“Judgement” is one of those terms deeply rooted in Christian tradition that tend to give Christianity a bad name.
The idea of judgement is associated with the darkest shadow side of Christianity. It seems to imply that I have been assessed and found lacking. It feels harsh and negative. Judgement seems to be irrevocably connected to condemnation.
Judgement conjures up pictures of a demanding monarch seated on a distant throne, looking down at his poor benighted subjects separating the good from the bad on the basis of whether or not he approves of their behaviour. It is certainly an unsavoury vision of faith.
Who wants to sign on to a belief system whose only goal seems to be to keep you safe from an angry deity who is just waiting to smack you around if you step out of line and to send you to an eternity of suffering if you are really bad?
Some version of the word “judgement” appears at least six times in John 5:19-30. I brushed past it in looking at 5:19-24; but it cannot be ignored when we get into 5:25-30.
Here are Jesus’ words in John 5 relating to judgement:
22The Father judges (krino) no one but has given all judgement (krisis) to the Son.
24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, (krisis) but has passed from death to life.
27 he has given him authority to execute judgement, (krisis) because he is the Son of Man.
29 the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (krisis).
30 ‘I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge (krino); and my judgement (krisis) is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
It does not make for comfortable reading. But, it may not be quite as harsh as the English translation seems to suggest.
The words translated “judge”, “judgement”, and “condemnation” all share a common Greek root. They are all versions of the Greek verb krino or krisis. Krino and krisis share the idea of “separation”.
Jesus is suggesting that, in his presence, the fragmentation that is often characteristic of our lives is revealed. Judgement is not so much about condemnation as it is about seeing clearly the reality of our condition.
In the presence of the light, truth, and beauty of Jesus,the basic orientation of our lives becomes evident. It becomes clear whether we are oriented towards “the resurrection of life” in which we experience the unity of all things, or “the resurrection of separation (krisis),” in which we experience the fragmentation in which we so often live our lives.
It is difficult to think of a good way of describing this. My best effort at illuminating what Jesus might have meant when he used krino and krisis, is to speak about my grand-children.
I am blessed with two grand-daughters. They are four and two. They live quite nearby, so my wife and I get to see them fairly often. They have a beauty, purity, and innocence that often leave me speechless. They are spontaneous, open, and tender. They live life with a zest and enthusiasm that is quite compelling.
When I am with my grand-daughters, I see the person I was created to be. The compromises of my life are revealed in their presence. I see in them the beauty and vulnerability that I know are my true nature. But at the same time, when I see the beauty and honesty of their lives, I confront the reality of my own harshness and duplicity.
It is not that they stand in judgement over me. It is merely that, in their presence, I see myself more clearly. They stand in my life as little judges, in the same way that Jesus is my judge. Their judgement is not bad news, because it reveals to me the person I was created to be and calls me to be that person more fully.
Jesus would not be doing me a favour by allowing me to live blissfully ignorant of condition. Jesus came to call all people back to the beauty and truth of our original nature. He enables me to see the distance that exists between the self I have become, and the true self I was created to be. The words Jesus uses to describe this function krino and krisis.