instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Divine Bookie

St. Thomas More's speech (posted below) came to mind as I read Camassia's post about the problem of a paralyzing fear of hell some people have, not on their own account, but on account of their loved ones who are not Christian:
But I can't imagine that Jesus meant for his apocalyptic talk to drive nice Christian women sick with worry that God will torture their beloved relations, or to encourage the attitude that I often hear that everyone makes his or her own choice, so you just have to deal. (Not to mention the "abominable fancy" that part of the fun of heaven will be watching the torments of the damned.) Many people I know, including myself for a long time, dismiss Christianity out of hand because they find hell so immoral.

... I do think that if my creator cares about morals at all, he could hardly have created a being more moral than himself. If human compassion spills unruly once it is released, what must the compassion of God do?
Here's how I reply to such questions these days: Everyone whom God can bring to heaven is brought to heaven.

This isn't the first part of a syllogism that concludes, "Therefore, everyone is brought to heaven." The "can" in "whom God can bring to heaven" doesn't refer to God's sovereign and unlimited power. In that sense, God "can" raise up children of Abraham from stones and God "can" bring everyone to heaven.

What I have in mind is something different. I don't see Creation as an exercise in divine power so much as an exercise in, shall we say, communication of divine freedom. Yes, God "can" bring me to heaven by binding my will and dragging me along. But the "me" who would be saved through binding and dragging is not the "me" whom God wills to be saved, any more than the "lion" that has edible leaves and a yellow flower is the "lion" that roams the African plains and eats wildebeests. The freedom to choose between good and evil is a sine qua non of human nature, and it is free humans that God created to be saved. God can't save free humans by making them bound humans, any more than He can create a spherical cube.

And this reassures nice Christian women who are sick with worry that God will torture their beloved relations how?

Well, why aren't these nice Christian women sick with worry that God will torture them? (Some nice Christian women are, no doubt, but that's another post.) They aren't worried about themselves because they hope in God. They hope in His promises, those same promises that make them worry about their beloved relations.

If God is trustworthy enough to have such hope in Him -- and in particular, to base that hope in the love God showed mortal man by sending His Son into the world to die on a cross -- then He is trustworthy enough to have hope that, indeed, mercy will triumph over judgment, that the promises of Christ are not carefully worded legalities but a covenential offer of eternal love. That, in short, Christian hope is based, not in human technicalities, but in Love Itself, in Goodness and Truth and Beauty.

We hope, then, that our beloved relations will be saved with the same hope with which we believe we will be saved. Moreover, if we don't hope for others with the same hope we hope for ourselves, then the hope for ourselves is not Christian hope, but some sort of natural expectation. We would be serving as our own bookmaker, laying odds on our own salvation -- and, by extension, on the salvation of others.

As the gospel says, though, "Bet not, lest ye be bet against." Or again, "Hope in God, I will praise Him still, and put my little all into His hands for all parlays."