The Awesome Judgement Seat of ChristFr. Barnabas Powell
Ever wonder how words lose their meaning? I have. I think of how society redefines things to suit their current thinking. But this isn’t a new phenomena at all. We humans do this all the time. In fact, a famous president of the United States defended himself from serious charges by reminding his questioners “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
The same challenge exists today with the word “judgement.” There was a time when having “good judgement” was a very important part of having good character. But nowadays the word “judgement” or “judge” carries with it all kinds of negative notions about “privilege” and “prejudice” and “unfairness.” And to be sure, the misuse of judgement makes those charges easy. But what happens in this modern context when we hear that we will all appear before the “judgement seat of Christ?” I can imagine some “righteous indignation” from many today accusing Jesus of unfairness and “don’t judge me!”
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 5:10-15
BRETHREN, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who pride themselves on a man’s position and not on his heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
St. Paul tells us that we “must” all appear before the judgement seat of Christ and that should explain to his parish there in Corinth why he does what he does and acts the way he acts. You see, he’s had to use some pretty hard language for this parish and he wants them to understand what motivates him. It isn’t anger and insult. It’s love; love for them and love for God.
And that is what motivates God in His actions toward us! In fact, that’s what “judgement” means in the scriptures – active, undiluted, unwavering, unchangeable, unavoidable, love. Take this seriously and this is a terrifying truth.
Terrifying? Yes, terrifying. Because, if God loves me that way forever, my ability to embrace that love and enter into that love and then be transformed by that love (because that’s what true love always does – it transforms) is in direct proportion of my ability to return that love for God. And, if I refuse or neglect this love, this very love from God will be torment because I have not allowed His love to prepare me for this “awesome” reality. This is precisely why the Orthodox Church teaches me to say “lord have mercy” so much; not out of fear of God’s anger or His wrath. God at His most wrathful is kinder than all men at their most kind! No, this fear flows from the growing awareness as I grow closer to God that He literally means me no harm. But He will also not stop being Himself to accomodate my self-centeredness.
So, the whole of the Faith through the centuries is to shape me into a being that can stand in the bright light of that never setting “sun” of love. All the disciplines, all the prayers, all the liturgies, all the “demands,” commands, exhortations, sermons, actions, are all meant to re-orient me away from a small soul that will one day stand before the Person of Jesus Christ and have revealed to myself and the whole of creation the extent of my ability to hold His love! The Faith is about ever expanding my inner self to be a “fit habitation” for God. Realizing this transfigures your motivation for being a faithful Orthodox Christian. God, far from being your Enemy, loves you so much that not even troubles are wasted in inviting you to be made more able to love and to be loved.
Today, do you “fear” God? And, if you do, why? If you fear Him because you are “afraid” He is going to punish you or be angry with you, then you’ve fallen for the slander of the evil one about our God. But, if you learn to “fear” God because He is everlasting love and that love is going to be, one day, poured on you without measure, and eternally, and you see this now and cooperate with the Spirit to make you ready for this eternal torrent of love, then you’ll be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. This Sunday is Back to Church Sunday for my parish in Cumming, GA. Do you know how to reactivate the faithful when they stop coming to church? That’s one of the more important topics we will be discussing at the “Bringing Orthodoxy to America” Evangelism Conference in Portland, OR Oct.3-5! Find out more at www.come-sf.org