God and Judgement

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Икона "Страшный суд"

Икона “Страшный суд” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today many people desire a God who is nonjudgmental. This God will not judge anyone for their behavior. Even if He does judge, He always forgives, whether or not a person is repentant. He never condemns any act as intrinsically wrong. If the Bible or church teaching that something is essential for salvation, this God says, “Religion gets in the way of a relationship with me. Be spiritual, not religious.” This God demands no religious duties. This God is easygoing when it comes to moral rules. For this God, Hell is an impossibility. All people will spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

One of the amazing facts about contemporary America is that some people will actually worship a deity like the one described in the above paragraph. This pusillanimous being is as worthy of worship as Santa Claus dropping down a chimney. A God without judgment is no God at all. He can be merciful–and mercy only makes sense in the context of judgement anyway.

If God is our Creator, it is reasonable to suppose that He would reveal Himself to man, not only though natural revelation but also through special revelation. He would have further reason to reveal Himself if human beings are fundamentally flawed. Now human beings are fundamentally flawed–it does not take the mass killings of the twentieth century or the conflicts of the twenty-first to see that this is the case. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Gulag Archipelago:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

God would, if He is the personal God in which Christians believe, provide information essential for deliverance from this flawed state. For Christians, God reveals Himself in Holy Scripture (in Roman Catholic thought, through Holy Tradition as well). Both sources of authority for Christianity reveal a God of both judgement and mercy. God holds people responsible for both their moral and religious lives. Humans all sin–they all do things morally wrong–sometimes not knowing an action is sinful, sometimes being controlled by a force such as lust, and sometimes they plan to perform an action they realize is wrong. All sins are forgivable under the condition of repentance. An obstinate lack of repentance yields the judgment of God, and Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition make is clear that God will allow those who wish to sin to keep to themselves. It is not as much that God withdraws from them–He allows them to withdraw themselves. Since God is the source of all being, goodness, and happiness, their state can only lead to misery. Saying to the sinner, “THY will be done” is a form of judgment, for it says that the sinner cannot live in the presence of God. The attitude of rebellion against God can be fostered by a rebellion against the moral law (which is a subset of the natural law that is available to all people who are able to use their reason). Rebellion against religious limitations, especially against the “scandal of particularity” of Christianity, can also influence someone to stop following God’s revelation to man.

The Church sets theological limits through the Creeds, short statements of belief that summarize the fleshing out of Scripture via Holy Tradition. There are certain beliefs Christians must affirm–if a Christian openly denies these key beliefs (the bodily resurrection of Christ, for instance) and teaches that error, he is liable to be excommunicated. This does not imply he is going to Hell, but the attitude underlying heresy, a pride that refuses to submit to the Church’s teaching, may reflect a character that would not enjoy being in God’s presence.

Holy Scripture and Tradition also make moral demands–no one can keep them perfectly, and they are challenging. “Love your enemies” is almost practically impossible to follow, though some Christians have done so. Avoiding hatred, envy, spite, jealousy, and excessive anger are imperative on the Christian, but no one avoids practicing at least one of these flaws at some point in one’s life. The church states that abortion and active euthanasia as well as physician-assisted suicide are morally wrong–and there is an arrogance to the claim that “I have the right to determine the time and manner of my own death.” Such arrogance is spiritually dangerous. The refusal to follow the Church’s sexual morality can occur due to weakness–or someone may be sexually immoral on purpose yet realize it is wrong. There is spiritual hope for such individuals. But God’s judgment may fall upon those individuals who say that “wrong is right” and “right is wrong” concerning the Church’s sexual ethics. This also reveals an arrogance, a refusal to submit to legitimate authority. Such arrogance may result in God’s judgment in the sense that God may allow those people to do what they will on their own. I am sure He will always be open to receiving them, but they, due to their free will, could decide to eternally reject God. “The doors to Hell are locked on the inside,” said C. S. Lewis.

The Christian God is worthy of worship not only because He is Creator of all things, but also because He is our ultimate judge. He is also a God of mercy–but mercy extends to those open to correction and repentance. Others will refuse to receive such mercy, and God’s judgment is to allow them to live in such a state in their own world–that is, Hell. I personally do not want to worship Santa Claus. God in His glory, justice, and mercy is the only being worthy of worship.

Denying Manicheanism Does not Mean Denying the Reality of Evil

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Clarence S. Darrow

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Some people are evil. They are not totally evil, for anything totally evil would not exist–Manicheanism, the view that evil is an equal and opposite reality to good, is flawed. To accept that evil is real does not imply that evil is positive; it remains an absence of good. Yet evil is a real lack (and here I’m focusing on moral evil) that results in murders, theft, broken promises, manipulation for one’s own selfish ends, and the list goes on. Some psychologists, sociologists, and social workers deny that evil is real in any sense, and deny that there are predominately evil in the world. Yet I have found that if I question the deniers in detail, they almost always have met one person so twisted that they had to admit that person was evil.

The United States is often Manichean in its view of evil, particularly in holding that America is good and America’s enemies are totally evil. But that does not mean that when President Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” that he was wrong. It was predominately evil. To say that the Soviet system was predominately evil is not to say that it was totally evil, nor does it claim that the Soviet leaders were totally evil–even Stalin, by sharing in existence, was “metaphysically good,” even though he was morally twisted and predominately evil. He was not subhuman or a demon; he was a very bad human being.

However a person’s background influences him, this does not excuse him from moral responsibility–one way to dehumanize people is to say that they are totally determined by their background, since denying them free will to make moral decisions denies them a fundamental human capacity. Loeb and Leopold‘s background (wealthy, pampered) did not force them to murder Bobby Franks, despite Clarence Darrow‘s dehumanizing denial of Loeb and Leopold’s moral freedom. They had the free will to decide whether or not to murder Bobby Franks, and their action was twisted and evil. Although it may be difficult for someone in a violent urban area to make the right decisions, the person remains responsible for the moral choices he makes. To deny him moral choice is to deny him humanity. Liberal social reformers who say that instead of making evil moral choices that a person is determined by his environment are the true dehumanizers. Traditionalists may need to admit the importance of social background in corrupting character, but at least they recognize the humanity of people from violent and poverty stricken neighborhoods.  Neither does a rough rural upbringing make bad choices inevitable.

Some people are simply “meaner than hell.” A sociologist may claim that this “evil theory” is naive, but I would say that the sociologist has a twisted and flawed view of human nature. Some people have made so many bad choices that they have ruined their characters, and others have no conscience. With psychopaths, it seems that the only goodness in them is metaphysical goodness, that they exist, and as products of God’s continuing creation, they are good insofar as they exist. But  morally they seem to be utterly twisted to the point of having very little if any moral goodness left. We don’t have to go to the usual examples of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or child murderers and serial killers to know that some people with whom we are in contact are evil. Some people love to create strife–they encourage friends to turn on each other, split and destroy organizations such as churches and clubs, and split up families–all for a kind of evil and selfish spite and glee. Their hearts are rotten; as Solzhenitsyn said, “The battle of good and evil is fought within each human heart.”

That means that as fallen creatures, we all have the capacity for evil. Any of us can start on a slippery slope that leads down the road to evil. So we should watch our own spiteful and selfish thoughts (for selfishness and pride are the ultimate roots of evil) and try to follow Jesus’ advice to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We should never be complacent in fighting the darkness of pride in our own hearts so that we may overcome temptations to evil acts and develop into virtuous human beings.