Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grace and Judgment

When I was at BOMEC (the Board of Ordained Ministry Evaluating Conference) a few months back, a certain individual gave an evening devotional that I haven't been able to get out of my mind so I have to comment on it.

Before I go any further, a bit of disclosure is in order. I was rejected by the BOM and was not allowed to take the next step towards ordination. I would be lying if I said my commentary was not affected at all by the results of BOMEC. That being said, the meat of these thoughts occurred before I found out I was rejected, so my thoughts are not at the core the result of said rejection. Take them with the grains of salt they require.

In this devotional the person started off reading from Galatians 3, which begins, "You foolish Galatians!", and proceeded to explain how this particular passage was about the tension of grace and law (New Testament scholars could and probably should take this person to task on this claim, but nevertheless, it was the subject of the devotional). The essential thesis was of the tension of grace and judgment. The BOM is given the task of making a judgment about those who come before them to seek commissioning and ordination, but since this judgment occurs in the context of the church of Jesus Christ, it requires the presence of grace. Hence the tension of grace and judgment.

This, of course, relies upon the assumption that grace and judgment are either polar opposites or things so different that they are not compatible, hence the necessity of holding them in tension. But is that really true? Are grace and judgment two entirely different things?

What is the purpose of making a judgment? Is it purely punitive? Do judgments only exist to meet out punishment for things done wrong? Or could a judgment be something more? Could particular individual actions be judged so that a person could learn from their mistakes and do better in the future? If a judgment is meant to be redemptive rather than punitive, could it not actually be gracious?

If a judgment can be gracious then the two things need not be in tension. They are only in tension with one another if we adhere to the world's fatalistic meta-narrative that people are who they are and can not change. If, on the other hand, we believe that God's grace can transform even the most unlikely person, nay, especially the most unlikely person, then a judgment is exactly the wake up call this most unlikely of people needs to realize that grace is leading them in a different direction. A judgment can be gracious because it points beyond itself to a future that is more in line with God's will. Is that not what grace is all about?

As of yet I have not seen that the judgment of the BOM has been gracious at all. The jury is still out, however. I remain hopeful that their judgment was made with the ultimate goal of helping me become a better person and a stronger pastor. But the evidence that this is the case is quite long in coming, so holding on to this hope is becoming harder and harder. As a Christian I believe in looking for the best in others, even to a fault, so I will continue to cling to the hope that their judgment will turn out to be gracious. But I'm only human, so I need a little help in holding on to that hope.