“When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.” —Isaiah 26:9
Do you remember the feeling of getting a bad grade on a school assignment? (Assuming this is something you’ve experienced.) I sure do. Sometimes these bad grades were completely expected; I’d done poor work and I knew it. Other times, bad grades came as a surprise. It turned out that my instructor was less impressed with the quality of my work than I was. Of course, in these moments I’m sure I questioned the wisdom of the instructor: “Maybe he doesn’t know this subject as well as I thought!” “Did she even bother to read this?” But in the long run, these times when I’d done poorly and been told I’d done poorly served as opportunities for reevaluation, for recommitment, for growth.
As I’ve gotten older, I’m not sure I’ve gotten much better at handling negative evaluations. As a kid, you get used to a daily stream of grades. As an adult, direct evaluations seem to come less frequently, and sometimes less welcomely. It’s one thing for a teacher to deliver judgment on a student’s work, quite another for a fellow adult to let you know you’re falling short of the mark (especially if they don’t really know the whole situation).
It’s not surprising that we tend to react negatively to judgment. But this verse from the book of Isaiah paints judgment in a much more positive light. When God’s judgments are present, people learn how to live rightly.
This makes sense, of course. Learning happens when our attempts are evaluated and improved. If we didn’t have God’s judgments, we would be blind to how he expects us to live.
Sometimes we think of Jesus as being about grace as opposed to judgment. In fact, the death Jesus took upon himself was itself an act of judgment, a real life painting in bold colors revealing how lost humanity was and is. The human race killed the one through whom it had been created. If that’s not a negative evaluation, I don’t know what is.
But, of course, the fact that Jesus took this death upon himself also reveals God’s righteousness and allows us to learn about right living. Right living is humble, not arrogant. Right living is repentant, not prideful. Right living is self-giving, not selfish. Right living is merciful, not vindictive.
God’s judgment allows us to glimpse God’s view of the world, and of us. And while that rightly fills us with awe and trembling, it is also a very, very good thing.