Love, Judgment, and Rejection
A friend told me how he knew God did not judge:
"When I held my first baby in my arms and looked into his eyes, I knew that nothing that this boy could ever do would ever make me reject him. My love for him was just a given. And I knew that God is like that too, and that nothing I could do and nothing you could do would ever make God stop loving. His love is even stronger than my love for my child."
I think my friend is right about God's love. God is love. Nothing we do can make Him stop loving us.
But if I use my friend's moment of spiritual insight as our starting point, I think we can understand God's judgment from within the analogy of father and child.
My friend did not just let his son do whatever he wanted as he grew. He imposed discipline. That discipline was based on my friend's vision of what should happen in the world that he created for his son, and a vision of how his son needed to grow and live in order to have everything he needed. When things didn't happen as they needed to happen, teaching happened. The teaching was based on a judgment that something wasn't right and needed to change. Some of that teaching was punitive, but much was just pointing out the results of some choices, and helping his son think through how to get what he really wanted through his choices. God is like that with us. He trains us up, through the "judgment" of natural consequences of our sin, and through the kind discipline that seeks to avoid the harsher consequences of real-life natural consequences.
This kind of judgment imposed during the growing years is just a reflection of the vision my friend has for the basics of a happy life for his son. He doesn't want to control him or change him. He wants his son to be exactly what his son wants to be. But he knows that, in order for his son to have that opportunity, he needs to be alive, he needs to be healthy, he needs to not injure others, he needs to have an understanding of the world and of himself and how it all works, he needs certain habits that will serve him well, and he needs certain tools and skills. Without any of those things, my friend's son will not be free to be himself. He will be bound by horrible limitations. And all that doesn't even start to look at the implications of not just a single son, but of many sons all living together and impacting each other, and his desire for each of them, and his need to protect each of them from each other.
Judgment serves a purpose in raising my friend's sons, just as it serves a purpose to God in training us all up. To say otherwise is just an exercise in semantics because of a dislike of the word "judgment", but it doesn't change the reality behind temporal judgment.
And if my friend's son reaches adulthood and chooses to reject a relationship with my friend, my friend will do everything he can to foster a restored relationship, and will keep loving his son even in the midst of a broken relationship, but he will not force his son to love him. Indeed, there is no way he can do that. Love cannot be forced.
The doctrine of final judgment is all about free will and our freedom to reject our father, even though He never stops loving us until that final death.
The doctrine of final judgment tells us these things about God:
1) He is after a harmonious free world populated by creatures who have free will and choose to love Him and serve Him in the fullness of all they were created to do and be.
2) He never forces any of those creatures to participate with Him in His purposes.
3) Through nature and revelation He has given an open invitation to participate in everything we were created to participate in fully. Through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have everything we need to take Him up on His invitation. And through final judgment, He honors our choice.
4) He ultimately so values their free will that, after having done everything to win them back that He can do (short of violating their free will), rather than "raping" them spiritually, He lets them go. He never stops loving. He allows them to stop loving, if that is what they choose.
So my friend is right in his spiritual insight. He just needs to project it out 20 years and 40 years and 60 years, and incorporate the idea of many children into the face of his first child.
God loves us all just as much as my friend loves his son. And all He does out of His holiness and His anger at sin and in His purpose for His Kingdom Come is indeed done out of that love. Even judgment in all its forms -- temporal and eternal.