A PROPER VIEW OF GOD PROMOTES MENTAL AND SOCIAL PEACE

  The mistaken interpretation of the wrath of God in the Bible, the foundational book of western culture for most of its history, has caused many to live their lives in fear and guilt, moral rigidity, narrowmindedness, and a feverish need to proselytize (force their beliefs on others). In fact, some have used it as a justification for violence – if God is violent, violence against others must be acceptable in God’s sight.

    Is it possible to undo all this harm without simply throwing the baby (the scriptures) out with the bath water (the wrath of God)? An intelligent approach to biblical wrath of God would be a major way to promote mental health and social peace.

    Although many believe the Bible is inspired by God, it is important to understand it did not drop out of heaven. It came to us through human beings who were influenced by their culture, and so there were often two steps forward and one back in understanding what God is like, until we arrive at Jesus, who many believe gives us the best means of understanding God and the Bible.

    Humans have often lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures. There is a movement in the Bible from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul hopes for, a God who is gracious, overlooks human foibles, and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God in the Bible was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature. Floods or poisonous snakes killing people must be from God, the authors believed, since they had no other explanation except that everything that happens must be from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. These so-called acts of God are not God’s will, but rather nature obeying natural laws about water, wind, and tectonic plates. The biblical writers knew nothing about science and the laws of nature.

    Despite occasional verses about the wrath of God, there are many biblical examples of God’s desire for restoration not punishment. In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18). Isaiah 53:5-6 prophesied that God would restore us to love, peace, and justice through a Messiah.

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus that seemingly speak of God’s wrath? He says, for example, that it is better to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell (Matthew 5: 29-30) and the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t care for the poor) go to hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God conquers his enemies by loving them and making them his friends, not destroying them. This is the essence of wisdom not wrath.

    In conclusion, the proper interpretation of scripture leads us to a God of pure love, not a false god who is a mixture of love, punishment, and wrath. Approaching the Bible this way will eliminate a major source of fear, guilt, and violence and so be a great boon for mental health and social peace.

 

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com btallman@rogers.com

HOW TO INTELLIGENTLY APPROACH GOD’S WRATH IN THE BIBLE

The Bible, although inspired by God, came to us through human beings, and so there were often two steps forward and one step back in understanding God, until we arrive at Jesus, who is the best “hermeneutic” or “means of understanding” the Bible.

    In approaching God’s wrath in the Bible, we ideally would move from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul wants. However, humans have always lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures in which wrongs should be punished. On the other hand, God is soul and grace-based and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God, in the Old Testament at least, was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature: floods killing people, poisonous snakes biting Israelites in the desert, bears mauling children, must be from God, since everything that happens is from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. God is in all nature, but these so-called acts of God are not God’s will, they are due to nature obeying natural laws about heat, gravity, and tectonic plates. The Old Testament writers knew nothing of these laws.

    Despite this, there are many instances in the Old Testament of God’s loving restoration. It was prophesied that God would restore us through a Messiah (Isaiah 53:5-6). In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18).

    We also find God’s restorative justice in the New Testament. Zacchaeus was hated because he collected taxes from his fellow Jews for the occupying Romans, but Jesus tells Zacchaeus he wants to have dinner with him. Zacchaeus is stunned by the grace of Jesus and says, “Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” and Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus thus restored him to the Jewish community (Luke 19:8).

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus? In Matthew 5:29-30, he says it is better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell; the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t take care of the poor) go to eternal torture in hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand or the eye but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand or pluck out their eye, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God does not punish his enemies, God destroys them by loving them more and making them his friends. This is the essence of wisdom.

    This spirit of restorative justice carried on in the early church. “If anyone has caused sorrow, you should forgive him and reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2: 5-8) and “If anyone is caught in any trespass, restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).

    This idea of God as a God of love not punishment has continued in the modern church. The largest Christian denomination, Catholicism, has never said that anyone, even Hitler or Stalin, are definitely in hell. On the other hand, it has said that many people are definitely in heaven: the saints and martyrs.

    Jesus was all about restorative not retributive justice. His great commandments, to love God with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself, were meant to restore the original unity between God and humans found in the Garden of Eden. And as I concluded in an earlier article, the healthiest image of God is that God is a God of pure love, not a mixture of love, wrath, and punishment.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

HOW CAN GOD ALLOW SUCH PAIN?

  In the past twenty years wildfires, famines, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods have killed hundreds of thousands of people and left many more without homes and means of livelihood. Given all this, how can anyone say God is a God of love?

      Whenever we are overwhelmed by the evil and suffering in the world, we should always remember that evil is only a corruption of something that was originally intended to be good. For example, illness is a corruption of original health. War is a corruption of original peace.

       So goodness is original and foundational, evil is only secondary. According to the Jewish scriptures, God made life and everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

       God provides for us most of the time. The oceans God made are good to human beings 99% of the time: the source not of tsunamis and hurricanes, but of fish and of rain that makes the plants thrive that animals and humans eat. God constantly provides air, food, water, and shelter for us, but this is so commonplace we normally don’t think about it.

       God does not want or cause suffering. The laws of nature, and misuse of human freedom, are the twin sources directly responsible for suffering.

       Normally, natural laws serve us well, create order in the world, and allow us to predict what will happen. However, nature just obeys its own laws. It doesn’t matter to nature if people are in the way of an avalanche – it is going to obey the law of gravity anyway.

       If God kept interfering with natural laws to prevent our suffering, life would be totally chaotic and unpredictable.

       God allows suffering for higher purposes. Through suffering, we learn compassion for the suffering of others, and wisdom: how we and others can avoid even worse suffering. Also, service to others, self-sacrifice, courage, and heroism emerge. If God eliminated all suffering, life would lose its’ profundity.

       Suffering, to some degree at least, is an inescapable part of life because suffering is a continuum, all the way from stubbing your toe to the massive tragedies of famines and war.

      We have to ask: should God eliminate all suffering from life? And if not, what degree of suffering should God allow?

       As Helen Keller once noted, “Life is full of suffering, and it is also full of the overcoming of suffering.”

       God allows suffering, but God also motivates us to overcome suffering. Thus, all the helping professions and agencies arise: medicine, psychology, social work, churches, mosques, synagogues, the United Nations, Red Cross, etc.

       God always brings greater good out of any tragedy or evil. Through God working in them, people all over the world respond generously to disaster relief.

       The pandemic has caused people all over the world to examine their own lives and priorities: are material things that important? Any of us could be gone in the blink of an eye, so maybe God, taking care of each other, and what happens to us in the afterlife are the important things.

       Perhaps the biggest answer to suffering is this: if God had not created human freedom (and therefore the capacity to do harm), and natural laws, there would be no suffering. Therefore, while God is not directly responsible for suffering, God is indirectly responsible for it. Given that God indirectly causes suffering, one could say it is necessary that God suffer with us, that God not be in heavenly bliss while people on earth suffer.

       If God is ultimately responsible for suffering, the cross is a necessity, if we are going to maintain any idea of a compassionate God. The cross is the great symbol that God suffers with us, that God is, indeed, a compassionate God.

       Where is God in the face of natural catastrophes? God is right there suffering with the people who are suffering. God is always right in the center of human pain, trying to alleviate it. God is a God who cares and is close to the brokenhearted. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures say this over and over.

       The cross in turn demands resurrection and heaven. It wouldn’t make any sense that an all-powerful God could be ultimately defeated. It is another necessity of faith that God ultimately must triumph over all suffering and death, and there is a place where all suffering is wiped away forever. Resurrection and heaven are necessities.

       Suffering is ultimately a mystery beyond explanation. We could talk to the victims about all the points above, but it would still not take away the pain of those who have lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods.

       Sometimes all you can do is hold, cry, support, and try to be present (either physically or in your prayers) with those who are suffering.

       Besides giving whatever aid you can, sometimes all you can do is feel people’s pain with them. This is what a loving God does.

 Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author. btallman@rogers.com

 

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

 

 

 

   

   

WHAT THE POSTMODERN WORLD NEEDS NOW

The most important role for religion in the postmodern world

is to act as a sacred conveyor belt

moving people from myth to reason to trans-reason

that is, to see the limits of reason and transcend it.

 

Today we need to transcend both reason and science.

Buddhism tells you from day one

to find out for yourself what is true –

it encourages constant seeking –

even the teachings of the Buddha

should be questioned and tested.

 

For fundamentalist Muslims there is no need to ask questions

for the Koran has all the answers already –

their Sacred Book in its 114 suras (chapters)

is considered by them to be the final revelation

of the final prophet Mohammed

of the final purpose and will of God for humanity.

 

But mystics/contemplatives/sages of all traditions see

that their viewpoint is just a view from a point –

they have the ability to observe

their own inner dramas and dilemmas

in an egoless way

which is the primary form of “dying to the self”

that Jesus and Buddha lived and taught experientially.

 

Today however, the self reigns supreme

individualism leads to anti-institutionalism

people think institutions like family and marriage

are too restrictive – no one should have a say in how I live

and so people rail against government taxation

meant for the common good

and church is seen as impeding my spiritual growth –

individuals want to create their own self-religion

and free autonomous individuals get infected

by the pandemic of loneliness

which scourges the postmodern world.

 

What the postmodern world needs now

is community/togetherness/love/

sweet love.

THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE AND THE COSMIC CHRIST

Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality likely came from the Celts

who spread across Europe and may have come from India

where Hindus saw the divine in all of nature –

in trees/rocks/rivers/animals.

 

From the Patristics, the Church Fathers, to the Middle Ages

cosmology and theology were one

but then the heliocentrism (Sun-centerism) of Copernicus

gave a different cosmology than the Earth-centrism of the Church

so that cosmology and theology divorced

and God was separated from the universe

but this is “deism” not Christianity.

 

Contemporary theologians cannot ignore the new physics

which is the relativistic and revelatory context in our time –

and the sacred story of the universe is being told by astronomy

with an unimaginable cosmology of billions of galaxies.

 

And evolution is the process by which Trinity becomes cosmos

and cosmos is Christified –

Unconditional Love (the Father) is poured into the Word (the Son)

forever breathed anew in the Holy Spirit.

 

Since love is the basis of all created orders

and the Cosmic Christ is first in God’s intention to love

“exoChristology” (the theology of Christ on exoplanets)

claims that planets outside our solar system will be related

to the Cosmic Christ and completed by an Incarnation –

Christ after all is the Alpha and the Omega

the Origin and End of all.

 

If Christians are to survive in this expanded universe

we need a bigger Jesus – there needs to be a shift

from a focus on the human Jesus of Nazareth

to a focus on Jesus as the incarnation of the Cosmic Christ –

for there might be incarnations of the Cosmic Christ

on exoplanets, incarnations not with the name of Jesus

but with other names

but they would still be the Cosmic Christ Incarnate.

 

I know this is mind-boggling but so is the new universe.

However, faith allows us to live in confident patience

that God will eventually fulfill all God’s promises

and we will one day understand it all.

 

THE TEMPLE VS THE MARKET

Humans are integrally part of evolution

because they arise from it

but in reflecting on it they stand apart from it.

Teilhard would agree with Julian Huxley that

“We are nothing if not evolution becoming aware of itself.”

 

This is true, but the secular mythology of constant progress

is that the axial person moves

from the myth and magic of primitive humanity

to the rationalism of the great past civilizations

to the post-conventional stage of Jungian ‘individuation.’

 

However, Johann Baptist Metz, a German theologian

noted that the common theme in western culture is

not individuation but individualism

either by materialistic success for oneself

or by non-materialistic self-fulfillment/self-actualization –

the message is always that self-interest

is more important than the good of society.

 

If the world is a temple, everything is sacred

and has inherent value, which includes you and me.

If the world is a market, everything has market value only –

and spirituality is foolish and a dead end.

 

The ego, like the market

 always has an opportunistic agenda

driven by ideology/fear/or anger

which feeds the False Self

whereas the True Self/the Soul has no agenda

except to help you see reality as it is.

 

The solution to the polarization of western culture

caused by individualism is contemplation.

True meditation is to be mindful –

to concentrate and look deeply

into the nature and roots of your inner life

and so to find your True Self/Soul

the Love which loves

God/Truth/and the Common Good.

GENERAL AND SPECIAL REVELATION

Sir Isaac Newton thought the universe

was just dead matter. Now we know

it is like the Aurora Borealis –

alive/dancing/dying/resurrecting –

 a new star is born every 15 seconds!

 

Albert Einstein believed in general and special relativity.

In religious terms the unfolding process

of the evolution of the cosmos is general revelation –

things are heading towards absolute love and consciousness –

towards God and God’s kindom –

whereas formal/major/world religions

are simply parts of this general revelation –

they are special revelations.

 

But the heart of Christian mysticism

is transcultural and perennial – it covers all the bases

and goes beyond individual religions

and tries to unite them – the marriage

of eastern and western religion may be stormy

but it will be consummated and bear much fruit.

 

Teilhard saw that Christianity in its roots in Judaism

is a profoundly this-worldly religion

and sought to explain even the secular

as the divine milieu.

 

On the other hand, Johannes Metz

another Christian theologian believed that

secular individualism contains inherent contradictions –

we are more than cogs in societal wheels –

so he proposed a political Christianity

that draws upon “the dangerous memory of Jesus”

to bring about social transformation.

 

The meaning of Christ is summed up

in the Creation’s potential for self-transcending love.

God created the universe without a perfect form

which it cries out for and finds in Christ –

Christ is not an intrusion into the world

but rather its Reason for Being

and the Goal of Creation.

 

MALE SPIRITUALITY

 

One of the best-kept secrets of our time:

although many men don’t care

a whit/a hoot/or a fig about spirituality

many other men deeply value their spiritual side.

 

By himself a man is not capable of success

when it comes to battling the assaults of evil

and so, many men today feel

they are in chains/powerless.

 

The need for boys to have heroes who slay dragons

symbolizes the male struggle

to gain consciousness and adulthood

rather than lapsing back into the bliss of unconsciousness

and being dominated forever by the mother.

Males must break with their mothers

and identify with their (hopefully mature) fathers

or they become mummy-boys not men

they never grow into adulthood

whereas girls can identify with their mother forever –

there is no need for a radical break.

 

Part of boys becoming conscious and adults

is learning mindful speech –

a man’s talk can bring true love

or kill the souls of girlfriends and wives.

 

Boys also need to learn to live in the NOW

for the present moment is our perfect teacher

who is always with us. In meditation men learn

how to tap into their present experience as it is –

insightful or not/scary or not –

they learn to face reality with courage.

 

The famous preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote

“It is the Spirit/Sophia/Wisdom working in men

that makes them see the beauty in the present moment/

the unity of all things/

makes them tender-hearted toward others/

and gives them a well-ordered and disciplined life.”

 

DIVINE FEMININE/SACRED MASCULINE

 

Henri Nouwen was one-of-a-kind:

simple yet not simplistic/

deep in sentiment yet not sentimental/

self-revealing yet not exhibitionistic/

deeply personal yet universal/

sensitive to human weakness yet challenging.

 

Meister Eckhart was another great Christian expositor

who integrated heart/mind/feminine/masculine

and distinguished between ‘book learning’ and ‘life learning’ –

often an author’s life does not match their writing

but Eckhart walked his talk

and both his writing and his life

disclose God’s Truth to us.

 

Christians need to integrate their main value of love

particularly in marriage, a beautiful institution

that often gets overwhelmed

by ego/divorce/money/self-centeredness/lust/workaholism

and a culture that worships hedonism –

the pursuit of pleasure at all costs –

love without commitment or accountability –

calling it ‘free love’ or ‘polyamory.’

 

Everyone, but particularly married couples

need training in non-violence – a tactic of love

that seeks the salvation/redemption of one’s enemy/opponent

not their humiliation/defeat/destruction.

 

Everything, all personal relationships and cultural institutions

require a healthy balance of yin/yang/feminine/masculine –

after all, what good is a return to the Divine Feminine

if men refuse her because there is no return

to the Sacred Masculine?

 

But Henri Nouwen and Meister Eckhart are lamps

who can light our pathway to integration

and True Love – the marriage of the Feminine and Masculine.