He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
This one verse from the Acts reading today stopped me in my tracks and had me thinking about how many times I have recited and prayed, “the living and the dead.” How many times? Countless.
And yet this morning as if it was the first time it occurred to me that “the dead” is a reference to all those who died before Jesus was sent, lived, died and was resurrected. Not just the folks who have died in my life time but all the dead of earth’s time. And onto the bunny trail of time – God’s time – my mind wandered.
As I drifted into thoughts about the unknown, abstract dimension of God’s time, I sensed at the same time that Peter was teaching me something about final judgement and eternal life and salvation.
I know I have struggled to accept at face value final judgement. What scripture says is clear – at least on the surface, unpacked level – about judgement, belief, eternal life and salvation, but…hmm.
It is the buts that rear their ugly heads whenever I think about final judgement and what scripture reveals; what about so and so, what about those never given the chance to know Jesus? what about my beloved grandfather who was abandoned by his father and could never disassociate that from his understanding of God, his true Abba Father? and what about those raised with law driven not grace driven theology? and what about those self-righteous believers like my aunt who judged one of my children ‘unworthy’ because he hadn’t memorized the Ten Commandments thereby suggesting to him a performance-based, earn your way to heaven knowledge of God…what about, what about?
It is an additional ‘but’ that breaks open my understanding of final judgment, as in there are no exceptions to what is revealed in scripture but our capacity to understand this relative to all people in all time is limited by our capacity to understand God’s time.
And the idea of God’s time is what I see Peter introducing when he describes an abstract idea – God’s time – with a discrete description “the living and dead.” Jesus is the judge of all the living AND THE DEAD of all time of every nation and corner of the world…the final judgment – the rapture – on that day – TIME as we humans understand it exists not and all are judged at some point to be granted life eternal.
And just as we will all be judged in God’s time, so, I believe, Jesus is made known to us and saves us in that same confounding God’s-time dimension. Everyone – peoples of other nations and times, my beloved grandfather, my self-righteous, judging aunt, and my tender-hearted, trusting, believing son – ‘everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
God’s time confounding, confusing, abstract as it is works both ways – we are each and everyone of us sought and found in God’s time. And we are all judged for eternal life by Him and only Him and again, in His time.