Every once in a while, don’t you wish your life had a 30 second reverse feature? Like for when you spill a cup of coffee on your laptop. Or blurt out something offensive. Or cause an accident while driving. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? A way to deal with those moments when you want to yell “do over!” and try it again – only without the split second screw-up. Now, imagine dying and discovering that your entire life has been one long “I’d like a do-over” experience. That would really, really suck, wouldn’t it?
A lot of Christians like to talk about judgment or judgment day as if they had the slightest idea what happens during judgment. Many seem to think St. Peter’s going to meet us at the pearly gates where he’ll check to see if your names on the list of people who have had a born-again conversion moment like a celestial bouncer. Or there will be a pop quiz: “it’s all or nothing – by whose name are you saved?” Others basically figure it will be like the ancient Egyptians taught with your good deeds and religious devotion on one side of a scale and your sins on the other. A lot of people seem to think that judgment is going to be a simple matter of declaring yes or no on the person being judged. But really, the bible tells us practically nothing about what happens when we die much less the actual procedure for passing judgment on a soul. Which is pretty unfair, really. Shouldn’t we know what the deal is ahead of time so we can dot our i’s and cross out t’s?
Myself, I have my own theory about what happens at judgment. It’s pretty simple: I think that when you die, you get to experience a sort of playback of your life in which you are able to understand everything you did and everything which happened to you and during which you experience exactly how you and your actions affected the people around you. Every time you caused joy and every time you caused pain, you will have that same experience of joy and pain which you set into motion. If you brought joy to people, this will be a wonderful experience. If you spread pain and misery, it will be it’s own torturous experience. If you hurt a child, it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea than to have to experience the repercussions of that act.
But it’s a little more involved than that. Because you will have a full understanding of not only how other people experienced you, but your motivations for behaving the way you did, you will know whether the joy you created was actually a reflection on your heart or if it was the result of other, less savory motivation. If you created joy, but did it only to make yourself look good, it won’t be the joy you created which is plain to you – it will be the sorry state of your heart that stands out. Likewise with the pain you cause. If you created pain through an action which came from a place of goodness, you will know that the pain caused was not a sign of your guilt, but perhaps had it origins in the other person or some accident or simple misjudgment.
Further, I think that you will understand not only what you did and why, but what you could have done. The times you could have helped someone – even if it’s just by being pleasant and kind rather than snarling and rude to someone who unbeknownst to you is already having a bad day. And all the excuses we make to ourselves for why we are less than we ought to be will be shown for the comfortable falsehoods they are. And all the beating up on yourself which we are sometimes prone to here will be shown to be totally unneeded. Every action with be understood (ie judged) properly for what it is and is not. And at the end, you will fully understand whether your life was well spent or if it amounted to one big “I’d like a do-over” moment which we spoke about earlier.
Now, this scheme could easily devolve into a harsh being held to account form of judgment except for a couple of things. First of all, this will all take place in the presence of God who is love itself. So the thumb on the scale will always come down on the side of love, mercy and compassion. If we’ve truly done the best we can then whether it was actually all that great won’t be the issue. We all face serious obstacles, limitations and confusion in this life and God knows that.
There’s also the matter of forgiveness. If we’ve truly repented of something then it’s gone. “As far as the east is from the west.” Jesus quite pointedly connected our own forgiveness with our willingness to forgive others. I’m not sure this is exactly the quid-pro-quo we sometimes think it is. Rather, to forgive freely requires a good heart. And a good heart that errs is easily forgiven. But if you haven’t forgiven, Jesus also tells us not to expect our own sins to be overlooked. At the time of judgment the totality of one’s own failures will be clear and our unwillingness to forgive will show us to be as mean and small as in the parable of the servant who was forgiven a large debt only to turn around and throw his own debtor in jail over a small sum owed. It’s truly better to forgive and leave the matter to God to deal with.
At the end of it all, you will know – and all of heaven will know as well – just what sort of person you are and what sort of life you have lived. And that is judgment. And I believe that to the extent that it’s painful, it’s instructive and to the extent that it’s joyous, it’s healing. So it’s all to the good – no matter how hard it might be. But I’d much rather get to the end of it and be able to say “That. Was. AWESOME!” than “is there any way I can get a do-over?”
So that’s my theory. And it is just a theory. I’m not going to pretend that it comes out of the bible, although I don’t believe that there’s anything about it which is inconsistent with scripture. Which is about as good as we can get this side of the grave. As I’ve mentioned, the bible has very, very little to say about what actually happens when we die or at judgment. But it’s a theory I’m sticking with and I doubt anyone will be able to talk me out of it. And here’s why; if this theory is true, then that means that the best thing I can do with my life is exactly what the Christian faith instructs. To follow the path of Jesus. To tend to my heart and “work out my salvation” as Paul instructed. To put others first. To serve, to love and forgive indiscriminately. To love God with all my heart, my mind and my being and my neighbor as I love myself. So that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. You’re welcome to as well!