"How dare you take my child away from me! I brought her to you so you could help her. I trusted you!"
So screams the mother whose badly abused child goes from the peds ward into Child Protective Services.
But the fact is, the pain and outrage the mother is feeling in the hospital lobby are pain and outrage that have already been visited on her. The medical staff didn't cause the pain. What caused it was her decision to shack up with a pathetic excuse for a man who has to prove his manliness by hitting women and little children. What caused it was all of his "issues."
So the suffering is not just now erupting. It was already there. It was just dormant, waiting to take concrete form. Which it did when her child finally got rescued from her, from her bad decisions, and from the man she's probably going to keep taking abuse from.
Of course, when the already inflicted suffering of the broken home moves out of its latent state and becomes a vivid, palpable reality, everybody involved feels the agony, acutely. But the cause of the suffering is not new. The suffering has already been caused. Now, we're just forced to experience it. The kid simply couldn't stay in that home.
So, the feverish agony of a failed liver from a lifetime of highballs, the round the clock suffocating panic caused by 50 years of two packs a day, the asshole watching his wife drive off for good with the kids, the clerk getting sacked after countless dips into the petty cash drawer, the burning lesions that flare up every winter--these things are no fun at the time. But they were consequences waiting to take form.
That is what I think is going on with the biblical word "judgment." Judgment is not about God in a huff being capricious and cruel. Judgment is about the consequences of the things we have already been and done finally being allowed to take concrete shape. Reckoning comes, sooner or later. And we may scream and rage all we want, but the damage has already been done. And we will have been the ones responsible for it. Not God.
The amazing thing about the Christian faith is that, while there's no way for us to undo the consequences of our sins, nothing we can do to avoid the reckoning that will come, nothing we can do to "get off easy"--God has done it for us. In Jesus. On the cross.
It is on the cross that the consequences of the damage we have wrought, the poison of all our sin, take hideous, concrete shape. The reckoning that was rightfully to be ours has been visited upon Jesus. He opted for that role.
And the power of Christ's cross is what can break the stranglehold of our not-yet-paid consequences and set us free, now, today. The power of Christ's cross is what can save us from ourselves, and give us a chance to choose differently this time around. A chance to put off the old ways, and live in the peace of God.
If we will accept the chance that is offered.
Not that we still don't have to face the consequences of our sins in this life, at least in part. But in the end, instead of an eternity of screaming and rage, we will be able to fall at the feet of our Savior with gratitude and joy.