Lately, I have been watching and listening to a couple of YouTube videos of Negro spirituals about God’s Judgement. One is a classic “ring shout” from the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Two others are from the sort of rural Baptist Church I grew up in (Baptist Liberty, King William County, VA). Perhaps I have been paying attention a little more because of my struggle with health issues, the loss of a dear cousin, the Delta variant of COVID-19, or it’s the end of the homecoming and revival season in local black churches and I’m a little nostalgic. Whatever the reason, judgement day is something that we should keep in mind as we pursue the spiritual life.
It would be a mistake to think of the day only in terms of a harsh punishment for the sinful. This is one reason why people abandon religion. When God is presented too heavily as the giver of divine punishment for even the slightest infraction, there is the temptation not to make a serious attempt for holy living since He is perfect anyway and we can never really please Him. Eagerly awaiting the day to see “really sinful” people get what’s coming to them is also not a good way to think of it. A person with a hateful heart and mind may be given a harsher sentence than a murderer, especially if the later earnestly repented.
Early Church fathers and Orthodox believers today describe the Lord’s Judgement seat as “dread” and “fearful.” As that day has not arrived yet, we have an joyful opportunity to grow close to Him and seek a death that is “blameless, painless, and a good defense before the dread judgement seat” (from the Divine Liturgy ) Saint Anthony, one of the great Egyptian Desert Fathers, approached life like this, “Everyday I tell myself today I will begin.” He started each day with a clean slate and clear record. Good works, prayers, scriptures, wisdom; he could fill 24 hours with all of these and more. Passions could be repented of and overcome. Virtues were available when he sought them.
The same wonderful chance is given to us every day we wake up in the morning. We cannot be complacent, or we may waste our opportunity. We need not despair that we are too far gone because nothing can separate us from the Lord’s love (Romans 8:38, 39).