Thursday, 11 September 2014

Understanding the Final Judgement

A lot of modern people find it difficult or even impossible to square the basic and overall nature of Christianity with some descriptions of God's final judgement; in which our perfectly-loving Heavenly Father seems to be taking delight in consigning great masses of people to everlasting and unimaginable torment for what seem like rather trivial errors, incompetence, gullibility, ignorance and minor misdemeanours.  

They are not necessarily wrong: some descriptions of the Last Judgement are clearly based on such utterly different premises and ways of understanding that they really don't make sense at all in light of what sincere and real modern Christians can understand of the nature of their faith.

So, unless we can come up with a better while still valid description of Judgement, then this will be a very serious stumbling block for some of the people who would potentially make 'the best' Christians - those people naturally abundant in love, compassion, and fairness.

Here goes:


Judgement is when resurrected Man, after death, is confronted by reality, and is made to understand it.

Then Man must choose - and this choice is God's judgement.

Either choose to acknowledge the primary authority, truth, beauty and virtue of God, to submit to the judgement of reality; and to join with God in pursuing His divine plan. 

Or Man will choose his own primary authority; each Man therefore locating truth, beauty and virtue in himself - and judging God and the divine plan by his own lights, and resolving to pursue his own individual plans.

Man has the power to reject God; God respects that power and gives Man what he has chosen. In one sense Man judges God and rejects Him; in another sense God judges Man by accepting that rejection.


There is nothing strange or difficult about this understanding. A loving mortal human parent, and earthly father for instance, does much the same with his children when they grow-up. The analogy is close (although not, of course, exact in all respects).

A grown-up child can choose to remain part of his loving earthly family, and joined to the adventures and aspirations of that family in the world - he can remain a part of that loving network; or else the grown-up child can reject his family, cut himself off from the family, live existentially separate from the family, cease to love that family.

A good earthly father must respect that grown-up child's decision, yet without ever ceasing to love the child who has rejected him and his love, and the love of all the family.

And that father may become angry if the rejecting-child tries to poison the minds of the family, torments or exploits the family; the earthly father may need to be stern, and may need to exclude the rejecting and malicious child (whom, nonetheless, he continues sorrowfully to love).

The rejecting child has, in effect, chosen to live in a hell of pride, ego and isolation: perhaps a state of eternal torment. The loving father accepts this choice with sorrow...

- however the father's angry and stern judgement may insist that the chosen hell in which the rejecting child dwells is segregated from the family, is elsewhere than the family home - that the rejecting child is excluded from the family - and that the loving and innocent are to a sufficient extent protected from the direct and insatiable depredations of those who have chosen to dwell in hell.


Why final judgment? Because it may be final - a choice may never be reversed.

But the two situations of salvation and damnation are not symmetrical. Salvation cannot in principle be reversed - because of its nature salvation is a one-way ratchet of spiritual progress; while damnation is a self-chosen doom of a type that our earthly experience shows may in practice be irreversible (the miserable, hate-and-resentment-filled addict to drugs, sex, or violence may in practice never repent).

The choice of salvation therefore caanot be reversed, while the choice of damnation may not be reversed.  


Choice and judgement: Two sides of the same coin. Love and sorrow; anger and sternness - likewise.



Adam G. said...

Hear, hear, hear. You've hit the nub.

One suggestion:

" however the father's angry and stern judgement may insist that the chosen hell in which the rejecting child dwells is segregated from the family"

As Helaman suggests, it is more likely that the separation is voluntary, because continued life in the presence of God is too painful for the sinner maybe even lethal in a sense, or merciful on God's part for the same reasons.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam. Thanks. And Indeed.

But IF the chosen-hell-dweller insisted on hanging around, then exclusion may well become necessary.

There are plenty of people I have encountered (including myself and most people at some time or another) who adopt a 'dog in the manger' attitude to life; in which their primary pleasure is the irritation or misery of others - or they delight in *inflicting* their own despair and pain.

(Certainly, I have yielded to this evil temptation on many occasions - although I am not naturally or generally of that type.)

So it would not surprise me if some people did want to stay proximate to their rejected family for that reason. Presumably, this is why Satan continues to inhabit the earth, and live among Men.

Adam G. said...

Point taken.

Adam G. said...

"Dog in the manger"--that is a phrase that has gone invisible in the modern world. I never knew about it until I started reading old books. Even then it took awhile to get it, since it was such a novel concept.

I believe that the phrase has fallen out of use because it too accurately condemns much of the modern world. A lot of activism, for instance, is nothing but.

George said...

I greatly appreciate you sharing this with us. I still have some philosophical difficulty with asserting this understanding in favor of, or more-correct-than the traditional (Medieval?) understanding.

This is a consequence of my belief that moderns are obviously wrong about most moral, theological, and philosophical questions - and so judging our predecessors as incorrect from any modern framework seems suspect (though I have no proofs).

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - thanks!

I know what you mean. On the face of it, it may sound that I am advocating a modernist liberal reinterpretation. But the way I think about it is that there are some apparent contradictions in traditional Christianity which had been going on for centuries - especially contradiction s between specific Biblical verses considered in isolation and the clear overall theme of the Gospels. As a 'theoretical Mormon' I see the necessity of Mormonism as having a lot to do with sorting-out these contradictions - a lot of what Joseph Smith did (and the prophets who followed to a lesser extent) was to take a line on these difficult cruxes; and by prophetic inspiration to declare that the apparent contradictions were due to errors, misunderstandings, corruption and apostasy etc. While this must have been shocking back in the 1830s and 40s, we can now see that Jospeh was not a modernist, liberal or apostate - because his religion has been - and still is - more solid than the most of the traditional Christian denominations.

Adam G. said...

It's also very much non-modernist in that it preserves the reality of judgment, not just as a metaphor.

Leo said...


Well said. Here are a few verses from Milton on the Last Judgement:

Yet first to those ychained in sleep,

The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,…

The aged Earth, aghast

With terror of that blast,

Shall from the surface to the centre shake,

When at the world's last session,

The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.
And then at last our bliss

Full and perfect is…

John Kenney Jr. said...

2Pe 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.