Monday, March 07, 2005

Slip Slidin' Away

Future Priest said I misquoted him in my homosexuality post. He said that it's a choice whether or not to engage in a homosexual relationship. He thinks that homosexuality itself is a deviation from a person's normal psychological development, not an alternative lifestyle.

Anyway, continued reading of Lewis. I just finished the "Hell" chapter. Let me start off by saying that I hate, detest, despise, loathe, etc. the doctrine of hell. I'm sure it's not a big hit among most people.

"As things are, however, this doctrine is one of the chief grounds on which Christianity is attacked as barbarous and the goodness of God impugned. We are told that it is a detestable doctrine - and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart [...]." (p. 119)

He goes on to describe the worst person imaginable, someone who hurts and manipulates other people to satisfy his own greed, and asks the reader if we would really be comfortable with the idea of this person never having to answer for his actions, ending his life in contentment, laughing at God and the rest of us. Of course not. You could insert any abominable figure in this slot, and it would play out the same way. We have an innate sense of justice and morality that is not imposed by society. We feel that accountability should and does exist.

He goes on to explain that God offers forgiveness to all, but it is not enough for Him to simply offer it. A person must accept it. Self-surrender is involved in reaching our potential, but you can't force someone to surrender the self to God. They must make a conscious choice to do so.

"I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside." (p.127)

"In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: 'What are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does." (p. 128)

No matter how much I believe something about a particular doctrine, I find it so hard to argue with Lewis. There have only been a few instances in which I took issue with something he wrote. I think he makes a good argument for hell here. (Still hate it though!) God gave us free will, and He can't force us to choose Him. I wish that there could be an alternative for hell, but what justice would there be for all those people who have been seriously harmed by unrepentant others?

Some meaningful quotes from the "Human Pain" chapter:

"For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John." (p.111)

"We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." (p.115)

I guess they're self-explanatory. The first one is pretty powerful, because it basically says to me that God will effect His purpose in the world regardless of the choices we make, but our choices matter to us for obvious reasons. The second one is an interesting theory on why we never reach sustained happiness on earth.

And finally, the reason for the Simon and Garfunkel entry title:

"Thus all day long, and all the days of our life, we are sliding, slipping, falling away - as if God were, to our present consciousness, a smooth inclined plane on which there is no resting." (p.76)

I'm going to have to read something really liberal after this :)


julieunplugged said...

Sojourner, I find the doctrine of hell intolerable too. But I don't find Lewis as compelling as I used to either. One of the difficulties for me has always been the idea that God is capable of so much but not of aiding people to actually *see* him the way he is. In The Great Divorce Lewis asserts that people wouldn't choose heaven even if led there.

Yet they never do see God as God actually is and never have to contend with that reality. Why? Why should people have to do so much to believe that God exists and then have to figure out God's requirements for salvation (the eternal kind)? Usually we are told that free will is compromised if people can't choose for themselves. Yet heaven is a perfect place where no one sins... and love for God isn't compromised supposedly.

Seems to me that we have a screwed up idea of God - not hell or heaven. We need to start over with our God concepts.

sojourness said...

Julie, I see your point. I suppose we can't see God as He is because of the Fall. Sin separates us from a holy God, right? If we're taking the Bible literally, then Adam and Eve had a much closer relationship with Him and probably had a way better idea of who He is than we do.

What I also have trouble with is the idea that God even chose the whole creating-the-world, bestowing-free-will thing if He saw the end result. Is it really worth it if even one person will suffer in such a place as hell? Lewis says that God must have a good reason for it, and just leaves it at that. I know the "correct" biblical answer would be that we don't have God's wisdom and all that. But really, it's a hard thing to swallow.

Anonymous said...

I just read your blog, Sojourness, and I must say that this is certainly one of the most interesting and thought-provoking Internet sites I have come across in quite a while. Allow me to offer my congratulations for establishing this discussion board and to make my first comment here in regards to free will and the possible consequences thereof.

First of all, I very well realize that the very existence of Hell is perplexing, dark, and mysterious. We cannot even begin to fathom the punishment that will be inflicted upon the souls of the wicked, for it is the complete and total separation from God. In short, it is not a pleasant thought. So, I can understand the difficulty to comprehend why God would even create the world and give humans a free will if it does eventually lead to at least one soul becoming damned.

That said, I do believe that God did create (and still creates) human beings with a free will because He wants us to choose to love and obey Him. Eliminating the possibility of freely deciding right and wrong actions as well as experiencing true emotions is contradictory of choosing and feeling by desire. In other words, He wants us to love Him because we want to love Him, not because we are forced to do so. The reason is that “love” and devotion without choice is not really love at all. Rather, it is manipulation, which goes against the moral ethical nature of humanity. So, some souls can and do enter the fires of Hell, but it is through their own decisions and their own actions (or lack thereof) that this occurs.

As for why there is no sin in Heaven (an idea that seems to be a bit contradictory at first since free will is compromised when people cannot choose for themselves and yet there is a perfect love of the Lord for all souls in Heaven), allow me to quote from the Catholic website about this particular aspect of Heaven:
“Every man has an innate desire for perfect beatitude. Experience proves this. The sight of the imperfect goods of earth naturally leads us to form the conception of a happiness so perfect as to satisfy all the desires of our heart. But we cannot conceive such a state without desiring it. Therefore we are destined for a happiness that is perfect and, for that very reason, eternal; and it will be ours, unless we forfeit it by sin. A natural tendency without an object is incompatible both with nature and with the Creator's goodness. The arguments thus far advanced prove the existence of heaven as a state of perfect happiness.”
In other words, we as humans desire perfect happiness and a perfect state of being, which is called the “perfect beatitude.” This can only be experienced in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, all human souls possess and express an unconquerable and insatiable love for God Almighty because they have entered this state of perfect and complete bliss. Since there is a state of perfection in Heaven, there is no sin.

This is the Catholic viewpoint of this matter. Much of it, especially the statement regarding perfect beatitude can be found in great detail in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. I hope this answers your question on this matter, and I look forward to more discussions with you on a myriad of issues.

God Bless,
Rich P.

julieunplugged said...

I think that you are still operating from what I call a "fundamentalist" version of what God is. We have been evaluating God against the "big three" divine qualities handed down from the Greeks: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Our version of God from evangelicalism and much of Protestantism is founded on the idea that God is "super being" in some other dimension (used to be in the sky or heavens before we discovered the vast emptiness of space).

We imagine God on a timeline and we expect that the stories in the Bible are best interpreted through that grid.

What if these are all attempts at expressing how we understand God at various junctures in the human experience, in history?

To repeatedly put the burden of solving life's mysteries on finite, "sin-filled" humans (using Christianity's categories) and to penalize them for not succeeding in discovering the Truth is not a God I could worship.

Having lived in an entirely Muslim country for four years, I have to say that the idea that we are responsible to repent from sins and find Jesus by virtue of free will OR that God is responsible to elect each of us according to his choosing means very few people will be in heaven of the world's population (both historically and currently).

There are deep logic problems in this way of thinking about God and the afterlife. But having detected them and struggled with them for years, I have found the process liberating and life-affirming. Your posts reflect an honesty that is refreshing!