“This is the judgement: the light has come into the universe, and people loved the darkness instead of the light because their actions were bad.” (John 3:19)
In this passage, judgement is not something that comes on a day in the indefinite future.
No, judgement has already come. It’s been in effect since the day Jesus spoke.
And we know what the judgement is: “the light has come into the universe, and people loved the darkness instead of the light because their actions were bad.”
What does this mean?
The light is truth—the recognition and acknowledgement of reality as it really is. Some of us don’t like this truth. We reject it, because we have done bad things.
Who has done bad things? Probably all of us.
And at some level we know we’ve done these things. And so we don’t let the light in, because to do so is to bring into the full light of consciousness the knowledge we would rather relegate to the darkest corner of our mind.
George MacDonald calls God, “the bleaching sun of righteousness.”
If we bring what is shameful in us before God’s eyes, with no place to hide, the light of God’s honest and compassionate love will bleach away its shamefulness.
Jesus urges us to do this.
But we are not yet willing. And so we remain under this old judgement.
The Greek word for judgement is crisis.
And this is the crisis—that we are chasing after darkness. We are chasing after something that is not our true life, that is not of the truth, but whose very essence is a flight from truth.
And we are in crisis as long as we try to escape truth. Because there is no place to run. Wherever we go, the truth is there.
And all the while, the God of Truth, our loving and merciful Father, is patiently waiting to cooperate with us to bring this crisis to a satisfactory resolution.
The work of confession is perilous. Proceed with caution. Don't confess to anyone who is not worthy of your trust. Better yet, begin by confessing only to God. But even there be careful. If your understanding of God is lacking in mercy, love, compassion, or forgiveness, your confession may warp you rather than heal you. Similarly, if your understanding of God is lacking in truth and justice, your confession may fail to instill the integrity and responsibility we are all called to.
A second warning.
What is our conscience accountable to? If you are a Christian, your conscience is accountable to a God of Truth and Love. Your conscience is not accountable to society, to the church, to any theological system, to our family, to our political party, or to the Bible. We can only know what is right by knowing what is genuinely true and what is genuinely loving. In practice, this means developing a degree of ethical independence from the values of the people who we happen to spend time with. And this requires the courage to be willing to disagree with the people and institutions we see as moral authorities.
I add this warning because it is so easy to believe what other people tell us is good or bad, even when they are quite mistaken, and that leads to a great deal of unnecessary suffering. When someone tells themself that they are bad for doing what is good, a deep psychological and spiritual damage can result. And so compassion requires not only that we treat genuinely bad actions with mercy, but that we recognize when our conscience itself is lying to us and telling us that something is bad when it is really God's will for us.