Eschatological Justice

Eschatological Justice September 21, 2023

Michael Coghlan: Scales Of Justice / flickr

One of the great Christian hopes, a hope which is not uniquely Christian but something Christians inherited from the Jews, is that God’s justice will prevail in the eschaton. That is, we hope that God will somehow overcome and fix all the injustices people suffered in the world. We hope that those who suffered great oppression, those who suffered great pain and sorrow, will be able to discern how, in the midst of it, God was not only on their side, but was with them, sharing in solidarity with them their suffering. We hope that this realization will help find new meaning to the events of world history, helping to explain what is currently unexplainable, why the innocent suffers as evil seems to prevail in the world.  We rely upon hope because currently, no matter how much we try to understand it, we can’t. It is beyond our current comprehension. Every time we try to explain why God allows some things, while our solutions might include elements of truth in them, we will never be able to make for a satisfactory answer, and indeed, what we offer often ends up being used to promote evil. Theodicies tend to be subverted by tyrants as they use them to justify their existence. Many are led to believe that if they want to be rewarded by God, they must bear with their suffering instead of fighting to make things better.

Certainly, the hope of the restoration of all things is important, but connected with it is our role in its execution. We are not expected merely to sit around doing nothing while waiting for the eschaton. We are meant to work for the elimination of unjust pain and sorrow, of abuse, in the world. The eschaton has become immanent in the world, and as such, we are to join in the work of the eschaton, realizing of course, its final fulfillment is beyond our power. We cannot and will not create a perfect utopia, but we should do all we can to make the world as just as possible. Thus, we should confront the powers that be when they work and bring about injustices; we should not let them continue and have control over the lives of so many innocents. We must be prophetic, showing a zeal for justice, so that in and through us, people can get a hint of the justice of God.  And hope tells us that even if our work is unnoticed, and seems to have little to no effect, God takes notice and provide grace so as to multiply the value of our work, even as God will also take in all the good we do and give it its proper place it in the eschaton:

Do not bow down to power; do not despise poverty; but for those who are governed provide an exactness in your reckonings more exact than any scale. Thus your zeal for justice will become evident to those who have put their faith in you, and they will admire you beyond all others. Or, even if it does escape their notice, it will not escape the notice of our God, who sets before us great prizes for our good works. [1]

We are to engage God out of love, not concerned with the world and its praise. “The Lord is instructing us in every perfection of heavenly justice and faith. For he wants us to carry out every work out of divine religion without hypocrisy, without any pursuit of human praise.”[2] This does not mean we need reject all forms of praise, but we should not seek it out as for the reason we do what we do. We should act out of love for God, and through such love, love all that God wants, which includes justice. Establishing justice can bring its own reward, even as sin, or injustice, can be create its own punishment, causing us the pain and sorrow we do not want, which is poetically described as God’s vengeance:

But, this is the object of Thy vengeance, the evil which men do against themselves, for, even when they sin against Thee, they do a work of impiety against their own souls, and iniquity lies to itself either by corrupting and perverting that nature which Thou hast made and ordered, either through immoderate use of things which are permitted or through a passionate desire for unpermitted things, for ‘that use which is against nature’ – or they are found guilty in mind and speech who turn their anger against Thee and ‘kick against the goad’ – or, when they have broken the confines of human society, they boldly rejoice in private associations and separate factions corresponding to their sympathies or animosities. [3]

In the incarnation, with the immanent eschaton, God entered the world, so that God can work from within the domain of creation for its own restoration. God began the process by which injustice will be rooted out. God set in motion the means by which all evil, all injustice, will expose itself and suffer the end which it brings upon itself. Similarly, God will let the good reveal itself so that it can be collected and brought together as one, and as one, receive healing grace (healing what it suffered as a result of sin) before being taken up and brought into the glorious, eternal kingdom of God. What is evil in each and every one of us will fall, that is, be cast away, so that the good given to us by our existence and our nature, as well with every good we developed in ourselves throughout out lives, will be free to show itself when the Lord reveals everything in the light of the eschatological judgment. “I think, therefore, that the Lord is ‘for the fall and for the rise,’ not because some fall and others rise, but because our lower nature falls and our better nature rises. The manifestation of the Lord is destructive of carnal passions, but stimulative of the spiritual qualities.”[4]

Our embrace of justice must follow what we know and understand of the eschaton, that is, letting evil reveal itself and set the conditions for its own self-made punishment. We must also let the good reveal itself, so that when it is revealed, we can affirm it, protect it, indeed, strengthen it so that evil truly does not have the final say. We must show how each particular good has a place in the greater good, and work to coordinate all such particular goods together so that together, they can participate in the greatest good possible. We must promote and serve justice, denouncing all grave injustice. We must do so with grace, making sure we are not contentious as we do so, for such contentiousness, far from promoting and supporting  the greater good and the way of justice, ends up attacking much which is good:

Contentious natures frequently reject even good ideas and judge as noble and useful not that which seems so to all others, even if it is advantageous, but that which is pleasing to them alone, even if it is hurtful. And the cause is folly and perversity of disposition, not heeding the advice of others, but trusting to their own opinions only and to whatever considerations enters their minds. Those things in which they take pleasure enter the mind, and they take pleasure in what they want. Now, he who thinks that which he desires is advantageous is not a safe judge of the right; he is like the blind who are led by the blind. [5]

Thus, while pursuing eschatological justice, and trying to bring its presence into the world, we must always do so with mercy and grace, knowing that just as in the eschatological judgment, God brings and offers grace with the judgment, so in our rejection of injustice, we must bring us grace with our promotion of greater justice. We should not ignore our life in the world, thinking we can go away in quietude and let injustice remain, even as, however, we cannot presume to be the ones who can and will establish the ultimate justice of the eschaton. We must work as signs of the eschatological glory, allowing elements of the eschaton to be experienced in time, which is why we must always serve justice instead of waiting for its fulfillment in the eschatological judgment.

[1] St. Basil, “Letter 299” in Saint Basil: Letter. Volume 2 (186-368). Trans. Agnes Clare Way, CDP (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955), 290-1.

[2] St. Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermons and Tractates on Matthew. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (New York: Newman Press, 2018), 211 [Tractate 27].

[3] St. Augustine, Confessions. Trans. Vernon J. Bourke (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1953; repr. 1966), 65.

[4] St. Basil, “Letter 260” in Saint Basil: Letter. Volume 2 (186-368), 230.

[5] St. Basil, “Letter 307” in Saint Basil: Letter. Volume 2 (186-368), 300.


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