Eric recently asked me how final I think â€œfinalâ€ judgment is. The short answer is that I donâ€™t think final judgment is very final, at least not in the traditional sense. There is nothing too earth shattering about this; the term â€œfinal judgmentâ€ is not scriptural to begin with. There are, however, lots of scriptural references to a time of judgment when all people will stand before God to be judged according to their works, and these scriptures must mean something. I am one of those heretics that believes in the continuation of free will after judgment, progression between the kingdoms of glory (i.e. the possibility of eternal progression for all but the SofP), and even the logical possibility of Godâ€™s downfall. In a personal theology with so much change and opportunity after resurrection, it becomes interesting to ask what meaning (if any) final judgment still retains. This is the question I intend to address in this post.
The Guide to the Scriptures says that â€œthe final judgment that will occur after the resurrection.â€ Since we usually teach that we are resurrected with either a telestial, terrestrial, or celestial body (prior to final judgment), many a seminary student has wondered if final judgment might be something of an anticlimax. If I walk into final judgment with a terrestrial body, isn’t the cat out of the bag, so to speak? Just what role is judgment to play?
Why not “final judgment”?
(For Geoff’s post on this question, go here). Many people think that final judgment is focused on a personâ€™s history. They imagine God reviewing all of the personâ€™s sins, cross checking to see which have been repented for and so forth. I donâ€™t think of judgment like that at all. As I explained in my Dialogue article on the atonement, I believe that judgment is ultimately based on who we are rather than what weâ€™ve done. What weâ€™ve done will be relevant only in that it constitutes the choices and actions that made us into who we are.
As far as I can tell, â€œwho we areâ€ can continue to change after judgment (making it difficult to have a “final” judgment). We continue to have free will, which alone requires the possibilities of progression and regression. Further, we have the scriptural declaration that everyone in a kingdom of glory will continue to be â€œperfected and sanctifiedâ€ by the laws of their respective kingdoms. We also know that people in the terrestrial kingdom are appointed to minister to those in the telestial, presumably to further their progression since (as B.H. Roberts said) we can conceive of no other reason for their ministry. I share Geoff’s prima facie difficulty in believing that God sets up an arbitrary and eternal barrier which prevents him from helping his telestial and terrestrial children progress for all eternity, and these scriptures only enhance that difficulty for me. Furthermore, I believe that God himself continues to have free will, which means I must allow for the logical possibility that God could choose to do evil. (That is, God is free to do evil, but chooses not to.) Blake Ostler argues (I believe persuasively) that God must have the ability to do evil if he is to be considered morally praiseworthy for always choosing to do good. Given all of this opportunity for people in every situation to progress or regress after the resurrection, I have a hard time understanding how there could ever be anything like a “final” judgment.
So, what is judgment, then? (for a heretic like me)
My view is influenced heavily by the ideas found in Alma 41-42 and D&C 88. Imagine that there is some correlation between your personal righteousness and the state of glory in which you reside. This correlation can be tighter or looser depending on the cosmic situation. In the current state of the earth, the correlation is incredibly weak (non-existent?). Quite often the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. The lack of correlation is dramatic and indisputable. The situation in the celestial kingdom, we suppose, is not like this at all. Sin immediately disqualifies a person from presence in the celestial kingdom. Consider the following passage in light of this idea:
Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruitâ€”
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.
For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated. (Alma 42:3-5)
Alma says that if Adam had partaken of the fruit of the tree of life after eating the forbidden fruit, he would have â€œlived foreverâ€ in his sinful state having no space for repentance. This assumes a very tight coupling between personal righteousness and environment, which, as explained, would have doomed Adam. Instead of this, â€œthere was a time granted unto man to repent,â€ which is the probationary time we live in currently. The current â€œspace for repentanceâ€ was provided so that Adam and Eve would be â€œsubjects to follow after their own willâ€ (Alma 42:7).
In other words, instead of judgment being executed immediately, judgment would be postponed during this probationary time until after Adam had a chance to repent and prepare himself. This situation in which judgment was postponed was new; the way things work in God’s presence (fruit of the tree of life), the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit would have followed immediately.
After final judgment, D&C 88 says we will go back to what I call a â€œstate of judgmentâ€ in which there is a tight correlation between personal glory and the glory of the kingdom in which we reside:
All kingdoms have a law given;
And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.
All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. (D&C 88:36-40)
Thus, final judgment is the time at which we go back to the normal state of things in which consequences for our actions are immediate and perpetual. No longer will the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. Instead, all will dwell in the kingdom whose laws they already abide. Judgment is a state rather than an event. This view seems to me to incorporate the important scriptural concepts of judgment while allowing for the dynamic post-resurrection existence also spoken of in the scriptures. Judgment continues to be a matter of who you are rather than what you have done. But, rather than judgment being a one time thing, we will go back to a situation in which our personal righteousness is tightly coupled to our environment, where intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence, where the kingdom in which we reside is always a direct consequence of who we are, even if that is open to change. At the heart of our concept of judgment is the idea that at judgment day everyone finally gets what they deserve and reaps the consequences they have sown. I am simply extending this basic concept to a state of being rather than a one time event.
So, does this work? Can you buy this as a replacement for the traditional doctrine of final judgment?
 See especially pages 6-10 starting at the heading â€œThe Nature of Justice.â€
 See the section under the heading “Is God a Morally Perfect Being?”
 Notice that the correlation does not become infinitely tight. In the telestial kingdom there will be lots of people covering a broad range of personal glories, yet they will all be in a single kingdom.