Tuesday, November 01, 2005

You Get What You Want

No one is going to have any reason to complain on Judgment Day. We’re going to get just what we want. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that we’re all going to Heaven. Some people are not going to want to go there. How can that be? Wouldn’t anyone prefer eternal happiness to eternal torment? The answer lies in what we make of ourselves in this life.

In order to want Heaven in the end, you have to live now in such a way that you want Heaven all along. Our souls have to be, as it were, compatible with Heaven. We become that way by loving what God loves, by seeking the truth and following the divine commandments. It’s relatively simple (though not very easy), despite the complications our contemporary culture adds.

We know from Scripture that God desires the salvation of all (e.g. 1Timothy 2:3-4). He loves us all and does not thrust people away from Him, even the bad, because He loves them; they are still made in his image. That is why we, who are also made in his image, are called to forgive and pray for even the worst of men. But that does not necessarily mean that they are saved.

If one lives a life of sin and refuses to repent, even at the very end, he will discover that by his many bad choices and his lack of repentance he has turned himself into something that is incompatible with Heaven. Notice in the accounts of Jesus’ exorcism of the possessed man (or men) of the Gadarene territory, that it was a torment for the demons to be in the presence of Jesus, and they couldn’t wait to leave. Evil cannot endure holiness and will flee at the first opportunity. Notice that Jesus didn’t even have to cast out the demons; they begged Him to let them enter the swine, and He just gave them permission. They got what they wanted, and ended up in Hell.

So what happens on Judgment Day? All people will stand before the Lord of Glory, the Holy One, and all will see themselves in the clear light of truth—no more excuses, no more self-deception, no more blaming others. God is Love, as St John declares (1John 4:8,16), and those who lived in faith and love, and who followed the Lord as best as they could, repenting of their sins and not dying in a state of estrangement from Him, will hasten to his loving and eternal embrace, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who lived in deep sin and who refused to repent, having destroyed within themselves all connaturality with the things of God and of Heaven, will also stand before the God who is Love. But seeing at last the terrible truth of what they have made of themselves, they will not be able to go to God, having destroyed all capacity for goodness and love, no longer having within them anything with which to “hold” the grace or joy of the Lord. Because of what they have done to themselves through the evil of their lives, they will regard coming close to God as a greater torment than being separated from his penetrating truth and love. They will want to get as far away from Him as possible. So, like the demons whom they followed in their lives, they will hasten to flee from the presence of the Holy One. God in his compassion will grant them their wish: for a demon or a hardened sinner, hell is easier to bear than heaven—though it is still every bit as horrible as we have come to know through divine revelation. They have all eternity to suffer and to hate and curse Him whose gentle love is experienced as torment—a love that they rejected and which could have made them happy forever.

The point for us is this: do not make those choices, do not live in such a way that you will turn yourself into someone who can’t help but prefer Hell to Heaven, someone who will not be able to endure the loving presence of the Holy One because of a soul steeped in sin. Notice a faint shadow of this truth when even in this life a person may withdraw from another’s love and compassion because of fear, spite, or a self-absorbed despair that allows no comfort from another and even takes a kind of perverse pleasure in refusing it.

Satan would like to make us like him, preferring to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven, refusing to obey, accepting the agony of eternal torment for the pathetic satisfaction of being able to say “no” to God. Make no mistake, we will all get what we want in the end. Therefore it is imperative that we live now in such a way that then we will find ourselves compatible with Heaven: able to want, and to enter, the Kingdom of love and peace and eternal happiness.