Judgment is Love

Martyrdom of Saint Thomas à Becket (Bayeux Cathedral)
Martyrdom of Saint Thomas à Becket (Bayeux Cathedral)

No one likes anger. Well, that’s not true. Anger feels good when venting a complaint (at least briefly), but it is awful for those receiving its wrath. Judgment appears to be in the same boat – a powerful thrill for those exercising it but misery for the unfortunate recipient. Perhaps that’s why most people find it difficult to believe in the justice of judgment. Shouldn’t love win?

Similarly, some find it hard to believe that a God of love can also be a God of judgment. A pastor once told me that he only preaches God’s love, not His judgment (as if those are separate attributes of God). But when it comes to God (or anyone acting in virtue), judgment is an expression of love.

In the book of Revelation, God’s wrath unfolds on humankind as the “slain lamb” opens the seals of the divine scroll of judgment. After the fifth seal is opened, the scene of a martyred multitude under the altar appears, crying out for retribution and justice to Him who sits upon the throne. N. T. Wright says:

“These ‘souls’ are conscious of the fact that the world is still unjudged and unhealed. Wickedness, including the wickedness that brought them to their martyrs’ deaths, still goes unchecked. They long for justice, as all who have been deeply wronged long for it; this is not petty or spiteful vengeance, but the heartaching desire to see the world brought back into balance at last, and their own harsh verdict and sentence being shown up as unjust.”

Healing cannot happen until there is judgment. The disease cannot be cured until there is surgery. Judgment is ultimately about healing and “putting the world to rights.” Love must win, and for that to happen, evil must be condemned. God is love, and that’s why there must be judgment. Wright beautifully sums it up:

“God is indeed angry at everything that has so horribly spoiled his wonderful world. His gaze from the throne is a deep, inexpressible mixture of sorrow and anger. But the lamb’s anger is the utter rejection, by Love incarnate, of all that is unloving. The only people who should be afraid of it are those who are determined to resist the call of love.”