To be judged on love

One of the more well-known quotations of John of the Cross is “At the end of our life, we will be judged on love”. It is a mistake to read this as sentimental. It is simply a statement of fact: the law is love and we are judged by the law. So what would it be like to be judged in this way?

One of the recurrent themes in those who have had near-death experiences is that they relived their life while experiencing the pain that their actions caused others. It would be embarrassing enough to simply watch your life again- but to watch it through the eyes of everyone you offended…

(Tangential side note- I don’t believe that NDE’s are the experiences of those who are actually dead- that is, I don’t think they are the experiences of the next life. But I think there are sorts of truths that are best conveyed by them, just as there are certain truths that are best conveyed in dreams [in fact, a very large number of conversions happen because of dreams- in our family we pray every night for evangelization through holy dreams] I am aware, however, that my disbelief in NDE’s is the less reasonable opinion, given the evidence. But I think the NDE experience of seeing your life through the eyes of those you offended manifests an important truth that is bst expressed as the NDE expresses it.)

So perhaps the image of judgment we should form is not so much standing in the dock before the mighty throne of God, but simply seeing what we’ve done. The judgment will be obvious. I’m quite confident that this will be a terrible and even unbearable humiliation.  I suspect the company we find ourselves in during the moment of judgment will make all the difference. Should we suffer the judgment in the presence of the angels, we could see them seeing us and still loving us, which could make the vision bearable. We could accept the vision and it could pass. But what if we awake in the presence of the demons? Then what? We could only look at the rolling vision of our life and burn with rage. We would respond to the judgment irrationally. Since everyone around us would see right through our justifications, our only response could be sheer spleen, screaming, and mockery. This act would trap us in our judgment and leave us incapable of moving beyond it. We would remain fixed and trapped irrevocably in that moment of sheer hatred.

But this is not the last vision. To see the pain we caused our neighbors is only to see how we offended the second greatest commandment. It remains to see our offenses from the perspective of God himself. No matter how much our neighbors loved us or were involved with us, it was still a finite love and involvement. They were not loving us always, and infinitely. Who could survive the vision of giving this sort of offense? The saint who committed the smallest of venial sins, once in his life, couldn’t stand such a judgment. We would require a total dependence on God in order to survive this last vision of judgment. So what if we don’t wake in the presence of God? That is, it seems to me, to be trapped in infinite torture. Hatred, irrationality, and burning.


  1. Ryan Herr said,

    January 22, 2010 at 6:16 am

    Powerful reflection!

  2. James III said,

    January 22, 2010 at 6:37 am

    I really appreciate the work you do with this blog. Thank you brother! It is truly a work of love.

  3. James III said,

    January 22, 2010 at 6:46 am

    Also, I use this idea to teach my students about the necessity of the Incarnation:

    Even if the only sin that Man committed was Original Sin and all of us for all time lived righteous lives in reparation of the sin of Adam it would not be enough. A Finite being can not give infinite expiation which is need for all sins. God becomes man for man to become God.

    To illustrate the example I ask what I would need to do if I took a fork lift to the most expensive car we can see from the window. There is usually a discussion of how long it would take various salaries to pay for it. I then ask them to conceive of how much “God’s Car” would be worth and whether all the salaries for all time might be enough to make up for it.

  4. AT said,

    January 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men, and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the Pit, his life from perishing by the sword. (Job, 33)

    From my dreams (postings on my blog from several months ago):

    A week or so ago I had a dream. Christ had my newly created soul suspended between his hands. As I realized what the bright light was I became extremely frightened, “I came from nothing”! But then I thought, “God did it and He is good so all will be well. He will keep me in existence.”

    A few days after this initial dream I had a half-awake half-asleep sense that God’s keeping me in existence meant my total reliance on Him. Again, a moment of panic: I didn’t want to be completely reliant on God.

    Isn’t this the source of pride? We want to claim something (especially our self) as our own. But the truth is this: nothing is our own – not our property, our life, our thoughts, our will, our opinions, our money, our success, our very being – all belong first and primarily to God. Humility then would be the complete and absolute recognition and acceptance of dependence on God for everything.

    A third moment of panic: even if I was granted eternal life – eternity! what could I do forever? How do I become the sort of person who could be eternally happy?


    As unbelievable to some as it may seem the next life is not necessarily a place of happiness. I realized this in one of my “dreams” when it became clear I was not a person who would be happy with eternal life, even in heaven. Basically, what would I do with myself forever and ever? when I had done something I liked a billionth time? a trillionth time?

    This lead to the realization I had to become Christ-like to be able to stand (not go totally insane) the simple fact of living forever in heaven. A finite creature could not possibly bear up under the prospect of an infinite life. This seems to follow on the fact of our desire for the infinite, both knowledge and good: as finite this desire cannot be fulfilled. We must be divinized in and through Christ.

    And so, only certain people can possibly be happy in the next life. Saints, in fact, are those who are ready for this happiness at the moment of their death. Others have to continue to become this kind of person in Purgatory. And there are those (maybe the very large majority?) who will never be happy because they did not want to become Christ-like while still alive on earth; rather, they wanted to remain themselves.

  5. January 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    on the other side: This is from an article speaking of why Muslims in muslim countries convert to Christianity:

    As with Paul and Cornelius in Acts, visions and dreams played a role in the conversion of many. More than one in four respondents, 27 percent, noted dreams and visions before their decision for Christ, 40 percent at the time of conversion, and 45 percent afterward. Many Muslims view dreams as links between the seen and unseen worlds, and pre-conversion visions and dreams often lead Muslims to consult a Christian or the Bible. Frequently a person in the vision, understood to be Jesus, radiates light or wears white (one respondent, though, said Jesus appeared in green, a color sometimes associated with Islamic holy persons). An Algerian woman had a vision that her Muslim grandmother came into her room and said, “Jesus is not dead; he is here.”

  6. onus probandi said,

    January 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    “At the end of our life, we will be judged on love”.

    Well, if what Jesus preached in his lifetime concerning the notion that love of our fellow man is coextensive with love of God; surely, the measure by which we love God should virtually be the same as that which we extend towards others.

    Yet, this becomes very difficult when it comes to the actual practice of the Gospel. Even the best of our coreligionists fail in practicing their Christianity in the face of reality.

    Thus, “There but for the Grace of God” does our very Salvation lie.

  7. February 9, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    > I don’t believe that NDE’s are the experiences of those who are actually dead- that is, I don’t think they are the experiences of the next life.

    Right, because the real next life is hanging in mid-air staring at God. 🙂

    >It remains to see our offenses from the perspective of God himself.

    But nothing can harm God. In God’s capacity as Creator, we can harm Him by harming His creation, but that gets us back to sins against neighbor.

  8. February 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Very well, nothing can harm God. But our sorrow would not be over the offense we caused him, but the humiliation and self-loathing that comes from seeing that one has rejected what is good- even infinitely so. The sorrow we feel at rejecting a good is proportionate to the good we reject (among other things). In the face of such sorrow, we will either need infinite support, or we will fall into infinite hatred.

  9. Dmitry Chernikov said,

    March 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Good stuff, James, I agree. But again, how do you NOT reject God? To accept God might mean to give Him honor and glory, again, by making the world a better place. Or it might mean willing to yourself and neighbor an eternal good promised by grace, namely, salvation and heavenly happiness. But obtaining perfect happiness is done by means of seeking imperfect happiness; such as doing works of mercy, Mt 25:34-46. God’s kingdom is the last end, and this is to be held in mind always, but the key to the kingdom is found in this world.

    On the other hand, St. Thomas writes somewhere of the 3 stages of spiritual progression: beginning, proficient, and perfect, saying that acts of virtue mark the proficient state, while direct communion with God characterizes perfection.

  10. Karen Carlton said,

    March 3, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Wow! That’s all I can say. Oh and now I have something new to add to nightly prayers/conversations with God! Thank you!

%d bloggers like this: