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April 18, 2014

Easter and Judgment

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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One day, while driving, I was admiring a long stretch of a mid-West highway. As I cruise down the road,  (near the speed limit) a deep thankfulness came over me realizing how nice it was to have such large and long roads, places to go, and the ability to get there fast. I would be in Chicago within an hour, whereas years ago, it would have taken people days. Then the truth hit home. While it was great to have a road, without a vehicle to move around  makes movement difficult.

Comparing this with morality -as an ethicist, all experiences and new understandings get mapped  with morality. That is part of the hazards of my profession. Ethicists, including Christian ethicists, have developed elaborate ethical systems. These include – lists of things to do in marriages and  well – developed schemes for parenting. The list provides guidance on  how to live with integrity in  schools and colleges. At the same time, give detailed ways to get involved in social justice and community outreach, and generally what we should or should not do in life. I am working on a book that does that from an Adventist worldview.

But the infrastructure of morality begs a deeper question. How do we get on these long roads? When morality gets structured in elaborate ways but without a power source, an engine to maintain understanding, motivation, inspiration, or dedication—then we are at best on foot. At worst, broken down on the side of the road, paralyzed by our inadequacy to take advantage of the places these roads can take us.The roads of morality seems too long and the places we need to go are far away to give any joy of engaging in morality and goodness.

Unless of course your car is already running well. Micah 6:8 lays out the fundamental moral paths God originally created for humans. It is this moral contract between God and the human race. He clearly marked out, taught and instructed humans about the good he expects from them: love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with Him. As the great instructor, he has outlined in nature, revelation, and relationships, what should be happening.

This instruction first of all comes to us through our parents. And as we grow in responding to them we can grow in these areas. Then we listen to others and grow more and more with more and more elaborate understandings of mercy, justice and humility.

From these three primary colors of morality, the moral world is painted and we can enjoy.

But somewhere and somehow something goes wrong in our vehicles. We break down.

We should not blame the road or even what God created us to be. We messed up.

In reality none of us have fulfilled this contract. Yes, some have done it better than others and get farther down the road, but all cars break down. The road grows impossibly long at that point.

This creates a vivid problem. Not only does it show the limits of human ability but it mainly shows the limits of morality. Just because there are roads doesn’t mean they are really helping us, and we see that when we fail to have the capacity to drive them.

This creates a challenge. Foremost, it is a challenge to the whole creative power of God who announced early on, when he had finished creating humans, this world, and especially us humans, are very good.

Very good has turned very bad.

The prestine roads, good ones at that, are no longer navigable not because the roads are bad but because the vehicles are inadequate.

This is where Micah 7:9 (I remember it by adding 1 to the famous 6:8 passage) has become the other “lesson” God has taught me the most about morality. This passage is the corner stone for my understanding of Adventist teachings on judgment and foremost in helping me understand Adventist morality.

“Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.”

Here is a judgment scene with gospel embedded in it. We don’t do mercy as well as we should, we have really forgot the high expectation of justice God requires, and humility has been hard to maintain given how smart we think we have become.

And when we see that, when it smacks us in the face with our utter cockiness or depravity, we have a simply nothing to say. And if we try, we really get in more trouble.

Herein lies the dichotomy of judgment. It has to show us how guilty we really are, and craft a judgment that alone can plead our case.

What case do guilty people have? Only one, a mercy that will do justice.

This is where the instruction of God gets even more sophisticated.

Yes, he wants to teach us where we went wrong…wrath does that. But in the process, he wants to show us something more, a deeper aspect of his morality that it is best to call it righteousness.

That is the fundamental nature of the kingdom and how that kingdom makes judgments.

If we are fooled to think we are righteous, there is nothing like the realization of sin and the taste of God’s wrath, to get us sober again.

Seeing just how bad we are is a unique combination of seeing God’s level of morality—seeing the purity with which we have not obtained—and then seeing in that same God, the profoundly willingness to stoop down to bear our penalty for us.

Here is the auxiliary morality, that few see and only those who come to confession can experience.

It is wrath against sin that can work to help us see an aspect of God’s character of hard work, service work, sacrificial work, for the uplifting of all who sin.

It is the righteousness of God that alone keeps this world from going to smoke and dust.

Which brings us back to the whole purpose of getting clear about morality and the Law of God.

Without these we do not see the problem and understand the solution and see the light of his righteousness.

We have several options at the point when we start seeing we don’t measure up:

  1. Kill the guilt by excusing our wrong. That is the first great tactic of Adam and Eve. It is probably the most used human method. It is actually the most dangerous even as it tries to maintain some moral decorum. But just as we see what it did for Adam and Eve, so it will happen to all who take this route.
  2. Try to drown out realization of the truth of our moral inadequacies. Alcoholism, workaholism, sexual addictions, etc. are the most common forms of numbing is to our inadequacies, but there are many other addictions and distractions that can do that.
  3. Try to start over and win back morality one piece of the pavement of the road at a time. It will be hard work but we can start walking to Chicago. This was the Cain approach. I think he believed if he got really really good at gardening and he would be able to get back into lost Eden. Grow those plants. But it only makes life a never ending work-a-thon, where we become hard to live with and tense, driven, and hard to be around….murderers inside and out.
  4. Confess and repent and accept the sacrifice made by God on our behalf. This is the “You-don’t deserve-it-but-you-sure-better-take-it” option.

Comparing 1 John 4:9 to Micah 7:9, we see the role of confession in dealing with morality.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And judgment shows up in both texts as the process that blends these together.

And this is the central point of Adventist teaching on the judgment hour of God. While judgment—this Micah 7:9 like judgment—characterizes his kingdom, it is a special message to be emphasized at our time.

r should be. God’s judgment is one based on confession that preserves the law, but shows grace to sinners.

BUT only seeing morality without seeing our need can get us deceived as we never grasp the deep reality of God’s mercy to save us from our moral stupidity.

Judgment is where the gospel and morality work together. They work together is the conversion experience, where the realization of the prestine character of God, the holiness of who he is, the morality of what is required hits home and we realize we are doomed. We are overwhelmed by the trouble we are in and the trouble we have caused.

Somewhere, in the complex but simple reality of rebellion, God extends to the rebellious one a “too-good-to-be-true” offer. Admit you are wrong and then I can plead your case.

It is the silliest of ideas, that is the most wise.

God’s Wrath in judgment is good news because it forces us out of our denial, brings us to the place where are excuses look as they are—flimsy—and forces us to take either the route of admitting we are wrong or wanting to continue in our works direction.

At least for me, it has made confession a much much better option.

I am wrong. Get me out of here.

I deserve the wrath, but wow, look how he pleads for me.

What a wonderful judgment, where the guilting get free and those who cling to their self-rightness or deny the moral truth, are condemned because they refuse to “bear the indignation.”

And Jesus can even bear the indignation, so the judgment is the best news ever.

John 8 and John 9 both show the reality of this judgment process.

Then, in John 10, we come to the light—Jesus is the light of the world.

Conversion is when we wake up to the inadequacy of our own lives and confess our sin to God. This vomiting up of the self—as distasteful as it is to human pride—has the wonderful benefit of putting us back in relationship that is humility focused, which takes off all kind of pressure.

The judgment is the great healing power that Adventist have been trying to articulate as the same as the Christian experience of conversion, the whole point of the Cross and Ressurection, and the wonderful gift that can help us in this time of earth’s history.

As we see ourselves as God does—the opening of the judgment—and then the sheer stupidity of our lives come to us, we can quickly see the wrath of God, but realize, in a deep way, the painful reality that though we deserve the whole lot placed on Christ, we have the special treatment of being pleaded FOR.

HE WANTS US and WILL PAY HIS OWN PRICE FOR US and THAT IS THE MESSAGE OF JUDGMENT.

Good Friday, Great Sunday, and the Best Judgment all get mixed together if we read clearly Revelation 14 in the light of Micah 7:9, 1 John 4:9, and John 8, 9, and 10.

Hallelujah. Amen.

As an Adventist I used to wonder why we don’t celebrate Easter. We have a deeper reason to celebrate it even than others because the Judgment Hour message is Easter relived again and again in the lives of those who “go through this judgment” and see the judgment of God as wise and able to cleanse.

In the death and resurrection of Christ we have EVERYTHING to make the judgment hour message make since.

This is why Paul linked Easter to Creation and Judgment:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

God is in the vindication business and the sacrifice of Christ makes that possible and raising Him from the dead should fully convince us that we can be accepted in HIS judgment not only in spite of our sin, but precisely because we recognize that sin.

He can vindicate those who don’t deserve it, because they have confessed and know they don’t deserve it. They understand the wrath part.

Simultaneously sober and safe, the judgment is the best news for our planet and preserves the creation story, the flood story, the cross story, and the resurrection story all in its processes.

That is why the judgment gets connected to the everlasting gospel—and it is so important that this message be conveyed. It is a reiteration of the fundamental truth of Easter.

It is NOT Easter or Judgment.

It is Easter in the Judgment. A reinforcement of the truth that has always been the truth. God Saves.

But he can’t save if we don’t accept our lostness.

The gospel is confirmed to be a continual and permanent reality of God’s character and kingdom processes but you can’t avail yourself of it if you don’t have sin and don’t want help.

So why don’t we all want this judgment? It’s because Satan has confused us. We have seen judgmentalism not judgment. It is because we have not come into the full light of understanding

Lord, of the Cross and Empty Tomb, show us that you are just as wonderful in your work of judgment.

BRING US TO THIS LIGHT, this EASTER Light, that dispels the darkness that so deceives us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was admiring a long stretch of a mid-West highway one day. I was cruising down (pretty near the speed limit) when a deep thankfulness came over me realizing how nice it was to have such large and long roads, places to go, and the ability to get there fast. I would be in Chicago within an hour, whereas years ago, it would have taken people days.

But then the truth hit home. While it was great to have a road, without a vehicle to get one down the road the road lacked some of its luster. In fact, roads only make since if you have motorized vehicles otherwise they just look long and hard.

I wondered how this compared to morality. (When you are an ethicist all experiences and new understandings get mapped onto morality. That is part of the hazards of my profession.)

Ethicists, including Christian ethicists, have developed elaborate ethical systems: lists of things to do in our marriages, well developed schemes for parenting, guidance on how to live with integrity in our schools and colleges, detailed ways to get involved in social justice and community outreach, and generally what we should or should not do in life. I am working on a book that does that from an Adventist worldview.

But the infrastructure of morality begs a deeper question. What will get us down these long roads?

When morality gets structured in elaborate ways but without a power source, an engine to maintain understanding, motivation, inspiration, or dedication—then we are at best on foot, and at worst, broken down on the side of the road, paralyzed by our inadequacy to take advantage of the places these roads can take us.

The roads of morality look far too long and the places we need to go seem too far away to give us any joy of engaging in morality and goodness.

Unless of course your car is already running well!

Micah 6:8 lays out the fundamental moral paths God originally created for humans.

It is this moral contract between God and the human race. He clearly marked out, taught and instructed humans about the good he expects from them: love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with Him. As the great instructor, he has outlined in nature, revelation, and relationships, what should be happening.

This instruction first of all comes to us through our parents. And as we grow in responding to them we can grow in these areas. Then we listen to others and grow more and more with more and more elaborate understandings of mercy, justice and humility.

From these three primary colors of morality, the moral world is painted and we can enjoy.

But somewhere and somehow something goes wrong in our vehicles. We break down.

We should not blame the road or even what God created us to be. We messed up.

In reality none of us have fulfilled this contract. Yes, some have done it better than others and get farther down the road, but all cars break down. The road grows impossibly long at that point.

This creates a vivid problem. Not only does it show the limits of human ability but it mainly shows the limits of morality. Just because there are roads doesn’t mean they are really helping us, and we see that when we fail to have the capacity to drive them.

This creates a challenge. Foremost, it is a challenge to the whole creative power of God who announced early on, when he had finished creating humans, this world, and especially us humans, are very good.

Very good has turned very bad.

The prestine roads, good ones at that, are no longer navigable not because the roads are bad but because the vehicles are inadequate.

This is where Micah 7:9 (I remember it by adding 1 to the famous 6:8 passage) has become the other “lesson” God has taught me the most about morality. This passage is the corner stone for my understanding of Adventist teachings on judgment and foremost in helping me understand Adventist morality.

“Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.”

Here is a judgment scene with gospel embedded in it. We don’t do mercy as well as we should, we have really forgot the high expectation of justice God requires, and humility has been hard to maintain given how smart we think we have become.

And when we see that, when it smacks us in the face with our utter cockiness or depravity, we have a simply nothing to say. And if we try, we really get in more trouble.

Herein lies the dichotomy of judgment. It has to show us how guilty we really are, and craft a judgment that alone can plead our case.

What case do guilty people have? Only one, a mercy that will do justice.

This is where the instruction of God gets even more sophisticated.

Yes, he wants to teach us where we went wrong…wrath does that. But in the process, he wants to show us something more, a deeper aspect of his morality that it is best to call it righteousness.

That is the fundamental nature of the kingdom and how that kingdom makes judgments.

If we are fooled to think we are righteous, there is nothing like the realization of sin and the taste of God’s wrath, to get us sober again.

Seeing just how bad we are is a unique combination of seeing God’s level of morality—seeing the purity with which we have not obtained—and then seeing in that same God, the profoundly willingness to stoop down to bear our penalty for us.

Here is the auxiliary morality, that few see and only those who come to confession can experience.

It is wrath against sin that can work to help us see an aspect of God’s character of hard work, service work, sacrificial work, for the uplifting of all who sin.

It is the righteousness of God that alone keeps this world from going to smoke and dust.

Which brings us back to the whole purpose of getting clear about morality and the Law of God.

Without these we do not see the problem and understand the solution and see the light of his righteousness.

We have several options at the point when we start seeing we don’t measure up:

  1. Kill the guilt by excusing our wrong. That is the first great tactic of Adam and Eve. It is probably the most used human method. It is actually the most dangerous even as it tries to maintain some moral decorum. But just as we see what it did for Adam and Eve, so it will happen to all who take this route.
  2. Try to drown out realization of the truth of our moral inadequacies. Alcoholism, workaholism, sexual addictions, etc. are the most common forms of numbing is to our inadequacies, but there are many other addictions and distractions that can do that.
  3. Try to start over and win back morality one piece of the pavement of the road at a time. It will be hard work but we can start walking to Chicago. This was the Cain approach. I think he believed if he got really really good at gardening and he would be able to get back into lost Eden. Grow those plants. But it only makes life a never ending work-a-thon, where we become hard to live with and tense, driven, and hard to be around….murderers inside and out.
  4. Confess and repent and accept the sacrifice made by God on our behalf. This is the “You-don’t deserve-it-but-you-sure-better-take-it” option.

Comparing 1 John 4:9 to Micah 7:9, we see the role of confession in dealing with morality.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And judgment shows up in both texts as the process that blends these together.

And this is the central point of Adventist teaching on the judgment hour of God. While judgment—this Micah 7:9 like judgment—characterizes his kingdom, it is a special message to be emphasized at our time.

r should be. God’s judgment is one based on confession that preserves the law, but shows grace to sinners.

BUT only seeing morality without seeing our need can get us deceived as we never grasp the deep reality of God’s mercy to save us from our moral stupidity.

Judgment is where the gospel and morality work together. They work together is the conversion experience, where the realization of the prestine character of God, the holiness of who he is, the morality of what is required hits home and we realize we are doomed. We are overwhelmed by the trouble we are in and the trouble we have caused.

Somewhere, in the complex but simple reality of rebellion, God extends to the rebellious one a “too-good-to-be-true” offer. Admit you are wrong and then I can plead your case.

It is the silliest of ideas, that is the most wise.

God’s Wrath in judgment is good news because it forces us out of our denial, brings us to the place where are excuses look as they are—flimsy—and forces us to take either the route of admitting we are wrong or wanting to continue in our works direction.

At least for me, it has made confession a much much better option.

I am wrong. Get me out of here.

I deserve the wrath, but wow, look how he pleads for me.

What a wonderful judgment, where the guilting get free and those who cling to their self-rightness or deny the moral truth, are condemned because they refuse to “bear the indignation.”

And Jesus can even bear the indignation, so the judgment is the best news ever.

John 8 and John 9 both show the reality of this judgment process.

Then, in John 10, we come to the light—Jesus is the light of the world.

Conversion is when we wake up to the inadequacy of our own lives and confess our sin to God. This vomiting up of the self—as distasteful as it is to human pride—has the wonderful benefit of putting us back in relationship that is humility focused, which takes off all kind of pressure.

The judgment is the great healing power that Adventist have been trying to articulate as the same as the Christian experience of conversion, the whole point of the Cross and Ressurection, and the wonderful gift that can help us in this time of earth’s history.

As we see ourselves as God does—the opening of the judgment—and then the sheer stupidity of our lives come to us, we can quickly see the wrath of God, but realize, in a deep way, the painful reality that though we deserve the whole lot placed on Christ, we have the special treatment of being pleaded FOR.

HE WANTS US and WILL PAY HIS OWN PRICE FOR US and THAT IS THE MESSAGE OF JUDGMENT.

Good Friday, Great Sunday, and the Best Judgment all get mixed together if we read clearly Revelation 14 in the light of Micah 7:9, 1 John 4:9, and John 8, 9, and 10.

Hallelujah. Amen.

As an Adventist I used to wonder why we don’t celebrate Easter. We have a deeper reason to celebrate it even than others because the Judgment Hour message is Easter relived again and again in the lives of those who “go through this judgment” and see the judgment of God as wise and able to cleanse.

In the death and resurrection of Christ we have EVERYTHING to make the judgment hour message make since.

This is why Paul linked Easter to Creation and Judgment:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

God is in the vindication business and the sacrifice of Christ makes that possible and raising Him from the dead should fully convince us that we can be accepted in HIS judgment not only in spite of our sin, but precisely because we recognize that sin.

He can vindicate those who don’t deserve it, because they have confessed and know they don’t deserve it. They understand the wrath part.

Simultaneously sober and safe, the judgment is the best news for our planet and preserves the creation story, the flood story, the cross story, and the resurrection story all in its processes.

That is why the judgment gets connected to the everlasting gospel—and it is so important that this message be conveyed. It is a reiteration of the fundamental truth of Easter.

It is NOT Easter or Judgment.

It is Easter in the Judgment. A reinforcement of the truth that has always been the truth. God Saves.

But he can’t save if we don’t accept our lostness.

The gospel is confirmed to be a continual and permanent reality of God’s character and kingdom processes but you can’t avail yourself of it if you don’t have sin and don’t want help.

So why don’t we all want this judgment? It’s because Satan has confused us. We have seen judgmentalism not judgment. It is because we have not come into the full light of understanding

Lord, of the Cross and Empty Tomb, show us that you are just as wonderful in your work of judgment.

BRING US TO THIS LIGHT, this EASTER Light, that dispels the darkness that so deceives us.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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