The Supreme Act of Divine Judgment

From Canterbury Pilgrim, 22-25 (1974).

Where is God, and what is he doing? Recall a biblical doctrine too often forgotten, that of divine judgment. When people and nations turn away from God’s laws and prefer the courses dictated by pride and selfishness to the path dictated by conscience, calamitous results follow. God is not absent from the contemporary scene. He is present in judgment through the catastrophes that follow human willfulness. In the words of the psalm, “He gave them their heart’s desire, and sent leanness into their souls” (Ps. 106:15). God is not dead: God is here in judgment; and as his judgment is accepted and felt, so in the same moment may his loving kindness and mercy be found — “My song shall be of mercy and judgment” (Ps. 101:1). Let it be remembered, however, that divine judgment falls first upon God’s people, the Church; for St. Peter reminds us that “judgment begins at the house of God” (I Pet. 4:17). The Church shows the message of divine judgment to the world as it sees God’s judgment upon its own life and begins to mend its ways.

This recovery of the doctrine of divine judgment is a direct appeal to biblical truth. But let the appeal be to the whole of the biblical concept, adumbrated in the psalms and maturely gathered up in St. John’s gospel. The supreme act of divine judgment is the coming of Christ: “this is judgment, that the light has come into the world, but people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). It must be in the figure of Jesus crucified and risen that we present both divine judgment and divine mercy. I see no other way of bringing the themes of sovereignty, power, compassion, and judgment home to our contemporaries except in terms of Jesus, in whom all these divine actions are focused.

Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. A gifted theologian and spiritual writer, he advocated for the cause of church unity throughout his ministry. His book Canterbury Pilgrim is a collection of lectures and addresses given during the final years of his ministry as archbishop.


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