Judgment, Fear and Wisdom


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“Judgment” is a dirty word by modern standards. Though we make judgments about many things every day, the modern ethic of tolerance demands that we shy away from judgment. For that reason, people have a hard time with the Old Testament.

Jesus accepted the Old Testament as God’s word, and so should we. We should strive, then, to understand it.

“[W]rath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.” (Job 19:29) There is a difference between man’s judgment and God’s judgment. Most of what we see and feel is man’s judgment, and man’s judgment is imperfect. Man’s judgment leaves much to be desired.

The thing is that we cannot avoid “judgment”. The “wrath” we experience from people is a form judgment, imperfect to be sure. We react against the imperfect judgments of people because we long and yearn for a more prefect judgment. At the same time, the difficulties we have cause us to take stock of this life. They cause us to ask, “Is this really all there is?”

If we had it easy, we would not think to look for God. If we were content, we would not look beyond this life. God wants us to yearn for, to seek and to find the Perfect.

Many difficulties people encounter are self-imposed (such as the consequences of bad choices, addictions, etc.), and many are the consequences of the thoughtless, uncaring and wrongful actions of other people. A God who is loving does not cause those things to happen, but He is sovereign none-the-less and able to use all things for His purpose.

The consequences of our misadventures, both of our own choices and actions and others’ choices and actions, demonstrate that real effects flow from our carelessness and wrongdoing. In that sense, there is “judgment” resulting from our actions and choices, imperfect as it obviously is.

According to Job, these difficulties are so that we may know there is a judgement. Job was unfairly burdened with such a judgment that was not from God, and it drove him to God, to the perfect Judge. Even the unfair, imperfect judgment that we experience in this life drives us to God. It causes us to think beyond ourselves and our lives to bigger, more eternal things.

“Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared, and was still….” (Ps. 76.8)

The root word for “heard” in Hebrew is sama and means “to hear, especially to obey (implement) what is heard.” It “implies taking heed and acting on what is heard”, for instance “conscientiously responding to audible or inner hearing.”[i] God intends that we take heed from the difficulties we experience and witness, that we respond.

The word for earth in the Hebrew, ere, conveys the idea of something more than this physical sphere on which human life plays out. It captures the idea of a “temporal, probationary place”; it suggests life on earth is “God’s testing ground, a “moral arena” in which the alchemy of God’s work in us takes place.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….” (2 Cor. 4:17)

We can only see things from our vantage point, limited as it is. God calls us to consider the world and our lives from His vantage. But for the difficulties in our lives and in the world, we would not likely take pause to consider that we are not meant for this world; there is something more.

“Fear” (yare) is the response that “judgment” is intended to produce, not in some Halloween sense, but in a thoughtful sense.  This is not irrational fear, but fear that causes us to cease from our busyness and to be still, contemplating our own fate, our position in life and our relationship to God. In so doing, we come to fear God, not as some boogeyman in the sky, but in contemplative awe, respect, astonishment and reverence for who God is.

In those moments, we see that disaster may be a breath away. We could be hit by the proverbial bus at any time. We see that life is fragile. Even if we live to be 100 years old, human life is painfully short. We know in our inner being that this life cannot be all there is because God put eternity into the hearts of men (Ecc. 3:11), and the justice for which we yearn is nowhere to be found in this life.

The justice (judgment) we yearn for can only be found in God.

For some, the impact of “judgment” and the reaction that fear generates in us is to recoil, and in recoiling, to impose our own judgment upon God. That response is short-sighted and unproductive. We can no more impose our judgment upon God then we can move the earth from its place in the Universe.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….” (Prov. 9:10)

“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death….” (Prov. 14:27)

“Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom….” (Prov. 15:33)


[i] TheDiscoveryBible Logo

If you want ready understanding of the original Greek, the original word emphasis and Greek tenses that do not exist in English to make your reading of the New Testament deeper and richer, check out the The Discovery Bible. The Discovery Bible opens up knowledge of the original New Testament text in Greek to you in your everyday Bible reading. It shows the words emphasized in the Greek text, the tenses and the meanings that do not always translate well into English or English sentence structure.

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