Ask a Priest

What will it mean to give an account of oneself to God?

Jan 18, 2017

Hi Father,

What does it mean in Matthew 12:36 “But I tell you men will give an account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken” and Romans 14:12 “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God”?

Is it likely to be a symbolic or literal thing?

Thank you,


Asked at 09:41 am on January 18th 2017

Hi Geoff, what Jesus and St Paul are saying is that when we die, we will be living face to face with ourselves and with God. The reference to us giving an account of ourselves to God means that moment of judgment isn’t something pronounced against us from on high, the judgment we pronounce on ourselves will be an expression of our own full awareness of who we are, who we have been, and what we have done with our lives. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, SS679, 1038 – 1041).

The careless word spoken would surely not refer to every silly thing we’ve said, but to what you find in Psalm 14 (13):1, ‘The fool says in his heart “There is no God.”‘ In the Bible, the fool is the one who is closed to God’s message, and St Paul, just before the passage you quote from his Letter to the Romans, seems to be referring to a similar radical openness or closure to God.

The Church speaks of two judgments: what’s called the particular judgment is the judgment each of us will pronounce on ourselves in the presence of God when we die. The General Judgment will occur at the end of time, when Christ comes again, and the whole of humanity is brought to complete transparency before God, so that each human being will know the whole truth about all of the human family.

The reason why Jesus, and all the New Testament writers tell us about these judgments is not, primarily, to scare us, but to encourage us to live in such a way that, helped by God’s generous grace and mercy, we make the best use of our short time here on earth. So that when we die, we’ll hear Jesus’ invitation, ‘Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Mt 25:34). Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 10:25 pm on January 26th 2017