At The Last Judgment, We Will Know ‘The Story’
Thank you for the lesson on the particular judgment, Father. But the person wrote and asked about the final judgment. What is that?
Yes, sorry. I just wanted to clarify that the first judgment (the particular or individual judgment every person goes through) is permanent. The Last Judgment is not an “appeal” before the judge so that maybe he reverses the original judgment. That doesn’t happen. There is no court of appeals in heaven; the divine judge doesn’t need one.
The Last Judgment refers to the end of time. There was a beginning of time. There was a “time” when time did not exist. The moment God determined to create all of creation, he started The Story. When he returns, it will mark the end of The Story of this creation. Everything about this universe (or even multi-verse if you are into that) will be completed. There will be no more people, no more stories, no more choices in this world. The Story will be concluded, and the last page will have been written.
At the Last Judgment, all will be raised bodily. This means that, until this moment, all those who have died will experience eternal separation from God or eternal union with God outside of their bodies. But God’s plan is that we will be reunited with our bodies for eternity. We are meant to share in the resurrection of Christ. At this moment, “all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).
But what will this judgment look like?
Jesus describes it in Matthew 25 as the separating as the sheep from the goats. He says that the Son of Man will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him …. 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. … And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31, 32, 46).
But even more, at this judgment, we will come to know fully The Story. And this is something that blows my mind. At the end of all things, God will fully reveal to all the entire story.
Consider all of the questions you might have about God. We ask why God allows certain evils to continue. We ask why God doesn’t do more to eliminate suffering. We ask where God is in the midst of our daily lives. At the Last Judgment, all of this will be known. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end” (1040).
Think of what this means. It means that the day will come when not only the meaning of life is fully revealed and fully known, but also the meaning of every single moment of history is known fully by every human being who has ever lived. We will see all of the hidden ways that God was present and was working in silence and hiddenness. We will see how he was able to bring about justice and love through all that he allowed to happen during The Story.
We know that God only allows evil to happen because he knows that he can (and will!) bring a greater good out of it. Again, the catechism states, “The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death” (1040).
There is something more that many people forget about the Last Judgment. Jesus had noted that “there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). At the end of The Story, we will know everyone’s individual story fully. We will know every little and every grave sin that every person ever committed. We will know every act of goodness or generosity or love that they chose.
The catechism puts it like this: “In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare” (1039). I understand if this reality is less appealing. Not many of us would get excited over the fact that people will know every one of our worst moments. But this is an incredible gift.
First, this is a gift because it is the only way that we can be fully loved: if we are fully known. You will know everyone in heaven fully — and you will be fully known. This means that you will be free to be fully loved and to fully love. The revelation of our choices is not meant to embarrass or puff anyone up, it is oriented toward one purpose: love.
What is more, because of the Last Judgment, in heaven there will be no room for shame and no room for pride. You could imagine that it might be a temptation in heaven for someone to be ashamed of all the evil they had done on earth. And you might imagine that it could be a temptation to be proud of all of the good that a person might have done on earth. But when we “fully know,” part of what we will know are all of the hidden battles every person was fighting along the way. Part of what we will know are all of the hidden graces God had supplied for those incredible moments of virtue.
So there will be no room for shame, because all will know your hidden wounds and will know how God had helped you in moments of greatness. Imagine the freedom of heaven! Completely free because you will be completely known and understood! And in that understanding, you will be completely loved.
Finally, the catechism says this: “The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life” (1039). When The Story is completely written, then all of the consequences of all decisions will be known. Every private and hidden sin (and all of the ways it radiated through the world and through generations) will be known. And every private and hidden act of kindness or love or virtue (and all of the ways that those radiated throughout the world and through generations) will be known.
This ought to enlighten our daily choices. Our decisions rarely end with us; they continue beyond us. God has given us a great dignity in being free to make eternal decisions, which is to also say that God has given us great responsibility in how we make those decisions.
These are simply a few elements of the Last Judgment.
Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.