Judgement and Justice

There is plenty of judgement in this world but little justice.  Pagan religions conceived of a parallel spirit realm inhabited by volatile, vindictive Gods, not unlike the tyrants who ruled them on earth.  It was impossible to tell which calamities were attributed to any particular god or for any particular reason. Bad things happened to helpless people, and then they died.  The best they could expect after death was a shadowy existence in a dreary underworld. Even after death there were no specific punishments for the wicked or rewards for the righteous. 


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


Judaism was a complicated religion full of rules, promises and divine covenants, but it was unclear whether the promised rewards applied to the righteous after death or to future generations here on earth. In the time of Jesus, Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead, while Sadducees disagreed. (Acts 23:6-8)  Early Christian beliefs were shaped by Jewish traditions as well as Pagan Greek and Roman traditions.  Church leaders were constantly battling heresies and beliefs that contradicted the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the Apostles.


The first great Christian theologian was Augustine, who wrote millions of words and tackled every important subject, sometimes in several different books, from different angles. Augustine’s primary objective was to lay out a theology that would force Pagans to accept baptism and adopt Christianity without weakening the moral foundation of the existing Church. 


Augustine Judgement Gospel of Wrath


Augustine’s theology concerning divine justice was so simple a child could understand it.  Everyone who refused baptism would go to hell, period. No debate, no discussion, no exceptions. The fate for the baptised was slightly more complex. Those who lived saintly, righteous lives would be carried directly to heaven the moment they died. Those who lived sinful lives would be punished in Purgatory for an indefinite period before admission to heaven.


Augustine’s uncompromising theology was highly effective as a weapon of mass conversion.  Within two generations, the entire Roman Empire had adopted Christianity without a religious war. The serious problem with the theology was that unbaptised babies of Christian parents became collateral damage and were cast into hell for eternity along with stubborn, sinful Pagans. 


Augustinian Gospel of Wrath plus Limbo


After Augustine died, Christian Bishops made one significant modification to his theology:  unbaptised infants were sent to Limbo rather than Hell. This remains the official Catholic position regarding divine judgement. Outside the Church (no baptism), no salvation.  Because Limbo was a manmade invention there are no scriptures to describe what it might look like, and so it could be described to grieving parents as almost identical to Heaven.


The active ingredient of Augustine’s theology was Purgatory.  Like Limbo, it has no serious scriptural origin and so can be theologically amplified or diminished as needed.  Moderate sinners can be threatened with a few years of purgation while notorious sinners can be threatened with hundreds or even thousands of years of terrifying torture, which inspired Dante to write his graphically violent epic poem The Divine Comedy.  As an incentive to righteous behaviour, faithful Christians could by-pass Purgatory completely.  Purgatory has proved to be a highly effective instrument of pastoral management for Catholics.


Augustine’s Gospel of Wrath did not provide salvation for nations outside the Roman Empire. When Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, it controlled Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa.  Bishops had plenty on their hands without losing sleep over Pagans in far flung, barbarian countries. It was more of a problem to explain how pre-Christians had received salvation.  Surely David, the friend of God, was not being torment in Hell, or Job, the most righteous of the Patriarchs. What about Abraham, Moses and Noah? Surely some provision had been made for their salvation? The less the Bible had to say about such matters, the easier it was for theologians to improvise suitable answers. 


Reformed Gospel of Wrath Judgement


The Protestant Reformation abolished theological embellishments such as Limbo, Purgatory and Pardons.  Luther and Calvin stripped Augustine’s theology down to its most basic expression: heaven for the elect and hell for the reprobate. The sheer simplicity of Reformed theology had a sleek, modern elegance that contrasted sharply with byzantine Catholic theology.


By eliminating freewill and introducing predestination, Reformed theologians created a powerful new way of explaining divine justice. God alone elected the saved. That was as true in the days of Noah or Abraham as in the days of Luther and Calvin.  No complicated exceptions to the rule were necessary. God elected Jewish Patriarchs and chosen individuals from all the nations of the world.  Deceased infants were no longer a problem because the predestined fate of infants was not changed if they died at birth or lived to a ripe old age.  Reformed theology was devastatingly logical and rigorously Biblical, at least to the extent of constantly quoting carefully selected texts from the Holy Scriptures.


The active ingredient of Reformed theology was the mystery of election. It was impossible to know for sure who was elect and who was not. The most conclusive indicator was righteous behaviour.  Reformed Protestants were expected to be paragons of virtue and morality, unlike their sinful, hypocritical Catholic enemies. Protestants who lived righteous lives sealed their election and could be sure of direct admission to heaven the moment they died. The Protestant equivalent of Purgatory was reprobation.  Protestants who were conspicuous sinners were warned that their bad behaviour made their election suspect.  The elect were guaranteed salvation (once saved, always saved) but notorious sinners proved they were actually numbered among the reprobate. If they did not mend their ways, divine justice would punish their sin, not for a hundred years of torment, or a thousand, but for eternity.  Theological ambiguity about who was elect and who was reprobate (God alone decided) was a highly effective instrument of pastoral management for Protestants. 


Creationist Gospel of Wrath Judgement



Contemporary disciples of Wrath have been unable to reconcile Reformed theology of election and predestination with modern ideas about freewll and personal responsibilty. How could God be just if every single human being is not given a full and fair opportunity to accept salvation?  Election and predestrination have been replaced by global evangelisation and the Sinner’s prayer.


This new Gospel of Wrath has very little theological support. For Augustinians, this shift of the power of salvation from the official sacraments of the Church to an individual’s personal choice is a heresy which denies the power and the glory of God.  Reformed Protestants have written entire libraries denouncing this heresy of Pelagian/Arminian freewill. 


The Creationist Gospel of Wrath has burdened itself with problems that Luther and Calvin had eliminated, but provides far weaker solutions that Augustine. The most egregious is the problem of deceased children. For Augustine they were doomed to Hell, which was both logical and necessary given his teachings on the doctrine of Original Sin. For Luther and Calvin, infants were randomly predestined for heaven or hell like everyone else. The Creationist Gospel of Wrath has introduced freewill into salvation. Infants obviously can’t choose to believe or not believe.  How are they to be saved absent the Reformed solution of letting God decide for them, and absent the Augustinian solution of letting parents and Priests intervene on their behalf? The modern solution is to send them all directly to heaven.  Why this should happen, no one can explain. From a human compassion point of view, it is clear that no one wants to see innocent babies in hell. How could that be reconciled with a God of love and justice? Even in Augustine’s day it was an intolerable theological aberration.


Clearly God would not cast a baby into hell, but at what point does the innocent child become responsible for his sins?  At aged six, or ten or 13?  And what sins would a child have to commit to merit eternal torment?  It was easier for Augustine, Luther and Calvin because infants were damned for Original Sin, not their personal sin. Modern Creationists spend a lot of time talking about Original Sin and proving that it is the result of events that occurred in Eden about 4,000 years ago, but they do not see it as the efficient cause of damnation. This creates an absurd situation in which loving parents should kill their children before they reach the age of accountability to ensure that they spend eternity in heaven.  Such an ugly and preposterous corollary of this new Gospel of Wrath is a flashing red warning light that there is something fundamentally wrong with it.


Gospel of Anti-wrath Judgement


Disciples of Anti-wrath are well aware of the serious flaws in all versions of the Gospel of Wrath:  Augustinian, Reformed and Creationist.  Some Churches, such as Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian, are filled with disciples of Anti-wrath although their official theology continues to refer to Original Sin in Augustinian/Reformed terms.  Many modern Catholics reject Limbo, Purgatory and the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church for non-Catholics, just as many Presbyterians have abandoned all notions of election, reprobation and predestination. They have not devised an alternate theology but have chosen to read the Bible in a non-literal way and they attempt to accommodate a multitude of contradictory beliefs and traditions.


The Gospel of Anti-wrath believes very strongly in freewill and personal responsibility. Disciples of Anti-wrath believe we have a choice between good and evil, rather than being born depraved sinners due to the damage inherited from Original Sin (which is not to say that we are not born damaged due to our social, psychological and biological handicaps). Good deeds lead to happiness and evil actions lead to suffering. Our responsibility is to minimize suffering and to share happiness.  This life ends in death, for the good and evil alike.  Will there be divine justice and judgement after death?  Maybe.  Disciples of Anti-wrath do not believe that a God of love and justice will inflict eternal torment on anyone, therefore Hell is purely symbolic.  Disciples of Anti-wrath are not sure whether heaven is literal or symbolic.  It might be far more complex than we can imagine, just as it may be far less literal than we would like to believe.  Disciples of Anti-wrath are confident that whatever divine judgment awaits us, it will be delivered with love and justice. 


Gospel of Love Judgement


The Gospel of Love has similarities with the Gospel of Anti-wrath.  It takes its name from a God of Love who commanded human beings to love their fellow man and to love their creator. The Gospel of Love believes in freewill but its ethical and moral cornerstone is the Golden Rule, a universal revelation that preceded both Christianity and Judaism. Good and evil co-exist, as do suffering and healing. At some point, we learn the consequence of good and evil and begin to choose cooperation, with God and our fellow human, or we choose rebellion.  These two choices lead in opposite directions which ultimately result in a separation of the righteous and the unrighteous.  You will notice that the chart is punctuated with blue statements:  incomplete response.  The process of suffering, learning, and responding takes time. Infants die at the beginning of the process. Most of us die halfway through it.  How can divine justice be executed if our response to God is incomplete at death?  How and where is the unfinished business of this world to be resolved?   


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12.  Eternity, Hell and Heaven



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