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Justice and the Joy of the Saints

Movies can be so unpredictable. Maybe it's better to say that my emotional response to movies is very unpredictable. Any good story has the potential to stir some pretty deep emotions in me, but sometimes I get moved by the weirdest things. Like the recent Disney movie Cruella.

Like I said, weird.

The movie is about revenge. And yet when the villainess gets her due, I found something like worship welling up in me. That feeling of worship happened in Secretariat when the horse of that name won the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes in the race where he totally blew away the other horses. Wasn't even close. In The Man from Snowy River, I wanted to worship when the horses tore across the grasslands and woods at full speed. Watching creatures do what their Creator created them to do should stir worship in us. Not of the creature, of course, but of the Creator. So what the hey-diddle-diddle was going on in Cruella? I actually prayed asking the Lord to help me understand what was going on in my heart.

What I got was along these lines. It wasn't revenge that was moving me. It was justice. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. When evil is overcome and judged and God's justice prevails, the saints should rejoice. When the majesty of God's holiness is on display in evil undoing itself, the redeemed should worship. So when the wicked come to a wicked end, God is glorified. When the wicked repent and embrace the gift of redemption in Christ, evil is judged in the Son and God's justice is again vindicated. When the spiritual struggle is over and the saints are secure in everlasting joy and all evil removed from their experience, then heaven will raise a thunderous praise to the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.

There is an oft-troubling passage near the end of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. In chapter 18, the archetypical city of man in which all wickedness is found, Babylon the Great, is judged. At Babylon's downfall, a voice from heaven bids the saints to rejoice.

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city

where all who had ships at sea

grew rich by her wealth!

For in a single hour she has been laid waste.

Rejoice over her, O heaven,

and you saints and apostles and prophets,

for God has given judgment for you against her!”

And in chapter 19, the saints around the throne of God worship.

CS Lewis has an imagined conversation with his spiritual and literary mentor, George MacDonald, in The Great Divorce. There he is concerned that it seems almost hard-hearted and unloving for the saints in heaven to be unmoved by those tormented in hell. Lewis observes one of the men from hell visiting his wife in the foregrounds of heaven. Despite the woman's loving appeals to embrace the joys of heaven, the man refuses, all the while attempting to make her feel guilty by his self-imposed misery. Here is a piece of the conversation between Lewis and MacDonald which follows the encounter.

Lewis: Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?

MacDonald: Would you rather he still had the power of tormenting her? He did it many a day and many a year in their earthly life.

L: Well no. I suppose I don't want that.

M: What then?

L: I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on Earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.

M: Ye see it does not.

L: I feel in a way that it ought to.

M: That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.

L: What?

M: The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power: that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

And there you have it. A hint at the significance of justice in the divine economy. It really is a big deal.

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