Over the past few weeks I have had a number of conversations where I was asked to clarify my/our use of the terms “judgment” and “love”. So, I thought I would write a short explanation for the blogosphere.

In our recent book, Judgment and Love, I attempt to define these terms and explain their relevance to understanding our lives. I wanted to present them as being purely descriptive in nature. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“Judgment and love [are] primary forces acting on everyday life. In almost any situation, one can identify either or both at play. We constantly react to judgment (and the fear it inspires) and respond to love.

Human culture employs a rich body of synonymous terms for judgment and love. Judgment may occur in the form of a demand, something a person must fulfill or a standard to which one must adhere. It may also be an expectation or evaluation of one’s performance. However it manifests, judgment is always conditional in nature: “You will be accepted if you do _____.” Love, on the other hand, is always unconditional. It is acceptance without equivocation. It is understanding, and forgiveness. Love includes no aspect of judgment, and simply declares: “You are accepted.”

I often use a Paul Zahl phrase from which I think much of the confusion stems: “Judgment kills love, and love births goodness.” I have heard some confuse this phrase as the Gospel, or, at least, it has been understood that we are presenting it as the Gospel. This phrase and the use of these terms are, again, meant to be descriptive. We certainly do believe that it is a true phrase, but it is not the Gospel, rather it points to the Gospel. It describes the situation to which the Gospel was given. People live under judgment and are in desperate need of love.

If I were to leave it here, we still would not have any Good News. You could say to me, “That’s great Sean. Thanks for the hot tip.” It is obvious that no one likes judgment and everyone wants to be loved. Just listen to the radio. Artists like Jay-Z are asking “Where’s the love?”

But we are not talking about just any judgment and love here. We cannot divorce these terms from their theological synonyms: law and grace. All forms of judgment are indeed painful, but what we’re really talking about here is the judgment of God. As Tupac once said, “Only God can judge me.” The law of God is the standard of which we fall short, and therefore we deserve God’s judgment.

The same is true of love. Grace and love are great in a general sense, but, again, we are talking about something specific: the grace and love of God. Our only hope against His judgment is His love. So what’s the Good News? What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the “how”. It is how God gives us His grace and love, which saves us from the judgment of His law. God gives us grace through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

Jesus willingly suffered all of the judgment of the law (which we deserve) so that we might receive nothing but the love of God. This is the Gospel, and this is our message of God’s love over God’s judgment.