Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

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the purpose of judgment

6/18/12

 

The real story of the Bible seemingly begins with the incident in the Garden when Adam and Eve are introduced to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For most people the significance of this event is their wanton disobedience to God's commandment and His resulting displeasure with all humanity. Little attention seems to be focused on just what this unique tree represents in this account and what God intended in placing the tree in the Garden in the first place.

 

Apparently, many see the presence of the tree as some kind of test of obedience. The tree was there simply to see if Adam and Eve, and perhaps humanity by extension, could manage to meet God's behavioral standard. In this line of thinking, what we ultimately have in the Bible is a divine system or method by which God culls all of humanity based on some measure of allegiance and thereby selects the acceptable ones for future glory. The test is said to result in discarding most of mankind. In this vein, the tree represents nothing more than that which is arbitrarily forbidden. No attempt is generally made to search for deeper meaning in the use of this metaphor. In fact, most probably don't even consider the tree as such. They envision a literal fruit tree which for some unknown and unknowable reason, God used to, in effect, tempt Adam by exposing him to it but denying the consumption of its attractive fruit.

 

Though the above view of the Fall has generally prevailed, it is not the only possible one. What happens if we reconsider the passages in a metaphorical light and attempt to understand the story as an integral part of God's unfolding plan for mankind and not as an event which diverges from God's intention? Such an attempt would certainly honor the concept of God's sovereignty more so than the traditional interpretation which implies a creation gone astray and outside God's Will.

 

In looking for an alternative view of the Fall, we need to address the questions raised in the first paragraph. What does the tree represent, assuming for our purposes that it is metaphorical and not literal? Perhaps we get a hint both from its name and the fact that Satan suggests its fruit makes one God like. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Tree and its fruit symbolize the ability and even propensity to pass judgment on others. Judgment requires knowledge coupled with a standard of comparison. The judge observes and compares in order to pass judgment.

 

In placing this tree in the Garden, God made man capable of judging. In fact, in taking of the fruit Adam and Eve were forced to pass judgment on God, accepting that God was not completely faithful and trustworthy, since He was preventing them from enjoying God like ability. Why should God alone be able to judge?

 

The second question is especially key to our understanding of the entire biblical story and our picture and opinion of God. In the traditional view, the Fall involves a loss of control; an omnipotent and omniscient God allows man's and Satan's will to trump His own. The Tree was primarily a test of obedience, man failed the test, and the world has spiraled downhill ever since, even after and despite the redemptive work of Christ. That view of God and his plan have always left me unsatisfied since it implies an unsuccessful deity.

 

So what could we assume about the purpose of the Tree which would honor the idea of God's sovereignty and therefore make the story a legitimate part of God's plan and not some diversion? If the Tree represents the ability to judge one another, then its inclusion in the Garden, coupled with God's warning, suggests that God intended for mankind to experience the negative consequences of judgment, both as the judge and the one judged, as part of a process by which God would achieve His ultimate purpose in and through mankind. Since the Bible emphasizes over and over God's benevolence and desire that all men achieve redemption, it is logical to conclude that God's operation in relation to mankind will achieve that goal when all is done. The exact nature of this redemption remains somewhat clouded in my  personal understanding, but the work and teachings of Jesus are obviously key.

 

Pointedly, the entire story of Old Testament Israel was about judgment and deliverance. The Law of Moses was introduced as the standard by which Israel was judged. They judged each other by that standard and in turn were judged by God. In every case those judged were deficient. The result of all this judgment was devastating. Israel wallowed in the frustration and anxiety of continuous failure and hoped for a better day in accordance with God's promise.

 

Ultimately that better day dawned with the advent of  Christ. Jesus immediately opened the door on a completely new way of viewing judgment, not as the essential practice of man and God, but rather as something to be avoided. Jesus stated emphatically that we become judged as we judge. He clarified that all are equally worthy of judgment; and, if judgment is the final word, then all are condemned. Finally, in making the ultimate call to forsake all judgment, he commanded that His followers practice love to the utmost, even in regard to enemies. There was no room in this new ethics for a continuation of the old system of obedience to laws with all the attendant requirement to judge. Jesus, indeed, spoke about an imminent judgment of the Jews; but, in order to be consistent with the remainder of His message, that judgment logically must contribute to the overcoming of all judgment. In effect, the coming judgment of Israel was a judgment against the act of judgment.

 

In this proposed understanding, mankind first experienced judgment in all its manifestations, divine and human, in order to fully appreciate its devastation. Through that exposure, humanity was prepared to comprehend the counter intuitive power of unconditional love, which is the very essence and nature of God. After attempting to control and transform the world and the human race through laws, judgments, and retribution, mankind was positioned to comprehend the futility of that approach and better able to accept a new way of thinking, which the Apostle Paul described as "the mind of Christ".

 

Forsaking our judgment of one another is in reality a surrender of control to God. In judging we attempt to be in control, applying the restraint and exercising the transformative power in the world. Our practice of judgment says that God depends on me to govern His creation. We have often been enjoined by the church to surrender control of our lives to God. That surrender almost always implies our obedience to some prescription and our participation in the judgment of others. That concept of surrender does not involve our relinquishing control to God. Instead, it reinforces and magnifies the very practice which true surrender would deny.

 

The suggestion that we can and should eliminate the judgment of others, even those we deem as poorly behaved, is truly troubling. The ego insists that a humanity unrestrained by rules and their enforcement is chaotic and therefore untenable. On the other hand, we have thousands of years of experience with laws and law keeping with no indication that such will ever achieve a unified and ennobled humanity.

 

The Bible and the story of mankind opens with judgment. Many would have us believe that the human story closes on the same note, all in accordance with God's plan. In between, we see Jesus, whose words have perplexed and confounded His hearers in all ages. His was not a call to continue what had been the norm throughout human history. His purpose was to point us to what God had intended in the very beginning, when He introduced mankind to the practice that would finally force us to seek and embrace something dramatically different and ultimately better.