Understanding final judgment

Question: When we die we face particular judgment. But at the end of time there is the general judgment. What is the difference between the two? 

—Name withheld, Des Plaines, Ill.  

Answer: The particular judgment refers to the process by which God judges each individual person at the end of his or her earthly life. We should not see this as a frightening process, but as God’s outreach to us in love, and an invitation to participate in the life of the kingdom of heaven. If we have lived well, then we will be able to respond to God’s call to share fully in eternal life. If we have lived badly and made ourselves into something that has no place in God’s kingdom, then we will depart from the presence of God.  

God wants all his creatures to be redeemed and to share in the glory of heaven. But it is possible that some have turned their backs so much on God in this life that they do not fit into the kingdom of heaven. This is what hell means: an inability to live in the glory of God.  

We do well to recognize the criteria by which we enter heaven or not. They are set out for us in the parable of the sheep and the goats (see Mt 25:31-46) and the story of the rich man and Lazarus (see Lk 16:19-31). Both accounts underline the truth that salvation is finally a matter of how we live in relationship. Most pointedly, they state that our relationship to God depends largely on the whole character of our lives and whether we have dwelt in mercy, charity and service.  

The general judgment (or Last Judgment) is not a repetition of the particular judgment, but an establishment of God’s reign over all creation and history. At the general judgment, all that is good and all that is evil will be fully manifested. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. ... Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. 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 toward its final end. 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” (No. 1040)  

Without oversimplifying what is a complex theological question, we may say that the particular judgment refers to the way God’s justice extends to each individual person, while the general judgment refers to the way that, at the end of time, God’s justice over all creation and history will be established.  

 God and human misery  

Question: I read somewhere that “human misery is the substance used by the Father to create grace.” Is this proper theology?  

— David F. Bears, DeWitt, Mich.  

Answer: If what is meant by this statement is that God brings human beings through misery to salvation by his liberating and consoling power, then its theological underpinning is correct. If, however, the statement is meant to say that God manufactures miserable situations for people, then it is poor theology. Human misery is against God’s will. God does not send misery upon people. He desires only the good and the grace-filled. God is not apart or away from us when we are in misery. He is with us in his Son, who continually carries his cross through history.  

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.