What could be more appalling than living in a world where nothing really matters, where even the most extreme cruelty is met with vacuous silence? Today, Barry Cooper explains why God's judgment is actually something for which we should be thankful.
“Imagine there’s no heaven. / It’s easy if you try. / No hell below us, / Above us only sky. / Imagine all the people / Living for today.” I would sing it for you, but there’s copyright to consider. And also your ears.
It’s John Lennon’s Imagine, of course. And you can see why it’s the best-selling record of his solo career. Imagine a peaceful, carefree life, without any worries about death or what might come after.
But as popular as it is, John Lennon’s song Imagine is—appropriately enough—a work of pure imagination. We could live for today, as he suggests we should, but that would be to ignore the warning provided by Scripture. This life is not all there is. Death is not the end.
As it says in Hebrews chapter 9: we are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.
This is what theologians call “the final judgment.” It is the moment when, to use the words of 1 Corinthians chapter 4, everything hidden in darkness will be finally brought to light and the motives of every heart will finally be laid bare.
Jesus Himself, the most loving man who ever lived, talked repeatedly of this final day of judgment and the reality of heaven and hell beyond it.
Now, I get it. The thought of a day of judgment is extremely distressing, especially if—like me—you fear for loved ones. But actually, when we stop to consider it, the final judgment is a very, very good thing indeed, because the alternative to judgment is absolutely appalling.
There’s a celebrated novel called Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally. (You may remember, Steven Spielberg adapted it for the movie Schindler’s List.)
One episode of the story is set in and around Krakow in Poland during the Second World War. SS guards are moving the Jews from their town ghetto to a labor camp outside, and Oskar Schindler, the hero of the story, sees a mother and her son brutally murdered by the guards. What shocks Schindler most is the fact that this murder has taken place in full view of a young girl, about three years old, who he notices because she is dressed in red.
Then there’s this devastating sentence:
Later in the day after he’d absorbed a ration of brandy, Oskar understood the proposition in its clearest terms: they permitted witnesses, such witnesses as the red toddler, because they believed all the witnesses would perish too.
In other words, the Nazi guards did what they liked because they believed they would never be called to account for their actions. The little girl in red could be allowed to witness the murder because she wouldn’t be living much longer anyway. In effect, nothing they did mattered anymore. All those with the power to condemn their actions would be dead.
However distressing the prospect of the final judgment may be, the question is this: Do any of us really want to live in a world where nothing matters, where even the most extreme cruelty is met with vacuous silence, where people can do evil with impunity because they know they will never be called to account for their deeds?
But thankfully, justice will be done. Acts chapter 17: “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” And who is this “appointed” man? Paul tells us: it is the man He raised from the dead. The man who knows all about us yet still gave up His life for us.
Paul preached that message to the people of Athens, telling them that ultimately, God will raise everyone to be judged on that final day. And on that day, those who’ve not turned to Christ for forgiveness will face the wrath of God.
No one likes being told about judgment, but how did Paul’s first audience react?
Some of his audience apparently mocked him. Others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” And then there were others who took his message to heart and put their trust in Jesus, the Judge who freely offers pardon to all those who come to Him.
Some sneered; some wanted to hear more on the subject; some believed. What about you?