Here’s a classic question that humans get stuck on: who are the worst sinners? Who are the real scumbags? Who are the folks that we’re justified in looking down our noses at? You see, even though we are all going to be judged individually by God, we love spending our lives playing comparison games. It makes Ben feel superior to look down on Rex and say to himself, “At least I don’t do what he does.” Okay, so Ben doesn’t do some of the things that Rex does. But how relevant is this fact going to be when Ben is receiving his judgment from God in eternity? Is God going to whip out a list of all of Rex’s activities and say, “Rex is the golden standard by which I’ve decided to judge all humans, so as long as you did better than him, we’re good”? No, God isn’t going to say anything like this. Rex’s name isn’t even going to come up when Ben is being evaluated by God. Instead, God’s going to say, “When you were on earth, I spoke to you many times. I’m now going to judge you by how you responded to Me when I communicated to your soul.”
So who’s on your list of super yuck sinners? Who is it that you just love looking down your nose at? Child molesters? Murderers? Rapists? Drug addicts? Pimps? Terrorists? Gays? Bis? Pedophiles? God is going to teach you to treat others the way you’d want to be treated and you certainly don’t want to be written off as a vile pile of trash.
Once God starts convicting you that your merciless attitude towards others needs improvement, you are forced to choose between respecting what God wants and submitting to His will, or blowing Him off. Submitting to God sounds something like this:
“God, I certainly want forgiveness, mercy, and the chance to start again when I mess up. Yet here I am refusing to give others these things. Clearly I’m doing a bad job of treating others the way I’d want to be treated. Please help me to do better with this, because I want to honor You by obeying Your commands. Please help me to develop the soul attitudes I’m obviously lacking so that I can be more gracious towards those who I am currently condemning.”
Now God understands that wanting to change our behavior and actually being able to change it are two very different things. In cases of conviction, it’s not your behavior that God cares most about–it’s your soul’s response to Him. On a soul level, you’re either respecting God and sincerely caring about His opinion, or you’re not. Externally, you might continue to act the same in both cases, but how God judges you will be very different depending on what your soul is doing.
When we go down the road of self-exaltation by patting ourselves on the back for being oh so much better than those other people, we only end up being disciplined by God for our rotten soul attitudes. Meanwhile, those of us who actually accept the harsh judgments that other humans heap onto us end up rejecting God’s grace because we think that we’re too evil for Him to want. In both cases, we’re going astray by elevating humans as higher judges than God. So how do we break out of these negative mindsets? First we need to recognize what we’re doing and ask God to help us align with His priorities. Then we need to learn more about how God judges people.
How Humans Rank Sin
Does God think all sins are equal? Not at all. God definitely considers some sins to be far worse than others, but the measures He uses to determine this are vastly different than ours.
The human system for ranking sins generally depends on three factors: the type of action, the degree of personal identity, and the degree of personal impact.For example, child molesters are commonly viewed as super awful sinners. Why is this? We’re all guilty of doing great damage to our fellow human beings in life. But if we’re going to feel comfortable condemning molesters, we need to find a way of reducing the degree of personal identity that we feel, otherwise we’d feel like we were condemning ourselves right along with them. Here’s where we downplay the fact that molestation is just one of a billion ways that humans use their power to trash others and instead we make a huge issue out of the molester’s methodology ortype of action. Child molesters sexually abuse kids. Plenty of us are emotionally, physically and spiritually abusing our children, but as long as we’re not sexually abusing them, we can pretend that we’re oh so different than the molesters.
Now the convenient thing about bagging on molesters is that child molesting is often driven by a sexual attraction to children. Since most of us are sexually attracted to adults, we’re just not going to find a desire to get it on with kids within ourselves. It doesn’t mean we’re not sexually perverse, because we all are according to God’s very broad definition of that term, but as long as we’re satisfying our perverse desires in other ways, we can pretend that we’re morally superior to those icky molesters. Among humans, the general rule is to only condemn actions with which we personally have very little identity. In real life, we actually have a lot more identity with all forms of sins than we want to admit, but we’re very good at denying this fact.
The third factor in the human ranking of sins is the degree of personal impact. This is when you say, “The more you hurt me, the more justified I am in hating you.” Because being molested as a child is a life changing experience, we feel justified in really pouring on the hate where molesters are concerned. We say that molesters deserve to be extra hated because they’re doing so much more damage than, say, a shoplifter.
So what does God think about the human ranking system? He says it’s just hypocrisy run amuck. You see, while you pretend to not remember all of the ways you’ve stuck it to people in life, your nasty deeds and dark motivations are quite obvious to God. So when you start talking like you’re so much better than that nasty guy over there, God’s not buying it. God has His own way of ranking sins, and not only is His way far more accurate, but it also knocks us off our pedestals of self-proclaimed righteousness.
How God Ranks Sin
God judges us by our soul’s response to Him. Once we understand this, we can understand that an “extra bad” sin in God’s eyes has nothing to do with type of action or degree of impact on other humans. Instead, God ranks the severity of our sins by the intensity of our rebellion towards Him. What makes the difference between mild and severe rebellion? There are two main factors, and the first is called spiritual illumination.
While humans judge you by what you’re doing, your Creator judges you by why you’re doing it. The first key factor God considers is your degree of understanding about the morality of your action. In real life, a ton of the women and doctors who have carried out abortions did so without any understanding that what they were doing was morally wrong in the eyes of God. Because Christians are humans and humans are such vicious judges, many Christians today condemn all abortionists as coldhearted murderers. Humans only look at what you’re doing—they don’t bother to ask why you’re doing it, nor do they care about your level of understanding. But God is not a human, and He’s a far better Judge than we are. When Mary aborts her baby, God doesn’t accuse her of willfully defying Him, because He knows that Mary has never been taught about God’s view of abortion. Because He’s so much nicer than we humans are, God takes full responsibility for educating us about His moral code, then He only judges us within the context of what He knows that He has told us.
Simply going to church and getting preached at doesn’t qualify as you being educated about God’s moral code. You can’t understand any spiritual concept until God chooses to give you understanding. I call this process spiritual illumination, because when God educates you about His truth, it’s like He turns on a light in a dark room which you’re standing in. Suddenly you see things in the room that have been there all the time, only you couldn’t see them because it was dark. When God illuminates our souls, He reveals truths to us that have always existed, yet we’ve been unable to see them. Every human is born spiritually blind and they remain that way until God starts to illuminate them. Rather than suddenly download a comprehensive understanding of all truth into our minds all at once, God presents tiny kernels of truth to us over time. If we respond well to the kernel He shows us, He brings us another. If we start rejecting His kernels, then He stops bringing us more. Being illuminated by God is a precious gift, because we can never develop rich communion with God if He doesn’t help us know Him better, and the illumination process is how He does this.
Right now you don’t have anything close to a complete understanding of truth. Instead, God has given you a limited degree of understanding on a limited number of subjects. There are many subjects which you have no understanding about right now, and that’s okay, because God has different priorities for each of us. Spiritual illumination isn’t like going to public school where we are all given the same lessons and required to pass the same tests. Spiritual illumination is more like being privately tutored. We’re each being taught directly by God and the subjects He’s choosing to emphasize with you are different than the subjects He’s choosing to work on with someone else.
Suppose God opens your eyes to understand that a certain popular teaching in your religious community is wrong. You respond by rushing out and condemning everyone who subscribes to that belief as rebellious scum. Is this correct behavior on your part? Not at all, because you have no idea how God is bringing along other souls. The religious teacher who is still promoting that wrong idea might honestly feel that he is doing what God wants him to do. Well, what does God say? God is pleased with the fellow who is promoting the wrong idea because He knows the man is doing so out of a sincere effort to please and honor God. Meanwhile God might be telling you to stand down because you are not authorized to judge humans on His behalf. If you don’t submit to God’s conviction, you’ll end up in trouble with Him despite your new understanding of truth. How much knowledge you have isn’t important. What matters is how you are responding to God.
Now suppose you come across a purse that’s been dropped in a public park. Inside the purse you find an envelope stuffed with cash–$2,000 to be exact. This is just the amount you need to finally afford that new motorcycle that you’ve been dreaming of for five years. How hard would it be to take the cash and leave the purse where you found it? No one will ever know except God, and God is convicting you to return the purse to its owner with the cash still inside. Well, you find God’s plan really irritating. Why can’t you just return the purse and pretend to know nothing about the money? You take the money, ditch the purse, and go home in an unrepentant state of spiritual rebellion. How does God view your actions compared to, say, the woman who aborted her baby without understanding that it was wrong? God views you as the far worse sinner, because you understood what He wanted and you refused to do it. In this moment, God is more ticked at you for stealing the money than He is with the teacher who is promoting false ideas about God to his congregation each week. While you tell yourself that bad spiritual teaching is far worse than a simple theft, God disagrees. You’re ranking sins by type of action, but God is ranking them by soul response and degree of illumination. God hasn’t convicted the spiritual teacher about certain subjects yet because God has other priorities for him right now. And while the teacher is spiritually blind in many areas, he’s being receptive to God’s illumination and trying to do well with whatever insights God does give him, whereas you are being a defiant little punk.
God judges us by our soul’s response to Him, and spiritual illumination plays a critical role in how He assesses our soul’s response because we can’t even choose to obey God until He tells us what He wants. But now we come to another very important factor that God uses to judge us: empowerment. Power has to do with ability, and when I talk about Divine empowerment, I’m talking about God giving you the resources you need to behave in certain ways.
Let’s use an example to see how this works. You and Beth are sitting in two chairs next to one wall of a large gym. Standing at the other side of the room, God says, “I want you both to stand up and walk over here to Me.” You bounce out of your chair and quickly hurry over to Him, but Beth doesn’t move. She just sits there like a lump. When you reach God, He smiles at you and says, “You please Me with your obedience.” Then He looks over at Beth who is still sitting in her chair and calls out, “Great job obeying Me, Beth. I’m very pleased with you as well.” Say what? When you look back, you see Beth still sitting in her chair. Clearly she’s being a disobedient brat, so how is it fair that God is crediting her with obedience? You’re the only one who obeyed—everyone can see that. So in your mind, you’re the only one who ought to be getting praised.
This example demonstrates how quickly we humans get huffy when we think God is being unfair. Of course we don’t mind at all if He’s being unfair towards us by giving us mercy that we don’t deserve. But we get quite irritated with Him applauding other people who we’ve personally decided are unforgivable yucks. Of course the real problem here is that we are once again elevating humans as the superior judges when they’re really not.
So what is going on with God and Beth? How did she score the same reward as you when she didn’t even stand up? Well, while you were busy judging Beth by her actions, God was judging her by her degree of empowerment. In this scenario, you and Beth were given an equal degree of illumination: you both understood what God wanted you to do. But what you don’t realize is that unlike you, Beth is paralyzed from the waist down. In her soul, she cares about pleasing God as much as you do, but He is not empowering her with the resources she needs to physically carry out His orders. God judges us by our souls response to Him, not our external actions. When He gave the order, He saw both you and Beth eagerly want to please Him on a soul level. Both of you gave a “Yes” answer, but only you had the empowerment to physically carry out God’s command.
Now how hard would it be for God to give Beth the ability to walk? Not hard at all. As humans, we are totally dependent on our Gods for all things, and He could easily give us infinite abilities. But in real life, He chooses to keep us on a tight leash of very limited abilities. Not only does He give us very limited resources to work with, but He is constantly changing those resources. One day you’re in a great mood and you find it easy to be gracious with the customer who is rude to you at work. But on another day, you’re feeling really down and when someone snaps at you, you snap right back. It would be so easy for God to give you the empowerment to be a perpetual ray of sunshine, but this simply isn’t how He chooses to operate.
When you’re a soul who has been saddled with chronic depression, it’s easy to feel discouraged by the realization that God is intentionally withholding the resources you need to be cheery. But then again, the fact that He judges you according to how much empowerment He has given you means that you can have just as much opportunity to please Him as the peppiest of God followers.
A Gracious Judge
It’s critical to grasp how gracious God is about this judging business. He takes full responsibility for educating you about what He wants, and for giving you the resources you need to carry out His commands. You’re never going to see the day that God blames you for not being able to do something that He is blocking you from doing, and He is the only One who can accurately assess your abilities in any given situation.
With other humans, you just can’t win. Humans are brutally unfair judges who rush to condemn while totally blowing off critical factors like empowerment and illumination. This is how we end up being so hateful towards certain groups of people. When it comes out in the news that some man was arrested for molesting kids, everyone assumes that the man had all of the resources he needed to resist the temptations he was battling with. And once we assume that a fellow had a plethora of resources at his disposal, we feel quite justified in spewing hate all over him. Look at some of the sadistic comments people write whenever molestation is being discussed, and you’ll get a good picture of how merciless people can be. By the time we’re wishing that some total stranger meets with some long, torturous death, how good of a job are we doing of treating others the way we’d want to be treated? Do you want total strangers to condemn and execute you based on some journalist’s totally biased and inaccurate account of your actions? Of course not. You would want to have the chance to tell your side of the story before judgment was passed. You would want other people to listen and care about the context of your actions and take time to listen to your motivations. This is what you would want, but how often do you extend this courtesy to those who you read about in the news? Isn’t it true that you’re used to passing lightning quick judgments about total strangers without even stopping to wonder how accurately their actions are being reported or wondering what their side of the story is?
In religious circles, the list of “unpardonable sins” gets quite lengthy once we’re done ripping on everyone we feel superior to. Murderers, idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, addicts, homosexuals, pedophiles, abortionists—the list goes on and on and it varies as you change religions. But every time we start mass condemning people based on a factor like sexual orientation, gender, skin color, or behavior, are we anywhere close to judging people the way God judges them? Not at all, and this is why our final judgments end up so different than God’s.
Assessing the Degree of Rebellion
So now that we have a basic understanding of how God judges us, how exactly does He rate the intensity of our rebellion? Well, this is where we get into the principle of, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.” Once God knows that He has loaded you up with all of the understanding and resources you need to do something, He is going to consider your refusal to do it as far more rebellious than that of someone who had less resources than you. It’s rather like God asking a millionaire and a poor man to each give $20 to some charity. To the rich man, $20 is nothing, but to the poor man, giving away such a large sum will make his week a lot harder. When both men refuse to do what God is asking them to do, who has committed a greater sin? The fellow with more resources. God will be more lenient towards the poor man because He understands that He was asking for something very difficult. But the rich man is without excuse because God has given Him a plethora of financial resources to carry out a financial task.
Karen grows up in a loving home with an attentive father. As an adult, Karen has abundant emotional resources. She has lots of confidence, a positive self-image, and good relationship skills. Karen has also been given plenty of spiritual illumination by God and she understands that He does not approve of premarital sex. Tiffany also understands that God doesn’t like premarital sex, but Tiffany hasn’t been given nearly as many resources as Karen has. Tiffany grew up without a father, she has a very poor self-image, and she intensely craves male affirmation. Karen is good at balancing power in her romantic relationships and if a man treats her badly, she dumps him. But Tiffany is a doormat who lets men walk all over her because she feels so desperate for any kind of attention they’re willing to give her. One night both women are getting pressured by their boyfriends to get in the sack, and both women feel convicted by God to refuse. But in the end, both cave in. Which woman has committed the greater sin in God’s eyes? Karen. Why? Because God has given Karen far more resources than He’s given Tiffany, therefore He is going to be less patient with Karen’s rebellion. Not only does Karen know better, she has also been empowered to do a lot better in the sex department than Tiffany can with her crippling daddy issues. Because God has equipped Karen with the ability to do better, He demands that she live at a higher moral level.
As this example demonstrates, God doesn’t cast blanket judgments. Instead, He judges us each individually within the context of the resources that He knows we have. And since God is the One giving us everything we have, we simply can’t get away with deceiving Him about what we are and aren’t capable of. If He says we could have done better, then that’s a fact, not a theory. But often this is not at all what God says. Often it’s only other humans who are criticizing us for being slackers and failures while God is commending us for our soul’s response to Him. As was the case with Beth who could not physically stand up and cross the room when God told her to, God judges us by our soul’s response to Him, not by how well we can make our bodies carry out His commands.
Humans want to be able to look around and pinpoint the slackers versus the truly devoted, yet the truth is that they just can’t. God is keeping some of His most devoted souls cloaked in some really repulsive packages and those packages are completely fooling the rest of us. We simply don’t want to believe that some murderous creep or some staggering drunk or some sadistic pervert is capable of making soul choices which are pleasing to God. And yet such souls are quite capable, and many are doing it. Because we won’t stop obsessing over meaningless externals, we’re going to be in for quite a shock in eternity when God reveals His own assessments of us all. Plenty of souls who were revered as super holy on earth are going to end up in a rotten situation later on because of the rotten soul choices they made. At the same time, many who were written off as unforgivable rejects will be greatly rewarded by God because they did so well with the limited resources that they were given.
So what’s the take away for you in all of this? You need to focus on your own walk with God and stop trying to judge everyone else. You’re just not capable of judging right because God is intentionally withholding the pertinent information from you. Meanwhile, focusing on what other souls are doing is distracting you from what God is telling you to do in your own life. You’re only going to be judged by how your soul responded to God in this life. You’re not going to be compared to other people, so you might as well stop comparing them to yourself. God isn’t about to take orders from you regarding who He can and can’t be merciful to. He is the Judge, and He doesn’t invite any of us to assist Him in His judgment process.
For more about Divine judgment, see Your Soul vs. God: Two Different Judges.
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