As Easter approaches, I've been thinking a lot about judgment day. This sounds really depressing, mostly because talk about that subject usually involves scary terms like day of reckoning and accounting for sin. Most Christians go out of our way to avoid thinking about what happens at the judgment. Even though we believe we'll enter the kingdom of heaven, the idea of standing before God and dealing with our sin is not a pleasant one.
But what if Jesus' death on the cross has actually made judgment day the most profoundly beautiful experience of our lives? What if it's something we SHOULD be thinking about, regularly and with great hope?
I've had conversations with people who have suggested that the day of reckoning will not be a true judgment for Christians; everyone else will give an account of their actions, but we will be welcomed in. These people believe that instead of hearing God list everything we've done wrong in our lives, we'll hear everything we've accomplished for the kingdom, followed by a welcoming, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
While this is a comforting idea, it seems like an affront to God's holiness to me. It trivializes why Jesus needed to die, and prevents us from fully appreciating the magnitude of His sacrifice. As I learn to understand and experience God's grace and mercy, here is what I've begun to conceptualize.
When I cross over from death, I see myself encountering the presence of God. His form is a blinding white light and a deep voice which seems to come from every direction. The words He speaks to me resound and reverberate through my entire being: "I am a holy God, completely without sin, and I dwell in a sinless place. For your soul to enter in, you must be free from sin." His tone is free from condescension and anger: He is stating a simple fact, a basic truth.
I imagine my legs collapsing underneath me. I fall to my knees, shielding my face from the light and trembling in awe from hearing God's voice other than as a still, small whisper of the Holy Spirit. I fumble for the words to answer Him. "Um, I haven't, uh, exactly met that criteria."
A deafening whooosh sound envelops the air around me. I squint up and realize God is unfolding what seems to be an endless scroll. On it is a list of every transgression from my life. Not just the big stuff and the times when I broke the ten commandments. This scroll lists each moment when I was rude to a student, impatient with my husband, and thoughtless toward a friend. It details the times when I selfishly pulled ahead of someone in traffic. It records the days when my spirit craved time alone with God but I watched T.V. instead. There are entries about my dubious intents, false motives, gluttony, bitterness, and envy. Every instance in which I gave into my fleshly instincts is carefully inscribed. I cannot fathom how large this scroll is; it never seems to end.
As I try to take in the magnitude of this list, my heart is crushed with the weight of every time I've fallen short of perfection. And God, who has no physical form in my envisioning but whose presence in power and light is overwhelming, booms in His powerful voice, "This is your record of wrongs. How then do you plead?"
At that moment, I imagine tears streaming from my face as I fully understand for the first time what Jesus did on the cross and why. I have seen in a mirror, dimly, but now I see face-to-face, and I understand at last. "I...I am...guilty. I am being judged according to my works, but I cannot be saved according to my works. I am here in Your holy presence with no right standing of my own; my righteousness is as filthy rags before Your perfection. But there is One who was perfect, who paid the price in my place. I don't stand before you on my own accord, but covered by the blood of Jesus. I am not worthy, but He is worthy. And I trust in Him to be my advocate."
I imagine Jesus sitting on the right hand side of the Father. He is the same being as God yet somehow, incomprehensibly until that moment, a separate manifestation. And He knows me. He knows me! He knows my love toward Him. The Father knows this, too, of course. But I have the gift of free will, and God has waited for me to choose to acknowledge the presence of His Son, to choose to profess my trust in His sacrifice.
I have acknowledged my own inability to ever be good enough or perfect enough to dwell in a place where there is no pain, or sin, or evil. I have chosen Jesus as my mediator, as the One to intercede on my behalf. The scroll snaps closed in an instant and is consumed in a raging fire. Sometimes I imagine my sins projected onto a giant screen which suddenly goes blank; the data has all been deleted. I am now blameless before God.
And in that moment, the veil between my earthly existence and my eternal existence, between my sinful being and an omnipotent God, is torn in two, and I enter into paradise. I am weeping tears of joy as I fully understand the mercy and lovingkindness of His grace. All of the suffering in the world, all of the scriptures I found cryptic, all of the mysteries of human life suddenly make sense in a way that I cannot grasp here as I write this. I am so overwhelmed--in this current moment, and in the one I envision--by the beauty of God's plan for salvation that I cannot help but worship Him, eternally. My gratitude and thanksgiving simply must overflow; there is no way I could hold it inside, and no way I could ever stop singing and praising. And so I join the millions of other souls who have been worshiping in the presence of God before me, and into eternity future.
Is this conceptualization what will REALLY happen on judgment day? I doubt it. I don't think our limited human minds and confining verbiage can do justice to the experience. But I do believe the mercy and love God feels toward His children will be fully experienced in that day. And I do believe that He wants us to anticipate that moment with great pleasure now. It should give us unspeakable joy to know what the future holds for us.
I'm sure there are people who think I am insane for believing this. They don't understand why Jesus is necessary; they don't understand why any salvation at all is necessary. They think of Christians as those people with megaphones who shout "Repent!" on street corners and condemn others to hell. They wonder what is so good about God who only lets certain people into heaven.
But if we as Christians hold this view of judgment day as a beautiful experience, it shows others that trusting in Jesus isn't about condemning others to hell; it gives us ALL a reason to hope. We as believers have no more right to enter the presence of God than any one else. We don't have a 'free pass' and we're not superior. It's each person's choice to stand before God on their own accord, or with the intervention of a mediator who advocates for them.
This is the true meaning of the 'free gift' we Christians always talk about. It's the reason why we want everyone to know Jesus. It's why His death on the cross means so much to us. And it's why Easter is a time of great rejoicing and celebration for everyone who understands its real meaning. This is our hope in Christ! May your Easter be filled with reflection on the sacrifice Jesus made, and the great joy we can experience now in anticipation of what's to come. Hosanna in the highest!