When and how does God judge and punish?

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 14 – How to forgive people in practical terms – some advice on what to do and how to go about it

One day Jesus will judge all of us, either at the Judgment Seat of Christ or at the Great White Throne.  However, He will also judge wrongdoers in various other preliminary ways, long before those final Judgments occur.  God uses human governments to judge wrongdoers here and now.  He also uses the police, lawyers, judges, magistrates, prisons, civil courts, local councils etc etc.  All of these bodies, are used by God to punish wrongdoers, albeit only to a limited extent.  

God puts them in place for that very purpose, to maintain order, restrain crime and punish the wicked, pending the final Day of Judgment. These organisations are all God’s agents.  That’s why we are commanded to pray for them, and all the more so in countries where those institutions are inefficient or even corrupt.  They are doing God’s work, or at least they are meant to be, even if they don’t realise it. 

Therefore, where they exist, we can allow God to use institutions like the police or civil courts to deal with the person who has wronged us, even ahead of the final Judgment.  That is not inconsistent with our forgiving them.  So, we could go to the police about a crime, or even sue someone, but still genuinely forgive them. 

There is not necessarily a contradiction in any of that.   Sometimes it’s the very fact that we can hand it all over to the police, or to a court, that makes it possible for us to forgive the wrongdoer.  It brings justice forward, at least in part, so that we don’t always have to wait to the very end of this age in order to be vindicated or to see justice done.

I emphasize this because some people think that if they do go to the police or take part in a civil case, as the Claimant or as a witness, then that must mean they are not properly forgiving the other person.  That could be true, in some situations, but it is not necessarily so in all cases.  On the contrary, forgiveness involves handing things over to God to deal with. 

Therefore that can, sometimes, also include handing it over to God to deal with right now by making use of the very institutions which He has set up to punish people on His behalf.  Those courts or prisons etc are a part of Jesus’ role as Judge of the world.  They are a small foretaste of what the final Judgments are going to be like. 

He will conduct those final hearings Himself, in person.  However, for now, Jesus chooses to operate, in part, through various human agencies.  So a Christian need not feel precluded from using those.  Jesus gave those institutions to us for our benefit, and we are meant to use them, where it is appropriate. 

Admittedly, it is not always right to go to the police or to lawyers.  Much will depend on your real motives and heart attitude.  But it may well be right to go to those people for help.  Doing so is not necessarily inconsistent with the idea of forgiving the wrongdoer and does not necessarily mean that you are disobeying God or being vindictive.

One important question to ask yourself is whether you are motivated by vindictiveness or by a genuine wish to seek for justice.  It may not always be easy for you to tell what your own motives are.  You may need the guidance of others to help you decide whether or not to take a matter to the police, or to pursue a civil claim, or just to let the matter drop.  There is no obviously right answer, which is always appropriate.  It depends on all sorts of factors and circumstances.

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