Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Left Hand of God

The Prodigal Son - Rembrandt
Christian religion is becoming increasingly militant. Today God’s Judgment is often presented in strict terms beginning with punishment and banishment to hell for those who have strayed. Homosexuals are defined as deviants and not worthy of God’s love.  Women who seek abortions, for whatever medical reason and doctors who perform them are called murderers.   Ordinary folks who challenge church teachings are openly threatened with the withdrawal of the sacraments or simply asked to leave the church. Anti-abortion students are encouraged to publically parade with posters displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses. Some religious clerics are eager to ban children of gay parents the right to attend their publically supported schools. Theologians who did not follow church teachings to the letter have been banned by the hundreds from their teaching positions. Religious institutions are confining God’s unconditional love in strict legal terms. Volumes of religious edicts are being issued forth proclaiming that their religion is the only true one, etc. etc. Extremes of every kind are being enforced or applied at the expense of the right to obey our God given conscience.  
Under these conditions is it not entirely reasonable that more and more people are turning away from these ridged and dispassionate views of God and the religious institutions that support them?    
Michael Lerner in his book The Left Hand of God suggests that it is time to listen to the more loving, compassionate and justice seeking voice of God. Instead we seem to have been responding to a fearful voice which is often harsh, judgmental, power oriented and domination seeking.  Rabbi Lerner describes the left hand of God in these simple terms    The Left Hand of God stands in marked contrast to the vision of God as the powerful avenger, the Force that will overthrow evil through superior power, the Force that seeks to exterminate enemies and suppress dissent. The vision of the Right Hand of God imagines that evil can be wiped out by one more war or by imposing rigid com­mandments about how to live and enforcing them through violence and punishment. It imagines that people can be coerced into goodness.
The human race needs and yearns for the Left Hand of God. It longs to be part of a world in which kindness, generosity, nonviolence, humility, inner and outer peace, love, and wonder at the grandeur of creation stand at the center of our political and economic systems and become the major realities of our daily life experience.
The spiritual consciousness that I call the Left Hand of God is not the exclusive property of any one party or movement.”
Recently I participated in an online exchange with an anonymous Catholic on the sensitive question of heaven and hell. Because my opponent expressed her understanding of hell only in literal terms I tried to present her with the Left Hand of God which presents a more healing image of God and hell.  What follows is a condensed version, which began on the subject of Indulgences and went on to the more serious question of hell:
The practise of granting Indulgences is rooted in the belief that a penitent needed support by the prayers of the Church in the effort to pay the debt of penance. However, we cannot bargain, earn or win God’s love – it is His gift to all.
Sin cannot prevent us from our eternal reward with God in heaven – sin simply often keeps us in a self created hell on earth. The purpose of salvation is to free us from the burden of sin whenever we are willing to INDULGE and learn from our mistakes with the help of the Holy Spirit. God’s unconditional love heals comforts and forgives the unforgiveable because He does not remember our sins. (If we believe God gives up on people forever and does away with them by sentencing them to death in hell, then we can give up on some people forever and do away with such people by sentencing them to death through capital punishment). The image of God as a vengeful, demanding and punishing deity can literally drive us crazy! Punishment never heals, only love can heal.

If sin cannot separate us from God, then there is no point of the Cross.
God does not send anybody to hell. Where did you get that idea from? It’s not a teaching of the church. Heaven is union with God. If someone does not want to be there God will not force them.
God cannot also give someone what does not exist. If they want to love God on their own selfish terms. God cannot give that to them. It does not exist. It's not a question of earning God's love. It's a question of expecting something that does not exist. Love demands justice. The cross is both the mercy and justice of God.

Trebert : Nothing can separate us from the love of God Romans 8:38-39). When we associate or interpret the meaning of the cross with punishment or fear we immediately diminish our understanding of God’s unconditional love. True Love cannot make demands. God’s mercy has everything to do with restorative justice not worldly punishment. Yes, God will not drag us into heaven ‘kicking and screaming’ but he is willing to descent into hell to offer his unconditional love which we may never have experienced or received while we inhabited this earthly place.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, means that nobody can snatch us out of the love of God, but that does not mean that we cannot opt out of it. "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21; cf. Matt. 10:33, 18:35).
The Catechism of the Catholic church states:
#633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Saviour in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

Trebert: Are you perhaps more interested in fear, punishment, and eternal hell, etc. than  the love of God? Religion is for those who fear hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there! (anon)

Furthermore, "Hell exists, not as a place but as a state, a way of being of the person who suffers the pain of the deprivation of God.” Pope John Paul II Vatican on July 28, 1999.

Jesus' story of the rich man (Dives) and Lazarus (a poor beggar) is sometimes cited to prove that there are people in hell, or that once a person gets to hell he or she cannot leave. Lazarus, a poor beggar, dies and goes to heaven where he is in the bosom of Abraham. Dives, who had not reached out to help Lazarus, dies and goes to hell. Dives asks if he can go back and warn his five brothers so that they will not end up in hell too. Abraham refuses.

A clue that this story is not to be taken literally as proof that some people are in an eternal state of hell is Dives' desire to help others and Abraham's refusal to permit it. If we define heaven as a state of giving and receiving love, and hell as a state of total alienation in which no love is given or received and repentance is impossible, then the compassionate, unselfish, repentant Dives is at this point behaving more like a resident of heaven than is Abraham. What the story does seem to be saying is two things. First, social standing in this world can be turned upside down in the next. Secondly, if you ignore your brothers and sisters in need (as Dives did previously), you will feel like hell. Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn & Matthew Linn, S.J., Good Goats – Healing Our Image of God, Paulist Press, 1994.

Anon: The love of God does not deny the existence of sin and its consequences - just as a parent disciplines their child, because they do not want them to go astray. Jesus said "Not everybody who calls me, lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven." Do you claim to know more than Jesus? Only angels are spiritual without being religious. Human beings are a body, soul unity. We are bodily persons. This is how we experience the world.

Trebert: The consequence of sin (missing the mark) often results in the experience of hell.  Jesus never condemned anyone who went astray and neither should we. God (Jesus) is unknowable (St. Thomas Aquinas).  When we attend church regularly but do not reflect a basic Christian attitude our pleas “Lord, Lord but will not bring us into the kingdom of heaven.  If religion does not bring us into a direct relationship with God we will not understand the meaning of ‘spirituality’.    

In conclusion to these exchanges the aforementioned book by the Linn family is an excellent Catholic understanding of God’s Left Hand. I highly recommend it for those who yearn for a more healing image of God.

No comments: