Q: “What is the Hindu concept of God's judgment to mankind?”
A: This is a really interesting question because in a way it asks about a concept in Hinduism that is not really at home in Hinduism. Usually when we think of God’s judgment on humankind, we picture a scenario that is really a part of Islam of Christianity, namely God on his throne at the final judgment pronouncing his sentence on persons based on his standards, a sentence that results in either heaven (eternal bliss) or hell (eternal torment). Well, this is not something that fits into Hinduism because of Hinduism’s different concepts of God as well as human life.
Let us make an important distinction between divine judgment and divine benevolence or anger. In the more popular forms of Hinduism that focus on personal gods (Shiva, Krishna, Kali, etc.) it is certainly always a possibility that one may have offended a god in some way and that one will have to suffer a certain amount of punishment for that infraction or that devotion to a god will result in some rewards. Say that I might have made a vow to Sri Durga to perform an annual offering at the temple. Imagine that for some reason I get lax in my observance and skip the occasion out of sheer neglect. I should not expect my lapse to go unnoticed. On the other hand, if I am conscientious in my worship, I should expect some blessings. Nevertheless, both of these alternatives would be a matter of an individual’s interaction with the deity, not of a final judgment.
In Hinduism the most fundamental form of reaping the consequences of what one has done in one’s life is not a divine judgment, but the law of karma. This is really an automatic and impersonal process, not something that is actually administered on a person-by-person basis by a god. Whatever you have done in your life is going to have certain effects on what you are going to be in your next life, either positively or negatively with the same inevitability as a physical law. If I jump from the roof of my house, I am going to land on the ground; no hope to the contrary or wishful thinking can suddenly suspend the law of gravity. Or, to use another example, I personally have a bad reaction to chocolate. If I have a chocolate candy bar today, I can count on waking up with a bad headache tomorrow. I may regret it immediately, ask myself, “Why did I just do that?” and wish that I had not, but that is not going to change a thing. For myself, headaches follow chocolate; period.
The law of karma in Hinduism functions with the same kind of inevitability. My actions in this life will bring about definite consequences for my next life. I will not be able to get away with greed, violence, lies, or whatever brings about bad karma. Just as I cannot defy gravity or my reaction to chocolate, I cannot escape from the consequences of my deeds for purposes of my next incarnation, regardless of how much I might wish that I had not done those things.
But this is not a “judgment of God.” Karma is a direct system built into the system of reality of which our lives are a part. God does not decree karma and ultimately cannot revoke it. In Hinduism, devotion to a god, such as is counseled in the Bhagavad Gita, will contribute to providing more favorable karma to a person, but just as karma is not a sentence imposed by a god, it is not usually thought of as a sentence that a god can simply revoke.
We can make a contrast here with the way in which the concept of a judgment on humankind works in the religions where it does occur. For example, in Islam there will be a final judgment in which each person will be either rewarded or punished depending purely on their deeds. A person whose life is truly in submission to God has a better chance of going to heaven than someone who is not as devoted, let alone an evil person. In the Islamic belief system there is a personal God who decides on a person’s fate.
In Christianity it is also God who judges humanity, and here the doctrine of judgment also includes the possibility of being certain of salvation. That is because in Christianity we are not entirely judged on the basis of our works. In contrast to the Hindu understanding of karma or the Islamic, human actions are not the sole criterion for whether we can go to heaven or not. In the Bible (Revelation 20) we read how all people are gathered before the great white throne of God, and everyone is judged on the basis of their works—except those whose names are written in the book of life. Someone who is cleansed by the blood of Christ will be completely forgiven of their sins and thus can anticipate the last judgment, not with fear, but with the assurance that he or she will spend eternity with God.
So, in Hinduism there is no direct concept of a final judgment of God. The two most relevant ideas are the belief in occasional blessing or punishment of a god and the law of karma, a purely impersonal automatic process. By way of contrast, in religions where there is a judgment by a personal God, there is also the possibility of grace and the assurance of salvation.