GOD’S JUSTICE IS ETERNAL LOVE NOT ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

 You may find the idea that God is only pure love, not a mixture of love and wrath, revolutionary if you grew up as I did with an idea of God as an angry old man in the sky constantly watching us so he could punish us for our sins.

    Although I have grown beyond that image intellectually, the vestiges of it are still deeply planted in my brain and make it difficult for me to totally trust God. Even as an adult I used to think that, on the one hand God was purely loving, and yet on the other hand we had to maintain God’s “holiness,” by which we meant “hatred of sin,” and since sin has to be punished, God’s justice was always punitive and wrathful.

    But what if God’s justice is only restorative not punitive, and God is forever only pure love? What if, as the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr always says, “Jesus came not to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God.”

    The best human being would do everything they could to fully understand and help others, not punish them. However, we live in a dualistic, tit-for-tat culture that divides people up into good and bad. The bad are your enemies and the culture tells us enemies are to be punished and destroyed.

    This punitive cultural attitude even infects our churches and warps our theology. Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, but many Christians do not believe that God does this, God condemns sinners to be tortured forever in hell.

    Jesus taught that we should forgive seventy times seven, that is, forever. But many Christians do not believe God does this, God sends people to eternal torment in hell.

    Why would someone as great as God, who has infinite power, knowledge, patience, kindness, love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy choose to eternally destroy infinitely small, vulnerable creatures because of the stupid things they do, usually out of their own ignorance and brokenness? Doesn’t that make God infinitely petty, unloving judgmental and angry – qualities we don’t admire in any human being?

    Even in civil courtrooms, the length of the sentence must fit the crime – we don’t send people to lifelong imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread for their family because they are food insecure. Eternal punishment therefore does not make sense. What could we possibly do that would warrant, not just imprisonment but torture, and not just for a lifetime but forever? Forever is an awfully long time, particularly if you are being tortured! This idea makes God a monster who is eternally vengeful, something we admire in no one. This idea makes atheists not believers. Surely, God is far greater, not far lower, than the best human being?

    Maybe God’s holiness is God’s infinite and eternal love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy? Maybe God’s holiness is like the story Jesus told about the father of the prodigal son who runs out to meet and embrace his son and celebrates his return, rather than punishing him for squandering his father’s fortune? Maybe God’s holiness is like Jesus who, when a woman is caught in adultery, rather than stoning her for her sin, as the elders wanted him to, says, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.”

     I think the idea of hell as a place of eternal torture is a projection of our worst fears onto God and religious leaders used this to control people. It is easy to control people who are afraid. I also believe though that there is a hell, not as a place but a state of mind. We create our own hell or heaven on Earth by the choices we make. I suppose it would be possible to make eternally bad choices and so condemn yourself to eternal hell, but I don’t think God condemns us. Rather, God would eternally pursue us until we gave in to God’s eternal love.

    Of course, this brings up all the verses in the Bible about the wrath of God. There are good theological responses that give alternative ways of interpreting these verses, but I reserve my answers for another article. Suffice it to say for now, that the Bible is full of examples of God’s restorative not punitive justice. For now, let us merely consider and savor the idea that God’s holiness and justice are found in God’s eternal love not eternal wrath, that God is only loving not both loving and wrathful.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author of God’s Ecstatic Love (Apocryphile Press, 2021). See www.brucetallman.com/books

 

 

 

   

   

LETTING GOD LOVE YOU

In the Paleolithic period when agriculture first developed

the fertility of the land was imaged

in the pregnant goddess statues

found all over Europe/the Middle East/India.

 

Modern science believes all religious claims

whether ancient/modern/literal/mystical

are a holdover from humanity’s childhood

like Santa Claus – science denies them all

as there is no empirical evidence for any of them.

 

However, religion is not focused on evidence

but on self-transformation – crossing the threshold

of any temple/church is meant to be self-annihilation

a reminder to let go of the small self/ego.

 

This is why entrances to the sacred are commonly guarded

by angels/saints/gargoyles/dragons/lions/bulls –

entering you undergo metamorphosis/

leave your secular/unholy self behind/

and discover the World’s Womb/Navel/Earthly Paradise.

 

The call to grandeur/union with God

and to the depths of misery/separation from God

are both integral parts of human experience

that only receive their ultimate explanation

in God’s revelation.

 

Christian love calls you to transcend your selfishness

to commit your self to the good of others

enabling them to realize their full potential.

 

But, contemporary psychology tells us that to love others

you must first love your self.

But true self-love involves loving your self

the way God loves you.

But none of us is capable of loving the way God loves –

you have to let God do it.

 

True self-love therefore involves letting God love you

the way only God can love you.

 

Then you can love your self and you can love others

the way only God can love them.

3 Big Ideas for April 3, 2019

  1. The reason I am not an atheist: that the universe exists at all, that it obeys laws, that out of those laws come galaxies, stars and planets, that on one planet life and consciousness has evolved (and probably on many others), are all one wonder after another. It requires more gullibility to believe this all just happened by accident than to believe there is a Supreme Omnipotent Intelligence behind it all. Faith in God is not irrational at all.
  2. Contemplation does not free you from conflict, anguish and doubt. Rather it creates serious questions about the whole status quo of everyday injustices we constantly see all around us and accept as if they were unquestionable dogmas. True contemplation leads one to social justice which is the proper distribution of love throughout society.
  3. The Body of Christ is not bound to any one race, nation, tradition, culture or theology but can learn from them all new ways of expressing the truth of the message of Jesus the Christ. Churches can enrich, and be enriched by, many different cultures.

3 Big Ideas for March 18, 2019

  1. Henri Nouwen saw Christian life as in three stages: communion, community, and commission. That is, life apart from others (in solitude with self and in communion with God), life shared with others (with kindred hearts in community), life given for others (in ministry).
  2. The very essence of the New Spirituality (spirituality outside the church) is freedom to follow your own inner light without any pressure from dogma, teachers, leaders or institutions. As Oprah says “You are your own authority.” The only problem with this is that you are putting a lot of pressure on the one short life you have, and ignoring the accumulated wisdom of centuries of religion and the tried and true experience of millions of people.
  3. Jonathan Edwards, a 19th century Protestant theologian, wrote that “The Holy Scriptures everywhere place religion in the affections: love, hate, fear, joy, sorrow, hope.” Religion in his opinion, is a matter of feeling and emotion not intellect. This may be true, but Holy Scripture also says we should have “reasons for the hope that is in us.” (1Peter 3:15). This is particularly necessary in an age of science and the New Atheism.