The Joy of Judgment

The English word crisis originates with the Greek noun krisis, which is itself a derivative of the verb krinô, “to judge.” A crisis is a time of decision, encapsulating danger and opportunity in equal parts; and the biblical eschaton, the time of God’s judgment, is grounded upon the judgments or decisions we have taken throughout our lives. We must all navigate the dangers and opportunities found in the many crises we will all face.

It is in the midst of an eschatological scenario in the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 66, that the writer known as the third Isaiah presents the image of God as a mother comforting her child. It is not the most common biblical image of God nor the one most commonly associated with the crisis at the end of the world, but it is important, as it presents God as the one who, like our own mothers, desires our comfort, security and joy.

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As with our earthly mothers, though, there is a time when we must make our own judgments about the paths we take, the mistakes we make and the dangers of our choices. We leave our mothers and the danger is present, but so, too, are the opportunities and the necessity to grow and develop. What we cannot get on an earthly level, however, is a promise of success or comfort and certainly not eternal joy on the basis of our judgments, no matter how well we plan our lives and dance around the dangers. This never-ending joy is something that only God can offer.

It is precisely to make this joyful offer that Jesus sends out 70 emissaries, recalling the 70 elders chosen to be with Moses (Ex 24:1 and
 9), to announce the
coming Kingdom of
God. The sending
evokes the practical
need to share the min
istry and the complete
ness indicated by the number
70, but Jesus himself alerts us that it is a time of crisis. He notes both the opportunity for those who share in his ministry—“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”—and the danger for those who have been sent out to join in Jesus’ mission—“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Yet these dangers represent momentary and passing afflictions when compared to the eternal joy of the kingdom. The weight of the crisis, this time of decision and judgment, is borne by all those who hear the call and who must still decide. The pressing nature of the coming end, when new creation will be the ground of existence in each of us and for each of us, is felt in this passage. Jesus says that on the day of judgment “it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town” for those who reject the pronouncement that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”

While the accent in eschatological scenarios tends not to fall on the note of joy but rather on the consequences for those who reject the call and turn away from the opportunity, it is hope that undergirds Jesus’ ministry and pronouncement of the kingdom of God. The 70, after all, do not return downtrodden after passing on the message of Jesus; they return with joy. It is true that part of their joy rests on their newfound power, but at least some of it must rest on the success they have had in bringing Jesus’ message to the surrounding towns and the positive responses they have received. And if that is not where their joy rests, Jesus sets them straight: “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

This is the true source of joy, of having traversed the dangers of this world like a lamb among wolves, and taken the opportunity to bring God’s joy and hope to those around us so that our and their choices lead us to our eternal home. There are numerous crises that we face, time after time when decisions must be made, when judgments must be offered about the choices put before us. The great judgment is intended to be the summation of joy, like a child running home when she hears her mother’s voice, safe and secure, comforted in her arms for eternity.

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