Rejoicing in the Wrath: Why We Look Forward to the Judgment Day
But there is something comforting about God's judgment, something that the writers of the catechism recognize as integral to the gospel storyline. It's something we don't want to miss.
Judgment and Justice
Humans are united by a desire for justice. We realize that life isn't fair. And yet for some reason, we also think it should be fair. The Bible teaches that life isn't fair now, and yet Scripture still points to a day when wrongs will be righted and justice will be served. God will straighten things out once and for all.
That's why the idea of Christ's return in judgment brings comfort. To those who suffer at the hands of the unjust, it is comforting to hold on to the promise that one day all will be made right. This upside-down, crazy world will not go on in its current state forever. God will execute justice. The righteousness of God will be evident for all to see, and the knowledge of the Lord will flood the earth as the waters cover the sea.
But there is also a scary side to the idea of a world of perfect justice. Just think: If God were to return and purge the world of evil, what would happen to us? Would we be able to inhabit a perfect world? What happens when we realize that we are part of the problem, not just the ones longing for a solution?
When we imagine our place within the cosmic story of redemption, we come to realize we are more than passive victims of evil's consequences. We are evil insurrectionists, rebels against the good and loving authority of God our Creator. In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who suffered at the hands of the Soviet Communists, put it well: "Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart." We thirst for justice, but once we consider the fairness of God, we quickly discover that Christ's return can only be good news if we have found mercy in God's sight.
Reasons for Rejoicing
Though the entire tide of our culture is turning toward a type of pluralism that would deny the reality of (and even the need for) divine justice, there are solid, biblical reasons for maintaining our belief in the traditional Christian understanding of final judgment:
Judgment is good news. Once we understand God's judgment as putting an end to all that is wrong with the world (war, famine, disease, and so on), then we can understand why even the apostle Paul viewed judgment as part of his gospel (Rom. 2:15-16).
The Old Testament also sees God's judgment as good news. Look at Psalm 96:13: "Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness."
Apparently the writers of our Bible had no problem celebrating judgment as good news. The idea of Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead was cause not only for comfort (as the Heidelberg Catechism states) but also for celebration.
Take away the notion of judgment, and you rob Christianity of any hope of satisfying our longing for justice, a longing built into us by our just and wise God. Without judgment, the gospel fails to deal with the problem of evil and the detrimental way that we humans treat each other—and, by extension, God. Once we take away judgment, we lose the gravity of our sin. Once we lose sight of our sinfulness, we short-circuit our experience of the powerful gratitude that comes from receiving grace.