To Wipe Away Tears, God Must Judge

Sometimes I read my Bible and think, “How in the world does this make sense?” For example, Isaiah 25, is mind-bending blend of God’s judgment and salvation. Condemnation and joy. Justice and exoneration. Gavel cracks and clinking glasses. Courtrooms and feasting halls. I’ll give you two examples.

First, destruction, “For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; … it will never be rebuilt.” and then a feast “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Is. 25:2, 6).

Here is good news, “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord god will wipe away tears from all faces” and there is bad news, “And Moab shall be trampled down in his place, as a straw is trampled down in a dunghill” (Is. 25:8, 10).

The problem is not that Isaiah confused his symbols. The problem is that Isaiah lived in a world with radically different categories than our own.Today, we view God’s judgment negatively. We do not quickly accept doctrines like hell and God’s wrath against sin. For Isaiah the opposite was true: he cannot imagine heaven without God’s judgment against sin. Why?

Well, one answer is Moab. Unlike Americans, the Israelites lived under the constant threat of war and foreign invasion. Some nations, like Moab, continually oppressed the Israelites. They stole, raped, pillaged, and enslaved. It’s hard for us to empathize with this situation. Can you imagine losing your mother or child? Can you imagine seeing a loved one murdered, or sexually assaulted? Can you imagine losing your property in flames? For most Americans, if we’re brave enough to be honest, the answer is no.

But when the answer is “yes,” there can be no true peace or happiness without justice. Without justice, people suffer pain. God can’t wipe away tears from a mother’s eyes without judging her daughter’s murderer. God can’t wipe away the tears of an abused slave without punishing his unjust master.

Isaiah understood what westerners are blind to because injustice enveloped his world. We do not understand, because our corner of planet earth is doggedly jurisprudent. Yes, injustices do occur, but not on the unchecked scale experienced by most of the human race.

Isaiah wasn’t confused when he wrote. He was, perhaps, more cogent than most us. Heaven cannot exist with justice, so he gives us a heaven interwoven with judgment.

The strangest piece of his prophecy comes in verse 8, “[God] will swallow up death forever.” What can this mean? Death is the just punishment for all sin. And all people are sinners. We committed the infinite injustice of rebelling against God. Thus, we must ask, “What about my injustices? Will I pay, too?”

Isaiah says, “Yes.” Ever injustice must be rectified. But Isaiah also say, “No.” God may choose to take the justice (death) that we deserve. He may condemn himself in our place. God will swallow death in our place. In Christ, he took the poisonous draft; he paid the penalty for every injustice we commit.

So yes, heaven cannot exist without justice. But heaven only exists for us because God condemned himself in our place. So before we balk at Hell, consider who condemns (the innocent one willingly condemned in our place) and what lies in the balance (leaving oppressive injustice unchecked).

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