Spe Salvi 43: Last Judgment and More On Learning and Practicing Hope

43. Christians likewise can and must constantly learn from the strict rejection of images that is contained in God’s first commandment (cf. Exodus 20:4). The truth of negative theology was highlighted by the Fourth Lateran Council, which explicitly stated that however great the similarity that may be established between Creator and creature, the dissimilarity between them is always greater [DS 806].

Even agnostics would recognize this. Only the most naive of atheists would discount the powerlessness of the human race against asteroid impact, climate crisis, or some lunatic setting off a nuclear war.

In any case, for the believer the rejection of images cannot be carried so far that one ends up, as Horkheimer and Adorno would like, by saying “no” to both theses—theism and atheism. God has given himself an “image”: in Christ who was made (flesh).

This is the essence of the meaning of the Risen Lord for the Christian believer:

In him who was crucified, the denial of false images of God is taken to an extreme. God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man’s God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh [Cf. Catechism, 988-1004]. There is justice [Cf. ibid., 1040]. There is an “undoing” of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright.

This was certainly a promise of God communicated through the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. Jesus initiated his public ministry in Luke’s Gospel (4:16ff) attaching himself to this tradition in his speech at the synagogue.

Pope Benedict XVI, instead of identifying the Last Judgment as a worrisome event, writes that we need to embrace it and look forward. An establishment of universal justice is a promise that anchors our hope:

For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfillment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that (humankind) was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing.

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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