is simply an item of “Old Business” that morphs into our “New Business” of Jesus upon speaking not just as a Prophet for God but as the incarnate God for himself. And this item of New Business requires some conversation and decision-making around 3 parables of Jesus in particular. They are found in the 25th Chapter of Matthew. And they speak to this larger question of justice and accountability.
First parable of accountability deals with the issue of time management.
If you don’t already know, it has to do with the ten virgins who are going out to meet the coming bridegroom for the wedding feast (metaphor for the Kingdom of God coming to earth as it is in heaven) with oil in their lamps to light their journey. How long was the journey? Some thought it would be short, so they took little oil. Others were prepared for the long haul and carried a lot of oil for their lamps. Some were invested only in the present. Others invested in the future. All were held accountable for what amounted to their management of time.
Second parable deals with the issue of money management.
This time the fable Jesus told involved three slaves who are given some talent (money) to live on until the master returns from a journey of unknown duration (again, a metaphor for the coming of God’s Kingdom of perfect justice upon the earth). Two of the slaves invested in the future and were able to double their amount. One slave invested only in the present, holding out no hope at all for a better future. Expecting a worse future, he managed only to live for the now and not the then. All three were held accountable for what amounted to their management of money.
Third parable deals with the issue of relationships.
In this last fable, Jesus tells of not individual but rather national accountability. And the nations are judged by how well they cared for the poor, such as those who lacked food or water or friendship or clothing or healthcare or advocacy. Those sometimes religious nations that neglected the poor were not expecting to be held accountable. They were above all that.
Only they weren’t.
Rather, they were held to the same account as the secular nations around the question of how they manage their relationships. Taking care of only their own and not the stranger proved, in God’s judgment, to be just as short-sighted as those whose time and money were given over to present but not future concerns. Investing in the future of society was a measure of social justice to which Jesus proclaimed us collectively accountable.
And so to God’s Old Business of requiring us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly came the New Business of meeting God’s requirement for managing time, money, and relationships in terms of the then and them, not just the now and us. When we claim non-accountability, we are destined to live in a world of perpetual injustice. Not into God’s preferred Kingdom.
Where the prophet left off in saying what God requires of us, Jesus takes up with three important parables.
Parables demanding discussion and decision as Christians.
For to do justice requires managing our time with the future in mind. To love kindness requires managing our money with the future also in mind. And to walk humbly with our God requires managing our relationships even at the national level with the future for those strangers, even the least of them, also in mind.
For the “why to” of social justice in God’s Kingdom involves the “how to” of accountability in God’s judgment. It’s time to call the question and vote. Are we in favor or opposed?