God’s Love and His Judgement
‘God is love.’ (1 John 4:8)
The verse is thrown around a lot. When I was a kid I even had a red rubber with this verse stamped on it in my pencil case.
Yet love takes many forms. As a kid I understood this verse to mean the kind of love I received from my family. As I grew up and came across different kinds of people, I realised not everyone loves in the same way. There are many love languages. Some of them, usually because of our background, it’s easy for us to recognise. Others not so much.
In a recent post, I mentioned how some people are put off by ‘religious types’ within Christianity because they can seem very judgemental – even hypocritical. They’re put off by how self-righteous and unloving they can seem.
And I totally get their point.
We’ve all seen on TV or in films the caricature of ‘Hellfire and brimstone’ preachers. Their mouths frothing, their eyes bulging, the veins in their foreheads popping. There doesn’t seem to be much of God’s love for us in these people.
Yet, whilst God is a God of love … He is also a God of judgement.
How can these two characteristics be part of the same God?
How can we, as Christians, reflect these two aspects of God’s character to those around us?
These are two questions I hope to answer, using some things I learned about love and God’s love for us from my husband.
My Background, My Husband’s Background
I recently got married. My husband is Colombian and we have extremely different backgrounds. My husband thinks I’ve had a sheltered life. Compared to him, of course, I have. I grew up in a Christian home. The kind of home where scenes in films or TV shows of violence or sex or anything else that was thought unsuitable for a small child were fast forwarded – my eyes shielded in case I glimpsed too much in the blurr of footage moving at double speed.
My husband didn’t grow up in such a context. Such scenes were not fast forwarded for him, on the screen nor off it. His childhood was spent in a poor, rough neighbourhood of Bogota – the capital city of Colombia. He saw a lot. Things that even now I squirm through when I see its likeness on screen.
The atmosphere I breathed at home was one of encouragement. As the baby of the family I had four people always around me – my parents, brother and sister – who built me up. I experienced discipline and criticism but the bitter pill was usually coated with a large portion of kindness so that I barely noticed taking it.
A Different Way of Showing Love
Now I live with my husband and he definitely doesn’t sugar-coat things. He doesn’t know how to, never having experienced that himself – other than from me now. He loves me but he sees me for what I am, good and bad, and tells me what he sees. I remember the first time he told me I was untidy, not long after we met. I suppose I was. I’d never really thought it particularly important to spend a lot of time organising my things. Yet to have him think he could pass judgement over me like that was a surprise. I resented it a little.
Since then he’s passed judgement on a lot of things. Some of these things I’ve come to agree with him about and … what’s more, have benefitted from him having said it. Some of these things, I’ve not agreed with him about. His criticism doesn’t unsettle me as much as it did before. I’ve come to realise that for him, it’s a way he expresses love. He, correctly or mistakenly, sees something that he thinks is causing problems for me – a way of looking at things perhaps, or a priority that I’ve placed too much value on – and he wants to give me the benefit of his perspective. He wants to help me become free of the trouble it’s causing me.
My Husband’s Love, God’s Love
I’ve come to see that God does something similar. A condemnatory God, as the ‘Hellfire and brimstone’ preachers present, is unfashionable nowadays. For many of us, we like to hide behind our different ‘truths’ and say that we’re misunderstood if we’re told that we’ve done wrong – making it difficult to recognise judgement as a form of love.
To some extent there’s some reason for this response. There is something uncomfortable and false about humans judging others human because a human cannot judge perfectly another human. It’s unlikely we can have all the information to do so. Even if we did our own biases and weaknesses would get in the way of interpreting the information correctly. Jesus said as much Himself. He commanded us ‘do not judge’ and asked:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?Matthew 7:3.
To judge others we need to have our own vision clear of sin too. This is never going to happen. We will never be totally free of sin in this world and so there will always be something obstructing our view.
Human judgement should therefore be taken with a pinch of salt – even husbands who know us very well. Yet we should listen to God’s judgement of us. We need to listen to God’s judgement of us. Conviction of sin is one of the ways we can see God’s love for us.
God is Fit to Judge Us
This is uncomfortable stuff for modern ears, as I have explained. We recoil when people convict us and ‘who are you to judge me?’ usually passes our lips. Let me reassure you. There is a person who is fit to judge us and judge us Jesus will. This judgement is different though to the condemnatory God which, with some justification as I have discussed, is so unfashionable now.
In the Bible, Jesus doesn’t often condemn people for their sin – by which I mean ‘express strong disapproval’ of sin or even, in its other sense ‘sentence somebody to a punishment’. In fact He spent a lot of time with people who were obvious sinners and quite enjoyed their company. He does however convict people of sin – He tells them they have sinned.
Jesus’ Love for Sinners
Take a look at how He treated the adulterous woman who the Pharisees brought to Him. The Pharisees were planning on stoning her to death. Jesus, in keeping with His views regarding humans judging other humans, questioned their authority to condemn her. He told them:
Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.John 8:7.
Nobody except Himself present, was free of sin so one by one every other person left, leaving Jesus and the woman alone together.
All of us can usually trace back reasons for our sins: scars that we bear, role models we’ve had, bad habits we’ve fallen into, maybe even our original genetic makeup comes into it. Jesus too looked at that woman and could no doubt trace back these reasons. This being so He tells her: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’ (John 8:11).
‘Go, and from now on sin no more’. Here it is. The conviction of sin – He states that she did sin. She had committed adultery and Jesus took adultery no less lightly than the law of Moses. Yet He judged her case justly and understood that she, like every sinner who has ever breathed, was victim to the corruption which exists in their flesh and the very fabric of creation itself since the fall of Adam. For her own benefit He convicts her. Look where that sin had taken her? To the point of execution! How could He in all love want her to continue in that sin? He couldn’t and so He commands her to stop.
God’s Love for Us
It’s the same for us too. On the cross Jesus did a similar work for all of us. As a sinless man He could save us from condemnation for our sins. He could take the price of this broken creation and then proclaim us clean. Yet God’s love for us is too strong to watch us continue in that sin. All through the Gospels He is convicting people – telling them what He sees, telling them what they are out of service to them. He tells His friends and He tells His enemies indiscriminately. Yet He doesn’t condemn all indiscriminately. He only condemns those who do not accept this conviction, who are too proud to acknowledge what they are and lean on God for their justification in the face of their brokenness.
For us too, we have the same choice when we get that short, sickening pang from the Holy Spirit which lets us know where sin has disfigured us.
Perhaps this pang will come when you read the Bible.
Or when talking to another person.
Perhaps, like me, it will come when talking to your husband.
But come it will. If, as Jesus described, we then go before God and ‘beating our breast’ beg mercy from Him – then we will go home justified. If we do not acknowledge our sin and persist in affirming that we are good, then we will not be justified (Luke 18:9-14). We are all too broken to find our justification in ourselves and so from God we must get it. The question is – are we humble enough to ask for it?
How To Reflect God’s Love to Others
So, how can we use God’s love as a model when loving those around us?
- We must accept people where they’re at, in all their messy, human brokenness.
- Yet when we love someone, we must also tell them out of service to them, when they’re going down the wrong road. Sin always has bad consequences and we should want to help guide them away from that.
- We should also remember though that we’re not God – but a broken human like them. Our judgement will never be perfect and so should be given humbly with a heart open to correction.
Prompts for thought:
How do you think of God?
In the image people have presented you of Him, is He wrathful and judgemental? Or does He never say a word wrong about anyone?
How has your background affected your understanding of God’s love?
How can we use God’s love as a model when loving others?