As we prepare to enter Lent, I am reminded of a discussion held earlier in the year in my Level 2 (six to nine year old) room. The second graders were exploring together Isaiah 11, “A shoot shall come forth from Jesse”, and they were discussing what it meant “he will not judge by what his eyes see or by what his ears hear”. One seven year old girl suggested: “He doesn’t need to see or hear. We are part of him; we are his branches.” Another child said: “By his hand, he judges by his hand.”
The first child had linked Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus’ great I AM statement in John 15: “I am the true vine, and you are my branches.” She had connected Isaiah’s promise of the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament’s Jesus of Nazareth who promised at the last supper to love us as God loved him and to abide with us. Certain of her faith that we are indeed a part of Christ’s body, part of the true vine which she saw as the shoot from the root of Jesse, she lived without fear of punishment or rejection. The eyes of her faith saw judgment as healing or, as Christ says in the parable, a cleansing “by his Word”.
The other child, prompted by the Holy Spirit, brought forth that familiar phrase from the Hebrew Scriptures, “by his hand”. This phrase, repeated throughout the Tanakh, speaks of God’s mighty acts of salvation; in Exodus the LORD says, “by my hand I brought you out of Egypt”. Again, the child’s vision of judgment was a comfort, a vision of redemption.
For both children, God’s judge is not a figure of terror that raises emotions of guilt and shame, but instead is Christ revealed as Love, as the Word which cleanses us, as the LORD who acts in history to save us with the work of His own hand, as a savior to whom we are intimately bound and who invites us to abide as part of His very being.
If our children see God’s judgment revealed so clearly as an act of love incarnate, why then should we adults fear, rather than long for, the judgment to come?