Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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End Times Perspective — Last Judgment — Part I

August 13th, 2019, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Once upon a time, I used to wonder just how Christ will sort out the sheep from the goats (and the wheat from the weeds) at the Last Judgment. Of course, we immediately think of Matthew Chapter 25, from verse 31 to the chapter’s end; in particular we read verses 31-36:

Basilica Immaculate Conception, (Mosaic)
Washington DC

“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.”

For a long time, it never seemed clear to me if the implication was whether text meant visiting the imprisoned at least once in a life-time, or whether it meant never missing the opportunity to visit the imprisoned. Or maybe it was weighting the two alternatives? Or, perhaps, this is where the inscrutable judgment and mercy of God prevails, so we can’t know exactly how Matthew 25 will be applied?

 

Reading Matthew more closely

Another point that is easy to miss in the reading is the audience to whom Matthew’s reading is addressed. It is to the “Nations.” In the Old Testament this would be all the nations of the earth except Israel. In the New Testament it seems likely that the “Nations” is a term which continues to exclude Israel, and perhaps also Catholicism, both of which were founded by God, and under different covenants with God, hence those members are not free of all those associated covenantal obligations just because they perform corporal works of mercy.

Said another way, there is no reason to think (what some Catholics and other Christians seem to think) that by performing extensive corporal works of mercy, Matthew 25 is describing a “pass” into the Kingdom of Heaven.  But corporal works cannot substitute for the obligation for Catholics, for example, to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, or the obligation to have one’s children baptized and raised in the Faith, or to observe the marriage laws of the Church. And there is much more required “to live as a Catholic.” Of course that does not exclude the corporal works of mercy either.

Last Judgment by
Michaelangelo Buonarroti
Sistine Chapel, Vatican

So, back to the opening question – how will the Son of God separate the sheep from the goats? Thinking about mankind over all the centuries, one can sense the complexity of the question. We can be grateful for being told to “Judge not,” as the work of such judging is too much for us to bear. Will judgment be determined by one, long forgotten, unconfessed serious sin? By one too many instances of deliberate ignorance? What about missing any one of those corporal works of mercy? Does the Lord grade on a curve? Is there a top 20% or top 80% constituting a ‘full number’ to enter the Kingdom? How are various sins weighted? We already know that there are both mortal and venial sins, for 1 John 5:16-17 states: “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.” In this quote from John the Evangelist, we also see the need to care about all other souls. To refuse to confront a sinner in order to keep ‘peace’ in a family is just an additional sin. The peace that the world gives is deceptive, and of no value to us at the Last Judgment.

So, the question remains about how God will judge, because it seems very difficult to imagine even God’s drawing a precise and fine line between those on the up escalator, and those heading down. Maybe that is why an errant theologian may put forth the position that “nobody goes to hell.” Maybe because it is too difficult for a man to imagine the ‘how’ of God’s judgment, such a theologian fantasizes that it is too difficult for God too? That the Lord will have to say “Y’all come on in!” Not so. The errant theologian has much for which to answer, as he leads damaged souls further astray.

Here is the problem with that kind of logic which claims there is nobody in hell, except maybe Judas and Hitler. Christ Himself, the final judge of all mankind, in the intimacy of the Godhead, already knows that there is a hell, and that it was created for Satan and his minions. But He Who is all Truth, tells us that although hell was not created for man, man is liable to such punishment. There are various words used, such as Hades, Hell, Gehenna, eternal flames, etc. but the point is the same – eternal punishment. Christ is Truth. He does not lie. It is beneath His dignity as Son of God to tell lies in order to scare people into behaving themselves. WE CANNOT HOPE that He really didn’t mean what He said. We cannot hope that God will force heaven on those who do not choose to be with Him, to worship Him, to love Him and to love the rest of the family of mankind. He is God not only of mercy, but also of justice.

 

Key parameter of the Last Judgment

And that brings us back to the Last Judgment, in which God honors the choice we’ve made by not changing it or interfering with it. He gives us clues as to what is important and what He weighs in His Judgment. For example, He found Saul unworthy to be King of the Jews, and replaced him with David. The prophet Samuel tells Saul: “But now your kingdom shall not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”  1 Samuel 13-14.

In Proverbs 21:2 we read: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” This quote really points up the pride associated with not recognizing our own sins as sin. But it also gives us a clue about “how” the Lord as Judge will draw the line between sheep and goats. It would seem to be all about the heart, not as we identify our hearts but as God sees them. For us, it does need to be one sin after another, humbly recognized, faithfully confessed, diligently avoided even in its near occasions. But for God, He is able to weigh the heart. We cannot weigh the heart, and therefore we cannot judge.

There are over 600 references to “heart” in the bible, showing the importance of the state of our hearts. In Pharaoh we see the result of a hardened heart. So it is not a matter of alleging to ourselves that we have a good heart, because we are not the judge, and our own weaknesses impair us from seeing the truth. From this we conclude that Matthew 25 indicates that our performance of corporal works of mercy for others of God’s children manifests the state of our hearts, and the basis of God’s sorting out the sheep from the goats. But it is not a matter of accumulating scout merit badges for each corporal work.

 

The Self-Sorting by the sheep and goats

For quite some period of history, people were ashamed enough of their sins to keep them hidden, but that has changed. On the faces of many “marchers,” bragging about their sins, one can see outright hatred, read placards despising God and His Commandments, and deliberately scandalizing the souls of children in activities which should seemingly be as harmless as a reading hour at the library. Where hatred pours in, the love for all souls is hard to find. One conclusion we might draw from the legalizing of so much sin, and its overt publicity, is that the sheep and goats are deliberately sorting themselves into the two camps, and that it is becoming less difficult to recognize who is who. Thus, Christ may not need to draw a fine distinguishing line at all, but merely acknowledge what the soul has already chosen.

This is intended to be the first in a short series regarding some of the signs we are seeing of the end times.

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