Spe Salvi 44: Judgment and Hope, Grace and Justice

44. To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Ephesians 2:12).

Not helpful for the cause of justice, but complaining to God, and even complaining about God, is a very human reaction to the experience of injustice. We want injustice corrected. The lamenting psalmist complains about their own experience. And even non-believers are disheartened when other human beings are persecuted and harmed in a world lacking in basic justice. God is unharmed by human complaints. Perhaps those who see themselves as more closely allied to the Almighty see protests against God as a personal affront.

Rolling back to this section’s examination of the end times …

Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so. The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love [Cf. Tractatus super PsalmosPs 127, 1-3: CSEL 22, 628-630]. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.

And yet the lost and repentant son is welcomed home readily by a loving father (Luke 15:22-24). It is the elder son who perceives–and wrongly–that he has been injured by his brother’s sins. He has styled himself virtuous and faithful, yet he has absented himself not only from the banquet, but from the very home in which it is taking place (Luke 15:28ff).

Here I would like to quote a passage from Plato which expresses a premonition of just judgement that in many respects remains true and salutary for Christians too. Albeit using mythological images, he expresses the truth with an unambiguous clarity, saying that in the end souls will stand naked before the judge. It no longer matters what they once were in history, but only what they are in truth: “Often, when it is the king or some other monarch or potentate that he (the judge) has to deal with, he finds that there is no soundness in the soul whatever; he finds it scourged and scarred by the various acts of perjury and wrong-doing …; it is twisted and warped by lies and vanity, and nothing is straight because truth has had no part in its development. Power, luxury, pride, and debauchery have left it so full of disproportion and ugliness that when he has inspected it (he) sends it straight to prison, where on its arrival it will undergo the appropriate punishment … Sometimes, though, the eye of the judge lights on a different soul which has lived in purity and truth … then he is struck with admiration and sends him to the isles of the blessed” [Gorgias 525a-526c].

In the next chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we are given the image of a person who persists in their own way, and indeed, they have dug the chasm of the afterlife by their own actions:

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Luke 16:19-31), Jesus admonishes us through the image of a soul destroyed by arrogance and opulence, who has created an impassable chasm between himself and the poor man; the chasm of being trapped within material pleasures; the chasm of forgetting the other, of incapacity to love, which then becomes a burning and unquenchable thirst. We must note that in this parable Jesus is not referring to the final destiny after the Last Judgement, but is taking up a notion found, inter alia, in early Judaism, namely that of an intermediate state between death and resurrection, a state in which the final sentence is yet to be pronounced.

It seems important to keep in mind that none of us sees the full situation clearly. We know that some people persist in wreaking havoc with justice in this mortal life. We see the clear costs involved to victims, and we lament it. We suffer when we ourselves are victimized. On occasion, we stand with others. Just as non-believers do. Sometimes we find the grace to stand and suffer with those outside of our circles of family and friendship and shoulder the cause of justice for others.

Judgment for the perpetrators can sometimes be achieved through human law, but the final Judgment is not something our finger tips one way or the other.

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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