Great Religions' Positions On When Just Deserts Will Be Rendered

The title sort of says it all. I suppose there’s room for some intramural and extra-mural debate on this, but (for religions that believe that good/bad deeds are rewarded/punished in some tangible way (i.e., not by “making you a more/less fulfilled/evolved person”)), when does/may this reckoning/payoff officially occur?

I can foresee some problems here (groups that don’t believe in an afterlife will have to have the reckoning in this life or not at all; groups who stress faith over deeds may not want to examine the issue too closely for fear of vulgarizing virtuous behavior as a form of reward-seeking, etc.). But I’m embarrassed to admit that even for those religions with which I’m most familiar, I couldn’t state with confidence their definitive position. I’d <suspect> that some Christians think that tangible rewards/punishments can take place during this life (and certainly in the afterlife – though that raises the question of what form afterlife punishment, etc. might take – a different question). Others might think that all reckoning/serving out of deserts is post-death (easier to deal with the problem of evil/bad things happening to good people).

Anyone who can add more/cites to my vague speculations?

In Jewish tradition, a person’s good deeds are rewarded and a person’s bad deeds are punished. Sometimes the R&P comes in this world, sometimes in the afterlife.

Every person is rewarded for the good they do. It makes no difference if the person is an absolute saint, or if he’s Adolf Hitler. Whatever good Hitler did will be rewarded. Likewise, every person (regardless of the extent of their evil) will have to answer for their wrongdoings.

There is one additional factor that tips the balances… repentence. True repentence (which includes regret for the wrongdoing, resolving not to repeat the action and then following up on that resolve) can erase past transgressions.

Zev Steinhardt

Zev: don’t some Jews not believe in an afterlife?

Also (and I guess this applies to all other groups): I doubt there’s any calculus for what proportion of/which good/bad deeds will be paid off now vs. later. Is there any doctrinal logic, though, to explain why, how, and when it is decided that some deeds will be paid off in this life, some later? For Xns, at least, I could see the answer being “No, but that’s fine, b/c it’s a Mystery of the faith.” If so, [cite]? Does “Mystery of the faith” work for other religions to the extent they can’t spell out the timing issue?

Mr. Steinhardt, I am far more inclined to take your statement as actually representative of Jewish belief than other things I’ve heard, but it completely contradicts what I’ve been told elsewhere by Jews. Specifically they have claimed:

Reward/punishment ONLY happens in this life. There is no afterlife reward/punishment.

Repentance is irrelevant. The example most commonly cited by these people is Hitler–they say quite flatly that someone like him, no matter how contrite he somehow managed to honestly become, if that ever happened, could ever get any kind of benefit from repentance.
So, was what I’ve been told actual Jewish doctrine or was it more on the order of “We’re-not-Christians” doctrine?
As you present the doctrine, it’s remarkably close to Christian doctrine (as if that should surprise anyone), with a detail or two at variance, of course.


The Saducees during the time of the Second Temple believed that, but modern Judaism is theologically descended not from them, but from the Pharisees. Even Reform and Conservative Judaism (which might also not believe in an afterlife…sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint just what aspects of Judaic thought they do or don’t believe in) do not claim to be following the Saducees, but rather, to have broken ranks with the (modern) Pharisees.

Well, in Judaism, it is said that people who are generally evil are rewarded in this life to receive untempered punishment in the afterlife, and those who are generally good are punished as necessary in this life in order to receive undiluted reward in the afterlife.

Of course, it is impossible to say just how the sin/virtue/reward/punishment ratios work out; that’s something that only G-d knows. But according to Judaic teachings, the above is a general guideline.


This is at odds with traditional Jewish belief.

There are some individuals whose evil is so great that it cannot be repented for. However, such people are few and far between.

Of course, such individuals would be vanishingly unlikely to repent in the first place, making the question essentially moot, I would take it?


You never know. In any case, the matter of their repentance depends not so much on their personal evil as on the damage they have caused. One category of sinners about whom it is said that their repentance is not accepted is a sinner who leads multitudes of people into sin.

Chaim Mattis Keller

Okay, I dug a little further in the R.C. Catechism. It talks a lot about Justification and Grace (including as conferred/attained by doing/not doing the right/wrong things), but more in the abstract sense of obtaining oneness with God/others (not the more practical “what’s in it for me” sense that was the topic of my OP).

The closest I’ve come so far:

*Section 2010:

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. *

Seems to recognize both temporal and eternal rewards, but leaves it, as I suspected, very much of a Mystery and matter of (literally) Grace and favor.

Anyone have any other, more specific R.C. explications, or protestant?