In my ongoing and interested examination of the teaching of Apokatastasis (Universal Salvation), I continue to read blog pieces and listen to podcasts, doing so from both sides the argument – those who believe that God is love and will, after sufficient chastening of the sinful soul, find way to bring it into the love/union of the Trinity, and those who are horrified beyond all reason at the idea that God would save everyone. If think you detect a bit of smarm in the last few words of that last sentence, you are correct. I have come to the point that I am appalled and saddened by those who insist that our Father must be like the pagan gods of the false religions. And I am not alone in this.
As Robin Parry has stated in many places: “God is love – PERIOD!” Not, “God is love….but…” Or as in “Yes, God is love but God is also just.” Or “Yes, God is love but God also punishes sin.” Or “Yes, God is love, but God also is holy.”
How about this opinion I have: “God is love and therefore He does not act like a deranged psychotic madman in dealing with His children.” That would be my take. Anything less and you have a God who is exactly like the “god(s)” of the pagans who demanded human sacrifice and at the slightest offense, wiped out whole towns.
God is love. He does not love, as in making a choice between acting in love and acting in rage. No, God is love and that is the foundational starting point of any and every discussion regarding Him. God is love and therefore He can only act according to His very nature, which is love. Everything He does therefore is tempered and shaped by the fact that He is love and therefore must be an action of love.
When people are presented with the idea that eternal conscious torment is an appalling violation of just punishment, I many times get the following response:
“Simple, deductive reasoning. If I sin against my family, I get something fairly benign, like a week without my laptop lol. If I sin against the government, its more serious, perhaps even jail time. If I sin against God, its infinitely more serious. See the pattern? The higher the position, the more severe the punishment for the crime.”
In other words, if you sin against the infinite majesty of God, the punishment must fit the crime, and therefore, the punishment must be infinite and never-ending. This idea of divine justice really took off with the musings of Anselm of Canterbury.
In the development of Christian doctrine about hell, the early scholastic theologian Anselm of Canterbury is best known for arguing for the eternal timespan of punishment in hell by an analogy from feudal law. In feudalism, the severity of the punishment for an offense was determined not so much by the nature of the offense as by the relative worthiness of the one offended against. Stealing from a king resulted in a steeper punishment than stealing from a serf, for example. On this basis, Anselm concluded that a crime against God’s infinite honor deserves an infinite punishment. However, since humans are finite, we can pay the penalty for our sins only by suffering for an infinite time.
First of all, this is not even biblical. Nothing in the biblical descriptions of how punishments are applied states that to offend a king merits a greater punishment than to offend a peasant. The application of the law is the same without regard to the status of the person. The biblical principle is that of lex talionis – the punishment fits the crime. The ignoring of this principle led men to hang a hungry child for stealing a loaf of bread in Puritan New England. Lex talionis was given to mankind to keep just this sort of thing from happening.
Secondly, Medieval Feudal Law is not the standard by which we are to judge the things of God. If anything, Medieval Feudal Law existed not for the good of the peasant, but for the rich and powerful, ignoring the simple truth that all men are created equal and deserve equal justice under law.
Thirdly, and the theme of my writing – God is not offended by our sins. In Orthodox theology, God is immutable, that is, He is without the passions which drive us to do the things we do, often harming ourselves or neighbor. Thomas Weinandy defines immutability as the fact that He is “ontologically unchanging in His perfect love and goodness.” Or, as Malachi 3:6 puts it, “I am the Lord, I change not.”
To look at Western descriptions of God, especially those of the Roman Catholic seers who are so fond of descriptions of His rage, one would think that you can never be sure what God is feeling from day to day. Today, loving. Tomorrow, in an absolute rage against the human race, as if His hemorrhoids are bothering Him badly and your sin was simply the last straw!
Once again at the Church approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Sr. Agnes Sasagawa in Akita, Japan on August 3, 1973 our Blessed Mother said:
“In order that the world might know His anger, the Heavenly Father is preparing to inflict a great chastisement on all mankind. With my Son I have intervened so many times to appease the wrath of the Father. I have prevented the coming of calamities by offering Him the sufferings of the Son on the Cross, His Precious Blood, and beloved souls who console Him forming a cohort of victim souls. Prayer, penance and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father’s anger….”
Does anyone see the problem with the above quote? The portion in red makes it sound like the Father has one will – to put a whuppin’ on the human race – and Jesus has another will – “Father, now please just give them a little longer to repent.” That is making two different gods with two different wills – heresy! The Blessed Trinity is a complete unity of will.
More than that, God does not have passions the way that we do in our fallen and sin-cursed state. I think that much of what passes for good theology over the centuries is really imposing our human understanding upon God, making Him to be just like us. That is idolatry.
You want to know what the Father is like? Jesus gave us a parable to understand, and the idea of an eternal conscious torment given to sinners for offending the eternal dignity of God is simply not found in this description. In fact, if anything, it shows us that love knows no such thing as dignity. Consider:
The Prodigal asks for his inheritance. This is a great insult, akin to wishing his father dead. The boy takes the money and splits for Sinsville. What is the reaction of his father? Smoldering wrath, growing greater and greater each day? Planning his revenge on the boy who has so deeply insulted his great dignity and honor? Thinking of ways to punish the son if he can only get his hands on him? Oh, I know! Sending a team of servants out to accost him in the far country, beat him severely, and then drag him home to be a slave for the rest of his life.
Pfffft……far from it! When the Prodigal shows up on the horizon, wearily trudging his way towards home, the father sees him from afar off and begins to run towards him. This means that the father was accustomed to spending long periods of time gazing off to the horizon, looking for the return of the one who had in essence told him, “F off, I wish you were dead.” Losing every shred of dignity which might remain, the father gathers his robes around him and runs to meet his son. Jewish men in Jesus time simply did not do this. Such action would be utterly demeaning and beneath the dignity of this wealthy man’s position in life. Yet this is the parable by which Jesus describes our heavenly Father in His love for us.
When the Prodigal reaches his father, does the father go into a long list of recriminations with the guilty son, reminding the son of the father’s great dignity in the community and how the son has violated that? No!
Luke 15: 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
How utterly, completely devoid of any dignity whatsoever! I am sure that the servants who saw this and who knew the story of the boy’s leaving were scandalized to see someone as great and austere as their master acting in such a lowly manner. No doubt they, like so many of the Western theologians I read, were looking for the boy to get the beating of a lifetime for what he had done, and then to suffer being a slave on the plantation for the rest of his miserable life. But … before the boy can even confess his sin, the father is all over him in love, kissing and hugging him. Even before his confession!
“Sin offends the great and infinite dignity, of God, therefore, the punishment must be infinite and never-ending.”
No, that’s not the way it works. Not according to what Jesus taught. Our Father will fall on the neck of every sinner who is brought to him, kissing and embracing His child in passionate love. The Orthodox Church teaches that for some, this embrace will be extremely painful because in their condition of loving sin, the presence of the Father is naturally painful. For others, this embrace is what they have been looking for all their lives and they will rejoice in it. It all depends on what we have become in this life. For those who have become love (the goal of theosis), it will be paradise. For those who have not, it will be hell. But hell is not the desire of a true father – restoration is. The father of the Prodigal – a picture of our heavenly Father – moved in love to his son even before the boy verbalized his repentance. Will He who is pure love do any less? Will He not earnestly gaze at the sinful child, waiting for the repentance that is needed, just as the father of the Prodigal earnestly gazed off to the hills, longing for the return of his son? Does our Father any less long for the return of each of His wayward children?
It will not be the wrath of an infinitely offended God which must be satiated that sinners will experience. It will be the Father’s embrace. Imposing the idea of wrath on our Father who is love is to make human He who is most assuredly not.
It is a complete misunderstanding of just how undignified love is. If you want to see that lack of dignity in full bloom, look to the Cross. At the Cross, God the Father was in the Son, reconciling the world to Himself – stark naked, enduring jeering insults, pain, and hatred. And through that all, the will of God that came from the lips of Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Dignity is for people who think they are supremely important. Love always makes the other important. There is no dignity to love.