It is common to speak of a means to an end, but is there an end to the ends? That is to say, a time when there is no time. Like the cosmic dance of what we call reality coming to an end giving way to a greater reality.
Traditional Christianity refers to judgment. In the post-modern age where feelings beget facts and morality is relative, an objective end to life as we know it with a judgment does not fit the common pallet. In having a religious argument, responsibly and amicably, the lines of contention fall on language and ironically the judgment of man on God. After all, what each human decides on God is a fork in the road of if one is personally responsible or not in an eternal judgment. Within discerning the God-directed part of that fork are the faculties of faith and reason. Both are gifts from God we incorporate or we do not. First, “without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
But on the way to this judgment, reason is not by nature opposed to faith nor faith to reason. The pattern of traditional and biblical Christianity expresses the two in a harmonious context.
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, September 14, 1998).
Inherently such faculties are there in each of us, but Christianity is not supposed to promote those just to bow the knee to a system but to one divine essence and three persons in the Holy Trinity. The gospel says that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), died for us and lives always. The gospel presents him as God and Savior. This declaration is strong, deservedly so, for ultimate truth. It is truth about God and ourselves which is missed when one waters down the historical Christian faith away from how in the early 4th Century it was said God would “come in glory to judge the living and the end. And his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed, 325). When the judgment of God is watered down in the name of grace, what stands is neither judgement nor grace. But both meet in the cross of Christ which humanity can be indifferent to if it is not careful.
The tragedy is that the ultimate good- God Incarnate- appeared, and we responded not with exultation but with murderous violence. This makes plain the full perversity of the freedom of indifference, this terrible capacity to say no, even when presented with that which would bring us greatest life. One of the essential features of evangelical proclamation is an honest naming of sin. When we are tempted to say ‘I’m okay and you’re okay,’ whenever the culture is drawn toward self-complacency, Christian evangelists need to hold up the cross of Jesus. The crucifixion of the Author of Life is God’s judgment on the world and the fullest expression of the divine anger at sin. We should not, by the way, shy away from this thoroughly biblical language, for it is simply another way of speaking of the divine love, God’s passionate desire to set things right (Fr. Robert Barron, Exploring Catholic Theology, 2015).
There is tension in these truths: a proposition that God loves us and, like MLK said, we will be judged. God the Father gave Jesus so that anyone who would believe would not perish (John 3:16). The proclaiming of the gospel shines a light on man’s need for God first in how, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The proposition has a universal timeline centered in part on the context of the death that touches us all.
And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27-28).
So with the human experience having a 100% mortality rate, there is a directive on the side of worthwhile immortality. On the first day that Christianity was born and went public, this was an exchange which in different languages has been played out for 2,000 years. The exchange is one being convicted in their heart of their sin in light of the gospel and a willingness to submit to Jesus in his fullness.
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ (Acts 2:37-39).
Is it fair for it to be so clear cut? The tensions in some when they hear of submitting uniquely to Jesus would say emotionally that it is not. But I will next make a case that it is.