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Life, Love and Law

Life, Love and Law: Chapter 5


Of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven

1. The consequences of God being Love

What can we say about God? John tells us that God is «Love»;1 another way to put it is that God is «Father»,2 and a third is that God is «slow to anger»,3 «merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness».4 The fundamental point is that God is the Absolute Lover.

Absolute Love reveals all as the Lover partakes of the whole of the other's life. There are no secrets to this Absolute Lover. So all that was thought or done, in secret as well as in public, is known by God and so revealed to all He loves as they are one with Him. Again, Perfect Love manages to know the loved one perfectly, even as He holds no grudges about the sins or failings of the beloved. This Lover shares all, so all is known to all. This is why God is said to be Light: that which makes everything known. This is why people who do not love want to hide in the darkness, where, they hope, they and their lives are kept hidden.

A lover feels for the beloved. If the beloved is happy, her lover is happy with her; if the beloved is sad, her lover is sad with her. If the beloved is in pain and agony, the Lover, perfectly identified with His beloved, feels her pain and her agony. It becomes His pain, His agony.

2. Human reactions to God as everyone's Lover and Light

At our death we live the Meeting of that God who is Infinite Love and as such makes everything known, all our acts and thoughts, all those of all the others, His sufferings in everyone who suffered, His joy in everyone who rejoiced. God wants us with Him in His Love and Light. He wants us to partake of His love, rejoice in His love for all and sundry. He wants us to be happy with Him, to love everyone with Him. He wants us to rejoice in His love of us, love that is not at all thwarted by our acts or thoughts against His Humans or creation.

But how will we react once placed in that situation? To start with, how will we react to everyone knowing us exactly as we are, knowing exactly all we did and did not do?

We can recoil, refuse to be known by the Lover as we do not want to be known for what we are. But as the Lover by His very Nature of Lover cannot but reveal us as we really are, and so uncover our sinfulness, we can experience shame, anger and hatred at being discovered and exposed for all to see. In which case this experience where everyone of our failings is constantly in full public view will be a living Hell. For us, the living with this reality of God's presence will be a terrible judgement.

Not only are we naked to all and sundry; we also find that all the bad things we have done have been done to God as the Other's Lover, and all the good as well. He knows everything because He was in the Other in her need. If all our life we have been demanding justice and revenge for the bad things that others have done to us, we will feel that He will want to punish us for all the wrongs it turns out we have done to Him as the other's Lover. We will not believe Him when He says He loves us anyway; we will constantly be expecting to be terribly punished even though no punishment is forthcoming. We will live a self inflicted torment because of what we wrongly anticipate.

Of course, we can accept to be exposed for the rotten persons we really are, and humble ourselves in front of all. More: we can actually rejoice with everyone that God is so great that He loves us in all our rottenness! But the pitfalls are not over yet.

Not only are we exposed in such a fashion but everyone else as well as God's love is for all. We might recoil at God's love for our enemies or for the people we loathe. We might call God's love into judgement. How can He love such a person? Our hatred or loathing for that person will make it Hell for us to live with this constant realization that God loves with an infinite love the other notwithstanding her sinful behaviour. If we are not able to forgive her, we will be incapable of forgiving God for «siding with her»; so we will rage forever against Him and her. We will be judging God and finding Him in the wrong, just like the devil does.

Let us assume that we can accept that God loves these terrible people as well as us. They are now always present to us in God's presence; hating them will make this experience Hell for us. We have to love them just as anyone else. It is one thing to accept that God is so love-crazy as to love these terrible people; it is quite another to have to do likewise. But God as Love wants all to be one in Him. So we have to be ready to rejoice with them, to be part of their joy of being loved by God.

We also have to accept that God loves equally each and everyone; that He has no favorites. We have lived a better life than someone else: we deserve a better reward, our justice says. But God says: My Love is the same for all; as Absolute Love, I cannot but love everyone equally, whether they live Hell or not because of it. If we cannot accept this, this state of affairs will be our Hell and we will rage forever against God's perceived unfairness.

It should be clear that this scheme's requires of us what Jesus demanded of us in the two previous Chapters. It does seem so far that this scheme has definite value.

To go back to it, things are not always black or white; in fact, they rarely are. We might need to swallow our pride, but manage to do so painfully with the help of others. We might be able to forgive others after a very arduous process of change. We might accept to let go of our notions of justice after overcoming agonizing difficulties. This painful change of self, required for full acceptance of this Reality, God's Reality, God's Kingdom, would necessarily be transitional. This painful transition is what the Roman Catholic Church calls Purgatory.5

Heaven is, of course, the total acceptance of God's reality, of God's Kingdom: not only accepting God's absolute love for everyone of His creatures, however sinful and blemished, but rejoicing in it with everyone else, as one body. And sharing that Love with all equally because He Is so.

Our death is a passage from the present world into Reality (Truth). Reality means finding out Who God Is and what everyone did, thought, omitted to do, and so on. This Reality illumines all that has been and is, as well as God's absolute, unconditional, unchanging and unflinching Love for all, sinners and saints. We can either accept His love for us and all others or we can rebel and rage. Our world order prepares us for the latter; Jesus' message, for the former.

The Septuagint, as any text for that matter, can be interpreted in such a way that we will rebel and rage against God's Love if it is for all and sundry.6 Jesus' message more clearly than any other message found in the Bible teaches us not to rebel and rage but to love and act like God acts by His very nature.

3. Jesus' urgent message: the reality of Hell

We have seen that the fact that God loves everyone the same irrespective of their sinfulness and baseness has different results on different people; for some, this is Hell, for others, it is Heaven, and for a third group, Purgatory: something that takes great effort to accept. The same can be said of the complete history of one's life been seen by all for what it really is and the fact of seeing others' histories as they really are, by the loving but absolutely revealing glare of God.The various people's reactions will thus be as varied as there are people. So each will experience this according to her uniqueness. No two people will experience God in the same way, though each will experience the same Reality and thus the same Love and Light.

That God loves and wants every sinner to be saved is one thing. That all will accept the Reality of His Love and Truth due to His Light is far from obvious. But it is not God who refuses to give His Loving Presence to all; it is them that find it Hell because they cannot accept it. In this scheme, Hell exists; this is no wishy-washy scheme where all are saved regardless of what they have done so it does not matter what kind of life you live as God will give you a ticket to the Show anyway as He is such a sugar-daddy.

Jesus came to save sinners. He came to tell us what we need to do to be saved. For Him, there was great urgency: God wants everyone to find His Presence a joyful and liberating experience; not Hell. And too many do not see how to get ready for this Meeting. That is why He came and gave us an exemple of the life we should follow.

In this scheme, God does not judge; He only forgives. It is humans who judge, it is them that condemn. God is Love, but some humans hate.

4. What I had learned as a child

With this I have produced a scheme that makes a certain sense of the normal concepts of Hell, Heaven and Purgatory, but from a radically different perspective than the usual one. All is based on the Reality of God's Nature, that is, Love. This scheme should be able to «explain» why this or that behaviour will bring us closer or farther from the Kingdom.

This is not what I learned as a Montreal-born Roman Catholic child in the 1950s. In that scheme there are laws that have to be followed; if they are not followed while knowing about them (which you were supposed to), you sinned. The sin could be of small or large consequences. Small consequences meant the pain of Purgatory; large consequences meant Hell, everlasting pain. You could, of course, have your offenses remitted by confession and absolution as the only thing that counted was the state of your slate at the moment of death: an unconfessed and unabsolved mortal sin sent you straight to Hell; otherwise, you most probably ended in Purgatory except if you had been very very good. The more you gave yourself to God, the better was going to be your place in Heaven. This is why we must strive to be as good as possible so as to get to the best possible seat7 in Heaven (and avoid as much as possible the pain of Purgatory).

The laws and observances found in that scheme come from the Bible and its interpretation by the Church. These govern good behaviour. Just as you have to be a good citizen in your country, you have to be a good citizen in the Kingdom.

People would say that the traditional scheme mixes the concept of God being loving with that of being just. Just in the sense that sentence is passed: the gravity of the sin decides the gravity of the penalty; even in Hell, not all pain is equal.8 Love prevails as sins can be forgiven through absolution; but justice is applied to what was not forgiven through absolution (and to some remnant).

I believe that the traditional scheme evolved from the Gospels buttressed by two traditions: the Jewish and the Roman. The Septuagint contains lots of Laws and Ordinances to be followed. Penalties are clearly given. Romans laws were elaborate and their codification took place at certain times in the history of the Empire. So the Roman Catholic Church, established as a «spiritual» copy of the temporal Imperial Government, produced its own set of laws and penalties. To this day there are volumes of Canon laws, enough to bewilder most.

The Roman Catholic Church's position on these matters is, obviously, based on Scripture as a whole while mine is based on the Gospels alone. This is why I needed to show in my essay Christians and Scripture that these and these alone are the Christian core texts.

5. Is Hell without God's condemnation according to the Gospels?

Why do I want to change the traditional scheme? I made clear at the very beginning of this book that I want to do away with this concept of God as the One who judges and who casts in Hell those that have been found wanting. I made clear that I find this whole idea of God totally repulsive even if based on a certain idea of justice. I want to maintain that God does not judge but just loves. As I have shown, this does not entail that all live Heaven though everyone comes face to face with the Living God. It is this vision that some cannot stand and that others embrace. Though all are faced with the same Reality; only some can rejoice in it.

This is why I had to show in my above mentioned essay that the Septuagint has to be interpreted by a Christian only in the light of the Gospels as it can, by itself, easily be used to refute my position. As far as I am concerned, the non-Gospel books that complete the New Testament as well as the Septuagint have to be interpreted within the context of the sayings and life of Jesus, the Expression of God. Although these texts are Christian texts, they cannot be seen as providing a better understanding of Jesus' message than that found in the reports of people who actually heard Him talk and actually lived with Him.

I think it is fair to say that the theory I have developped in this Chapter is consistent with the examination of the Gospels found in my two previous Chapters. This is not sufficient though to conclude that it is valid as my principle of coherence demands that I be able to come up, for every Gospel text, with a valid interpretation that does not contradict the position I have just laid out, remembering that a Gospel interpretation can be valid only if it does not create any contradictions between the various parts of all four Gospels among themselves. I thus have much work to do.

I have been trying to make very clear that my scheme is based on some assumptions that some might not want to accept. On the other hand, I consider that the principle of coherence is required of anyone who considers that the Gospel texts are truthful: indeed, if they are truthful, how can they contradict each other on any point of importance?

My scheme has one advantage: all can be deduced from Who God Is according to Jesus. There is no need to bring in anything else. Its simplicity satisfies Ockham's razor.

I must be able to «explain» any text from the Gospels that seems to support, in any way, shape or form, the premiss that God judges. Some surely will say that it is quite easy. Again, the problem is that of coherence. How can we have a God who condemns and loves at the same time? That God does not condemn anyone because He loves absolutely everyone is easy to understand; that He forgoes His love to those He condemns after trying everything to save them is only possible if God's love is conditional, something that I consider totally contrary to His nature. That it is the individual human who condemns or welcomes God's ways is much easier to accept. It fits with what we have found so far.

6. How can I validate my position?

My principle of coherence is a huge problem. Indeed, I cannot accept that my theory is right just from what I have examined so far. I have to check that the whole of the Gospels can be read in a way compatible with my theory. So although I have examined previously some of the relevant excerpts concerning God Father in His relationship with humans, I have not examined all of them. Although I have examined some of the excerpts concerning human behaviour, I have not examined all of them.

I will devote my next Chapter to what Jesus says about Forgiveness, Chapter 7 to Jesus' Parables on Heaven and Hell, leaving to Chapter 8 the Parables' about God's perceived unfairness. By the time I tackle Chapter 9, I will have examined all the parables concerning the afterlife as well as all Jesus' sayings and deeds on the subject of forgiveness, checking as I go along if they can be understood in a way consistent with my theory.

Jesus has also said quite a few things about how humans must live their lives. I will examine Jesus' Parables on the subject in Chapter 9 and in Chapter 10, what must be done according to Jesus' other sayings on the subject

I will by then have examined all that Jesus has said about how we are to live and checked if they are consistent with my theory. But this is not enough. Can I find incidents, deeds or sayings of Jesus that are not coherent with my theory? After all, Jesus did some rather odd things. Can I make sense of them in such a way that they do not contradict my theory? I will examine in my Chapter 11 Jesus' oddities and in my Chapter 12 some of the problems my theory encounters.

As I will not have done by then an absolutely exhaustive check of the whole of the Gospels, I will still not be able to satisfy perfectly my principle but will at least have come a long way towards it. Perhaps I will even have satisfied some of my readers that this is worth of consideration.

1 «He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.» (1John 4:8)

2 «That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven» (Matthew 5:45)

3 «The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.» (Psalm 103:8)

4 «And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth» (Exodus 34:6)

5 as is clearly shown in Dante's Purgatorio, the purging of our wrong attitudes and ways

6 Though this is far from being the case for so many as can be shown by the wonderful lives of so many all-compassionate religious Jews throughout the ages.

7 It is very interesting to note how all the great Roman Catholic saints saw their wickedness as equivalent to that of the great sinners; for them, there was no difference between their lives and that of anybody else. Awareness of God's love for a mere human is a great equalizer.

8 this is taken by Dante in quite a wonderful fashion

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

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