This week’s Friday is for Friends comes from Derek Leman, a messianic rabbi (or a messianic pastor for some of us). I am finding that his questions are haunting more and more of us these days, and I hope we have a good conversation about this today.
They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us
from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath
of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is
able to withstand it?” (Revelation 6:16-17)
Have your own views on the nature, extent, and parameters of divine
judgment in the afterlife changed over the years? Have you noticed a
change in Christian writing about judgment in the afterlife? Is a
lessening of dogma justified?
My thoughts about divine judgment have evolved over the years. My first turning toward God with complete devotion was largely due to my realization that I faced the displeasure of God with as much power to survive as a lone child against a perfect storm. The idea of judgment, then, was at the heart of my discovery of divine love.
In spite of that early comfort with the subject, I see that over the years I have become more vexed with the idea of this God I love bringing wrath on mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — the tangible people I see.
It may only be my perception, but I sense a lessening of dogma about such things as hell and wrath in religious writings and talk. I could speak specifically of theological trends which gain wider acceptance now than I could ever imagine they would have fifty years ago.
I believe we are right to both doubt and affirm concepts of divine wrath which we can humanly describe and imagine.
That is, we have grounds to doubt whatever we might imagine are the parameters and the measures of God’s retribution. Even reading a verse of scripture does not settle the matter because scriptures about retribution are likely to be dumbed down descriptions of notions too intricate for us.
And yet we also have grounds to affirm the ire of the “one who is seated on the throne” and the “wrath of the Lamb.”
When we doubt the truth of divine judgment, because we want to let everyone off so easily, we make the mistake of underestimating the potential of humankind. We let people off too easily as if it does not matter that man is capable of so much more.
We tell ourselves that we can understand why so few have faith in God in a troubled world. We make excuses for the pettiness and crime that pervades. But in a deeper place within us we must admit that we know better.
Humankind is capable of sublime literature and storytelling, stunning works of art, and elaborate inventions. This same humankind which discovered the magnitude of space and the near infinitude of the subatomic should be able to arrive at the realization of God. This same humankind which rejoices in literature and stories and movies of bravery, sacrifice, faithful love, and so on, should be able to live better by these ideals.
I am left with the middle ground of doubting any specific interpretation I might hold about the whos and whens and wheres of divine judgment while being certain of the inevitability of it. We all choose which rock we will hide under when the day of revelation comes. I am much more certain of my Rock than of my theories.