Righteous Judgment

April 29th, 2013

Last month two young men in Steubenville, Ohio, were convicted of raping a sixteen-year-old girl during a night of partying late last summer. The case gained national attention in part because of the role that social media played in incriminating the perpetrators and leading to further arrests. Teens who were at the party and who witnessed the sexual assault used phones to take pictures, record videos, and tweet an account of the night’s events.

The teens guilty of this crime played for the Steubenville High School Big Red football team, a program with a history of championships and a loyal following in the east Ohio town. Some in the community lashed out at the victim, blaming her for damaging the football team and its reputation. Even after the verdict was delivered, two girls were arrested for threatening the victim through social media.

More recently authorities in Torrington, Connecticut, arrested three young men, ages 17 and 18, for the sexual assault of a thirteen-year-old girl. Some classmates of the accused responded by bullying the alleged victim on Facebook and Twitter.

Many young people involved in these incidents—as perpetrators, bystanders, or outside observers—exercised poor judgment, to say the least. Two young men have been judged accordingly by the legal system. Time will tell if additional arrests, charges, or convictions follow.

God’s Judgment

Throughout Scripture we see a God of love, justice, and mercy. But, as early as the opening chapters of Genesis, we see that God is also a God of judgment.

Through Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and David, God made covenants with God’s people, Israel, promising to bless and protect them. But, as a part of these covenants, God expected the people to be faithful and obedient. God never abandoned Israel, but when they weren’t faithful, there were consequences.

As a warning against Israel’s disobedience, Moses said: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy”; but later he reveals, “Because the LORD your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you” (Deuteronomy 4:26a, 31a, NRSV). Later in Israel’s history God spoke through prophets, warning people of the consequences of abandoning God.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sins and delivered us from death. Though we have forgiveness and the promise of eternal life, we do not have license to do whatever we want. God holds us accountable for all we do. While we might be fearful about being judged for our words and actions, we know that we serve a merciful God who invites us to repentance and reconciliation.

Living the Promise

Young people are still learning how to make responsible decisions, and they often learn by trial and error. Too often they find themselves in situations where their judgment is impaired by factors such as peer pressure, alcohol or drugs, or anger. They need to understand that God cares about what they do and say. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way, “Rejoice, young person, while you are young! . . . Follow your heart’s inclinations and whatever your eyes see, but know this: God will call you to account for all of these things” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

The promise of God’s judgment is not meant to scare us, and we should not live in constant fear of doing something wrong. In fact, if we do not take risks in order to glorify and obey God, we will be equally judged. Our responsiblity is to constantly seek and pray for God’s wisdom precisely because we understand the promise of God’s judgment (for good or bad) and God’s call for us to live powerfully in the Holy Spirit.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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