Humans have an illusion of independence. Most people have the sense that they make choices that shape their environment and can control their own destinies, and that through their own efforts they provide for themselves.
This is an illusion because in general we have no control whatsoever over the most basic factors of life such as the weather, political and economic changes or even our own genetics. But because it seems like they are in control, most people do not want someone else telling them what they can and cannot do, or judging their behavior. This human tendency puts us at odds with God, who presents Himself as “the judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). What right does He have to decide whether my behavior is worthy of reward or punishment?
At the most basic level God has the right to judge us because He created us. Science teaches that humans evolved through a process of mutation and natural selection. If this were the case there would be no standards of behavior that were more right than any other; life would simply be a struggle, with the outcome determining who was most fit to survive.
But God has revealed in the Bible that He is the great intelligence that created the universe and everything in it. Like any creator He has the right to do whatever He wants with the things He has made, even to the point of destroying them if He so chooses. The apostle Paul expresses this principle in his letter to the Romans: “Indeed, o man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this? Does not the potter have power over the clay?” (Romans 9:20,21). If we knew nothing more about God than that He is our Creator, we could only hope that our He would be kind and fair; even if He were not, He would still have the right to judge us.
In this world we have all experienced unrighteous judgment. Judges sometimes base their decisions on their own racial or cultural prejudices or allow bribes to influence them. They may be too lazy or impatient to gather sufficient evidence and jump to conclusions. These experiences cannot help but shape our attitudes toward God’s judgment. If the Creator were malevolent and had created beings in order to exploit them or harm them it would be understandable that they might resent and resist His judgments and authority.
This in fact is the accusation that God’s enemy Satan has lodged. In his first encounter with mankind in the Garden of Eden he charged that God is a selfish liar who wants to maintain His exclusive privileges, and that we should resist and disobey Him. This rebellious spirit has infected the whole world and we can know to what extent we have bought into this mindset by our attitude toward God’s judgment.
The Bible presents a totally different picture. First of all, “God is love” and so His judgment is an expression of love, not a desire for control or revenge or an expression of malevolence. “He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth” (Psalms 96:13). God promises in this verse that He will not pervert justice, and falsehood will not be able to prevail in His judgment.
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Here we see that the standard for judgment is the Law of God (several of the Ten Commandments are specified in the previous verse), but that the law is designed to give us liberty, not to arbitrarily limit our freedom. If we have ever had the misfortune of being robbed or of having a loved one suffer from adultery or murder we can easily recognize that true freedom comes from obedience to God’s law, not from disobedience. God’s judgment is simply a way for Him to ensure that lawbreaking will not be a part of the eternal reality.
Some of the resentment toward God and His judgment stems from the misconception that God is judging us every moment and that the mishaps, pain and tragedies that we experience are God’s punishment for our transgressions. In actual fact, God is continuously shielding us from the worst consequences of our own actions and of those of others. This is represented in the Book of Revelation as “four angels… holding back the four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1). Some of the most perceptive scientists of the last 50 years have predicted total collapse of the economy and the environment, catastrophic nuclear wars and infective diseases, and devastating shortages of food, water and energy. The fact that these catastrophes, which should have been the natural result of the human behavior that these scientists have observed, have not taken place is strong evidence that God, rather than judging and punishing, is doing all He can to minimize the pain and tragedies that we have been bringing on ourselves.
The Bible teaches clearly that there will be a final judgment, and that many people will be condemned to eternal death. But we should keep in mind that it is not so much their behavior that condemns them. Many people will be saved who have continued to break God’s law, and many will be condemned who would be considered by their friends and neighbors to be good people. The judgment is not of the specific instances of sin, but of the attitude toward sin.
People who have chosen Christ to be their Lord, believing in His sacrifice for their sins, have been born again. They will be saved, even though their human weakness may cause them at times to break God’s law, because they seek God’s forgiveness for their sins and His grace to overcome them. When they receive new bodies at the resurrection they will be safe for eternity because Jesus is their Lord and they will no longer have the temptations of the flesh and of the world.
On the other hand, people who have refused Christ’s sacrifice for their sins will be lost, even if in general they lived good and moral lives. Their refusal to yield to the entreaties of the Holy Spirit show that the seed of rebellion is within them, which would eventually lead to the same sinful behavior that has been destroying the world for all of human existence.
We see that the judgment is God’s way of ensuring love and harmony in His eternal kingdom. This world has suffered enough from sin, and the judgment is simply God’s way of bringing it to an end.
We usually think that the judgment is all about our behavior, but in actual fact God is being judged as much as anyone. At the very beginning of the sin problem in the Garden of Eden the accusations were against God. Eve believed those accusations and disobeyed God’s law, and her behavior along with that of all other sinners will be considered in the judgment. But the major consideration will be the accusations themselves. The love that God’s followers have for Him and for their “neighbors” will be the evidence in the judgment that God is love— “as it is written, ‘that You (God) may be justified in your words, and may overcome when You are judged” (Romans 3:4).
So maybe the issue is not so much what right does God have to judge me, but rather what right do I have to judge Him? And isn’t that what one does when he considers God’s law and gospel and rejects them?