Are you afraid of standing before God on Judgment Day? Does the thought of facing Him make you fear death? Even if you’ve committed mortal sin in your lifetime, you only have to fear God in one circumstance–if you die unrepentant, or with no intention of confessing your sin as soon as possible. Here’s how my husband, St. Therese, and Mr. Darcy taught me to think of the Final Judgment with peace.
My husband and I met through Single Catholics Online (now Ave Maria Singles). After emailing and talking on the phone for several weeks, we decided to meet in person. As I was preparing for our first date, my hands shook from nervousness. I told myself, “There’s nothing to worry about. It’s just Dan.” We had gotten along great in our conversations. We already knew a lot about each other. We were friends. We were old enough to have been completely genuine with each other, rather than acting a part. What did I have to fear? If it wasn’t God’s will for our relationship to deepen, it wouldn’t happen, but I knew Dan would not reject me as a person. Most (I’ll admit–not all) of my nervousness disappeared at these thoughts.
Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy had no fear of his beloved Elizabeth Bennett. “I am not afraid of you,” he stated publicly. Yet Mr. Darcy is not a model of trust. He was presumptuous. Although Elizabeth never tried to hide her contempt for him, he refused to see it. He interpreted her jibes as liveliness, perhaps even a gentle flirtation. He did not take her at her word. He could not believe that she could think poorly of him. His love was self-centered and blind. Elizabeth utterly rejected him.
Is it hope or presumption?
When we speak of trusting completely in God, we must distinguish between hope and presumption. If we, like Darcy, won’t take God at His Word, but insist on interpreting the Bible, the saints, and the teachings of the Church in a way God never intended, we have reason to fear. Elizabeth rejected Darcy’s first proposal, because there was more pride than love in it. Spiritual blindness could end in the shock of hearing God say, “I never knew you.”
But don’t despair. That’s the other sin against hope. God is not trying to entrap you. He takes no delight in punishing sinners (see Ezekiel 18:23). He is love itself. He is worthy of our trust. We must be open to His self-revelation, not construct an idol to worship and call it “God.” If we seek Him humbly, we have no reason to fear.
Next month, Dan and I will celebrate 12 years of marriage. We have four sons. We know each other better than anyone else on earth has ever known us. Dan has seen me at my best and at my worst. He knows my failures and my victories. He may not always understand me, but he is always loving and accepting. It would be ridiculous to be afraid of him.
True hope trusts in the Beloved, not oneself
After being rejected, Mr. Darcy had to start over. He learned humility. He learned to listen. He learned to put aside his discomfort with the Bennett family and to open himself up to possible ridicule for Elizabeth’s sake. He served her selflessly, not planning to propose again. And then, in love’s mysterious way, he won her heart. St. John of the Cross would have much to say about this–but that is a post for another day.
My relationship with Dan has strengthened my trust in God. God knows me better than my husband does. He sees inside my heart. “You discern my purpose from afar” (Psalm 139:2). He has heard every Confession. He saw the sins I forgot to confess. He watches my thoughts wander during prayer. He knows my motives better than I do myself.
He also knows my desires. He knows how long I have struggled against a temptation before I give in. He never misjudges me. I know that God will never judge me more harshly than I deserve. That comforts me and gives me peace.
St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “I hope as much from the Justice of the Good God as from His Mercy… I do not understand those souls who fear so tender a Friend” (VI Letter to Her Missionary “Brothers”). And elsewhere, God “thoroughly knows the frailty of our nature. Of what then, should I be afraid? Must not the good and infinitely just God, who with such tender mercy deigns to pardon the Prodigal Son, must He not be just towards me too…?” (Story of a Soul, Ch. 8).
I am confident Elizabeth Darcy never doubted her husband’s love. She had had so much evidence of it. And we have the Cross, the sacraments, and the saints to show us how great God’s love is. On Judgment Day I will tell myself not to be nervous, despite the majesty of the Heavenly Court, despite my many sins. “It is just Jesus,” I will say. “How can I fear Him?” Or perhaps I will just look at Him without presumption and say, “I am not afraid of you.”