from Iris Murdoch, Nuns and Soldiers (London: Chatto & Windus, 1980), p67.
We long to be judged. Counterintuitive, I know. This is not at all to say that we wish condemnation upon ourselves. Judgement and condemnation are not the same thing. We do, however, long for a definitive grasp of where our actions fit within the greater scheme of things.
Perhaps we seek rest in the self-justifying judgements of our our own hearts. Perhaps we hope the
judgements of others will vindicate our own self-judgements. But without some judgement being passed, our actions and activities will always remain "unfinished business". We need judgement of some kind in order to find rest from our works. But exactly what judgement is capable of bringing such rest to all that frenzied activity that gives content to a person's life?
The judgements of others can never bring us the rest we long for. Whatever favourable judgement others may pass upon our works, those judgements are at best only ever interim and partial judgements. As O'Donovan writes, our sense of achievement, or lack of it, is insufficient to decide the matter: "even the deeds in which we imagine we may rest can very quickly appear in another light". The life of a dearly loved parish priest may find approving judgement in the eulogies offered at his funeral. But those judgements will be quickly overturned in the light of revelations that he abused the trust of the most vulnerable people placed under his care. The social policies of a politician may find resounding approval at the ballot box, only to be repented of with shame by members of his own party in subsequent decades.
Following block quotes are all from Oliver O'Donovan, Entering into Rest; ethics as theology, p44.
This is why we need God's final judgement if we are ever to find rest (either in this life or the next!). Hebrews 9:27 assures us that after our one life, lies one final judgement; a judgement not undermined by an infinite regress of reversals and further revisions. A judgement that discloses the whole truth about our lives with a finality we need if we're ever to find rest.
For those whose own sense of achievement is a comfort, this final judgement presents itself as a constant threat. But for those who are terrified about God's likely verdict upon their lives, the final judgement...
Consider the charitable efforts of many European missionaries. Even those acts of genuine selflessness would still wipe out whole communities with the smallpox europeans brought along with them. Even our finest achievements will require God's forgiveness if we are to find rest in them.
Rest and satisfaction will never be found by reflecting upon those works that lie behind us. Nor is much consolation to be found by looking forward in anticipation of a "better year" ahead of us. Rest comes only as we set all our work in the light of God's promised forgiveness of sin: that is a judgement in which we can find lasting rest.
Oliver O'Donovan offers some really helpful reflections on this longing to have our work judged, and on finding rest in judgement - which I've draw on above (Enterning into Rest: Ethics as theology, Vol 3. p.40-44)
Hi, I'm Steve. This page is just getting pulled together this May/June - sorry for the gaps!