[I just remembered that in a rather sober mood just under a year ago, I wrote a post which I didn't ever get round to publishing. Rather than updating anything, I'm releasing it now virtually untouched. I'm not going to wish anyone a merry Christmas :) but I do of course hope that if anyone's thoughts do turn to the incarnation, even for the most artificial of reasons, some good effect will come of considering the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, his redemptive purpose in coming to the earth, and his expected glorious return.]
I caught the end of an anecdote on Classic FM’s evening concert one night I was working late before the end of the year – it involved a composer whose name I missed saying that when he would die and be called to give account to God for what he had done with his life, he would hand him the score of his Te Deum, and be sure that God would judge him with compassion.
This story appalled me for a good few seconds, before I remembered I still had a thesis to write and returned to pondering the relevance of spoonerisms for investigating phonological representations. Maybe it’s not such an uncommon way of thinking about judgment, but is it not completely absurd to think that any one single thing that you have produced in your life will be enough to give you a pass in the day of judgment, even if it was very beautiful and did make you famous and does perhaps do people some good when they listen to it. Whoever the composer was, it’s safe to say that his music was not immune from criticism even from his fellow composers (even if it was very beautiful), never mind in the analysis that God himself would make of it, who sees with precision all the flaws in all the best aspects of every human production.
And undermining his optimism much more fundamentally was the even greater absurdity of putting a piece of music in the balances on the other side of a life’s worth of sin and guilt. Surely God has compassion of a nature and to a degree that we constantly underestimate and disbelieve, but when he comes to judge the earth, there is a standard which he has published, which he will judge people by – and compassion will not override justice when he measures people up against that standard. There is of course a solution, provided in the gospel, for the crushing problem that we cannot begin to live up to his standard and have no way of making up for that failure ourselves and would really rather not be bound by it anyway – but that solution does not include any good or beautiful or beneficial thing that we have ever produced. How can a life’s worth of sin and guilt and shortcoming and failure be compensated for by any one-off?
It can’t even be compensated for by a person putting their utmost into moral or ethical or religious activities, no matter how many mitigating factors it might be possible to scrape together to excuse the faults and shortcomings which will inevitably emerge in the course of these activities. In the judgment, the compassionate judge of all the earth will do what’s right, inflexibly and unflinchingly, and unless we can have recourse to the perfect obedience and lack of imperfection of someone else to stand in for our own, there’s no way that justice will be served in our own personal case.
That is to say, there is an Advocate with the Father, whose life and death lived up to God’s standard exactly, and his person and work are available to anyone to make use of, this side of the judgment. Failing to accept the offer that reflects God’s compassion now, will be the most telling piece of evidence against us in his judgment later – but his offer explicitly excludes any contribution of ours to the case which he will make on our behalf (even supposing it seemed as magnificent to us as whoever’s Te Deum it was in the first place). ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling’ – the obedience and death of Christ is an eloquent plea, and the only one which will be accepted when the Father of Mercies comes to judge, but if it won’t do for us, there’s not much use pinning any hopes to anything of our own in his place.