The unavoidable implication of these instructions is that the “wicked,” those who do “evil,” will not, as it were, “get away with it.” Yet, we remain “vexed.” We “fret.” How can such things be? With Glaucon and Adeimantos in the Republic, we know that the unjust often seem to be praised and rewarded for clearly evil deeds. Even the poets tell us that evildoers prosper while the good are persecuted and killed. Christ said pretty much the same thing happened to prophets. But everyone “perishes,” not just the wicked. So we have to be careful where we go with this argument. We all die, and hence the “judgment,” as the Book of Maccabees has it.
Probably no more “hated” word exists in our modern language today than “judgment.” Why is it so detested by so many people, when “to judge” is the very purpose of our minds? It is because judgment implies that everything is not in our own hands. We are judged by standards that are implicit in our being. When we violate them, consequences follow, even in this world. What we do is to reject on our own authority the order that was put into our souls and being for our own flourishing. We are told that no other “good” but the reasonable good of our nature will satisfy us. We defy this claim by choosing to live and rule as we want, even when, or perhaps especially when, what we want is contradictory to what was once called the natural order of being human.
These reflections obviously stem from the Old Testament. The resurrection appears in the New Testament, though there are intimations of it in the Old. Certainly, in Plato, we have a whole rationale for the immortality of the soul that stems from his efforts to explain why we cannot escape punishment for our sins, even if we are praised for them while we often are in this life. In the Catholic understanding of the resurrection, all human beings are to be restored to their wholeness, body and soul. Obviously, this restoration is both of those who save their souls and of those who do not. The first thing to note is that all incomplete things seek their own completion. This seeking would be true both for the saved and the damned. It is the whole person who saved himself and the whole person who did not.
We hear much talk of the fires of hell, yet the greatest pain that we can imagine is that of missing what we ought to be through our own freedom and fault. In that sense, God does not “punish” us. He lets us be with what we have chosen for ourselves. Some might say: should God not give everyone a second chance? In fact, he did; he gave everyone many chances. If we recall the story of Dives and Lazarus, it was proposed that someone go back from the dead to warn those living of what might happen. Christ said that it would not work. Everyone already had everything he needed. One life is enough in which to determine how we stand. The ones who missed the first time would miss the second time and for the same reason.
Benedict XVI, in Spe Salvi, brings this issue up. Those who do not repent great crimes will not sit at the great banquet table with others. The Pope pointed out that justice required that the whole person be rewarded or punished for what he did. This requirement is one of the reasons for the resurrection of the body. Justice could not be fully achieved if the damned were not also resurrected and were thence to live out their choice, a choice that not even God can change. God cannot coerce a free creature to what God wants him to do. If he did this, the creature would no longer be free, no longer be himself. Some might like to think that it is against God’s goodness to resurrect the damned to face the consequences of their acts. But the fact is that unless these consequences are faced, the world is not complete. But the world must be complete, and in allowing us our ultimate freedom, God allows – indeed requires – the resurrection of the damned.