Shayne Looper: God and judgment in the era of #MeToo
Oprah Winfrey once explained that a sermon was the immediate cause of her departure from the orthodox Christian faith. In his Sunday message, her pastor Jeremiah Wright read and then exposited an Old Testament text in which God portrays himself as being jealous. Oprah decided then and there that she wanted nothing to do with a jealous God.
Winfrey is an extraordinarily talented and intelligent person, but she got Pastor Wright’s message all wrong. A jealous God is good news for us. A God who doesn’t care what his people do or what people do to them would be unbearably bad news, like a man who didn’t mind if his unfaithful wife chased other men or didn’t care if other men harassed his faithful wife.
People’s jealousy is sourced in insecurity but God’s is sourced in love. People’s jealousy is limiting but God’s is liberating. A jealous husband prevents his wife from reaching her potential by restricting her freedom. A jealous God enables a person to reach her potential by overcoming obstacles to it. God is not only jealous for who we are but for who we can become and is opposed to anything that blocks our fulfillment.
Those who deceive, oppress, misuse, and otherwise harm God’s much-loved people will, sooner or later, face the jealous God. Many Christians have shied away from talking about this for fear it would push people away from God, as Wright’s sermon pushed Oprah Winfrey away. But in the era of #MeToo, it might be time to rethink that. Understanding that God will punish those who hurt his loved ones might actually attract people.
The Bible teaches that people do not get away with the evil they do, neither the subordinate nor the celebrity, the small-time operator nor the powerful official. The biblical writers repeatedly warn the man who thinks he has gotten away with evil that he is mistaken. What he did is known. A reckoning is coming, one that not even the rich and powerful can evade.
St. Paul wrote that “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.” Obvious or not, ahead or behind, there is no escape. It may take years for the truth to come out, it may take ages, but the truth will be revealed. The person who misuses one of God’s people, which includes everyone, since he is the Creator of all, will have to answer to God for his or her actions.
The biblical doctrine of judgment has been largely overlooked for a generation or more. Because Christians have struggled with reconciling the God of love revealed in the life of Jesus Christ with the God of judgment presented in the Bible, they have remained silent. However, reconciling the God of love with a God who allows evil to go unpunished is just as problematic. A God who says, “Oh, well,” to the oppression of the poor or the sexual misuse of the defenseless, who shrugs his shoulders over genocide and says helplessly, “What’s a God to do?” is not an improvement.
Fortunately, such a God is not the one revealed in the Bible. From its first book to its last, the Bible teaches that God will judge human beings. No biblical doctrine is more easily demonstrated. What’s more, God’s judgment is not bad news, as has often been implied, but very good news.
The biblical writers understood this and celebrated it. To them, the doctrine of judgment meant that God will make things right. Evil will not win and evil-doers will not escape. Wrongs will be redressed. Love and justice will be rewarded.
Believing God’s judgment to be good news, the biblical writers extolled it: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.”
Judgement is good news in the # MeToo era and every era. It offers hope that what has gone so wrong will one day be set right.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.