This is the first in a series of reflections based on my time in Chartres, France (September 2008)
Placed in the most significant position, high on the west wall of the Chartres Cathedral (France), in the center of the multi-colored rose shaped window, Christ is seated on his heavenly throne. He is known here as “Christ in Judgment,” reigning over all of creation at the end of time, surrounded by apostles and the souls of the saved and condemned. This powerful symbol of faith says that, contrary to appearances at times, some day Christ will set wrongs right, the martyrs and faithful will be vindicated, and all the “dead will be judged according to what they have done” (Revelation 20:12).
Over the years, the notion of Christ as Judge has alternately frightened me, repulsed me, or simply left me cold. There is so much judgment and rejection in the world that crushes people that I often recoil from critical, damning attitudes and images of condemnation. I much prefer the Jesus who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Believing that God accepts and loves me as I am with all of my faults, experiencing God’s forgiveness, and living out of a place of grace (rather than judgment) has been incredibly healing and motivating for me over the years.
Yet, I am changing. I still am very drawn to the compassionate and forgiving Jesus, and I depend upon Christ for rest for my soul. Yet, at the same time, I’m starting to see that grace only has meaning when there has been judgment. Forgiveness is transforming, but only when we’ve acknowledged (judged) that we or others have done wrong. Truth sets us free only when we admit (judged) that we have been held in bondage by lies, distortions, and manipulative behavior. In biblical teaching, mercy triumphs over judgment, but judgment still has its place when it holds up truth for all to see and demands that we alter our lives to fit with the laws of love.
On Friday, I had been walking the labyrinth, which is uncovered only once a week on Fridays for pilgrims. When I reached the center of the labyrinth, I turned to look up at the magnificent rose window to the west. When I fixed my eyes on Jesus on his throne, I suddenly saw Christ as not only the judge, but my judge—and I was surprised by my reaction. I felt strength and encouragement. I felt at peace.
When I am honest with myself, I know that Christ’s judgment is always right. I know that his opinion is the only one that truly matters. If I submit myself to him, and actively seek out his perspective on my life, rather than experiencing domination, I find freedom. Rather than feeling disempowered, I find more strength and confidence to live the life I am meant to live.
If, on the other hand, I look to others (or even myself) to judge my life, the truth is going to be colored and distorted by their (or my) interests and limitations. Whether I submit to or rebel against the judgments of others, they will exert too much control over me. Only one person can rightly serve as Judge of my life. Only Christ offers me the full truth I need to see and the grace I need to accept it and live by it.
Over the past couple of years, I have been struggling with rejection and judgment from someone who used to respect me and was close to me. I know intellectually that I am being treated this way because I won’t go along with his way of thinking or do what he wants. However, emotionally, I keep churning inside. I keep wondering if I did something wrong to bring about his rejection of me, and what truth there is in his accusations and judgments. I can see that I’m too attached to his opinion of me. Yet, for some reason, I have been having a very hard time accepting what’s happened and my powerlessness in the relationship.
No wonder, then, seeing Jesus as my one and only true Judge was so comforting! Jesus is not like this former friend. Jesus knows the truth. He knows I am not perfect and make many mistakes. I sin and let him down, hurt others, and work against myself all the time. Yet, in Jesus, I find truth. Where I have failed, he offers forgiveness. Where I am confused, he offers wisdom. Where I am wrongly trying to justify myself, he cuts through the pretense.
Christ my Judge does not jerk me around with self-serving demands. He is reasonable and fair, and speaks the truth when I need to hear it, not to hurt me, confuse me or try to manipulate me. Though his rebuke may cut me deeply, I never doubt that he speaks the truth out of love. He is for me, more than I can ever be for him.
So, I trust him. In his judgment I find peace and strength. I feel relief. Looking to him, it’s easier to let go the false judgments of others, and the unreasonable demands I place on myself. Then, ironically, the more I look to Christ as my Judge, the more I find my way back to Jesus, my Savior and Lord, whose yoke is easy and burden is light.
What does Christ in Judgment mean to you?