Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eschatology: why God will have a hard time condemning souls at Judgment Day

This post could also be entitled, "Why you should go a little easier on yourself."  My good friend Alicia recommended I post on this topic.  I include her emailed suggestion:

"I know I said it yesterday, but I loved the idea you presented about the difficulty of the judgment. I guess not the judgment itself, rather that it will be difficult for Christ to condemn any of us due to our imperfect state. We are asked to do the best we can; make decisions to the best of our ability. Our tools, however, are not very refined due to our mortal state. I feel like we are doctors trying to perform surgery with a butter knife and only a 45 watt bulb to give us light. Fortunately, through Christ, our knife can become sharper and we can get a new bulb, though let us not forget that in this life we will never be more than a butter knife (the Savior is like the newest, bestest laser) and we will never have a light as bright as the Son (the sun).
1. We are heavenly spirits housed in imperfect bodies. See page 3 of The Female Brain: "...the female brain is so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman's reality. They can shape a woman's values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what's important." It is a constant battle between what I can reason to be right and important and that which my body is telling me is important.

2. We act according to what we believe is our reality. Cultural norms, education, work, friends, traumatic experiences, hormones (The Female Brain pg 12 "There's no question that their realities will be different.") and any other number of outside influences affect how we, as individuals, see the world and our very own reality. I guess what this ensures is that we will be judged as unique individuals--not compared to those around us because, though we may have similar demographics, we are individuals in our own realities. Good thing we will have a perfect judge. The following quote seems apropos.

          Therefore look gently on men and even more gently on women. Although they may go a little wrong, do not condemn them. Above all consider not merely what they have done, but why. God alone has the power to look into the human heart, to judge actions and motives and regrets. He alone knows not only what one has done and why, but what one has resisted doing and why. Man's responsibility is to forgive; only God has the authority to judge.
--Robert Burns

3) As you mentioned yesterday, our brains are incapable of analyzing sufficiently. (Will you add to this thought?) 

I, of course, realize that the arguments above (and discussed yesterday, which I am not able to fully capture) do not in any way take away our responsibility. We are expected to TRY to do the best we can with our given instruments. It does help me to be just a little less critical of myself (and others), however."

I add to Alicia's thoughts:

We are accountable for our choices, but it is not just to impute an exceptionally high standard of moral behavior to people because of their epistemologically fragile, ignorant, weak, uniformed, natural man, confused state of mortality.  Ideas and truths about religion/God/the Plan of Salvation are far from clear or homogeneous (see my blog generally and my epistemology of revelation post).   Determining what is morally right is devilishly difficultMaking decisions teleologically is unwieldy.  [though utilitarianism seems by many appearances to be a superior method of ethical decision making and likely the system God primarily relies on, it is unwieldy since humans are forced (forced because inaction is itself a choice, and at the very least one chooses how to use her time, and each day has a fair chunk of time that must be allocated somehow) to make hundreds of decisions a day.  However, they are ill-equipped to apply rigorous teleological processes to even the majority of those decisions because of 1) the constant stress and demands of physical bodies and daily life; 2) their limited intelligence/the predisposition of their minds to fallacies, emotion/irrationality, and cognitive bias; 3) their limited time available to spend on per unit decision making; and 4) their lack of access to the relevant factors that influence a particular decision (such as the likelihood of varying consequence cascades, stakeholder impact, starting conditions, etc.)].  Given the human condition as described, it isn't just to expect a whole lot out of an ordinary person during his or her lifetime.  Thus, even though God has access to our intentions and all the facts of our lives, it will be nonetheless difficult even for Him to deal out great quantities of just condemnation to people.

I note one implication of this conclusion and two comments:

Implication- Perhaps all people (including those that are generally hard on themselves) can back up off the self-condemnation train in truthful acknowledgment of the confusing, difficult reality that is being human.  
Comment 1- it only takes the smallest amount of condemnation to exclude you from the highest heaven: thus the absolute reliance on the Savior, despite the arguments above.   
Comment 2- since Christ takes responsibility for human weakness (e.g. Ether 12:27), perhaps the pitiable human condition is an expression of His mercy because it results in reduced net condemnation of humanity. 

Contra non valentem agere nulla currit praescriptio- no prescription runs against he that cannot act. 


  1. I like your deep thoughts. I agree that with our mortal comprehension we often misunderstand the justice and the mercy of a perfect God. D&C 19:15 says of our comprehension of sufferings of the unrepentant "how sore you know not" as if we cannot yet fathom all that justice entails. Likewise, I think we fail to understand the extent of His mercy and kindness. 1 Cor 2:9 says "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him". I think that we can begin to understand Him and how His justice and mercy works when we are like Him--filled with charity, love, and all the attributes of Christ. As we are, we are not likely to grasp His plans.

    Your thoughts lead me to consider myself and others a in a softer light, which I really like. However, when adopting a softer view, I worry that we (or I) could get lazy--so how do we avoid slacking off on the strict obedience that is required?

    Also, I liked when you said "her time" :).

    The title is catchy, but I'm not sure what would constitute a "hard time" for a God who is perfectly wise, just, loving,and experienced. Is it possible for Him to have a "hard time" executing any task?

  2. In addition to the mental impediments you cite, it may be that simple clear thinking is impossible for us due to the air we breathe. We may all be suffering from a form of narcosis, the same confusion of thought that afflicts deep sea divers -- given the singular fact that the very air we breathe contains over 70% nitrogen. You can't condemn someone who suffers from cronic narcosis, complete with the stupor of thought and halucinations, for making poor decisions.

  3. Anthony, thanks for the additional strong evidence in support of the conclusion.

    The che, thanks for your response. You appropriately point out the flaw in attributing a hard time to God- the irony was intentional and designed to provoke interest in the content.
    As to the strict obedience piece, I'm not convinced that strict obedience is either expected or required in any reasonable mortal time frame. What is strict obedience required for? Temple worthiness? No. Repentance? No. Having the companionship of the Spirit? No. Attaining Godhood? Yes- but that will happen long after this life. Despite monumental effort, all will continue to sin until a point far in the future when/after God changes our natures. Also, because a little sin separates you from God as surely as a lot of sin, striving for 35% rather than 30% obedience seems somewhat vain. The labor that one can't justify slacking in is more narrowly the task of coming unto Christ- which does not immediately necessitate perfect performance of the commandments.

  4. Our greatest Advocate (see the WWJD post) once said, and I think it is applicable to each one of us, "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do..." Luke 23:24. Somehow the Lord knows the inner workings of each of our minds. He knows WHY we make the decisions that we do and I truly believe he will be more merciful, yet just, than we can ever imagine.

  5. "God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of this life and lost ever desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and the glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him" Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 51

  6. What I've highlighted is comically played out in the "Chidi Sees the Time-Knife" episode of The Good Place, Season 3.


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