It may seem like a strange question to you, one easily answered.
Or “Mary,” or “Yahweh,” “Buddha,” “Shiva,” Gaia,” “Self-Awareness.”
But let’s move beyond this for a moment.
Let’s go beyond our immediate intellectual response and see what beliefs we’ve actually put faith in. What are we trusting in, when we consider what occurs after our death?
I ask, “Who is your God?”
What are the attributes of this being?
How does this affect us personally?
For the purpose of our discussion, let’s assign God the most common denominator of attributes: that of a Judge.
Most religions subscribe to a being who holds the power of judgement over us after our deaths. The results of this judgement vary by religion, denomination and on down to the individual believer – but we all agree on a reckoning that will take place.
So we’ve discovered something else, in making the assumption of a Judge. We’ve discovered that we believe there is someone or something more powerful than ourselves. Otherwise, how could this judgement be enforced, and its results carried out upon us? And while it might be stretching the definition to call this attribute Omnipotent, if the fact is that this Judge has power over us to carry out the judgement, it’s close enough to omnipotence as far as we’re concerned.
In order for judgement to occur, there must be some sort of standard or code, which our actions can be compared to – otherwise, what’s to judge? We assume that our Judge knows this standard, and for purposes of this discussion, we can call it the Law. It is our performance in comparison to this Law that the Judge will weigh. And because it’s a fair term to use, we will refer to violations of this Law as Sin. In short, Sin is when we know the good we should do- the Law we should follow – but we do not do it. Fair enough?
Even in a human court, we strive to appoint judges who are Fair. We don’t want a judge who’s biased in one form or another, because that wouldn’t be just – that individual would be unfit to render a true judgement. The idea of a Judge who has power to carry out a judgement against us, yet is corrupt in that judgement, is a frightening aspect. Even today, some innocent men may sit condemned in prison due to their skin color or their social status. We cry out against this form of injustice. We can only hope that the Judge of *our* lives holds a pure standard of Fairness.
But to be truly fair – to be an individual who cannot be influenced – this Judge would also have to be incorruptible. This individual would have to be impervious to any evils which might influence their judgement. We say that this lack of flaws in character is, in truth, what is meant by the word Holy. No corruption or evil is found in the Judge that might influence his decision in our case. This individual holds a perfect standard. Only by knowing a perfect standard (the Law) – and by keeping that standard – is it fair for this Person to judge those who appear in front of Them.
Another factor in choosing judges in human terms is how well they understand what is presented to them. A lawyer who has spent his career trying cases in tax law is ill-prepared to defend you if you come up on charges of manslaughter. We hope that our Judge would have experience and knowledge of what he judges. We want our Judge to be Omniscient – to know all things, at least as far as our case is concerned. This includes the mind. Many trials are decided when one side or other can prove what the defendant was thinking at the time. “This man isn’t capable of murder.” Or, “This man doesn’t care about anything but gambling.” To know our motive would ensure a fairer judgement.
Also, in courts today, when a charge is leveled against someone, the charge has little merit if no one actually can prove the act occurred. There must be evidence, and the most convincing evidence in courtrooms (short of a confession) is the testimony of the eyewitness. Ever go to court to fight a traffic ticket? Who did the Judge believe – you or the cop? In our Court of Life, we would be comforted to know that the Judge knew the truth of the action because He saw it occur. Better to have an eyewitness testify for you than to rely on what someone else thinks “might have happened,” yes? So the one who is judging us also must serve as a witness to what we’re said to have done. To be there at all times, our Judge would have to be Omnipresent – everywhere at once.
So we have these attributes:
Justice, from the Law, of our Sin
Some may now argue that these features aren’t necessary for the Judge. I say to you, if your Judge does NOT have these features, consider how your judgement may actually go. Do you really want an ignorant, corrupt, unjust and uneducated Judge to weigh your fate? I say “Not me!”
So again I ask you: ”Who is *your* God?”
Now let’s consider the results of the judgement, from the 2 views generally held by the major religions of the globe – Eastern and Western.
Some creeds hold that you go back into the world over and over until you get it right. You accrue a bank account of karma. Do good, get good karma. Do bad, get bad karma. Your account goes with you into each rotation. (Hitler’s working his way up from bacterium on his current go-round.) And at some point, the Judge determines your good karma over the centuries has overpowered your bad karma and you are now fit and ready for entry into higher levels or the celestial realms. The penalty for failure is simply a few more tumbles in the dryer until you get it right.
My difficulty with this concept is that we remain ignorant of our past, if this creed is true. How cruel to wipe one’s mind clean and say “Try again,” while the nature and essence of the person remains the same. How many junkies do you know who came out of rehab or jail and stayed clean? The rate is low. My experience with human nature – at least, with my own – has taught me that I’ll keep doing the same old thing, because that’s my nature to do so. Is it wrong to think a Fair Judge would give a clean slate, with no preconditions or leanings towards good or evil, so that we’d truly have an honest chance to do well?
Otherwise, I have standing to argue “It wasn’t fair! Even though I tried to do good, I couldn’t help myself! And besides, I’m still lugging around the consequences of my actions from the past 3 times!”
Have you ever just paid the interest on your credit-card bills? How fast do you get the balance paid that way? Same concept, wouldn’t you say?
DEEDS AND CONSCIENCE (WESTERN):
Some creeds hold that you don’t get extra go-rounds, that it’s a one-shot deal and you must achieve perfection (or as close to it as possible) in this one lifetime if you hope to have a favorable judgement. Should you fail to achieve this, you lose the game and find yourself in a place set aside and apart from those who succeeded.
There are 2 schools of opinion in this category:
– Situational Ethics / Guided by Conscience:
This concept teaches that your judgement depends on the particulars: the setting, the motive, the effects. “What if a man steals bread to feed his family?”, as the old question goes. But this reduces the absolutes of Law to the surroundings. It seeks a justification for breaking the Law, but still doesn’t negate the Law itself. If your wife is in labor and you race to the hospital at 80 mph, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve violated the speed limit. What you’re actually hoping for is that the Judge will apply mercy and understanding to your case. But that is up to the Judge to decide – not us. Situational ethics places us in a position we can’t count on. We aren’t the ones who decide our fate, and we don’t have the power to enforce our will after the judgement.
But in truth, our leanings are such that we will apply situational ethics to attempt to justify doing that which we know we aren’t supposed to do. We’re merely lawyers looking for loopholes. The problem is, for a Fair and Just Judge, who knows our thoughts and motives (omniscience) and was at the scene of the crime (omnipresence), no loopholes will stand. We’ll be left to admit our failure to uphold the Law – to confess our guilt – and throw ourselves on the mercy of the Court.
-Deeds, Works, “Earning It”:
This option is the one we try most often. In fact, most major creeds and faiths have some form of set rules and regulations to follow in order to earn justification. In short, the Law which we’ve been discussing is laid out plainly so that we morons can understand it and follow it – and in doing so, earn a good judgment when we stand in the docket.
Sadly, we fail in these efforts. Miserably, The truth is, many of us aren’t even aware of the Laws we claim we’re under. For example, the Jewish scholar Maimonodes writes that the Torah, aka the Old Testament, contains 613 Laws given by God. Yet most Christians and Jews have trouble keeping the Ten that were singled out at the mountain. It’s always been this way, no?
A rich young ruler asked Jesus how to get a good judgement.
“Follow the commandments,” Jesus said.
The man replied, “Which ones?”
We often ask “Which ones?” But it’s not a cafeteria plan -we are to follow the whole Law. We shouldn’t expect to avoid a murder charge simply because we drive safely and pay our taxes and serve jury duty and follow the other laws so well. No, the Judge will try us and convict us and imprison us for the murder, because that’s the Law we’ve broken! There is no probation in the one-time Judgement we speak of.
And – just like in a human court – ignorance of the Law is no excuse. For those who didn’t take the time to even find out the rules before they broke them, little understanding is in store. If it’s not important to you now, why should it be important to the Court when you’re called to account for your actions?
A harsh prospect indeed, to face an honest reckoning.
Now we’re at the idea of a bone-cold, black-and-white judgement of all our transgressions against a perfect code which we haven’t been able to fully uphold. We ask, “Now what?”
In the human world, we’d throw ourselves on the mercy of the court and hope for probation, or a fine, or parole. But in the one-shot life, there’s no time left to serve a sentence if we’ve already finished that life. There is no way to repay the fine, there is no time left to serve that sentence and hope to be free. The judgement has been made, and we’ve been found wanting.
What would be the cost of our freedom – the price to remove us from the jail and the consequences of our actions? We’re sentenced for our failure to follow the Law. So it makes sense that, If we had kept the Law totally, we could have received a good judgement. We’d need to have a spotless record to post bail and reverse our charges. But the Judge is Fair and knows our motives and deeds – and our record is far from spotless in any case.
Help From The Family
In all courts, in all times, humanity has recognized the concept of family representing us, on our behalf. If you buy a house and die, or rack up your credit cards and kick the bucket, the bill goes to your spouse or your children. To use the same reasoning, if your spouse or children pay off your mortgage or your credit cards, those cards are paid, even though you yourself didn’t pay them. The bank or credit card company doesn’t care where the money came from, it’s just looking for payment of your bills.
So it is with God. Our Judge (like human judges) also has an attribute of Mercy. The book says “Mercy triumphs over judgement!” His Court will allow someone to pay the penalty you are unable to pay – if someone can be found who is willing and able to pony up the cost.
This, in a nutshell, is the proposition:
- We are under the Law.
- We break the Law.
- We are found guilty and sentenced under the Law.
- Our sentence will be carried out unless someone else can clear our bill.
- And God, if He is merciful, will provide some way for this to happen.
This very work was accomplished in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus came and lived a life which was righteous under the Law. Jesus did a lot while He was here, and people still debate over what was more important or impressive. But Jesus considered His only purpose in life to be paying that penalty on our behalf so we might be freed from the consequences of Law. In His resurrection, God placed His stamp of approval on this celestial transaction, verifying to the world that He would accept it in your place, if you so chose.
So again, I ask you – Who Is Your God?
What exactly do you believe Him to be, to act, to do?
What will His honest judgement be when you stand before Him?
And how do you propose to pay the penalty the Law demands?
What will you rely on when you stand tall before the Man? Will you try to stand on your own actions – which will be judged according to a perfect Law?
Or will you instead accept a full payment made on your behalf?