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.