Will Jesus judge us or not?
The creed: “from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Yesterday’s Gospel reading: “I do not judge anyone who hears My words yet does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).
Of course, both things have to be true. But how?
It has everything to do with the objective Trinitarian positioning of Jesus, Who is none other than the Word/Son, the One Who proceeds from the Father and returns to Him in the love of the Holy Spirit. The Father’s Word is an eternal Eucharistic pulsation, which can be refracted in time.
So: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words (rhemata) has a judge; on the last day, the word (logos!) which I spoke will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on My own, but the Father Who sent Me has Himself given Me a commandment (entole) about what I may say and what I may speak” (12:48-49).
The eternal Trinitarian process is refracted in the economy of salvation. Here we see an objectification of the Father’s eternal utterance of His Word, as well as of the spiration of the Spirit.
On that latter point: the objectification of Spirit here is law, “commandment” (entole). If Balthasar is right in his Trinitarian logic, and he is, then the Spirit should be seen in the “commandment” given by the Father to the Son. Balthasar calls this “Trinitarian inversion,” by which the Third in the eternity of God, the Holy Spirit (that is, He Who proceeds from the Father and the Son), takes on a stance between Father and Son within the economy of salvation.
Word and Spirit assume hard, objective aspects when confronting the hardness and “objectivity” of sin, our self-parody or “effigy,” as Balthasar puts it (following Adrienne von Speyr). (I would like to propose the wrath of God and this divine objective hardness as analogous to a psychological reaction formation, with the obvious dissimilarity that for God this is not a self-defensive process, but an other-defensive one.)
So, to answer our original question: does Jesus judge us? Yes and no.
No, He doesn’t...insofar as the Trinity only advocates for us, each Person in His unique way. God only wants to justify man: “If God [the Father] is for us, who is against us? He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God Who justifies. Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, Who died, yes, Who was raised from the dead, Who is at the right hand of God, Who indeed intercedes for us?” (Romans 8:31-34).
[Of course, the Holy Spirit in this, as in all, is the Person in God Who, as it were, sums up God in Himself. God is spirit (John 4:24): Whose very name comes from this most basic essentiality of God? The same for the holiness of God. God is love (I John 4:8, 16): Whose procession is that according to the mode of loving?
And “God only wants to justify man”: The Holy Spirit is the Advocate (for example, John 15:26).]
God is advocate. Satan is adversary. Man is what they argue over.
So, does Jesus judge us? No.
Yes, He does…insofar as the false subjectivity (the lie) of sin deliquesces in the sunlight of being, before Truth in Person. Evil is the privation of goodness. It has no ontic grounding, that is, no grounding in being or reality. It is completely generated from the “substance” of wrong choice. We must note what “judgment” means in terms of cognitional theory: it is the act of mind that ascertains truth and falsity, what is and what is not.
Evil is not. It is lie. God is being itself. He is truth. If we choose evil, we make ourselves less real. There’s nothing God, as it were, can do about that, head on. It’s the principle of non-contradiction, which is as basic to God’s essence as anything. Evil standing before Good is necessarily, objectively, judged.
The point is the one C. S. Lewis made. Hell is locked from the inside. It is not some alien and sadistic imposition. It is the “ownmost” choice of the damned. Milton’s Satan: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
Again, it’s as Lewis describes it in The Great Divorce: even IF they were given a second chance to get out, the denizens of hell would still choose against heaven. It’s a matter of settled character. What do we make of ourselves through each of our free choices? The more we identify with our sins, the more hollowed out and spectral we become, the less desirous of beauty and goodness and, indeed, of happiness.
It is the dogma of the Church that we, any one of us, can definitively identify with our own idea of who we are, or often enough the Adversary’s lie about us. Such a damnable choice has no ontic value because it is a figment, yet we can so cleave to it that we, in a final way, disavow God’s idea of us as having anything to do with us. (Identity politics, by the way, treads on this ground, as does the fraught process of ego formation in general. That said, only what is freely chosen can weigh us down to hell.)
The self-laceration on the way to hell occurs every time we choose to honor ourselves above our neighbor and our God. And the danger is greatest when we choose to be merciless.
Insofar as we cling to our sinfulness, we cling to our self-concocted vision of who we are. (I’ve got to be me!) But this has nothing to do with our reality, which is that eternal idea the Father has always had of each of us as a glorious and irreplaceable saint with a unique role in the drama of saving and loving others. That eternal idea of each of us is eternally spoken in the eternal utterance of the Word. And so, when our life is over, our version of ourselves is measured against God’s idea of us, which is concretely located in the Word (the logoi in the Logos). So the Word is the Judge.
What kind of judgment is it then? It’s simply the breaking of idiosyncratic fantasy (a vision completely withdrawn from the common good) when confronted with simple reality. “The word (logos) that I [the Logos] spoke will serve as judge.” It’s Jesus as the simple objectivity of being’s luminosity, as Truth. If we insist on having the last word on our own identity, before the word/Word, the logos in the Logos, of who we are, there is nothing for it but for the charade to end and for us to fall as the common earth gives way, like Don Giovanni at the end of Mozart’s opera.
I believe Lewis again right when, in The Pilgrim’s Regress, he hypothesizes that we would fall and fall without end, asymptotic to zero, given the logic of clinging to unreality, but that the merciful God has placed a lower bound for that falling in creating hell. (Lewis should be considered the Doctor of Hell, except that’s a crummy title.) And so we have another way of understanding Dante’s assertion that divine love made hell.
The Father wants only the salvation of every single person. “And I know that [the Father’s] command (entole) is eternal life” (John 12:50).
That’s the good news. We can choose our fantasy over reality, BUT, thank God, He is only on the side of our reality against our self-destructive fantasies. So we have hope for ourselves and for every other human.
The Father wants us to have eternal life, even when our death instinct is driving us into darker and darker places. He sends His Son into every hellish abyss we create for ourselves and others, and Jesus harrows them all.
The command that Jesus carries out is the law of love, which is eternal life. We should hear echoes of an earlier statement of Jesus about the command He has received. To gather all the sheep of humanity together, Jesus the Shepherd will have to be sacrificed: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life in order to take it up again. …I have received this command (entole) from My Father” (John 10:17, 18).
Our true life, the divine life of measureless knowing and loving, comes from being drawn into Jesus through His Spirit, and thus participating in the total commerce of giving and receiving that constitutes the life of the Trinity.
Apocalyptic Dramatization of Judgment
All of this is dramatized in Revelation 14, which provided the matins readings for the last two days.
The ideality of every human is to be a member of the “144,000” totally committed to following the Lamb in the mission He IS: to be the royal emissary of the infinite love of the Father, in time as in eternity. These are “virgins” (Revelation 14:4), meaning they are a warrior band set in every way on carrying out the war aims of God: to bear witness to divine truth and love in history. “Virginity” as a virtue is necessary for the perfection of every human, in the sense of having one’s heart set above all on God, and everything else only in God. Every spouse is meant to be a “virgin,” for example, for we are all called to holiness. (We should think here of Saint John Paul’s concept of the “virginal meaning of the body,” which is the consummation of the “spousal meaning of the body.)
“In their mouth, no lie was found…” (14:5). The 144,000 have surrendered themselves to the luminosity of divine knowing and loving.
They “fear” God (v. 7), meaning they are awed by the holiness of being and the truth of creation because they recognize that they owe everything to God the Father, the Source of all, “the One Who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.”
What happens to those of us who do not worship God, who are not pious or grateful or eager to serve the salvation of others? What happens to those of us who do not fear the Lord, who do not recognize we trample holy ground when we don't unilaterally love our neighbor? What happens to those of us who believe “the lie,” the lie of self-creation and of power as separable from wisdom and love, the lie of lording it over others through our social advantage? What happens to those of us who try to make of our lives a Tower of Babel, lives impregnable to divine disposition, lives pregnant only with self-generated plans? What happens to those of us who band together to be merciless to the powerless, who judge and slander and marginalize?
“Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of His anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (vv. 9-11).
I have tried above to present the proper hermeneutics by which to understand this passage. No pleasure is taken by the Lamb in the torment of those He sacrifices everything to save.
Another consideration I would add here is that every time we sin against love, the victims of our lovelessness, in justice, are owed something in eternity. The stigmata are eternal also for reasons of justice. Think about the slaughter of innocents and of innocence in all the abortion mills and sex-trade dungeons of the world, or the lives blown up by terrorists. There is something eternal about such evil perpetrated in time. Our effigies MUST burn forever, if the memory of victims is to be honored. Whether we are burned in our effigies, or not, depends on whether we insist on identification with our effigies, or not.
An unfortunate tendency of many translations, which confirms the worst pharisaical impulses in believers, is to present the following verse in a way that might give the impression that saints derive some kind of encouragement from the fires of hell: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments (entolas) of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus” (v. 12).
In fact, it’s clear that what sustains the saints is what follows: “And I heard a voice out of heaven saying, “Write this: blessed are the dead, those who from now on die in the Lord” (v. 13).
Blessed are the dead! Of all the paradoxical beatitudes in Scripture, this may be the most paradoxical. The Spirit Himself (and that is noteworthy) speaks up here: “‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they will rest from their labors, for their works follow after them” (v. 13). All your suffering, if you let it be in Christ, will serve love’s mission to save mankind from the lie.
It is absolutely not that we are to derive sustenance from the prospect that others will burn in hell. (I cannot imagine a more satanic sadism.) It’s that everything we undergo in Christ to save others from hell will have its place in eternity. To die in the Lord is to live and die for what He lives and dies for: the salvation of all the world.
A last observation on chapter 14. There’s an odd moment in which the Son of Man is told by an angel to begin the eschatological harvest (vv. 14-15), which would seem to denigrate the divinity of Christ. I suggest that Balthasar’s notion of Trinitarian inversion illuminates this. The Father is commanding His Son to wrap up the world drama. He sends an angel, whom one presumes commands Jesus by the power of the Spirit.
We cannot be anxious about some private salvation. Let's be anxious for the salvation of every other person. We are saved as a people, not as individuals. We have been chosen to follow the slaughtered Lamb. Blessed are we who have been so charged, to live and die for love.