The Triumph of Justice Is Not Timebound

‘The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death.’ (CCC 1040)

Jan Provoost (1462-1529), “The Last Judgment”
Jan Provoost (1462-1529), “The Last Judgment” (photo: Public Domain)

“As for me, in justice I shall behold your face; I shall be filled with the vision of your glory.” (Psalm 17)

On a quiet street some years ago in a major American city, two people, a mother and her teenage son, set out for a walk. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a car pulls up with four or five thugs brandishing weapons. Moments before sparing the son but shooting the mother, she pleads for her life. “Please don’t shoot,” she cries. “I’m a woman!”

Why would she do that? Was it because she believed such an appeal would awaken a sense of justice among men bent on killing her? Because it obviously did not work. So, where is the justice in that? Not in this world and certainly not for her. But unless there is some reckoning beyond the grave, a place where final justice may be found, there can be no justice, no ultimate righting of the wrongs from which so many of the innocent are made to suffer. 

In the meantime, of course, how very convenient it has become for people who, having thrown over God, including all the sanctions he put in place to ensure the protection of the weak and the helpless, now feel perfectly free to behave as barbarously as they please. What is to prevent their beastliness once God is gone? That God be declared dead so obviously works to the advantage of the wicked that one hardly needs Dostoevsky to make the point. A single newscast will provide all the documentation one requires.

“Religion, opium for the people,” says Czeslaw Milosz in Roadside Dog, citing that most tiresome of Marxist clichés. “To those suffering pain, humiliation, illness, and serfdom, it promised a reward in an afterlife. And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death — the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.” 

Thus, without some sense of the beyond, of a God determined to settle every score, life is no more than an obscene joke, told at the expense of those forced to live it on terms of abject injustice. Like the woman blown away by bullets while on a walk with her son. Or the millions murdered in gas chambers because they were the wrong race. Or even more millions dismembered and incinerated in hospitals and clinics because someone decided that they should not be born.

Without something very like the words of Jesus spoken to the Lady Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,” who could bear to endure present sufferings, particularly when inflicted upon the innocent? The enemies of life, for all that they appear to be winning, simply cannot be given the last word. 

Romano Guardini, in his masterful study, The Virtues, reminds us that the customary currents along which time and history seem to be moving, are really not how things proceed or how they are to be understood. “History is not a natural process,” he tells us, “which is self-justified; rather, it must render an account, but not to public opinion, or to science and scholarship.” It is not we, in other words, who decide the outcome, sitting in self-satisfied judgment upon the events we set so confidently in motion. “No, judgment is reserved for God. Everything will come before His truth and will be revealed. Everything will come under His justice and receive His final verdict.”

How consoling this ought to be, especially for those victimized by the cruelties and injustices of evil men. They will not get away with it. The young soldier, for example, the details of whose short life and tragic death are movingly set down in a play written by a future pope. It will later become a powerful film called The Jeweler’s Shop, in which he is fated to die defending his beloved Poland, her borders unjustly breached by the Nazi war machine. And there is no justice at all in his death, nor for numberless others ground under the heel of the Third Reich. Nevertheless, the young priest who was there at the end to anoint his friend, who must now bring the news to his widowed wife, the mother of the child he will never see, will speak words to her that give promise to a sense of ultimate justice. “Your husband is more intensely alive now,” he assures her, “that he ever was before.” To be sure, the news does not return him to her, or to the son he will never see, but it gives her hope that, even now, he may be at peace in the arms of God, awaiting a final consummation that includes those whom he has left behind. 

“There is a truth,” Guardini insists, “a reality upon which every order of existence depends. It is the fact that God alone is ‘God’ and that man is his creature and image — that God is really God, not an anonymous principle of the universe, not a mere idea — but He who is himself the real and living one, Lord and Creator — and man is His creature and is obliged to obey the supreme Lord.”

This is the essential truth, the foundational fact which defines and gives shape to the whole moral universe. Every refusal to submit to its demands, every act of defiance that aims to supplant God and his justice, cannot finally succeed. Up against the order of virtue established by God, which lies hidden in the very structures of nature herself, human injustice cannot long prevail. Athwart the law of God, which stands supreme, the evil that men do demands expiation. And so vindication shall come for those who suffer. God will see to it.