If there is any thought at which a Christian trembles it is the thought of God’s ‘judgement’. The ‘Day’ of Judgement is ‘that day of wrath, that dreadful day’. We pray for God to deliver us ‘in the hour of death and at the day of judgement’. Christian art and literature for centuries have depicted its terrors. This note in Christianity certainly goes back to the teaching of Our Lord Himself; especially to the terrible parable of the Sheep and the Goats. This can leave no conscience untouched, for in it the ‘Goats’ are condemned entirely for their sins of omission; as if to make us fairly sure that the heaviest charge against each of us turns not upon the things he has done but on those he never did—perhaps dreamed of doing.
It was therefore with great surprise that I first noticed how the Psalmists talk about the judgement of God. Judgement is apparently an occasion of universal rejoicing. People ask for it: ‘Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness’ (35:24)
The reason for this soon becomes very plain. The ancient Jews, like ourselves, think of God’s judgement in terms of an earthly court of justice. The difference is that the Christian pictures the case to be tried as a criminal case with himself in the dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff. The one hopes for acquittal, or rather for pardon; the other hopes for a resounding triumph with heavy damages.
From Reflections on the Psalms