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Life, Love and Law

Life, Love and Law: Chapter 12



Of course one of the problems that still has to be examined head on is that Jesus did mention on many occasions the terms «judgment», «reward» and «punishment», terms that do not fit at all in my view of things. And there are others.

1. Jesus and salvation

One of the problems is that the Roman Catholic Church insists that salvation would not have occurred without the crucial and determinant events of Jesus' death and resurrection. This statement is difficult to reconcile with the other fact that God is Love and has been from all eternity. God has been Saviour from all eternity, which of course means that He has been loving all His humans and all His creation from the very beginning of time.

In my scheme, Jesus' death and resurrection are not events that had to take place at one time for humankind to be «saved»; they are events that took place as the definite statement of Who God is and how He «wants» us to live, or, put differently, a statement on how we must be to enjoy His presence for ever. We are «saved» in the measure that we take Jesus' life as an example to follow and His words as God's own. We are «saved» in the measure that we let God change us in His image. And this had been the case for humanity for all of its existence. That is why Jesus did not have to appear until two thousand years ago while humanity has been around for so much longer.

God has always «conversed» with each and every human to teach her how to live. Many understood how powerless they were and decided to just trust in God's providence. They knew that they could not defend their families and their friends against enemies or the elements. They accepted what they considered God's will and so were not at war with any one, and were quite ready to accept God as He is, just like they accepted everything that happened to them: as a matter of fact. These people knew deep down how to live at peace with themselves. It is only when humans decided to organize in hordes and then in city states with lords, laws and so on that war and greed become options. It is only then that comparisons can be made and with that, the judgement by some of others.

It is interesting to note that what the book of Genesis considers as the basic, the original «error» (sin) is the urge for the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge required to judge others, to pass sentence on others. Humans lived happily before that, and found nothing wrong with their nakedness, just like all the animals do today with the single exception of ourselves. They just were; they had needs, but no sense of shame as this requires judgment. They accepted their lives and difficulties, their needs and their satisfactions. That does not mean that humans at that time did not have some form of hierarchy like monkeys and dogs for example. Greed, the excess of possessions, does not exist in any kind of animals except humankind. Neither does the need to possess others.

By the way, nakedness is a great equalizer. You cannot pretend to «own» others if you are stark naked: you have to wear something to announce your superiority. The females cannot be «owned» by any male as they all are, like the males, in full display to all: no specific male can disrobe one and claim her for himself at that time as she is uncovered only for him. In fact, nakedness of everyone is not an enticement to sex.1

Leaving this digression, the idea that humanity was not «saved» and the dead raised before Jesus' death and resurrection is flatly contradicted by Jesus in the Gospels. He clearly states that:

And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.2

As Jesus clearly states that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive as He speaks, it follows that they had risen from the dead before Jesus did as, after all, He was not yet dead! Furthermore Moses and Elijah conversed3 with Jesus on Mount Tabor, exactly like Jesus conversed with his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

God loves His humans too much to let them just die: He raises them as soon as they die: that is why they are in Heaven or Hell just «after» death. As humans are their body, they have to be a body to be alive, one very different from the one they were before of course, but a body nonetheless. The very fact that resurrection is considered a requirement by Jesus and by His apostles implies that a human cannot exist without the body that defines her. The idea, taken from mythology, of the existence of «shades», though existing only while they are waiting for the final judgment to raise from the «dead», is not based on the Gospels.

What is supremely important in Jesus' life, death and resurrection is that God proves His Love for us by becoming a man like us, showing us exactly how to live and proving that His Love for us is everlasting by making His disciples experience His resurrection and thus, His new body. Normally, a particular human's cadaver vanishes after being eaten, decomposed or burned while that dead human's resurrection is in no way experienced by those left behind. In Jesus' case, His disciples saw the transformation of His cadaver into the new «risen» Jesus. His is the first witnessed resurrection. We will only be able to attest to the one of others when we live our own, at the end of our life, of our «time».

If God is Love, we must rise, because Love is forever. The proof of His Love is His Son's life, death and resurrection. Jesus rose because of His Father's Love for Him. This is why Jesus is so important. But it is not the only reason: not only did Jesus rise from the dead, and not only did He tell us by words and example how to live, but He also gave us Himself to eat, to drink and to breathe: He gave us His Body and Blood as well as His Breath. He did all that for us so that we might more readily become like Him, children of God our Father whose Love for us knows no bounds.

2. The day of judgment

There is an expression that comes up over and over again in Jesus' discourse: that of the day of judgment. In Matthew we find Jesus saying: «Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.»4 as well as:«But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.»5 while in Mark:«And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.»6 and in Luke:«But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.»7

Just in case we did not get the message, we also find in Matthew:

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.8

and in Luke:

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.9

and, one could say to rub it in: «Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.»10 as well as:«Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?»11 and «But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation».12

It should be quite clear to anyone that those nine excerpts seem to demolish my theory. So I must examine these carefully to see if I can save it from what seems to be certain death. The reader will remember that I consider that any interpretation can be valid only if it is consistent with every excerpt from everyone of the four Gospels.

First, in all but the seventh of these excerpts, the operative Greek term is «krisis» (κρισις) (even in the case of the eight excerpt where it is translated by «damnation» instead of «judgment»); in the seventh it is «krima» (κριμα). This last term means «object of a contestation or quarrel», «judgment», «judiciary decision», and from there «condemnation», «penalty», «sentence». The first term means «action or faculty of distinguishing», «choice», «election», «sorting», «selection», «action of separating», «decision», «judgment», «judiciary judgment», «condemnation».

These excerpts definitely mention a «judgment» and state that not all «sentences» will be equal: some «sentences» will be more tolerable than others.

But what does «judgment» entail? A judgment is something that comes at the end of a trial. A trial is presided by a judge and requires an accuser and an accused. So you cannot have a trial without at least three people. The judge bases his decision on laws and on evidence. So we have Moses judging cases between Israelites by referring to the Law that He had received from God.

But the judge must not only be versed in the law, he must also make sure that he has all the evidence. Only then can he deliver a just «sentence». So the first step in a trial is establishing the truth, by making everything relevant known.

But who accuses at the last judgment? Is it the «Son of man»? the «King»? God? In the famous parable of the «last judgment» there is, in fact, no trial: just the «separation» of people. Judgment as the last part of a trial does not seem to be what Jesus had in mind there - and in lots of parables - . The Greek word translated by «judgment» would be better translated as «separation», which is exactly what happens in most parables.

Indeed, while Jesus mentions repeatedly the word translated by «judgment», He does not very often pinpoint who accuses. This is why the usual translation is bad. There are exceptions: we find that both the «queen of the south» and the «men of Nineve» «shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them».13 So when Jesus has really has a trial in mind, the accusations come from other humans!

An interesting excerpt on this topic is found in the book of Revelation:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.14

For the author of this text, the one who accuses humans before God «day and night» is the «Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world». This text complements the previous quote in stating that when humans want others condemned, it is because they are deceived by Satan,15 the Prince of lies. This deceit is overcome by the Blood of the Lamb Who was slain. How? This Blood is the proof that God Who is Love justifies rather than condemns. «Justify» means to «make just someone who was not». It is the process by which an individual who was found guilty by some court is pardoned, and thus sees her condemnation annuled and all signs of the proceedings, deleted from her record. God could be said to «overturn» the condemnation humans suffer at the hands of their fellow humans.

So we can see that far from contradicting my thesis, those texts can agree with it. Some people, used to judge others, will insist in continuing doing so in the after life to their grief as God's Love for all will be manifested to them.

The revelation in the after life of all the facts to all, without which any trial is a travesty, is tantamount to my thesis. God's decision, given all the facts, the most important fact being Who He Is, a Reality that cannot be avoided but must be faced head on, is that His Love is for all. This decision (judgment) has for result that some will rejoice in His reality while others will rage for all eternity. Those creatures who intend to decide for themselves what is good and evil rather than submitting themselves to God's decision (judgment) are Satan's children.

There is another saying from Jesus that can be construed against my thesis:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.16

Here we have something that will never be forgiven: speaking against the «August Breath», although speaking against Jesus will be forgiven. This text clearly states that you do not have to believe in Him as God; you can think that He is just a Prophet or just a Rabbi, or just a fraud; that error will be forgiven. But not that of talking against the «August Breath».

So what does this refer to? August Breath, I have suggested, refers to the breathing of someone who is at peace because convinced that her Father does look after her; it is the Breath of someone who has submitted herself to her Father. If you do not submit your will to your Father, you do not accept His ways. If you rebel by usurping the right to decide what is right and wrong, then you will rage against His «decision» to love everyone of His creatures equally. You will not forgive God for Who He Is. This act of rebellion and unforgiveness against Reality has the same personal end result as not being forgiven by that Reality: burning in a personal Hell.

3. The Church's role in forgiveness

While we are finding problems, there is another big one. The author of Matthew's gospel reports Jesus as saying:

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.17

The problem is mostly found in the last verse; in it we have Jesus giving Peter the «power» to let go or not other humans' debts. That Peter would have been given the power to let go debts is not a problem for me; but its opposite seems to contradict the fact that God as Love «lets go» all debts. How could it be that God would have given to Peter or his representatives a right which goes, according to my thesis, against His very nature?

The same kind of message is again repeated in Matthew but this time it is aimed at all and sundry:

[15] Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. [16] But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. [17] And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. [18] Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [19] Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. [20] For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.18

Let us examine this text very carefully. On the one hand, verse 15 seems to be contradicted by Jesus' repeated statement that we are to forgive all our brother's trespasses. On the other hand, this verse and the following two seem to be a procedurial way to resolve problems between believers:

1. Instead of just turning the other cheek, we are told in verse 15 to first try privately to make the other understand our complaint and take the appropriate action.

2. Verse 16 applies in the case this private meeting at conciliation has been fruitless. It consists in involving other people

2.1. to witness the complaint and the other person's reaction to it as well as

2.2. to ascertain the facts surrounding the complaint.

3. Verse 17 applies in the case that this second meeting at conciliation has also been fruitless. It consists in involving the «church» in the litigation.

3.1. It can be construed that the «church» would then judge between the plaintiff and the defendant.

3.2. Refusal to obey the decision of the «church» would result in expulsion.

It is after that procedure, in verse 18, that Jesus repeats the saying that what is untied by «them» shall be so untied in «heaven» while what is not «untied» by «them» will remain tied «in heaven».

Before we examine this verse 18, let us examine the meaning of the Greek word translated by «church», the word «ekklèsia» (εκκλησια). The term means «convened assembly, which debates, discusses and deliberates». So this term refers here to the assembly of the believers gathered to hear the case.

These three verses 15 to 17 refer to a practical way to try to defuse and resolve conflicts within the community without reference to anyone outside it.

This procedure, as we have just seen, is followed by that verse about the fact that the «them», most probably the convened and assembled community, has the power to decide for heaven what is «untied» or not. This is followed in verse 19 by a statement concerning the efficacity of anything asked for from the Father by a group of His followers and, in verse 20, that Jesus Himself is present with His followers if they are assembled «in His name».

What follows immediately in verses 21 and 22 is Peter asking Jesus how many times he is to let go debts against him. Jesus' answer is basically «all the time» as the number given is huge. This is then followed by the parable of the unforgiving servant already examined.

We must always keep in mind the requirement that an interpretation cannot be valid if it is contradicted by any verse of the Gospels. The very fact that these verses 15 to 20 are followed by the absolute need for forgiveness requires us to look for an interpretation that makes sense of the lot. Surely, the author of these lines must have thought that all these verses made sense together!

Jesus insists on the need to accomodate, to find a resolution to any conflict. This is why He goes so far as to involve the community to try to get the protagonists reconciled. His saying «if you do not forgive, it is not forgiven in Heaven» is a double edged sword. It can be understood in the following way: the servant who does not forgive on earth his fellow servant cannot forgive him in Heaven either and thus will rage eternally when he sees God's absolute love for him while the servant who does forgive on earth his fellow servant will also forgive him in Heaven and thus will be joyful when he sees God's absolute love for him.

Interpretated this way, this «power» of the «Church» is not something which overrides God at all. This would not make any sense. Thinking that mere humans can decide for God is blasphemy. God's Reality is not subject to any human interpretation, whether it be mine, Peter's or the whole assembly's of Jesus' followers. So giving to Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven is giving him the power to act like God in Jesus' name, by living the life Jesus wants him to live, a life based on love of the other and perpetual forgiveness. Just like the building of a life must be done on the rock that is Jesus' teaching and life, the building of the assembly of Jesus' followers must be done on the rock that Simon Peter must become by living like Jesus and by preaching Jesus' message and no other. In other words, by living and preaching «in Jesus' name». And no one can live and preach in Jesus' name without forgiving at all times. After all, someone who acts in someone else's name must follow this person's orders and outlook.

The «Church» must be in the image of Jesus, as she must be one with her husband, Jesus, our God, the Lamb Who was slain to show us His absolute Love for everyone. Jesus knew what Judas would do. He did not expel him from His company at table on His last meal as He still loved him absolutely: it is Judas who decided to leave Him. When Jesus saw him again a while later, He did not give him any reproach; He did not expel him from His group: Jesus, our God, never pushes away anyone. He is and remains the Loving Servant of all.

4. Can God's forgiveness be conditional?

We have seen many excerpts where Jesus clearly states that we will be forgiven only if we do. This definitely seems to indicate that God's forgiveness is conditional, and so must be His love. I cannot accept such a conclusion. For me, God cannot do anything else then forgive as He is Love, something He cannot do anything about. He cannot change His Nature, His Reality.

My solution to this predicament is not very pretty but I feel it is needed to avoid a contradiction between Who God is and How He acts. My solution is that God seems not to forgive those who do not forgive themselves because they are certain that He acts like them. They are certain that they know the difference between good and evil, with the same view of it that God has. Because they are certain of God's unforgiveness, they react to their false perception as if it was true. Their certainty makes it so for them. Instead of facing the Truth, they face a Lie, the god of vengeance. If they saw the Truth, they would realize that God loves them all the same. As they cannot face this Truth, they live in a false world, a world of vengeance, of death, of suffering and rage.

Someone could then say the following: God created humans with this particular psychology which permits them to deceive themselves, which makes them believe that their world view is correct. Without it, they would not live Hell as they believe that God is angry with them while He really is still loving them. So it is fundamentaly God who is responsible for them living Hell. This is quite correct; He created humans free to choose a wrong world view, to make the wrong choices. So one could say that in the last analysis everything is His fault, that He is a tyrant responsible for all that goes wrong in this world and the next. But is not this the wrong world view just mentioned?

We noticed that Jesus insisted on a few points He considered absolutely essential; that are part and parcel of the following all encompassing requirement which is to have total reliance on God as He is our Father and so the One we take our orders from. This requirement is fleshed out in these corolaries:

1) to live every second of our life with the knowledge that we are on this earth to serve others and not ourselves

2) to forgive others at all time and never to seek revenge or justice as we cannot harbour any animosity or resentment against anyone

3) to never pass judgment on or condemn the actions of others

4) to never use violence of any kind for any reason

5) and to live in humility and frugality, not looking for earthly riches or successes.

Obviously, someone who follows these prescriptions will inherit the Kingdom as she will accept humbly that God is right in all His ways. It is the one who rebels against these requirements through pride that will rage against God's infinite Mercy for her enemies.

None of these prescriptions require the fulfulment of any specific ritual or the assent of any specific dogma. We do not even have to believe in God as such, as long as we follow His will without realizing that it is His will. On the other hand, the «Good News» brought forth by Jesus should make it easier to follow the Father's will as long as we do not use our knowledge of Jesus in such a way that we end up betraying Him by using our position to exclude others instead of embracing them like Jesus did. He came to heal those who needed His attention so that they would live according to His Father's will.

For all this, for this really «Good News» of God Father's infinite love for us all, let us sing with the Psalmist in the words of the Septuagint:

O praise the LORD, all ye nations:
praise him, all ye people.
For his merciful kindness is great toward us:
and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever.
Praise ye the LORD.19

1These equalizing and asexual factors of total nakedness for all are most evident when you compare the sexual arousal found on a nudist beach with that due to the alluring swimwear worn as a way to attract the other sex on a «normal» beach.

2Mark 12:26-27 also: «But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.» (Matthew 22:31-32)

3 «And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.» (Matthew 17:2-3); also Mark 9:4 and Luke 9:31-32

4Matthew 10:15

5 Matthew 12:36-37

6 Mark 6:11

7Luke 10:14-15

8Matthew 11:21-24

9 Luke 11:31-32

10 Matthew 23:14

11Matthew 23:33

12 Mark 3:29

13Luke 11:31-32

14 Revelation 12:7-11

15 This is not a Christian idea: Satan is said to be the accuser of men before God in many texts found in the Septuagint.

16 Matthew 12:31-32

17 Matthew 16:17-19

18 Matthew 18:15-20

19 Psalm 117

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 6th, 2004

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