What About Judgment and Grace?
While sitting in the waiting room of a mortuary on Friday, I overheard someone on the phone making travel arrangements. I thought, how appropriate for a mortuary! Judgment is the certainty of death. All of us will die, none will escape. That is judgment. But, grace is the travel, the great trip we will have!
My last sermon to you, some three weeks ago now, raised some questions and concerns from you about judgment and grace in the next life. I was asked, "Is there no forgiveness?" In the sermon I made the point that our bodies are changed, transformed, into spiritual bodies. This transformation is a gift from God, Godís grace. What your spiritual body looks like is based on your present life. Paul used the analogy of a seed; what is planted is our lives, what is raised, what is harvested is inherent in the seed that is planted. This is the process of judgment.
Several of you asked thoughtful, provocative questions, "Is there no forgiveness? What about grace? What about salvation by faith?" One said, "I try so hard. Do you mean I have to keep on trying in the next life?"
Two hunters hired a pilot to fly them into remote Canada for a few days of hunting. The pilot dropped them off and returned a few days later to pick them up. They very proudly showed him six elk they had shot. The pilot said, "We can only take four. With three of us, all your gear, and six elk, the load will be too heavy. We can only take four." The hunters assured him they had taken six elk last year in an exact replica of his plane. The pilot said, "Okay." They took off but, just as he had predicted, the plane was too heavy to clear the trees and it crashed. As they came to, one hunter said to the other, "Where are we?" The other replied, "Iím not sure, but I think weíre about a mile from where we crashed last year."
Judgment crashed the plane each year because it was too heavily loaded. Grace spared their lives. Judgment is repeating the same steps to insure the same response. Judgment is experiencing the consequences of acts. Each action elicits a response; cause and effect. If you jump off a roof, the law of gravity takes effect, and you will fall to the ground. That is judgment. If you eat junk food late at night, you will put on weight. That is judgment. If you live with jealousy, anger, strife, selfishness, dissension, drunkenness, orgies, sexual immorality, you will not inherit the kingdom of God, wrote Paul in our Scripture lesson this morning. That is judgment. If you walk in the Spirit, you will harvest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and eternal life. That is judgment.
Judgment means you cannot live any way you please, without experiencing the consequences. You cannot treat people any way you please without expecting repercussions. You cannot live as if you are the center of the universe, manipulating, using, mistreating others as you please, without experiencing the consequences. "You cannot fool God," Galatians 6:7, "Whatever you plant is what you harvest." That is judgment.
What is grace? Grace is the unlimited, unmerited, boundless love of God. Grace is forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, rebirth, new chances. What is the relationship between judgment and grace?
Grace is not an eraser. Forgiveness does not erase memory or consequences. "Forgive and forget" is rarely possible. You can forgive, but rarely can you forget, especially when the hurt is deep. When you have wronged someone, when the relationship has been violated, when the trust has been jeopardized, out of grace, because of the deep love you have for one another, there may be forgiveness; but, forgiveness will never erase the memory. However, because of the forgiveness and the grace of God, the wrong can be assimilated into a learning experience, the wrong can be transformed into a deeper experience of love. Grace is the restoring of the relationship within which judgment can be handled. The process of judgment is inexorable. Forgiveness restores the relationship so that together you can deal with the consequences of judgment.
Martha is having a very difficult time keeping on top of her life. She has attempted suicide on several occasions. She was sexually abused by her father when she was a child and a teenager. In her adulthood, when she finally realized through therapy how she had been hurt, she confronted her parents. Her mother is in classic denial, as are many mothers. One reason child abuse is prevalent is because the mother refuses to believe her daughter. Marthaís father also denies it. Today, the relationship with her parents is very strained. When there is forgiveness and reconciliation, the victim and the parents can work together for healing. But, when the parents deny the acts, the victim is on her own. Martha is able to survive presently because of the grace of God, the understanding and love of her husband and her children, and the support of good friends.
Sexual abuse and its consequences can never be erased; that is judgment. Grace is not an eraser. Grace is not a magic wand which can miraculously, suddenly make everything right, neither in this life or at death. But, grace can convert, turn the person around to begin building a new life, create new attitudes, reconcile relationships with family and friends, and begin nurturing the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, patience, gentleness, etc. The grace of God can make a person aware and give her the courage to stop what is wrong. When the victim begins to understand what is happening to her, admits that it is wrong, is given the courage to stand up, stop the act, confront the perpetrator, that is grace.
The grace of God helps you to stop whatever you are doing that is causing your airplane to crash every year in the same spot. We often set ourselves up, doing the same things over and over, even though they result in the same failure, the same pain. We are creatures of habit; that is judgment. Some people keep marrying the same kind of people so they can again fail and divorce. Some people keep doing the same things that cause others to become angry and disillusioned with them. Judgment is an inexorable process, but grace is the courage to stop the process. Lighten the load on the plane so that it will not crash, so that it will fly.
Grace is available in, around, and through the process of judgment, alleviating, healing, rebuilding relationships, giving courage, new insights and understandings, love and forgiveness. Grace is the power to cope with the consequences of judgment. Grace is the courage to change.
Grace is not cheap, nor is grace easy. Grace cost Jesus his life. For Martha to rebuild her life and rebuild some kind of relationship with her parents, requires pain, suffering, anguish, death, and rebirth--cross and resurrection, Good Friday and Easter. Forgiveness is not an easy act. If you can glibly say, "Oh, thatís okay, I forgive you," the hurt was not very deep, or you are not being honest, and the forgiveness is only talk. Real forgiveness, real restitution and reconciliation, requires blood, sweat, tears, like the cross of Christ.
For God to forgive you, Jesus gave his life. Because Jesus was willing to pay the price, Godís amazing grace will rebuild a relationship between you and God. Godís amazing grace will forgive, sustain, encourage, hold you, cradle and nurture you, and go with you through the judgment in this life and in the next.
Accept what God has done for you. Let the blood of Jesus, the life of Jesus, wash you, cleanse you, make you clean. Let the Holy Spirit empower you, so you can cope with judgement, and make the changes necessary to stop doing what you are doing that is dooming you to failure. Walk in the Spirit so you will plant, nurture, and harvest the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, gentleness, goodness, and eternal life.
ã 1990 Douglas I. Norris