St. Hilary continues his meditation upon the punishment of the ungodly:
And the Prophet, seeing that the change of their solid substance into dust will deprive them of all share in the boon of fruit to be bestowed upon the happy man in season by the tree, has accordingly added: Therefore the ungodly shall not rise again in the Judgment. The fact that they shall not rise again does not convey sentence of annihilation upon these men, for indeed they will exist as dust; it is the resurrection to Judgment that is denied them. Non-existence will not enable them to miss the pain of punishment; for while that which will be non-existent would escape punishment, they, on the other hand, will exist to be punished, for they will be dust. Now to become dust, whether by being dried to dust or ground to dust, involves not loss of the state of existence, but a change of state. But the fact that they will not rise again to Judgment makes it clear that they have lost, not the power to rise, but the privilege of rising to Judgment. Now what we are to understand by the privilege of rising again and being judged is declared by the Lord in the Gospels where He says: He that believeth on Me is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:18, 19).
This paragraph is another example of why I love reading the Fathers. This paragraph is fascinating (and not a little challenging).
Orthodox Christianity insists that there will be a general resurrection — regardless of who you are, what faith you espoused or what you did in this life you will rise from the dead at the second coming of Christ to come before the Judgment Seat. We see this in Matthew 25 with the parable of the sheep and the goats.
So what St. Hilary describes here seems to fly in the face of this Orthodox teaching, and yet, it, too, is based upon Christian dogma and Scripture (see yesterday’s post). The key to understanding the apparent contradiction is found in St. Hilary’s quotation of John 3:18-19:
He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Note how judgement is referred to in the past tense. Those who believe are not condemned. Those who do not believe have already been condemned.
In other words, this is another example of God working with our free will. When we face the Judgement Seat, we will be judged, not by the standards that have been dictated from on high, but rather by our own criteria. If we forgive, so shall we be forgiven.
Thus, when the ungodly face the Judgement Seat (having denied God as the source of life) then they have condemned themselves to becoming dust — to living with the ultimate consequence of denying God in their lives.
Note that in the Divine Liturgy, the faithful are exhorted to dare call the heavenly God Father with confidence and without fear of condemnation as they proclaim:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Pay attention to that third line. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking for the Second Coming of Christ. Also note how we ask God to use our own criteria at the Judgement Seat — forgive us as we forgive others.
In other words, (if we are living a life like the blessed man of Psalm 1) we should not fear the Judgement Seat, but rather welcome it.