The Final Judgment

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Guest post by Melody

Heaven and hell are big in Evangelical Christianity. One might say larger than life even. As a believer I was told over and over again that I did not have to fear hell. Jesus had saved us all. He had saved me and I was bought and paid for forever. Despite officially being part of a more Arminian background, predestination did figure in our beliefs as well. From our side (humans) we had free will and a choice, but from God’s side it was still predestination. I tried to understand this conundrum but failed to. Since I knew quite a few people in high school who were Calvinists, I figured we actually were quite Arminian, despite these caveats. The Calvinists I knew were not able to decide for themselves: they had to be elected by God and even then they were put through serious tests of faith to determine their worthiness and the truth of their claim.

As I was quite convinced I would go to heaven, I did not fear hell for myself. For other people, however, I did. What I did fear for myself was Judgement Day. It scared the living daylights out of me. The idea of standing before God’s throne and have every sin you’ve ever committed read out, or shown, before you; it was an unbearable thought. In our specific explanation of the Bible, there would be two moments of judgement: Christ’s judgement and God’s judgement. After the Rapture, we Christians would be judged by Christ. This was not to determine if we’d go to heaven or not, however, it was about the number of cities we would reign, based on The Parable of the Ten Minas. We’d be judged for our fruits: for the outcome of our Christian lives. Only after the End Times and perhaps even after the Thousand years of Christ’s reign would the ultimate Final Judgement take place: God’s judgement. This was the moment where it would be determined who went to heaven or to hell. Since we would already be living with Jesus for a long time by then, it would not be clear what the outcome would be for us. We would still have to be judged though, just like everybody else, which was only fair.

For true Christians these two moments were not meant to hurt or humiliate us, instead they were meant to increase our love for Christ even more. If we were faced with all our sins, including the long-forgotten ones, we would understand even better and deeper the love and work of Christ for us. Despite being told this positive spin on the judgement, seeing it as an evaluation rather than as a trial, I couldn’t shake my fear of it. I did not want to be confronted with all my failings and sins. I didn’t care if the one who defended me would also be the one judging me, i.e. Jesus. It was scary and something I feared immensely. I looked forward to being in heaven and living with Christ but this moment would inevitably come as well. What would I see? What sins would be shown? Would other people get to see all my sins too? Would they hate me or mock me for it? The answer to that last one would be no, since heaven is all about happiness and no-one would be bullied there.

Still, the Bible wasn’t all that clear on the specifics so my imagination had room to run wild. Judgement Day featured in my fears both for others and myself. Whatever attempts were made to sugarcoat the whole thing, in the end it was all about sin and heaven and hell. It was about the failure of the human race, about Adam’s fall and, in particular, about all my wrong-doings. I couldn’t lighten up about it. Looking back that makes perfect sense. If you take your religion very seriously, you won’t be able to lighten up about it. If sin features so heavily in your beliefs, judgement over sin will too.

Sometimes I was a little angry at God/Jesus over this. We were saved for ever and ever, but we would still be judged over our past mistakes. Did that mean that we even were fully forgiven? Shouldn’t forgiveness mean that you don’t mention it again? That the burden is completely lifted? Of course, it didn’t mean that and I was wrong to ask. We were not going to hell and we should be (and would have to be) eternally grateful for it. The short, small pain of going through a divine judgement should not have to faze us. However, it did faze me enormously and didn’t help my trust in God either. My questions and longing to understand were met time and time again with even more questions and non-answers. Paradoxes and doublethink are a huge part of Evangelical Christianity and I did not fare well with them. When claims about the One Actual Truth are made, they do not serve any clear purpose and shouldn’t play a role. If the truth is clear and self-evident, it should be just that.

What kind of teachings did you learn about the Judgement? Were there two or one of them and did they intersect with apocalyptic teachings as well?

Thanks for reading and thanks to Bruce for posting this post!

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8 Comments

  1. Brian

    Thanks for this, Melody. My Fellowship Baptist experience was Calvin-pronged. Have you ever seen those fishing hooks that are soldered into three prongs, three single hooks as one, the three-pronged snagger? It’s a vicious thing: If one hook doesn’t get you, then another one will and they are all joined together to serve one purpose. Once one hook gets a hold, then the rest wait for your flailing.
    Your balanced, reasonable circumspection about these things far surpassed my flipping like a sucker snagged in the gut. I began my journey in terror of hellfire and never really recovered. My parents gave me to God before I was born and the monsters of my childhood were Biblically inspired. I was chosen before time to be royally skewered and was inserted by Gawd into a missionary family for lifelong service. Or, well, I guess not. I was chosen rather to be hooked and hung and flap like a fucking helpless fish and suffer. I did not make the grade and never really had my own pulpit, never served overseas. I was chosen to burn from before I could know knowing, from before there was a ticking clock. Dear Jesus has to let some of us flip and flap unto death to teach the rest of you what’s what…
    Christians do this to babies in the womb and then to newborns and then to 3, 4 and 5 year olds. They do it from day one and they don’t stop.
    Dear gentle Jesus died for you, for YOU! A child appreciates these fine points and the barb on each and every one. Suffer your children…
    Doublespeak….triple-pronged mindfuck.
    (I am sorry if this seems a bit overstated to anyone… to me, it barely pricks the surface.)

    Reply
    1. Melody

      My dad comes from a village where most people are Calvinists to some extend and most Christians do not have any certainty about going to heaven basically untill the day they die (including quite a few of my uncles/aunts etc). This caused him to absolutely love the church he converted to; I think mostly because they did promise absolute certainty about going to heaven.

      When I went to the Calvinist high school as a teen (because it was very Biblical and other schools weren’t seen as such) I was warned not to buy into their teachings too much. But if you’re one of a few outsiders who are not Calvinists, it does get to you. You are only one of a few that have a different perspective and most of your teachers also disagree with you. I kept my head down, some did not. They got into trouble for going against official school teachings.

      At school, some kids were quite serious about knowing if they were part of the elect. They were so focused on God and faith and doing everything right but still never got certain about it. I really felt for them, also because they deserved so much to feel wanted by God and I prayed they would feel that too. Other kids were much more mellow about it (or seemingly indifferent) because nothing you can do will change what God has already determined. You might sin your whole life and still get saved on your deathbed but the other way around was possible as well. Very unfair that.

      Anyway, what I’m saying is: it makes me angry too! Children, teens, but also many adults have to live with the uncertainty of being at the hands of a fickle god without having any influence on the outcome themselves. To let good ordinary people believe they are evil to their core, even as little babies, and to live in fear for your entire life and believe that you deserve hell and only god’s mercy can decide that you don’t after all.

      Reply
  2. JR

    I was taught that there are 2 judgements.
    1. A decision on where you will spend eternity. If you haven’t trusted Jesus you go to hell.
    2. The saved will be judged to determine rewards but this is in the context of a father rewarding his children.

    We were taught that if God asked ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ The only valid answer is ‘Cos Jesus died for me’. If somone says ‘cos I …’ then they might not be a real christian. Problem is I found lots of scriptures where how we have lived seems to matter. I don’t think paul would have a problem saying ‘jesus paid for my sins and I did …’ In fact this is what he seems to do in 2 cor 5. I guess this is why christians have invented 2 judgements – so they can make all the contradictory pieces of the puzzle fit.

    Reply
    1. Melody

      I agree because on the one hand Jesus pays for everything and we cannot do anything right by ourselves. On the other hand, there are texts like “what you did for the least of them, you did for Me,” heavily implying that our deeds do matter quite a lot.

      Reply
      1. Geoff

        Interesting post Melody. I live in the UK and the kinds of thing you describe feel almost as though they belong to another planet.

        On this matter of judgement, and belief versus deeds, I can’t help but feel it’s been a pernicious tactic used by churches to maintain influence over their congregants. If people thought they could go to heaven solely because they did good deeds then they may be tempted to….well, do good! Then they may start thinking for themselves and dismiss the words of counsel uttered by their church leaders. Personally I wouldn’t be interested in giving praise to a god who was interested only in what I pretended to believe, and not in how I behaved. And I can’t help but think that any god worth his salt would recognise the sincerity of my lack of belief, and treat me accordingly.

        Reply
        1. Melody

          Thanks! It’s a bit stick and carrot. There’s this promise of eternal life but it could remain just a promise. So ambigious because one day, it’s your belief that counts and the next, your deeds suddenly do matter.

          “Personally I wouldn’t be interested in giving praise to a god who was interested only in what I pretended to believe, and not in how I behaved. And I can’t help but think that any god worth his salt would recognise the sincerity of my lack of belief, and treat me accordingly.”

          That’s also what Pascal’s wager is about, just pretend to believe to get to heaven. What kind of God falls for that? Any powerful god should know sincere belief from insincere and not reward insincerity.

          Reply
  3. Tammy

    Great post, Melody.

    I was taught similar to what you were regarding the final judgements, but more close to how JR put it with rewards given at the second one. I felt exactly like you did, however, regarding the fear. I didn’t like the idea of having every little thing I did analyzed and being shamed in front of the entire world. It’s rather disconcerting to those of us who are very introverted by nature.

    Also, the thought of eternity was boring to me. My gut (mind, heart, soul, whatever you want to call it) always told me life should have a definite end, not just go on and on. I’m glad I finally listened to my gut and left christianity behind after 34 years in torment. I feel, ironically, like I’ve been set free from a horrible prison.

    Reply
    1. Melody

      Yeah, Christianity loves to use this freedom from bondage metaphor but it’s also possible to feel just that when leaving a religion. Like you can suddenly breathe 🙂 and make up your own mind.

      I already punished myself enough when I thought I had sinned. The idea of getting a second round of that at the end of my life somewhere in heaven didn’t really appeal to me.

      Reply

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