Love, Justice, and The End of Days

Most evangelicals headed toward pastoral ministry, at some point, are asked to sit for what is called an ordination council.  Normally this happens after graduating from seminary or Bible college.  The purpose is ordination.  If the council grants their “amen” there is usually a follow-up ordination service and this person is then “ordained” to the gospel ministry.

In the tradition I grew up in (Southern Baptist), and was ordained, the council was made up of our Associational Leader (an SBC thing), other local pastors, and since our church was located near a seminary, professors were invited too.  Each person can ask the candidate questions and based upon their answers and the consensus of the council, a decision is made as to whether they should be recommended for ordination or not.

It is rare to have a candidate denied ordination.  Most have already been involved in ministry for years as leaders and most have graduated from seminary or Bible college.  It is usually a formality really.  The council may recommend a candidate return for a second sitting if they are concerned about some of the answers, but in my experience, the great majority are recommended for ordination.

When I was a pastor in the evangelical world, I was part of a few ordination councils.  Here is one of the questions I would always ask:

“Even though they are both important, if you had to lean one way or the other, which assertion would you say sums up your eschatology:

  1. Love wins.
  2. Justice wins.”

To my great disappointment, every time, I was told that “justice” winning summed up their eschatology.  To my even greater disappointment, a majority of the council agreed with them (or if they didn’t, they never said so).

Since I knew I already had one foot out the door of that world, I wasn’t about to argue with the candidate or the rest of the council.  Especially since I knew where they were coming from—the fact was—I was in the minority and they were espousing the majority view in our tradition.

The answer of “justice” did give me great pause however.  In reaction, one of my initial thoughts was, do you really want to stand before an Almighty and Holy God and believe justice wins?  For me, when that day comes, I will be hoping that love wins and not justice.  Lord have mercy.

Another thought was never are we told that God is justice.  We are told God is just, but never that God is justice.  However, we are told that God is love.  And I have to wonder what type of eschatology allows for God not to triumph in the end.  Perhaps I should have put for number one “God wins.”  If love wins, then God wins.  I thought that was obvious.

Finally, I thought of 1 Corinthians 13.  Are we told that faith, hope, and justice remain?  No, we are not.  And the greatest of what does remain, is love.  Love keeps no record of wrongs.  Our western view of justice is the blind-folded lady holding a scale, but a scale is also a record.  It records weight; it finds one side wanting.  The picture is of one side losing to the other, of being “weightier” than the other.  Love however finds both sides wanting; love takes us to a place where the record, the scale, is no longer the issue.

This is not to say that because love wins, there is no judgment.  Judgment is coming (and is here now!).  There will be an accounting.  Repent.  All things will, one day, be put right from the blood of Abel forward (even though we may not understand what “put right” means in eternity)–that is my hope anyway.  It is to say however, that love has a way of extracting a price no scale or record could ever account for or make sense of.  Love has a way of making justice something other than merely calculative or legal and so transcends it.

Some might say I’m opposing two things that are not opposed.  My question though wasn’t an either/or proposition.  It was: which way do you lean.  I was trying to get a sense of a person’s inclination.  I realize justice is important.  I don’t think justice and love are opposed; I just think justice and any other attribute, quality, or aspect of God’s character, if you will, is completely without meaning and incomprehensible without understanding first that God is love.

I believe love will have the last word (thank God) and such has to be at the heart of any Christian eschatology.

2 thoughts on “Love, Justice, and The End of Days

  1. One of the things that makes a question like that tricky, as well, is that we are generally taught in conservative evangelical circles that justice is retributive. You did sin X, which deserves punishment Y. Justice is basically a tit for tat punishment that your sin deserves. I’ll bet that’s what 99.99% of your ordination candidates had in their head, and that’s why your question is so revealing.

    But that is not the only model of justice. Another model of justice involves fixing what is broken by sin, making things right – making amends. This involves the perpetrator coming to place of repentance and wanting to do better and that perpetrator making amends for what they have done. This may involve some form of punishment as part of the process, but it isn’t some cosmic price sheet for sin. Parents do not punish their children because their wrongdoing merits retribution. It isn’t done to harm someone commensurate to the harm they have done others; ultimately, we want both the perpetrator restored to community in love and we want the wronged person to receive recompense and healing and vindication – wisdom has to show us the way to get both of those in many cases.

    If you were to ask me that question, today, I would say that love and justice win – both win when those who were in the wrong are brought back into loving communion and those who were wronged are delivered, restored to wholeness, and vindicated. But I would say, in that sense, that eschatology is love, and justice is a means to love and an expression of love. Love is not a means to or an expression of justice.

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