Why I Am A Universalist, §6: Jesus Christ, the Judge Judged in Our Place

His death is the foundation of his exclusivity. And this exclusiveness consists precisely in a universal inclusivity, in that in his death the sin of all sinners is condemned to pass away and brought to nothing.

—Eberhard Jüngel, “On the Doctrine of Justification,” IJST 1:1, p. 40
We move from the doctrine of election to its necessary corollary: the doctrine of reconciliation. As true God and true human, Jesus Christ is the electing God and the elected human. To put this in terms of the doctrine of reconciliation, Jesus Christ is the Judge over all creation (electing God) and the one who was judged in our place (elected human). This is the heart of the doctrine of reconciliation. The God who alone is judge over all creation determined in Godself to enter the world in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, live a life of obedience to the law by the power of the Holy Spirit, take the judgment of God against all humanity upon himself, and rise again to bring new life to all who were judged in the person of Jesus Christ. Only the divine Judge is capable of taking the judgment upon himself. Sinful humanity is incapable of achieving this; we are lost sinners who are thrust upon the faithfulness and mercy of God. Jesus Christ alone is the center of our reconciliation to God, the one who alone made it possible for us to live in communion with the Creator. Jesus was the one judged in our place, and lo! we are liberated for new life. To quote Barth:
We now return to our question: Why did the Son of God become man, one of us, our brother, our fellow in the human situation? The answer is: In order to judge the world. But in the light of what God has actually done we must add at once: In order to judge it in the exercise of His kingly freedom to show His grace in the execution of His judgment, to pronounce us free in passing sentence, to free us by imprisoning us, to ground our life on our death, to redeem and save us by our destruction. That is how God has actually judged in Jesus Christ. And that is why He humbled Himself. That is why He went into the far country as the obedient Son of the Father. That is why He did not abandon us, but came amongst us as our brother. That is why the Father sent Him. That was the eternal will of God and its fulfilment in time—the execution of this strange judgment. If this strange judgment had not taken place, there would be only a lost world and lost men. Since it has taken place, we can only recognise and believe and proclaim to the whole world and all men: Not lost.

But what did take place? At this point we can and must make the decisive statement: What took place is that the Son of God fulfilled the righteous judgment on us men by Himself taking our place as man and in our place undergoing the judgment under which we had passed. That is why He came and was amongst us. In this way, in this "for us," He was our Judge against us. That is what happened when the divine accusation was, as it were, embodied in His presence in the flesh. That is what happened when the divine condemnation had, as it were, visibly to fall on this our fellow-man. And that is what happened when by reason of our accusation and condemnation it had to come to the point of our perishing, our destruction, our fall into nothingness, our death. Everything happened to us exactly as it had to happen, but because God willed to execute His judgment on us in His Son it all happened in His person, as His accusation and condemnation and destruction. He judged, and it was the Judge who was judged, who let Himself be judged. Because He was a man like us, He was able to be judged like us. Because He was the Son of God and Himself God, He had the competence and power to allow this to happen to Him. Because He was the divine Judge come amongst us, He had the authority in this way—by this giving up of Himself to judgment in our place—to exercise the divine justice of grace, to pronounce us righteous on the ground of what happened to Him, to free us therefore from the accusation and condemnation and punishment, to save us from the impending loss and destruction. And because in divine freedom He was on the way of obedience, He did not refuse to accept the will of the Father as His will in this self-giving. In His doing this for us, in His taking to Himself—to fulfil all righteousness—our accusation and condemnation and punishment, in His suffering in our place and for us, there came to pass our reconciliation with God. Cur Deus homo? In order that God as man might do and accomplish and achieve and complete all this for us wrong-doers, in order that in this way there might be brought about by Him our reconciliation with Him and conversion to Him. [CD IV.1, pp. 222-223.]
A christocentric doctrine of reconciliation, as propounded by Barth, protects against the superficial universalism characterized by the liberal theology of the nineteenth century up through contemporary secular religiosity. Such a view states that because God is love, God affirms us in our plight and does not judge us; instead, God shows solidarity with humanity by embracing us as we are and welcoming us into eternal life while helping us to live better lives in the here and now. There is some truth to this, but this perspective makes the grave mistake of viewing love and justice, or mercy and righteousness, as mutually exclusive. I have already discussed this under the heading of God’s attributes, or perfections, but it bears repeating.

What Barth accomplishes is what any universalist doctrine of reconciliation must recognize: that God as the Judge must enact judgment upon humankind, and in fact has already done so in the person of Jesus Christ. The very incarnation of God in Jesus was a judgment against sinful humanity, because it affirmed what humans have always tried to deny: that we are incapable of saving ourselves and must be rescued. God in divine grace and mercy determined in Godself to be the one who rescues us, to be Deus pro nobis—God for us. Any theological system that avoids judgment threatens to sidestep the central point of God’s economic activity. Of course, there are other ways of expressing God’s economic activity besides using the penal language of judge, judged, and judgment, and Barth in fact does translate this framework into the cultic language of priest, sacrifice, and satisfaction. Barth, however, finds the justice imagery to best convey the point: Jesus Christ came in the place of all humanity, suffered God’s judgment against all humanity, and effected God’s reconciliation with all humanity. Everything occurred in Jesus Christ. There is no sidestepping that indubitable reality.

Consequently, we cannot conceive of eschatology apart from the reality of what occurred (perfect tense) in Jesus Christ. Judgment is not something that simply awaits each individual beyond death; an eternal judgment has in fact already been given to each person in the judgment bestowed upon Jesus. The last judgment is not a new judgment upon each person but rather the universal revelation of the judgment that was already given. The judgment upon Jesus was hidden from humanity under the veil of human flesh, and thus the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ was God’s hiddenness in revelation and not full disclosure of the being and works of God. Revelation in Jesus Christ was indirect revelation, in that it was not a direct encounter between the living God and sinful humanity. What will occur in the eschaton is the direct and cosmic revelation of the same God who was revealed, however indirectly, in Jesus Christ. The last judgment, consequently, is the universal manifestation of what is already true, of what has already occurred and now awaits the clear proclamation to all creation by the Lord God in glory. We will address this in more detail under the heading of eschatology.

In other words, divine judgment is still a reality in the eschatological sense of the last judgment, but that judgment can no longer be viewed as a period of retribution for people’s sins. Such a view is wholly un-Christian. The last judgment is an act of grace, because Christ is the one who judges us and He still bears the marks of the cross. It is not the wrathful God whom we encounter in the eschaton, but rather the living Christ who died for us and for our salvation. When we approach the judgment seat of Christ, the only verdict available will be: Not guilty. The Son of God who judges us will still bear the marks of his passion on his hands and feet. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that means the suffering he bore for our sakes will remain throughout eternity. When the Son of God sees each person in the eschaton, there is only one judgment left to make: “I lived and died in your place. Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

Comments

Kevin Davis said…
According to D.W. Congdon,
When the heavenly Father sees each person in the eschaton, there is only one judgment left to make: “My Son lived and died in your place. Welcome to the kingdom I prepared for you.”

According to St. Matthew,
Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' (Mt. 25:41-43)
D.W. Congdon said…
I appreciate the comment. I plan to post on Matthew 25 (and other passages) in due time. I do not think Matt. 25 is speaking about the last judgment; it seems self-evident to me that it is not a foretelling of what will happen in the eschaton. More on that at another time.
Kevin Davis said…
It'll be interesting to see what you have to say on Mt. 25 and the the other passages which anti-universalists (like myself) use. I see the great attraction in Barth's view of God's election of all people in Christ, but I believe it contradicts both biblical revelation and tradition (and both are important to me since I'm a Catholic).
D.W. Congdon said…
Have you read all my posts on the doctrine of election? If so, I'd be interested to hear where you think Barth goes astray. Remember that the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar follows Barth on election. If you wish to follow Thomas or Augustine on election, you cannot simply appeal to their greatness (which is not in dispute). You will have to argue systematically (comprehensively) through their doctrines of sin, soteriology, anthropology, and of course the doctrine of God and Christology. As it stands, Barth is the only theologian I know who has carefully thought through all of these dogmatic facets out of a focal point in Jesus Christ. If you can make a persuasive argument for why election can or should be thought through apart from God's self-revelation in Jesus, I'd be happy to hear it.
Kevin Davis said…
No, I have not yet read all of your posts on universalism. What I have read has been very interesting. Even though I recently graduated with a degree in Religious Studies, I admit that I have not given this particular issue as much thought as others; although, it is of great importance. I am familiar with Balthasar's view (insofar as I have read Neuhaus' explanation and defense of it in First Things), and I have heard Avery Dulles' defense of the traditional view, contra Balthasar. My concerns lie with Dulles' in that the biblical witness (and as affirmed by the great majority of Church fathers) seems to teach against a universalist doctrine, even to the point of denying even the hope of such a thing (contra Balthasar).

If you can make a persuasive argument for why election can or should be thought through apart from God's self-revelation in Jesus, I'd be happy to hear it.

Why would I, or anyone else, wish to argue apart from God's self-revelation in Jesus? My view is that the death and resurrection of Christ provides for the spiritual death (and ultimately physical) resurrection of those in a covenant relationship with Jesus, whereby we become sons of God and joint heirs with Christ. The question is who enters such a covenant with God through Christ. Does God elect all humans through Christ in that Christ atoned for all the sin of the world? Or do those who have faith (and/or baptism) receive the resurrection with Christ? I believe the latter. Hence, the following passage from Hebrews makes sense:

For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

Likewise, from Galations:

But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:18-21)

And, of course, there is Matt. 25 that I quoted earlier, passages from the sermon on the mount, and much else in scripture. It seems clear that repentance, faith, and baptism bring one into a covenant with Christ, with the strength to overcome sin provided by the Spirit, but serious (or what us Catholics call mortal) sin and, certainly, continual sin brings one out of the covenant and loss of our inheritance with Christ. There is much, much more that can be said. But there you have a summary of my position.
D.W. Congdon said…
Your adherence to Scripture is admirable, but Arius and Pelagius were also being faithful to Scripture, as they understood it. I agree that a number of passages seem to suggest that there is an eternal punishment awaiting those who disobey God (Matt 25, Hebrews 10, Gal. 5, et al.), but what soteriology do you draw from these passages, taken apart from the rest of the biblical witness? I think you will inevitably be led toward some form of Pelagianism, or what we might call, post Luther, a salvation by works. We might say Augustine, instead of Luther, since you are a Catholic. Either way, you will have to contend with the fact that Heb. 10 places every single believing Christian under the threat of eternal damnation, since, last I checked, all of us still sin.

Now at this point, the Catholic Church says that we can make sure we are safe through penance and the Mass. Would you agree with that? As much I agree that the sacraments need to be valued highly within the church, what Catholicism has done is located the locus of grace in the church and its institutional practices, rather than in the Son of God who died and rose for our justification. The sacraments become necessary works (albeit only by the grace of God) which allow us to remain in God's good favor, as if anything we do or do not do determines our standing with God. What the Epistle to the Romans declares is that nothing we do, good or bad, has any bearing on God's favor toward; that favor was definitely revealed in the incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ. Everything we accomplish is rendered null and void, and only the grace of God remains -- a grace that judges us at the same time that it pardons and justifies us.

All of the passages you mention, and others as well, speak of punishment and judgment as a consequence for the things we have done or not done. They are proclamations of what kind of life we must live if we intend to be obedient to God. They are not passages presenting a theology of the eschaton. This is why it is so important to know our literary genres. Matt. 25 and Hebrews are public exhortations, i.e. sermons, which offer a plea to an audience to live according to the way of God. Jesus calls his followers to give to the poor and the needy, but failure to give does not mean we face eternal punishment (or else we are all damned). And likewise, Hebrews is a sermon, which explains the freedom of the proof texts from the OT and its exhortatory manner of speaking. It commands and urges obedience. It offers the list of the Great People of Faith as examples for how to live in correspondence to God's reality. It is not a theological treatise, like Romans, but a moral sermon. When we realize that this is the nature of the parables, Hebrews, and Revelation, we can interpret these passages properly.

Nothing I have just said is contrary to biblical scholarship. This is just par for the course. What is unfortunate is that people have decided to turn passages not meant to describe theological and historical realities into statements of fact about what will occur in the eschaton. In reality, these hortatory passages are meant for us in the present, in the existential here and now. They are meant for us contemporary hearers, as pleas for us to change our lives. But we do not change our lives in order to "get into heaven." We change them because that is what it means to live out of God's grace, which was already revealed and realized in Jesus Christ.
Kevin Davis said…
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I hate to seem that I'm proof-texting, but the scriptural passages must come into play, however inadequate due to the limits of a comments board on a blog. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts on what you stated:

I think you will inevitably be led toward some form of Pelagianism, or what we might call, post Luther, a salvation by works.

I'm actually fine with that. I have no problem with synergistic presentations of the gospel. I disagree with both Augustine and Aquinas on predestination. You can call me a semi-Pelagian, I'd probably agree (though with certain qualifications to be sure).

Now at this point, the Catholic Church says that we can make sure we are safe through penance and the Mass. Would you agree with that? As much I agree that the sacraments need to be valued highly within the church, what Catholicism has done is located the locus of grace in the church and its institutional practices, rather than in the Son of God who died and rose for our justification.

I see we're at the classic either/or of Protestantism, so I will naturally counter with the both/and of Catholicism. There is grace-a-plenty in both the sacraments of the Church and in the death/resurrection of Christ (not to mention, the witness of the Spirit). Of course, if it were not for the latter, the former would indeed be null and void. Also, to focus on the sacraments is to focus on Jesus and the attendant Holy Spirit. What is baptism (and penance) but the death and resurrection of the recipient in Christ? What is the Eucharist but the very Body and Blood of Christ? What is marriage but the union of a man and woman as Christ gave himself for His bride, the Church? And so on.

All of the passages you mention, and others as well, speak of punishment and judgment as a consequence for the things we have done or not done. They are proclamations of what kind of life we must live if we intend to be obedient to God.

No problem there.

They are not passages presenting a theology of the eschaton.

Hold on.

This is why it is so important to know our literary genres. Matt. 25 and Hebrews are public exhortations, i.e. sermons, which offer a plea to an audience to live according to the way of God.

Yes, my biblical studies professors made sure we knew our literary genres, but how exactly does a public exhortation (i.e., sermons) necessarily negate the teaching of an eschatological doctrine of the eternal fate of the listeners? In fact, I would say that such a time is most sensible (especially assuming that the homilist cares about the eternal state of his listeners' souls). Jesus, Paul, James, and whoever wrote Hebrews certainly wished that their audience lived moral lives, but I count it as wishful thinking to interpret these passages as not dealing with the ultimate state of one's soul. But, then again, I'm a semi-Pelagian...by the grace of God.

In reality, these hortatory passages are meant for us in the present, in the existential here and now.

Amen! And what we do in the "existential here and now" matters for all eternity.
D.W. Congdon said…
Kevin,

I appreciate your honesty. Your acceptance of a kind of Pelagianism is where we must part ways. I can definitely understand how one would come to that conclusion, since there are many passages in the Bible that suggest that Christianity is primarily a religion of morality, i.e., how one lives one's life before God. But the nail in the coffin of Pelagianism comes at the feet of two doctrines: the incarnation and the atonement, which come together at the cross.

The question any Pelagian has to answer is this: Why was the OT law not good enough? What decisively changes with the coming of Christ and the event of the cross? A Pelagian has to answer that Jesus shows us a better vision of how to live and the cross (and the Spirit) are aids for us, so that when we abide by God's laws, the grace of God helps us and makes up for our mistakes. Interestingly enough, there is no significant difference between this and Mormonism. In the end, all the differs between Christianity and other religions is that we have different practices and the cross is something special, though not as necessary as some would make it.

Anselm's question remains: Cur Deus homo? And the other question is: if we have to do something for our salvation, then in some way, we atone for our own sins. In other words, we help save ourselves. That is the essence of Pelagianism. I plan to post on this in an upcoming paragraph.

Re: Matthew 25, for example, the reason we cannot derive from this passage a doctrine of the last judgment is precisely because I reject Pelagianism, and if we take Jesus to be foretelling what will happen in the future, it seems that we will be saved based on our good works. If this is actually Christianity, then I reject it. And Paul was right to show that this is not what Jesus reveals of God. Jesus is giving an existential plea to his hearers, and the motif of judgment is a metaphorical description of how important it is to live obediently according to God's commandments. It is not telling what God will do when we die, but what we must reckon with here and now. The same can be said for the imagery of "weeping and gnashing of teeth," which are metaphorical descriptions of a true reality: a life lived in disobedience, and thus under the judgment and No of God -- which is a kind of existential hell.
Kevin Davis said…
You express your position too strongly, i.e., you distort the Catholic (and I'd have to say E. Orthodox) position, which is hardly to make Christianity "pimarily a religion of morality." Catholic Christianity is a faith centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why was the OT law insufficient? What did the OT law do? Let's go to St. Paul:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one...." (Romans 3)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
...For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6)


There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8)

So, once again, what did the OT law do? Nothing. That's Paul's point. At least, it did nothing in regard to sin's hold on man. The solution: the Cross. In the sacrifice of Christ, our sins are atoned for (which is glorious and unfathomable in itself) but more than that. Through baptism and faith, we partake in the death and resurrection of Christ such that sin and death are conquered, love and life reign. Christ is thus our Saviour and Lord. Morality is inextricably connected to our new birth in Christ. Read St. John of the Cross and compare it with the OT law.

In the end, all that differs between Christianity and other religions is that we have different practices and the cross is something special, though not as necessary as some would make it.

Are you serious? Someone needs to delve a little deeper into Catholic/Orthodox thought and practice. The cross is absolutely necessary and the Church has said nothing less. I have much respect for aspects of Eastern paganism (such as seen in the Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism), but they are worlds apart from Sacred Revelation (on this point, Chesterton is the go-to guy).
Kevin Davis said…
RE: Matthew 25. Perhaps it would be best to quote the greater context of the Matthew 25 passage that I cited.

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food…. `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food....

The context is the second coming of Christ and his final judgment of the world. The universalist/Barthian interpretation of Paul simply cannot be read back into this passage. I would rather the Barthians just admit the incongruency of scripture on this point (assuming their interpretation of Paul). To interpret this as an existential (i.e., “here and now”) exhortation to be righteous would have to then be read as a scare tactic by Jesus. “Oh, I’m just being hypothetical about that whole sheep and goats thing. It won‘t really happen; I just wanted to rile the troops.”