Has Ted Kennedy been canonized? “I knew that when he left us he would go to heaven and help pass the bill,” Nancy Pelosi proclaimed a few weeks ago, going on to assure us, “And now he can rest in peace. His dream for America’s families has become a reality.”

There is a problem here, which has more to do with theology than politics, and it provides a good opportunity to think about last things: four of them, to be precise.

Death—even when expected—is difficult to bear. Common sense teaches us to expect it; Benjamin Franklin leveled with us, declaring that it was certain; and Scripture reveals that it awaits us all. But we still grieve when someone crosses the threshold of time and eternity: A void is left by a loved one’s death, and few are excited for their own.

And judgment is right there, tagging along wherever death goes. We are taught to fear God in Scripture. Yes, we fear the just punishments—the loss of heaven and the pains of hell—but the highest form of fear is filial, a reverential fear of displeasing God because of who he is: a loving Father.

There have been unfortunate caricatures of God, within Christendom and without, as a surly, implacable judge eagerly awaiting the next soul to condemn. This is not, we’d have to admit, the predominant fault of our age, which tends to revolt at even the possibility of judgment (except for history’s worst criminals, and people we really, really despise—like the ones who send text messages while you’re having a conversation).

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