Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80, Luke 12:54-56

August 15, 2004 by Tad Mitsui

When I was a child, I used to enjoy the summer festival at a Buddhist temple. There was a community dance, a circus, rides of all sorts, a big open-air market and the exhibitions of arts depicting Buddhist legends and stories. There was one room I avoided. It had a huge mural depicting scenes of Hell. It was a horribly vivid painting of many torture scenes. Seeing it first time, I had nightmares that night. So I never went back again. In Europe too, you will see the same kind of gory pictures of Hell among medieval religious art.

We don”t talk much about hell in our church these days. I believe that our idea of hell has changed. Today”s passages in both Isaiah and Luke tell us that God”s judgement is certainly an important part of the message of the Bible. But judgement and hell are not the same. This morning, the suggested Bible passages make us think about judgement in our belief.

First of all, we notice that the Prophet Isaiah began speaking about the judgement of God in a parable and called it the love-song of the beloved. This sounds a little bizarre. Judgement is a love-song? We usually dread God”s judgement. We call it in such terms as "Fire and brimstone, Eternal damnation, or Hell," etc. But we must realize that here the Bible spoke about the judgment as the time of reckoning. And in God’s accounting, the bottom line is justice and mercy, not punishment.

In this sense, we disagree with the ideas of Hell as represented by the old religious arts. We realize that many religious leaders have used the image of Hell as a threat to exercise their power blackmailing ignorant people into submission. Let us not go back to the dark ages where God was a jail guard. We believe in the religion where our God is love. In his love God credits us where credit is due and points out to us the mistakes we may have made. That’s true love.

Unfortunately, some religious people abuse their power with a threat of God’s judgement even today. Their words were full of condemnations, hatred, and punishments and rejections. We remind ourselves that we believe in a merciful and loving God who does not enjoy punishing people.

How, then, can the judgement be described as a love-song? The answer lies in our belief in our loving and trusting relationship with God. It is just like our relationship with our spouses, children, and friends. In such a relationship, it is an important to pause from time to time, to celebrate what we have accomplished together, and correct it where it went wrong. We do that at the dinner table, while we are driving, or in a quiet chat before we fall asleep. Nowadays, we call it a quality time.

The parable in the Isaiah begins with a vineyard owner working hard to create the best conditions for the vines. Likewise, God loves us and takes the best care of us. That is the nature of our relationship with God. On that well prepared soil, we do our part to grow and produce fruits. It is a partnership. God does his part and we do ours. God trusts us.

When a partnership works well, the time to stop and check each other is a time of delight. From time to time, we celebrate our life together big time like harvest time. Anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, even the funerals are the time of celebration of our lives together. They are important time of accounting. The judgement of God is the time for accounting. For those who do their part faithfully, the reward of justice is a source of comfort and joy, and recognition of shortcomings is a gift of an opportunity to learn.

True love demands justice and fairness in accounting. The judgement of God is not a rejection. When we fail, we will bear the consequences. But even then God patiently waits for us to start a new vineyard. He gives us chance to begin afresh. God is ready to forgive us and to bring us back into a new relationship.

Often you hear of parents who defend their criminal child. You may want to call it foolish love. But if I was a criminal, I would be grateful that there was at least one person in the whole wide world who would still love me despite my mistakes. God is like the parent who never ceases to love. God does not ignore our guilt. Instead, he suffers more because of it, like the parent of a criminal does. The judgement of God is not an act of rejection. It is an opportunity to take stock of his relationship with us. Let us look forward to it. And if we fail, let us learn lessons from it. Judgement of God is a love song, not hell.

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