The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding Divine Judgment: How God Ranks Sin

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Here’s a classic question that humans get stuck on: who are the worst sinners?  Who are the real scumbags?  Who are the folks that we’re justified in looking down our noses at?  You see, even though we are all going to be judged individually by God, we love spending our lives playing comparison games.  It makes Ben feel superior to look down on Rex and say to himself, “At least I don’t do what he does.”  Okay, so Ben doesn’t do some of the things that Rex does.  But how relevant is this fact going to be when Ben is receiving his judgment from God in eternity?  Is God going to whip out a list of all of Rex’s activities and say, “Rex is the golden standard by which I’ve decided to judge all humans, so as long as you did better than him, we’re good”?  No, God isn’t going to say anything like this.  Rex’s name isn’t even going to come up when Ben is being evaluated by God.  Instead, God’s going to say, “When you were on earth, I spoke to you many times.  I’m now going to judge you by how you responded to Me when I communicated to your soul.” 

So who’s on your list of super yuck sinners?  Who is it that you just love looking down your nose at?  Child molesters?  Murderers?  Rapists?  Drug addicts?  Pimps?  Terrorists?  Gays?  Bis?  Pedophiles?  Do you know what God thinks of the fact that you are keeping a list of folks who you’re giving yourself permission to inwardly spit on?  Well, let’s just say that you’re not doing a very good job of trying to obey His command to treat others the way you’d want to be treated. You certainly don’t want to be condemned as some vile pile of carnality, so what are you doing when you go around inwardly condemning the folks who you personally loathe?  You’re not responding very well to what God has told you to do, are you?  Yet at the end of your life, how well you responded to God is the only thing He’s going to judge you by.  Are you seeing the problem with playing these grading games with other people’s sins?  While you’re busy shuffling all of humanity into the categories of good, bad, and unforgivable, you’re totally blowing off what God has commanded you to do.

Now being the gracious Guy that He is, God doesn’t expect you to be able to perfectly obey His command for you to treat others the way you’d want to be treated. But He does demand that you make some soul effort, and that means praying something like:

“God, I certainly want forgiveness, mercy, and the chance to start again when I mess up.  Yet here I am refusing to give others these things.  Clearly I’m doing a bad job of treating others the way I’d want to be treated.  Please help me to do better with this, because I want to honor You by obeying Your commands.  Please help me to develop the soul attitudes I’m obviously lacking so that I can be more gracious towards those who I am currently condemning.” 

A prayer like this pleases God, because you’re showing respect for His Authority and submitting to His will.  But when you refuse to embrace this kind of attitude because you’re too busy elevating yourself as a better judge than God is, how is God going to respond to you?  Is He going to say, “I’m so glad I know someone as moral as you—it’s such a relief when I have to deal with these scumbags day in and day out”?  Not hardly.  God is going to look at your judgmental attitude and say, “Did you create humans?  No, you didn’t.  Yet here you are, acting like your understanding of them is better than Mine.  Clearly you need some discipline to help you remember your proper place.”

When we go down the road of self-exaltation by patting ourselves on the back for being oh so much better than those icky sinners, we only end up being disciplined by God for our foul attitudes.  Meanwhile, those of us who actually accept the condemnation that other humans heap onto us end up rejecting God’s grace because we think that we’re too sinful for Him to want.  In both cases, we’re going astray by elevating humans as higher judges than God.  So how do we break out of these negative mindsets?  First we need to recognize what we’re doing and ask God to help us align with His priorities.  Then we need to learn more about how God judges people.

HOW HUMANS RANK SINS

Does God think all sins are equal?  Not at all.  God definitely considers some sins to be far worse than others, but the measures He uses to determine this are vastly different than ours.

The human system for ranking sins generally depends on three factors: the type of action, the degree of personal identity, and the degree of personal impact.  For example, child molesters are commonly viewed as super awful sinners.  Why is this?  We’re all guilty of doing great damage to our fellow human beings in life.  But if we’re going to feel comfortable condemning molesters, we need to find a way of reducing the degree of personal identity that we feel with them, otherwise we’d feel like we were condemning ourselves right along with them.  Here’s where we downplay the fact that molestation is just one of a billion ways that humans use their power to trash others and instead we make a huge issue out of the molester’s methodology or type of action. Molesters sexually abuse kids.  Plenty of us are emotionally, physically and spiritually abusing our children, but as long as we’re not sexually abusing them, we can pretend that we’re oh so different than the molesters.

Now the convenient thing about bagging on molesters is that child molesting is often driven by a sexual attraction to children.  Since most of us are sexually attracted to adults, we’re just not going to find a desire to get it on with kids within ourselves.  It doesn’t mean we’re not sexually perverse, because we all are, but as long as we’re satisfying our perverse desires in other ways, we can pretend that we’re morally superior to those icky molesters.  Among humans, the general rule is to only condemn actions with which we personally have very little identity.  In real life, we actually have a lot more identity with all forms of sins than we want to admit, but we’re very good at denying the extent of our own depravity.

Now the third factor in the human ranking of sins is the degree of personal impact. This is when you say, “The more you hurt me, the more justified I am in hating you.” Because being molested as a child is a life changing experience, we feel justified in really pouring on the hate where molesters are concerned.  We say that molesters deserve to be extra hated because they’re doing so much more damage than, say, a shoplifter.

So what does God think about the human ranking system?  He says it’s just hypocrisy run amuck.  You see, while you pretend to not remember all of the ways you’ve stuck it to people in life, your nasty deeds and carnal impulses are quite obvious to God.  So when you start talking like you’re so much better than that nasty guy over there, God’s not buying it.  God has His own way of ranking sins, and not only is His way far more accurate, but it also knocks us off our pedestals of self-proclaimed righteousness.

HOW GOD RANKS SINS

In the Bible, both Jesus and Yahweh teach that all sins are not equal.  Some are definitely worse than others, and those sins will be judged more harshly.  But here’s where we have to remember that our Gods judge us by  our soul’s response to Them.  Once we understand this, we can understand that an “extra bad” sin in God’s eyes has nothing to do with type of action or degree of impact on other humans. Instead, God ranks the severity of our sins by the intensity of our rebellion towards Him.  What makes the difference between mild and severe rebellion?  There are two main factors, and the first is called spiritual illumination.

It’s all about soul attitude to our Gods.  While humans are judging you by what you’re doing, your Creators are judging you by why you’re doing it.  The first key factor They consider is your degree of understanding about the morality of your action.   In real life, a ton of the women and doctors who have carried out abortions did so without any understanding that what they were doing was morally wrong in the eyes of God.  Because Christians are humans and humans are such vicious judges, many Christians today condemn all abortionists as coldhearted murderers.  Humans only look at what you’re doing—they don’t bother to ask why you’re doing it, nor do they care about your level of understanding.  But God is not a human, and He’s a far better Judge than we are.  When Mary aborts her baby, God doesn’t accuse her of willfully defying Him, because He knows that Mary has never been taught about God’s view of abortion.  Because He’s so much nicer than we humans are, God takes full responsibility for educating us about His moral code, then He only judges us within the context of what He knows that He has told us.

Simply going to church and getting preached at doesn’t qualify as you being educated about God’s moral code.  You can’t understand any spiritual concept until God chooses to give you understanding.  We call this process spiritual illumination, because when God educates you about His truth, it’s like He turns on a light in a dark room which you’re standing in.  Suddenly you see things in the room that have been there all the time, only you couldn’t see them because it was dark.  When God illuminates our souls, He reveals truths to us that have always existed, yet we’ve been unable to see them.  Every human is born spiritually blind and they remain that way until God starts to illuminate them.  Rather than suddenly download a comprehensive understanding of all truth into our minds all at once, God presents tiny kernels of truth to us over time.  If we respond well to the kernel He shows us, He brings us another.  If we start rejecting His kernels, then He stops bringing us more.  Being illuminated by God is a precious gift, because we can never develop rich communion with God if He doesn’t help us know Him better, and the illumination process is how He does this.

In your life, you don’t have anything close to a complete understanding of truth.  Instead, God has given you a limited degree of understanding on a limited number of subjects.  There are many subjects which you have no understanding about right now, and that’s okay, because God has different priorities for each of us.  Spiritual illumination isn’t like going to public school where we are all given the same lessons and required to pass the same tests.  Spiritual illumination is more like being privately tutored.  We’re each being taught directly by God and the subjects He’s choosing to emphasize with you are different than the subjects He’s choosing to work on with someone else. Now because you’re a human, your natural tendency is to judge the whole world according to your personal degree of illumination.

Suppose God opens your eyes to understand that He finds guys getting it on with guys to be sexually perverse.  You respond by rushing out and condemning all gays as moral scum.  Is this correct behavior on your part?  Not at all, because you have no idea how God is bringing along other souls.  The gay guy who lives across the street from you might not understand God’s moral standards for sexual purity yet.  When you go over and blast him with your hate speech, are you accurately representing Christ to him?  No, because Christ does not condemn souls for failing to be clones of you.  Okay, so maybe you’re straight.  Well whoop-de-doo. This is hardly something you can take the credit for—it is the way God wired you, yet here you are boasting of how you’re better than gays.  Well, what does God say?  Does He think it’s fair to hand you some prize for not doing something that you don’t even want to do?  Not hardly.  You and your gay neighbor are in two totally different places.  While you have no desire to date your own gender, your neighbor feels intensely drawn to other men.  You’re not even struggling in an area that is a brutal battle for him.  Naturally you would love to turn your advantage into a bunch of spiritual accolades, but this isn’t how it works in God’s court.  He doesn’t applaud you for not doing something that you aren’t even interested in.  God judges you by how your soul responds to Him, and there will be plenty of times in your life when God convicts you not to do something that you really want to do.

Now suppose that a week after you unload on your gay neighbor about how he’s going to Hell, you come across a purse that’s been dropped in a public park.  Inside the purse you find an envelope stuffed with cash–$2,000 to be exact.  This is just the amount you need to finally afford that new motorcycle that you’ve been lusting after for five years.  How hard would it be to take the cash and leave the purse where you found it?  No one will ever know except God, and God is convicting you to return the purse to its owner with the cash still inside.  Well, you find God’s plan really irritating.  Why can’t you just return the purse and pretend to know nothing about the money?  Well, no, that’s not flying with God.  He insists that you take the higher road here, but you decide to blow Him off.  You take the money, ditch the purse, and go home in an unrepentant state of spiritual rebellion.  How does God view your actions compared to, say, the woman who aborted her baby without understanding that it was wrong?  God views you as the far worse sinner, because you understood what He wanted and you refused to do it. In this moment, God is more ticked at you for stealing the money than He is with your gay neighbor for making out with his live in boyfriend.  While you tell yourself that homosexual intercourse is far worse than a simple theft, God totally disagrees.  You’re ranking sins by type of action, but God is ranking them by soul response and degree of illumination.  God hasn’t convicted your gay neighbor to break up with his boyfriend yet because God has more important priorities for him.  Thanks to Christians like you, your gay neighbor thinks that God hates him and wants nothing to do with him simply because of how he is sexually wired.  God plans to teach your gay neighbor how dearly loved he is by his Creator before He even gets into lifestyle changes.  And right now, your gay neighbor is doing a much better job of listening to God than you are, because at least he is being receptive to God’s illumination, whereas you are being a defiant little punk.

So what do we have so far?  We’ve talked about how God judges us by our soul’s response to Him, and how spiritual illumination plays a critical role in how He assesses our soul’s response because we can’t even choose to obey God until He tells us what He wants.  But now we have to talk about another very important factor that God uses to judge us: empowerment.  Power has to do with ability, and when we talk about Divine empowerment, we’re talking about God giving you the power/ability to do good behaviors by providing you with the resources that you need to act on His commands.

Let’s use an example to see how this works.  You and Beth are sitting in two chairs next to one wall of a large gym.  Standing at the other side of the room, Jesus says, “I want you both to stand up and walk over here to Me.”  You bounce out of your chair and quickly hurry over to Him, but Beth doesn’t move.  She just sits there like a lump.  When you reach Jesus, He smiles at you and says, “You please Me with your obedience.”  Then He looks over at Beth who is still sitting in her chair and calls out, “Great job obeying Me, Beth. I’m very pleased with you as well.”  Say what?  When you look back, you see Beth still sitting in her chair.  Clearly she’s being a disobedient brat, so how is it fair that Jesus is crediting her with obedience?  You’re the only one who obeyed—everyone can see that.  So in your mind, you’re the only one who ought to be getting praised by Jesus.  This example demonstrates how quickly we humans get huffy when we think God is being unfair.  Of course we don’t mind at all if He’s being unfair towards us by giving us mercy that we don’t deserve.  But we get quite irritated with Him applauding other people who we’ve personally decided are unforgivable yucks.  Of course the real problem here is that we are once again elevating humans as the superior judges when they’re really not.

So what is going on with Jesus and Beth?  How did she score the same reward as you when she didn’t even stand up?  Well, while you were busy judging Beth by her actions, Jesus was judging her by her degree of empowerment. In this scenario, you and Beth were given an equal degree of illumination: you both understood what Jesus wanted you to do.  But what you don’t realize is that unlike you, Beth is paralyzed from the waist down.  In her soul, she cares about pleasing Jesus as much as you do, but Jesus is not empowering her with the resources she needs to physically carry out His orders.  What does Jesus judge us by?  Our souls response to Him, not our external actions.  When Jesus gave the order, He saw both you and Beth eagerly want to please Him on a soul level.  Both of you gave a “Yes, Lord,” answer, but only you had the empowerment to physically carry out Jesus’ command.

Now how hard would it be for Jesus to give Beth the ability to walk?  Not hard at all.  As humans, we are totally dependent on our Gods for all things, and our Gods are limitless Beings who could give us infinite abilities.  But in real life, our Gods choose to keep us on a tight leash of very limited abilities.  Not only do They give us very limited resources to work with, but They are constantly changing those resources.  One day you’re in a great mood and you find it easy to be gracious with the customer who is rude to you at work.  But on another day, you’re feeling really down and when someone snaps at you, you snap right back.  How hard would it be for your Gods to give you the empowerment to be a perpetual ray of sunshine?  It wouldn’t be hard at all, but this isn’t how They choose to operate.  When you’re a soul who has been saddled with chronic depression, it’s easy to feel discouraged by the realization that your Gods are intentionally withholding the resources you need to be cheery.  But then again, the fact that They judge you according to how much empowerment They have given you means that you can have just as much opportunity to please Them as the peppiest of Christians.

It’s critical that you grasp how gracious our Gods are about this judging business.  They take full responsibility for educating you about They want, and for giving you the resources you need to carry out Their commands.  You’re never going to see the day that They blame you for not being able to do something that you just couldn’t do, and They are the only Ones who can accurately assess your abilities in any given situation.  You see, with other humans, you just can’t win.  Humans are brutally unfair judges who rush to condemn while totally blowing off critical factors like empowerment and illumination.  This is how we end up being so hateful towards certain groups of people.  When it comes out in the news that some man was arrested for molesting kids, everyone assumes that the man had all of the resources he needed to resist the temptations he was battling with.  And once we assume that a fellow had a plethora of resources at his disposal, we feel quite justified in spewing hate all over him.  Look at some of the sadistic comments people write whenever molestation is being discussed, and you’ll get a good picture of how merciless people can be.  By the time we’re wishing that some total stranger meets with some long, torturous death, how good of a job are we doing of treating others the way we’d want to be treated?  Do you want total strangers to condemn and execute you based on some journalist’s totally biased and inaccurate account of your actions?  Of course not.  You would want to have the chance to tell your side of the story before judgment was passed.  You would want other people to listen and care about the context of your actions and take time to listen to your motivations.  This is what you would want, but how often do you extend this courtesy to those who you read about in the news?  Isn’t it true that you’re used to passing lightning quick judgments about total strangers without even stopping to wonder how accurately their actions are being reported or wondering what their side of the story is?

In Christian circles, the list of “unpardonable sins” gets quite lengthy once we’re done ripping on everyone we feel superior to.  Murderers, idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, addicts, homosexuals, pedophiles, abortionists—the list goes on and on and it varies as you change denominations.  But every time we start mass condemning people based on some earthsuit factor like sexual orientation, gender, skin color, or behavior, are we anywhere close to judging people the way God judges them?  Not at all, and this is why our final judgments end up so different than God’s.

ASSESSING THE DEGREE OF REBELLION

So now that we have a basic understanding of how God judges us, how exactly does He rate the intensity of our rebellion?  Well, this is where we get into the principle of, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.”  Once God knows that He has loaded you up with all of the understanding and resources you need to do something, He is going to consider your refusal to do it as far more rebellious than that of someone who had less resources than you.  It’s rather like God asking a millionaire and a poor man to each give $20 to some charity.  To the rich man, $20 is nothing, but to the poor man, giving away such a large sum will make his week a lot harder.  When both men refuse to do what God is asking them to do, who has committed a greater sin?  The fellow with more resources.  God will be more lenient towards the poor man because He understands that He was asking for something very difficult.  But the rich man is without excuse because God has given Him a plethora of financial resources to carry out a financial task.

This same principle applies in every area of life, not just to material resources.  In the Gospel books, we find Jesus cursing the souls in three cities where He had personally spent a lot of time.  He said that the souls in those towns would be judged more harshly than the souls in the infamous Sodom that Yahweh wiped off the map way back in Genesis.  Why was Jesus extra angry with the souls He was talking to?  Because Jesus knew that they had been given more resources than the souls in the ancient city of Sodom.  Both the souls in New Testament Israel and the souls way back in the time of Genesis were being convicted by God to make certain spiritual choices.  Everyone refused to do what God was telling them to do, but they had not been given an equal amount of spiritual illumination.  The souls who Jesus is cursing in the Gospels had gotten to see Him personally stand in their midst, preaching and performing miracles.  Because they had been given extra resources, they were judged more harshly.  Like our rich man, the task that Jesus was putting before His New Testament crowd was a lot easier for them than the task that was put before the souls in ancient Sodom.  Everyone was given enough resources to obey God, which is why everyone was in trouble for disobeying.  But because Jesus gave His crowd extra resources, they ended up in worse trouble for making the same soul choices.  This is what makes empowerment and illumination such serious issues: because the more you know and the more you are given, the more God will demand of you and the less lenient He will be with you.

Karen grows up in a loving Christian home with an attentive father.  As an adult, Karen has abundant emotional resources.  She has lots of confidence, a positive self-image, and good relationship skills.  Karen has also been given plenty of spiritual illumination by God and she understands that He does not approve of premarital sex.  Tiffany also understands that God doesn’t like premarital sex, but Tiffany hasn’t been given nearly as many resources as Karen has.  Tiffany grew up without a father, she has a very poor self-image, and she intensely craves male affirmation.  Karen is good at balancing power in her romantic relationships and if a man treats her badly, she dumps him.  But Tiffany is a spineless doormat who lets men walk all over her because she feels so desperate for any kind of attention they’re willing to give her.  One night both women are getting pressured by their boyfriends to get in the sack, and both women feel convicted by God to refuse.  But in the end, both cave in.  Which woman has committed the greater sin in God’s eyes?  Karen.  Why?  Because God has given Karen far more resources than He’s given Tiffany, therefore He is going to be less patient with Karen’s rebellion.  Not only does Karen know better, she has also been empowered to do a lot better in the sex department than Tiffany can with her crippling daddy issues.  Because God has equipped Karen with the ability to do better, He demands that she live at a higher moral level.

As this example demonstrates, God doesn’t cast blanket judgments.  Instead, He judges us each individually within the context of the resources that He knows we have.  And since God is the One giving us everything we have, we simply can’t get away with deceiving Him about what we are and aren’t capable of.  If He says we could have done better, then that’s a fact, not a theory.  But often this is not at all what God says.  Often it’s only other humans who are criticizing us for being slackers and failures while God is commending us for our soul’s response to Him.  As was the case with Beth who could not physically stand up and cross the room when Jesus told her to, God judges us by our soul’s response to Him, not by how well we can make our earthsuits carry out His commands.  And because God blocks other humans from seeing into your soul, can other humans accurately judge you? No, and it drives them crazy.  This is why you’ll find the New Testament apostles rattling off their personal lists of super bad sins—because the apostles can’t stand to leave the judging to God.

Humans want to be able to look around and pinpoint the slackers versus the truly devoted, yet the truth is that they just can’t.  God is keeping some of His most devoted souls cloaked in some really repulsive packages and those packages are completely fooling the rest of us.  We simply don’t want to believe that some murderous creep or some staggering drunk or some sick pervert is capable of making soul choices which are pleasing to God.  And yet such souls are quite capable, and many are doing it.  Because we just won’t stop obsessing over meaningless externals, we’re going to be in for quite a shock in eternity when God reveals His own assessments of us all.  Plenty of souls who were revered as super holy on earth are going to end up last in Heaven because of the rotten soul choices they made.  At the same time, many who were written off as unforgivable rejects will be invited to the front of the line because they did so well with the limited resources that they were given.

So what’s the application for you in all of this?  You need to focus on your own walk with God and stop trying to judge everyone else.  You’re just not capable of judging right because God is intentionally withholding the pertinent information from you.  Meanwhile, focusing on what other souls are doing is distracting you from what God is telling you to do in your own life.  You’re going to be judged by how your soul responded to God in this life.  You’re not going to be compared to other people so you might as well stop comparing them to yourself.  God isn’t about to take orders from you regarding who He can and can’t be merciful to.  He is the Judge, and He doesn’t invite any of us to assist Him in His judgment process. God commands us to treat others the way we’d want to be treated.  That really doesn’t leave much room for us to be condemning those around us, does it?

FURTHER READING:
The Inner Room: Understanding How God Judges You
Repentant Sinners: Is it wrong to stop feeling bad about the past?
Conviction Q&A
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You
Understanding God’s Justice: Inequality in Hell
Understanding Unpardonable Sins: Lies vs. Truth

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