He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and the Dead

The cosmos is not just an outward framework of human history, not a static mould - a kind of container holding all kinds of living creatures which could just as well be poured into a different container. This means, on the positive side, that the cosmos is movement; that it is not just a case of history existing in it, that the cosmos itself is history. It does not merely form the scene of human history; before human history began and later with it, it is itself "history".

Finally, there is only one single all-embracing world-history, which for all the ups and downs, all the forwards and backwards that it exhibits, nevertheless has a general direction and goes "forward". Of course, to him who only sees a section of it, this piece, even though it may be relatively big, looks like a circling in the same spot. No direction is perceptible. It is only observed by him who begins to see the whole. But in this cosmic movement, as we have already seen, spirit is not just some chance by-product of development, of no importance to the whole; on the contrary, we were able to establish that, in this movement or process, matter and its evolution form the pre-history of spirit or mind.

The belief in the return of Jesus Christ and in the consummation of the world could be explained as the conviction that our history is advancing to an "omega" point, at which it will become finally and unmistakably clear that the element of stability which seems to us to be the supporting ground of reality, so to speak, is not mere unconscious matter; that on the contrary the real firm ground is mind. Mind holds being together, gives it reality, indeed is reality: it is not from below but from above that being receives its capacity to subsist. That there is such a thing as this process of "complexification" of material being through spirit, and from the latter its combination into a new kind of unity, can already be seen today in a certain sense in the remodelling of the world by technology.

In reality's susceptibility to manipulation the boundaries between nature and technology are already beginning to disappear; the two cannot be clearly separated from each other. To be sure, this analogy must be regarded as questionable in more than one respect. Yet such processes hint at a kind of world in which spirit and nature do not simply stand alongside each other, but spirit, in a new "complexification", draws the apparently merely natural into itself, thereby creating a new world which at the same time necessarily means the end of the old one. Now the "end of the world" in which the Christian believes is certainly something quite different from the total victory of technology. But the welding together of nature and spirit which occurs in it enables us to grasp in a new way how the reality of belief in the return of Christ is to be conceived: as faith in the final unification of reality by spirit or mind.

This assertion of the increasing "complexification" of the world through mind necessarily implies its unification round a personal centre, for mind is not just an undefined something or other; where it exists in its own specific nature it subsists as individuality, as person. It is true that there is such a thing as "objective mind", mind invested in machines, in works of the most varied kind; but in all these cases mind does not exist in its original, specific form; "objective mind" is always derived from subjective mind; it points back to person, mind's only real mode of existence. Thus the assertion that the world is moving towards a "complexification" through mind also implies that the cosmos is moving towards a unification in the personal.

This confirms once again the infinite precedence of the individual over the universal. This principle evolved earlier appears again her in all its importance The world is in motion towards unity in the person. The whole draws its meaning from the individual, not the other way about. Perception of this also justifies once again Christology's apparent positivism, the conviction - a scandal to men of all periods - that makes one individual the centre of history and of the whole. The intrinsic necessity of this "positivism" here becomes apparent afresh: if it is true that at the end stands the triumph of spirit, that is, the triumph of truth, freedom and love, then it is not just some force or other than finally ends up victorious; what stands at the end is a countenance. The omega of the world is a "you", a person, an individual.

The all-encompassing "complexification", the unification infinitely embracing all, is at the same time the final denial of all collectivism, the denial of the fanaticism of the mere idea, even the so-called "idea of Christianity". Man, person always takes precedence over the mere idea.

If the breakthrough to the ultra-complexity of the final phase is based on spirit and freedom, then it is by no means a neutral, cosmic drift; it includes responsibility. It does not happen of its own accord, like a physical progress, but rests on decisions. That is why the return of the Lord is not only salvation, not only the omega that sets everything right, but also judgement. Indeed at this stage we can actually define the meaning of judgement. It means precisely this, that the final stage of the world is not the result of a natural current but the result of responsibility based on freedom.

The New Testament clings fast, in spite of its message of grace, to the assertion that at the end men are judged "by their works" and no one can escape giving account of the way he has lived his life. There is a freedom which is not cancelled out even by race and indeed is brought by it face to face with itself: man's final fate is not forced upon him regardless of the decisions he has made in his life. This assertion is any case also necessary as a warning sign against false dogmatism and a false Christian self-confidence. It alone confirms the equality of men by confirming the identity of their responsibility. Since the days of the early Christian Fathers it has always been an essential task of Christian preaching to make people aware of this identity of responsibility and to contrast it with the false confidence engendered by merely appealing to the Lord.

In himself man lives with the dreadful knowledge that his power to destroy is infinitely greater than his power to build up. But this same man knows that in Christ the power to build up has proved itself infinitely stronger. This is the source of a profound freedom, a knowledge of God's unrepining love; he sees through all our errors and remains well disposed to us. It becomes possible to do one's own work fearlessly; it has shed its sinister aspect because it has lost its power to destroy: the issue of the world does not depend on us but lies in God's hands

At the same time the Christian knows on the other hand that he is not free to do whatever he pleases, that his activity is not a game which God allows him and does not take seriously. He knows that he must answer for his actions, that he owes an account as a steward of what has been entrusted to him. There can only be responsibility where there is someone to be responsible to, someone to put the questions. Faith in the last judgement holds this questioning of our life over our heads so that we cannot forget it for a moment. Nothing and no one empowers us to trivialise the tremendous seriousness involved in such knowledge; it shows our life to be a serious business and precisely by doping so gives it its dignity.

"To judge the living and the dead" - this also means that no one but he has the right to judge in the end. This implies that the unrighteousness of the world does not have the last word, not even by being wiped out indifferently in a universal act of grace; on the contrary, there is a last court of appeal which preserves justice, in order thus to be able to perfect love. A love that overthrew justice would create injustice and thus cease to be anything but a caricature of love. true love is excess of justice, excess that goes further than justice, but never destruction of justice, which must be and must remain the basic form of love.

Of course, one must guard against the opposite extreme. It cannot be denied that faith in the judgement has at times assumed in the Christian consciousness a form in which, in practice, it was bound to lead to the destruction of the full faith in the redemption and the promise of mercy. The example always adduced is the profound contrast between "Maran atha" and "Dies irae" The early Christians, with their cry, "Our Lord, come" (Maran atha), interpreted the second coming of Jesus as an event full of hope and joy, stretching their arms out longingly towards it as the moment of the great fulfilment.

To the Christians of the Middle Ages, on the other hand, that moment appeared as the terrifying "day of wrath" (Dies irae), which makes man feel like dying of pain and terror, and to which he looks forward with fear and dread. The return of Christ is then only judgement, the day of the great reckoning which threatens everyone. Such a view forgets a decisive aspect of Christianity, which is thus reduced for all practical purposes to moralism and robbed of that hope and joy which are the very breath of its life.

"From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead." Of course, in the circles which formed the spiritual home of the Creed the original Christian tradition was very much alive; the phrase about the last judgement was taken in self-evident conjunction with the message of mercy. The statement that it is Jesus who judges immediately tinged the judgement with hope.

I should just like to quote a passage from the so-called "Second Epistle of Clement" in which this becomes quite clear: "Brothers, we must think of Jesus as God, as him who judges the living and the dead. We must not think little of our salvation, for by thinking little of him we also think little of our hope." Here the real emphasis of the Creed becomes evident: it is not simply - as one might expect - God, the Infinite, the Unknown, the Eternal, who judges. On the contrary, he has handed the judgement over to one who, as man, is our brother. It is not a stranger who judges us but he whom we know in faith. The judge will not advance to meet us as the quite other, but as one of us, who knows human existence from the inside and has suffered.

Thus over the judgement glows the dawn of hope; it is not only the day of wrath but the second coming of our Lord. One is reminded of the mighty vision of Christ with which the Book of Revelation begins (1.9-19): the seer sinks down as though dead before this being full of sinister power. But the Lord lays his hand on him and says to him as once in the days when they were crossing the Lake of Genessaret in wind and storm: "Fear not, it is I" (1.17). The Lord of all power is that Jesus whose comrade the visionary had once been in faith. The Creed's article about the judgement transfers this very idea to our meeting with the judge of the world.

On that day of fear the Christian will be allowed to see in happy wonder that he "to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28.18) was the companion in faith of his days on earth, and it is as if through the words of the Creed Jesus were already laying his hands on him and saying: Be without fear, it is I. Perhaps the problem of the intertwining of justice and mercy can be answered in no more beautiful way than it is in the idea that stands in the background of our Creed.