It sounded like a reasonable question.
The question wasn’t “HOW does God judge us?” The answer to that one, the questioner assumed, was wrapped up in the matter of “natural” disasters, such as earthquakes, fire and floods and so forth; or, alternatively, the grim finality of hell and damnation.
No, no, he insisted (before I had a chance to respond to all that): “My question is: What has God got against us? Why does he judge us at all?”
In both Greek and Hebrew, the words used for “judge” carry the idea of weighing up (considering, deciding) and dividing (separating the good from the bad etc). Remember that damning word to King Somethingorother, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting“?
Judgement means decision and that implies division.
In Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is likened to a “sharp, two-edged sword, dividing between soul and spirit.” It’s an interesting metaphor for judgement.
The Word of God divides between what originates in the soul (personality, emotions, reason) and what originates in the spirit (God-awareness, spiritual intelligence and understanding).
You can see this verse in action in the encounter between Peter and Jesus in Mark 8, when Peter takes Jesus to one side to rebuke him for talking about the forthcoming suffering of the messiah. Jesus answers with all the two-edged sharpness of the Word made flesh: “You have in mind the things of men and not the things of God.”
Do you see it? The Word is dividing -judging- between soul and spirit.
But, in the words of my questioner, do we deserve any judgement at all?
My gut-response is that we are interpreting the J-word differently, me and him.
He is thinking of Zeus sending indiscriminate thunderbolts whenever he loses his temper (a bit like the way Darth Vader treated his minions, offhandedly strangling anyone who showed disrespect).
And I’m thinking of judgement as meaning a cautious, loving weighing-up. It’s what good fathers do when dealing with their tricky offspring. They don’t crush or terrify; they consider and encourage their loved child to weigh up the situation for themselves.
Every decision becomes part of a learning curve towards an unwritten future. Even wrong decisions can be useful to prevent future mistakes.
But quite definitely, the father does provide guidelines (like the Ten Commandments) which provide a clear blueprint for moral decision-making. He makes it clear. Psalm 119 is full of expressions such as “Your law is a path for my feet.” You’ve shown me how to live.
But the whole saga of Hebrew history (and human history, for that matter) is that we fail to live up to even this basic guideline. The ancient story of the serpent with the apple in Genesis is a picture of initial failure. Man chooses and he chooses wrongly, like a driver taking a wrong turn, and then another and another until he is hopelessly lost.
Our human condition is just that: we are hopelessly lost.
Well, perhaps not hopelessly lost. The Hebrew Bible also contains the promise of a new day, a new hope rising. Even if all you see are dry bones, Ezekiel, God can make them live again. Even if the Law only shows you how poorly you perform, it can still prove to be “a schoolmaster” that teaches you the basic lessons that are completed in Christ.
“Because I’m going to take my Law and put it in your heart and enable you to live that way, so that the Ten Commandments (You SHALL do this, you SHALL NOT do that) become the Ten Descriptions of how Spirit-filled people live. “I will put my spirit within you and enable you to walk according to my law.”
So why does God judge us? Because He’s a good father who wants the best for his children.
John 3 gives an interesting perspective:
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
“This is the verdict.” Sentence has already been passed. You’re free.
In Christ there is no judgement whatever.
In one sense then, we are our own judge and jury.