The Last Judgment


This Sunday, as part of the pre-Lenten calendar in the Orthodox Church, is known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment, because the gospel reading is taken from the Parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. It is a very proper subject for meditation as the Church makes preparation for Great Lent and its call to repentance.

When I think about the Last Judgment, apart from whatever cosmic images one may draw upon, I’ve often come back to the simple question: “What do you want?” For the Last Judgment has much to do with that question – or at least everything that brings us to that Last Judgment has much to do with that question.

What do we want? By this, I do not mean to say that we are saved by our will but it still matters, “what do we want?”

I could state it another way and say, “What do I desire? or What is the desire of my heart?” For there is some truth in the statement that we all get what we want in the end. By the mercies of God we perhaps get more or less than we want – but that remains in the sovereign hands of God. At least it is true that we “get what we want” in ultimate terms – that is, do I want God – for nothing else will have mattered in the end.

It is confusing for some when they hear “you get what you want in the end,” for we imagine that we want many things. Does this statement mean, “All I have to do is want heaven and I will be saved?” In a manner of speaking, the answer is “Yes,” but it is not as simple (or it is more simple) as it sounds. If by “heaven” someone means a “cosmic pleasure dome” – then the answer is “No,” because there is no such thing as a heavenly cosmic pleasure dome. Such idylls are the product of religious imagination. To say that “I want heaven,” in Christian terms, is to say, “I want God.” And that takes us to the very core of our heart and the nature of our heart’s true desire. “Do I want God?” is a profound question that can never be answered easily or immediately. In many ways the answer to that question is finally only made manifest in the life we have lived.

“Do I want God?” is not the same thing as “I want health,” or “I want prosperity,” or a number of other things that some attach to the Christian religion. If such blessings are given then be thankful. If such blessings are not given, still be thankful.

The Psalmist says:

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. (Psalm 73:25-26).

Many of the spiritual fathers of the Church would speak of the role of eros [desire] in the spiritual life – that is – what drives us? what desire or force lies behind our actions? The right answer to the question – or the saving answer to the question is that we desire God.

This is a very different matter than saying “I like religion” or “religious practices” or “I like thinking about God and arguing about theology.” Such things may have a desire for God in them or they may simply be distractions like any number of other hobbies in which we engage. The test of our desire, of course, is love. Do I love God – do I want to love God? Do I want to know God?

Sometimes such questions can seem abstract. We always do well to remember that Christ is the “content” of God (“He is the fullness of the Godhead bodily” Colossians 2:9). Thus we will not be lost in abstractions about the word “God” but understand the very concrete manifestation and revelation of God in Christ and in His self-sacrificing love.

Christ Himself makes the question even more concrete, or immediate, in His parable of the Last Judgment. There He says that “inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” Thus our love of God is as concrete as our love for every other human being around us – down to the very least.

We are a nation whose culture teaches us to consume. Our economy fails when we stop consuming (or so I am told). But we will not be judged on our consumption (how much stuff we have) but our desires do matter. That which is saving is no further away than the next person. My desire for God, if it is truly a desire for God, will manifest itself in love of others. To feed them, clothe them, visit and welcome – whatever love requires. It is in losing ourselves in such a manner that we find ourselves. It is in desiring God (even in the heart of my brother) that we will find heaven.

If we want it.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


17 responses to “The Last Judgment”

  1. skovranok Avatar

    This reminds me of an old Catholic hymn, one my great-grandmother repeated over and over on her deathbed: “Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all, would that I loved Thee as I ought; and how revere that wondrous Gift, so far surpassing hope or thought.” It was a Communion hymn, but really: *Do* we love God? I think the best any of us can answer is, We try to. But not as we ought, not by a long shot. Lord, have mercy.

  2. artisticmisfit Avatar

    All I can say, is I am glad I am not a man, and glad I am not a priest, your work is HARD!

  3. Marianne Avatar

    Interesting that you would post this as super tuesday approaches in the presidential primaries…..when all many people are thinking is “what do I want?” Humility is the opposite of pride and self seeking behavior. So it is a rare attribute of many people.

    People forget that God is a someone. Not a something.

    Be blessed

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. Indeed. I’m kind of out of touch with the political scene – doing my best not to pay it much attention other than to pray. The “wanting” that people think of on a day to day basis, is, of course, quite different than humility and self-giving. The deep question of “what does my heart want” is, for me, a fundamental question of my day-to-day conversion. Do I want God or am I substituting something else for Him? Do I want God for God’s sake, or just for my own? A whole raft of questions occur as I seek to find the truth of my heart and to speak that truth honestly before in confession or prayer or whatever is at hand.

  5. Marianne Avatar

    I want God because he has revealed Himself to me, and I know who He is.
    Once you meet Him, you will not want anyone, or anything, else.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, Marianne, I would agree. But if you have a Christian life that never finds that wanting to be a struggle but is always God before everything else, then you are far more blessed than the lives of most recorded saints. Even Peter denied him three times, and struggled greatly at the time of his own martyrdom. I have been an active and devout Christian since I was 17 years old – which is now 37 years – most of those years in ordained ministry. The Christian journey begins with the revelation of God to us – but the finish line is frequently years ahead. The Scriptures are full of admonitions to us about how we run the race – patience, etc. They are not full of “I found it, I got it, now it’s done.” God is faithful and will see us through all things – but many things are still quite difficult – among them the complexity of the human heart. We must always pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

  7. bríde Avatar

    This is a very provoking piece. I’m glad to have read it, and I will probably be thinking about it for the entirety of Lent.

    Please, Father, pray for me that I might want God first and only.

  8. Robert Avatar

    Yes provoking indeed. Thanks Father for it.

    For reasons unknown to me, I am going through this crisis at this very time. What motivates me? I know frequently it is not God or love for Him; my heart is very deceiving. I cannot rely on it. I question even my religious motivation. Why do I go to church? I know all the right answers, but my heart is far from it. A few days ago, I became suddenly disinterested in prayer, in spirituality. What is that all about? Please pray for me.

  9. […] March 2, 2008 Father Stephen made a very interesting post today, which can be viewed in its entirety here. […]

  10. lisaheidrich Avatar

    Great thoughts for this time of year.
    It is all about surrending ourselves to God.
    “More of HIM and LESS of us”!

  11. Marianne Avatar

    I agree. Every day life can really get in the way.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    Such times can be frightening indeed. Simple prayers, such as, “Lord have mercy on me,” can still be offered. Sometimes it is best not to judge yourself. But to pray and let God worry about your heart. Particularly when it becomes a distraction.

    Or use a simple psalm verse. Or sit in quiet before an icon. Resist despair.

  13. […] I Want God? Jump to Comments I am challenged by Father Stephen’s words on the heart’s ultimate desire. “What do I desire? or What is the desire of my heart?” […]

  14. Ruzz Avatar

    What is Last Judgement for you.,?

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Last Judgment in my understanding as an Orthodox Christian is that which takes place at the end of the age, after Christ has brought all things to a close. We all will give an account for all that we’ve done (the imagery in Scripture is rather literal but I have no way of knowing how that event will precisely look). But I believe we will give an accounting. And we will see the face of Christ. Those who love Him will love Him more. Those who hate Him will seek to flee from before His face. But these things are hidden in the heart. God alone knows.

  16. Odom Clara Chioma Avatar
    Odom Clara Chioma

    I am glad indeed to have read from you. I really want God. The Christian journey begins with the revelation of God. And also the scripture is there for the admonish us.

    Father pray for me to creat a little time out of the 24 hours a day to read the scriptures and for the spirit of wisdom and knowledge to comprehend what I have read. For the holy spirit is with me every other thing will be added.

  17. Steve Avatar


    Judgment is as much about the proper ordering of things (where everything is restored to it’s rightful place by the Holy Spirit of God) as much as it is about the complete destruction of evil from the roots up. Even heaven and earth flee from the Presence of the One who sits on the Throne (old heaven and old earth, that is).

    1 Corinthians 15:22-28 provides an excellent exegesis on the entire process of judgment:

    Hope this helps.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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