I love classic old western movies. Good guys versus bad guys. The sheriff’s posse hunting down the cattle rustler’s gang. And then, of course, the classic shootout.
At some point in these movies some wizened old Indian fighter scratches his chin stubble and says to no in particular, “Well, I reckon there’s gonna be a shootin’ today.”
Come high noon on the dusty main road through town and – Bang! Bad guys are dead, good guy gets wounded but is nursed back to health by the local lovely schoolteacher. End of story. (Cue sunset over the high plains.)
This idea of reckoning in the old western sense – an estimation of events to happen or an informed calculation – has done theological harm to our reading of Paul. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3, quoting Genesis 15:6). It’s no good to envision God as some wizened Indian fighter who leans back with a jug of rotgut whiskey saying, “Well, Abraham believes in me. So, I reckon he’s righteous.”
Reckon, in the New Testament sense, draws more on images from a courtroom. Let’s say that Jones, a rancher, sues Smith, a cattle rustler, because Smith stole some of Jones’ cattle. Then, because of the evidence and testimony, the judge rules in Jones’, the rancher’s, favor. In other words, Jones is judged to be in the right – it is reckoned to him as righteous.
God didn’t “shoot from the hip” in making the decision to declare Abraham as righteous. And God doesn’t make some guess about who will be declared righteous as if he was making some guess about who was going to bite the dust at the high noon showdown. God deliberated and then judged in Abraham’s favor, and God will rule again in our favor.
“Therefore Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for Abraham’s sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” – Romans 4:22-25