Letter to Uffe (Part I)
You state the paper is about faith and truth. It is well that you conjoin the two as the reality of the truth of God cannot be evidenced without faith. Of course, you did not say that the paper is about spiritual truth, but the title certainly gives it this focus. This does not make it unreasonable to also consider objective and self-evident truth within the same context, although much of the paper seems to imply that religion and empiricism are, at best, strange bedfellows and that there is little of anything self evident in religious belief systems and traditions. With that as preface, let me say this specifically about truths I hold. There is a God. God desires a personal relationship with His creation (gender pronouns are not meant to circumscribe a characterization of God, but simply to follow established convention). We can know God. We must exercise faith to realize an objective manifestation of God. Separation from God is the most significant aspect and best description of Hell, whether fire and brimstone are thrown in or not. We have a choice to choose to have a relationship with God or reject Him. That said, to the paper.
You begin with a statement of incredulity regarding a loving, merciful god who would send one of his creatures to the eternal flames of hell. Much of the first 27 odd pages is about highlighting questions of consistency, reasonableness, or uniqueness of biblical accounts of history or faith tradition, but none of the issues addressed talk to your key conviction as stated to your grandchildren. Yes, there are different faith traditions. Yes, there are many similarities between them. Yes, there are many biblical stories which leave one unconvinced of their literal truth as well as perplexed as to their deeper meaning, but the central question you posed can be considered irrespective of these issues. Can the character of God allow Him to send even one of His creatures to “Hell”? I believe I speak consistent with most Protestant theologians in affirming you in your conviction. God could not be consistent with His nature and allow such to occur. God is love as we have so often been told and sung. He loves us, that which He has created in His own image, more than we can even imagine in our finite minds. He craves a relationship with us. He longs to be one with us, to fulfill the desires of our hearts, and to give us all that is best for us. He is our loving Father, who groans in His very being when those whom He loves are in pain or suffering. How, indeed, could such a being send His beloved creation to an eternally painful place.
The fact is, He could not, and be consistent with His nature, and does not. As much as He is our all loving God, He is also a just God. No doubt your years of study have introduced you to the concept of justice. There are, of course, more than one definition, but the one that seems most clear to me is Plato’s, ‘Each having and doing that which pertains to them to have or to do.’ (Not a direct quote, therefore the single quotations) The concept of just deserts is simply this – you reap what you sow. The consequence is not suffered contingently, but is rather meted out based on one’s actions. Now, if these actions are not freely chosen, the deserts, especially if they are onerous or painful, are unjust. How can we be held accountable, morally or otherwise, for that which we had no choice in? This is, in fact, the grand dilemma. If we have no free choice, how can we be held accountable, civilly or eternally? As far as civil society is concerned, one might argue that it matters not whether it is just or no. If society is to continue to exist, we must have rules which are enforced through threat and exercise of punishment. It is a practical matter of survival and continuance of existence as a society. In terms of eternity, however, justice must rule over pragmatics. We are, of course, talking about forever.
After writing an essay on Jonathan Edwards book, “On Free Will,” I wrote the following ditty. “How can I choose except that I think? And on what do I think except what I know? And what do I know except what is linked? To what I perceive of what has been shown?” The essence of the quip is a question of how on earth we can have free will. If we do not, then how can we be held accountable excepting as we lack the personal force to repel all attackers or enforcers of someone else’s will on us? At the time, I was not sure. Jonathan Edward’s conclusion in the book was that man did not have free will. In fact, what he was arguing against was called the Armenian Apostasy which maintained that man did, in fact, have a free will. If the latter is true, then the likes of Anne Hutchinson who chose to follow her own individual inner light, as well as all that followed after her and dear Jonathan, are, in fact, accountable for their actions, both for the good as well as the bad. I am very glad that our collective consciousness incorporated Anne’s view rather than Jonathan’s. I believe it informed our emphasis on individual rights, as well as the responsibilities which accompany those rights, in our collective character. That aside, such a view is critical to understanding not only the concept, and justice, of crime and punishment, but the justice of the eternal fate which awaits us all who refuse to accept God’s free gift of redemption.
God does not send any of His creatures to Hell. His creatures freely choose their own path and their own destiny. I say this without having explained why I believe that we do, in fact, have a free will. This is where I depart from contemporary Christianity and espouse some of the beliefs contained in your paper in other religions. You write on Karma and Livets Bog that everything has a soul which is an entity of its own and separate from the body, and not merely a function of mental and emotional activity generated in the brain. As I could not imagine what you cannot imagine, I could conceive of no other justification for eternal justice other than the conception that we are not simply the combination of genetics and environment, but that we have an essence which is eternal and is therefore not acted on so much as it acts upon, an essence which has existed eternally with God. In Him, we live and move and have our being because we have existed with Him forever. Otherwise, all that we do has a precedent and all that we do is determined by something external to ourselves. Should this conception be true, and I believe it must be for the Judeo Christian concept of a just God to be consistent with eternal damnation, then it is not God who condemns us, but rather we ourselves through our free decision to reject Him. God created us with a free will knowing full well that we would reject Him, but also knowing full well that He could not have a relationship with His creation unless we were so created. God is spirit. Unless we also were created as principally spiritual beings, we could not relate to our God. It is our spiritual nature, eternally existent, which admits of no precedent to our choices. We do indeed choose our own path.
On to the perfect justice of God. Our concept is that God is perfectly just. All get their just deserts. Now, from the law is the knowledge of sin, or rebellion. If we have, in one iota, transgressed the law, we are guilty of rebellion. The whole law is summarized as follows: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and thy whole mind , and thy whole strength, and thy neighbor as thyself.” Who has not transgressed this law? If God is, in fact, our creator who loves us more than we can love ourselves and wants for us only what is best for our eternal welfare, and if we think it right and good that we should live in harmony with our neighbor, is this not a just law? Yet who has not transgressed this law? It requires a perfection in our spiritual and temporal relations that none of us can attain. Who can live in the presence of a perfect God who requires that because He is perfect we should also be perfect? No One! Yet He is a just God, and because He is so, justice must be served. I am reminded of a story of a young man standing trial for a horrendous crime. His defense attorney gave a compelling argument for mercy, but the judge demanded that justice be served. A monetary settlement was offered, but the price was beyond the wildest imagination of what the defendant could even dream of paying. The defendant was judged guilty of the crime. The judge read the sentence – if the defendant cannot pay the settlement, death by hanging. The judge’s gavel rang in poignant exclamation throughout the courtroom. Then he stood, removed his robes, went to the defendant, his son, and gave him the money for the settlement. What could not possibly have been paid was paid in full and mercy was purchased. His son was free. His son was still guilty. The fine still had to be paid. Consequences still had to be lived through, but the purchase of his son’s pardon was paid in full. This is the story of our redemption. I don’t know of another faith story which paints a similar story consistent with my conception of justice and of God and of humanity. There are many things in the Bible which I do not understand. Justice, God’s mercy and grace, and God’s love I do, at least in part, understand.
I believe in God the Father almighty – I believe there is a God. Science has come full circle. It used to believe that it had investigated God out of the equation. It is now beginning to realize that “In the beginning was the Word” is not a far cry from the Big Bang.
Maker of heaven and earth – All emerged from the singularity above.
And in Jesus Christ His only son our Lord – If there is justice, there must be propitiation. We cannot pay the cost. There must be another way.
Who was born of the Virgin Mary – By Adam, sin entered the world. If Jesus was born of man, he was born in sin. Not a perfect sacrifice. Sorry if “sacrifice” does not comport with your concept of justice and recompense.
Suffered under Pontius Pilate - Historical
Was crucified, dead, and buried – also historical
The third day He rose from the dead – I’ll have to get back with you on all of my reasoning’s for belief in the rest of the liturgy, but suffice it to say, except for the belief in the Holy Catholic Church, that I do, in fact believe in the liturgy. I wish I were retired such as you and could devote more time to ruminations as these. Unfortunately, such is not the case yet. Hopefully I will find another soul like you to share with when I am your age. It is not likely, and I hope to learn as much from you as I can before ( sorry, but you are not long for this world) you are lost to me. Please be patient on my responses as I remain engaged in business, the business of life still but a hobby.
So, you seek truth? The truth of God cannot be attained without faith. Spiritual truth is the knowledge of God. This is an inborn capacity that we all have as equally created human beings. Do you really want to find truth? Exercise even a small bit of faith in God. However small the offer, God will always show Himself true and reward your effort. God will not reveal more of Himself to you unless you exercise your faith in Him. The objective manifestation of God cannot be evidenced apart from an exercise of faith in Him. It can be an exercise of infinitesimal size, like a mustard seed, but that stepping out into the abyss of faith will result in the Father revealing something of Himself to you in a personal way. This is the only way that God can be objectively proven to exist, as a personal being, in our daily lives. And it is His promise. Test Him and try Him, and see if He will not pour you out a blessing such that you cannot contain it, pressed down and overflowing. It’s the spiritual experimental method.
Why do I believe what I believe? Because I am a witness to God’s participation in my life. I see His hand in the events of my life. I see the results when I diligently seek Him and place my faith in Him.
I have only read about half of your paper and intend to read the rest, but these are my first thoughts on what I have read.