‘Religion’ sometimes gets a bad name – even from those atheists would consider religious – and sometimes it’s not hard to see why. In response to my post on God being love, our friend ginny responded with a list of the ‘attributes of God’, as though in some way something theologians from her church had written could in any way qualify what the Beloved Disciple had written. He did not write ‘love is one of the many attributes of God’, he told us God is love. He knew that as humans that word meant something to us, as Jesus knew the word ‘Father’ meant something to us. So, to suggest that in fact, you need a 553 page book to understand the ‘Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma’ is no doubt true, but to suppose that has anything to do with knowing Jesus as Saviour is just the place where ‘religion’ gets a bad name. For those of us (and I am one of them as readers will know) who enjoy a good theological tome, such things are interesting to read, but we make the sort of mistake of which Christ accused the Pharisees, if we place such things in the way of the spirit of God’s laws. I doubt not that the Rabbi and the Levite had good reasons in terms of ritual uncleanness for not stopping to help the man who had fallen among thieves, and anyone familiar with Jewish purity laws will know that is the case; but God is love, and love meant not telling the poor injured man that there was a higher good than tending to him, it meant tending to him. It did not mean not healing a blind man because it was the Sabbath, love meant healing him when the opportunity presented itself.
As far as I can understand it, the distrust of love evinced by ginny and others who have left here stands on the ground that those of us who will insist on it, are saying that there is no Judgment. This is simply wrong. There is Judgment. It will be Christ who judges us. Some have an understanding of Christ which seems to me to be taken from analogies with medieval monarchs, and they see what we would think of as cruel punishments, and they say this is the just reward of sin. Some of us have a less anthropomorphic understanding of God’s justice. We know that the thoughts of God are too high for us. We cannot begin to think that if we had an only son we would hand him over to cruel punishments and a terrible death and to suffer for sinners, yet we know God did just that. So we stand back in awe. Those claiming to know how the Infinite God who did that will judge us all, are, of course, welcome to the claim, but I do wish that they would recognise that their own Church is a great deal more sophisticated in answering questions about hell than they seem to be.
Section 1033 states that hell is “[the] state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.” Note that – ‘self-exclusion’. Yes, Revelation talks of a lake of fire, but it is a figure of speech, not a literal reality, it describes, in all probability, how it feels to exclude oneself from God’s love. We have the free will to do that, and no doubt many will do just that, they know better than God himself. For my own part, I know God loves me, and I love him, all else follows from that. Those who need a Father who will punish them unless they behave, have an understandable human need, coming from very obvious places. But they should not mistake their vengeful father for the God who is love; nor should they be frightened of love, for it is in love that the whole world is redeemed. Christ’s message is one of hope for us all. I simply fail to get to first base with the idea that somehow we can be terrified into being good Christians by the prospect of burning in hell for all time. What sort of conversion is that? It seems to be a vision of God as a sadistic headmaster watching all we do and deciding at the end how long we need to spend in detention. I’m not sure who would even like such a being, let alone love it – neither am I clear why such a being would sacrifice its son for us.
The first Christians did not need 553 pages of dry theology to get the Good News is that we are saved if we believe in Christ – nor do we. Too often, alas, religion in the form of rules and regulations, becomes a substitute for a loving and living relationship with the God who desires us all to come to him, because he loves us. Perhaps the saddest thing for me of some of the reactions to this sort of statement, is the realisation that that sort of love seems foreign to my critics. In meeting God, I know His love. I had assumed it true of all Christians; is it not?