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The term Divine judgment is strongly associated with punishment in our minds. When we picture God acting as a Judge, we tend to think of Him glaring down at us with some disapproving scowl. We expect Him to swiftly find fault with us and then break out some frightening forms of discipline. It is the belief that God is an intimidating, hard to please Judge that causes many guilt ridden souls to shut down their prayer lives and avoid talking about the sins they have committed. Often we fall into the trap of thinking that if we try to bring up certain subjects with God, He’ll unload on us in some terrifying manner and confirm His disgust with us in a way that will crush our hearts. But is this really the case?
When people talk about God being fair and just, they’re really trying to say that He is good in character. We associate fairness and justness with good character, while being unfair and unjust is clearly the mark of bad character. Yet in reality God is grossly unfair and unjust in His judgments of us. True justice cares only about upholding the law. If God were truly just, there would be no forgiveness of sin, and no concept of eternal rewards because none of us would qualify. A truly just God would be impossible for us to please because we all sin every day. We’re all depraved little wretches who delight in perverse desires and nasty actions. By now we’re all guilty of intentionally wounding people and not being the least bit sorry. Because we’re so busy justifying our own crimes while demanding that everyone else be punished for theirs, we fail to acknowledge just how messed up we really are. But when God looks at us, He isn’t blinded by the same prideful prejudices that we are. He sees us as we truly are: the good, the bad and the ugly. If God were truly just, He would meter out immediate punishment for every sin we commit and none of us would survive into adulthood. By the age of two, most of us knew we were intentionally defying our parents’ authority when we started answering their every instruction with “no”. It doesn’t take long at all for the moral conscience to awaken in a child. If God were truly just, we’d all be dead and in Hell, yet here we are. So what is going on?
The truth is that God is an extremely merciful and gracious Judge. He forgives what should not be forgiven. He loves those who do not deserve to be loved. He protects those who do not deserve protection, and He blesses those who do not deserve to be blessed. Think about your own life. Are there things you’ve done which you knew were terribly wrong at the time you did them yet you simply didn’t care? Are there people in this world who would say you destroyed their lives? When you can’t whitewash yourself with an honest “I didn’t know better at the time” excuse, it can be extremely difficult to accept God’s gracious judgment of you. God’s anger we understand, but His mercy blows our minds. When you are truly repentant over the things you’ve done and filled with shame about the past, God’s mercy can feel agonizing to receive. The injustice of God letting you off the hook for the crimes you’ve done seems so extreme that you find yourself trying to seek out other ways to punish yourself. Yet when you engage in self-harming practices, or when you start trying to provoke others into punishing you, what are you saying to God? You’re setting yourself up as a higher authority than He is. God says “I forgive you and I’m over it” but you say “No, You can’t forgive me. You have to stay mad at me and punish me.” Is this a respectful way to treat God Almighty? Not hardly.
Reverence, submission, dependency and trust are four soul attitudes which are critical to you developing a close relationship with God. Every single trial you go through in life is going to be about God developing one or more of these attitudes in you. The more you focus on these four attitudes and look for lessons associated with them, the better off you’ll be. Submission trials abound in life. Anytime you find yourself disagreeing with the calls God is making, it’s an opportunity for you to practice submission. When you insist that God should be punishing you more than He is, you are trying to control Him. When you declare that God can’t forgive you until your human victim forgives you, you are trying to control Him. Trying to control God is the opposite of submitting to Him. The key to resolving your stress over receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy is to turn the focus onto submission.
God is the Supreme Authority over all things. He is the King. He is the Boss. What He says goes. He doesn’t have to justify His decisions to anyone. He is not bound by the laws He gives to us (see Why God Doesn’t Obey His Own Laws). He takes orders from no one. Practicing submission is a matter of praying:
“God, I recognize that You outrank me. You’re in charge, I’m not. I don’t understand why You are choosing to be so merciful to me. I know I don’t deserve so much grace, but I also get that it’s not my place to tell You how to operate. If You want to be kind and merciful to me, You get to, because You’re the King. Help me to stop fighting You and receive these things You are giving me. Help me to accept Your love and forgiveness on a deep core level. I want to please You with my soul’s response to You and treat You with the honor You deserve.”
A prayer like this is far more pleasing to God than you cowering in some corner waiting for Him to nail you. God doesn’t want you to be treating Him like He’s impossible to please. God delights in being merciful. It’s not a strain for Him, it’s a joy. He doesn’t pass out grace grudgingly, He heaps it on generously. Imagine if you were to try and surprise a friend with a gift that you got just to put a smile on their face. How would you want them to respond? You’d want them to receive it joyfully of course, not shove it away and burst into tears about how undeserving they are. In the same way, God is very pleased when you choose to receive the mercy and forgiveness He has decided to give you. God wants you to embrace His love like a child embraces his favorite teddy bear—not shove it away like some offensive object. God outranks you and He says that no one will tell Him how merciful He can and can’t be towards His own creatures. Ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you stop fighting against His love for you and He will.
Escaping the Trap of Guilt
How long will God punish me for the past?
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You
Justifying God’s Love for Us
Distinguishing Between Grace & Mercy