I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day—and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for Him to appear. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Christians believe that the deceased's soul is not winged to Heaven at the moment of death. Instead, it is first judged.
A problem Christians encounter when discussing this judgment is reconciling an omnibenevolent and omniscient God with his function as Divine Judge. Would a loving God judge us? Could a judging God love us?
The answer to both intertwined questions is yes, but not in a way that most Christians would immediately recognize and understand. The idea that God is extracting every last pound of flesh isn't what most Christians would accept and is not in keeping with Divine Revelation. According to Scripture and tradition, God loved us enough to sacrifice His own Son for our sakes.
At the same time, God can't be the old lackadaisical man modeled after those people who have read too many books on parenting and decides that the lenient hand is the best one. If this were the case, what could we have learned while we were alive if not to simply shrug every time someone does something morally outrageous and hurtful.
Further, if Christ died for us, it would seem to me that He had great moral expectations for us. If He didn't care what we did, then there would have been no sane, rational reason for Him to undergo His passion. In fact, it would have been preposterous.
Further, if God doesn't judge us and instead doesn't care about what we do, we would instantly lose the right to demand better treatment and behavior from others. If God doesn't demand good behavior it of us, we have absolutely no right at all to demand it from others, including the ones who intentionally mistreat us for their advancement or satisfaction. Without exception, liberals who insist upon this model go out of their way to judge their fellow human beings as to how badly they miss the very arbitrary marks they've set up for the rest of us to follow.
In short, if God isn't offering us an objective morality, what in God's Name is everyone complaining about?
Judgment is referred to many times in Scriptures but never so clearly drawn out as in the Gospel of Matthew's account of the Final Judgment. Christ describes the scene where the good and the wicked are separated into two groups. (Matthew 25:31-46). The sole rule by which people are categorized is whether or not they were generous, loving and kind to others.
The interesting thing about this story is that neither the good nor wicked realized they had made or not made the grade. In fact, the judgment comes as a surprise to both groups. The good didn't realize they were good; they simply believed it was important to always act kindly towards those less fortunate than themselves. The wicked mindlessly didn't realize that being mean to the less fortunate was unacceptable.
I prefer not to see God's judgment of us as being harsh and exacting. Instead, the truth is far worse than we can imagine; instead of God judging, we judge ourselves. We already know the full extent of our evil. We all know how we treat others and we know how we rationalize our own bad behavior. In our heart of hearts, each of us knows we are sinners. Some of us are ashamed of what we have done while others are exceedingly proud of the pain they've perpetrated upon others.
Thus the simplest description of the Christian afterlife is an eternity of hatred of our own concocting in Hell, or eternal, infinite and unparalleled love in Heaven. Everyone may chose as they wish—or, more accurately, we have chosen our fate by how we lead our lives while we still have control over them.
This reflects the Dantean image of Christ the Merciful Judge Who judges not on one's scrupulosity but on one's capacity and willingness to reflect God's image in their souls. In this sense, it is not God Who judges and condemns but we who condemn ourselves by refusing to love our brothers and sisters; the fellow travelers on this earthly pilgrimage.
This is, at the same time, both heartening and frightening. Christ describes our penchant for hypocrisy in the Gospels:
Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants' accounts. He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before the king. "Be patient with me," he begged, "and I will pay you everything!" The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go. "Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. "Pay back what you owe me!" he said. His fellow servant fell down and begged him, "Be patient with me and I will pay you back!" But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. "You worthless slave!" he said. "I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you." The king was very angry and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount." And Jesus concluded, "That is how My Father in Heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:23-35)
This parable is very sobering indeed. If we wish to be forgiven by God, we must be eager to forgive our enemies. Christ admonishes us throughout the Gospels to forgive and repent:
So if you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother and then come back and offer your gift to God. (Matthew 5:23-24)
In addition to forgiveness and repentance, Christ also warns us against hypocrisy, judgmental attitudes and pride:
How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You lock the door to the Kingdom of heaven in people's faces, but you yourselves don't go in, nor do you allow in those who are trying to enter! "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are! "How terrible for you, blind guides! You teach, 'If someone swears by the Temple, he isn't bound by his vow; but if he swears by the gold in the Temple, he is bound.' Blind fools! Which is more important, the gold or the Temple which makes the gold holy? You also teach, 'If someone swears by the altar, he isn't bound by his vow; but if he swears by the gift on the altar, he is bound.' How blind you are! Which is the more important, the gift or the altar which makes the gift holy? So then, when a person swears by the altar, he is swearing by it and by all the gifts on it; and when he swears by the Temple, he is swearing by it and by God, Who lives there; and when someone swears by heaven, he is swearing by God's throne and by Him Who sits on it. "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain a fly out of your drink, but swallow a camel! "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too! "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside. In the same way, on the outside you appear good to everybody, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and sins. "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You make fine tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of those who lived good lives; and you claim that if you had lived during the time of your ancestors, you would not have done what they did and killed the prophets. So you actually admit that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets! Go on, then, and finish up what your ancestors started! You snakes and children of snakes! How do you expect to escape from being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:13-33)
Hell is apparently a very slippery slope and love is the only thing that can slow and finally brake our descent. Before people pass this off as maudlin, Christian sentimentality, one should consider the plethora of examples we have in the world of people who are simultaneously mean-spirited and deeply loving. Of course, this is only a mythical construct; there is no such a person who is both mean-spirited and deeply loving.
It's an all-or-nothing deal. In this lifetime, we can either choose love or hatred, life or death, Heaven or Hell. Our human nature precludes the possibility of always being good but the good among us will actively reduce the times they sin and will just as actively seek to redress the damage they've done.