Sunday, January 6, 2008


For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matthew 16:27)

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:23)

Most Christians, including Orthodox Christians, do not take either of these passages to mean that we are saved by our works, or can stand before Christ’s judgment on the strength of our works.

Similarly, Orthodox Christians do not take Matthew 7:23 to mean that our gracious Christ ever sends anyone to hell.

Thus, in both cases, despite the seemingly plain language, we need to avoid unspiritual ways of receiving these sayings. Such interpretations would stem from inadequate firsthand acquaintance with our Lord Jesus.

If you go to hell, it will be your own doing in every sense; by that, I mean, it will not be a punitive response of God to you or to your sins. It’s worse than that. For those who hate God, He Himself will be their hell, just as, for those who love Him, He is their heaven, and no other heaven do they need or desire.

But if you go to hell, it will be your sins that will make God repugnant to you, even a torment for you, for God in Himself is the opposite, is everything delightful and sweet and good. God is Truth, and when you are forced to acknowledge Truth, you will find it horrifying. God is pure, sacrificial self-giving, and when you are called upon to give your whole self away, the prospect, because of your selfishness, will seem to you like death. God is love, and if you are hell-bound, it is because the last thing you want is to be bothered with other people and their problems, their interests, their concerns, or their presence. You don’t care, or know how to care, of want to care, for anybody but yourself. God is good, and in His presence there is no evil, so all those things in which you took wicked pleasure will be gone. You will be delivered from them or deprived of them, depending upon your point of view.

In other words, if you go to hell, it will be because you made yourself a stranger to everything true, good, beautiful, and worthwhile. “I never knew you.” You shut Me out. You continue to shut Me out, more than ever when you see Me up close.

It is God’s Presence that will fulfill the saints’ every hope, but be the sinners’ worst nightmare. They will be “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:10)

So what does it, mean, “Depart from Me”, if they are to be tormented in His presence? It means that God, in His infinite mercy, will allow you, if you find His very Presence a torture, to remove yourself a little distance (so to speak) and to crawl into your own, solitary, dark hole of regret and self-recrimination and sorrow and inability to accept the loss of all the sins for which you had lived. And that, to you, will seem preferable to joining the saints and angels in their never-ending, galling, intolerable hymns of praise to the One Who created you and allowed you the freedom to come even to this point.

Both verses mean that in the Last Day, you get what your heart (as revealed by your deeds) most wants and in whatever degree your heart is capable of receiving it – unless what you want most is your sins, or some temporal pleasure that passes away.

That’s perfect Justice.

And as for God, He will go on forever loving you with an infinite and unconditional love even if you are forever in hell, because He is love.