Each age looks at the principles Christ taught us using the prevalent, collective thinking of the World. Reflecting on Hell is one of those things I don’t like to do but am compelled to do as my Lectio Divina during Lent and whenever I read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict.
I think of it as living in two universes, or a world without God. It is the world described in Genesis 2-3 after the Fall from Grace by Adam and Eve. We take our morality from rock stars and movie stars. Taboo is taking up your cross, denying yourself, and following Christ. We are creatures that seek our own comfort and happiness. How we view what is meaningful in life depends on what our assumptions might be. These assumptions must come from somewhere. Increasingly, I see society drifting towards hatred, jealousy, being mean-spirited, Another way to look at it is the World is that it is our default behaviors, two universes (physical and mental). God inserts Himself into Time in the person of Jesus Christ, being both divine and human in His nature. In my way of thinking, we have freedom to choose, in addition to knowing what to choose (the archetypal sin of Adam and Eve). Adam and Eve chose poorly. Genesis is a classic commentary of what it means to be human and why we are different from all other reality. It is the reason we have reason. It is the reason why we can choose this over that. God tells us in the Old Testament what are good choices and bad choices. The good choices have consequences, being one with God. The bad choices also have consequences, being alienated from God, for lack of a better way to say it. This is Hell.
THE OLD TESTAMENT STRUGGLE TO BE SPIRITUAL
The age in which the Old New Testament was formulated had strict cultural patterns of thinking In the Old Testament, for example, Abram wanted to sacrifice his son, Issac on an altar to please God. In this account, God wanted no part of human sacrifices and so told Abram to sacrifice a kid goat instead, an animal sacrifice. Why do you think this account is so crucial to the covenant relationship between God and Humans? In part, I think it was a shift in behaving and thus in believing that sacrificing your son or daughter to the gods, probably prevalent among all the other tribes of the time, was not right. I am also convinced that the early Israelites became convinced, over time, that their God was true because they won more battles with Him than without Him. He was better than other gods surrounding them. Other gods were real to these early Israelites, reference the Golden Calf which the people worshiped as Moses came down the mountain with the tablets God had carved out of rock. The dynamic of relationship is: God is God and Israel is not God, to sustain the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. God does not have a covenant with Moses, or Aaron, but with the people of Israel as a collective body. The Commandments, for example are rules of behavior by individuals to keep the tribes from killing and cannibalizing each other instead of other foreign enemies. The books of the Old Testament are a testimony to how God is faithful and Israel is not. Read the main theme of all the Psalms and prophets as being like a faithless spouse. Yet, God will not abandon his people, his covenant.
CHRIST COMES TO MAKE ALL THING NEW
Enter the Christ Principle, or that which flows from Him in every way. As God, he takes away the sin (Original Sin of Adam) for those who have Faith, allowing us to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. We know that Christ is the same, today, yesterday and tomorrow. We also know that we are not the same. How so?
As in the Old Testament, God works in each age through the modern Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Church Universal, connected together through the centuries by Christ. Are individuals sinful? All of them. Are they in need of making Christ new in their individual as well as collective lives? Indeed. We are given adoption as sons and daughters for a reason.
The reason is God’s love for us, as evidenced by His giving His only Son for us that we might have life. Read What St. John 3 says.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”[j]
When St. Benedict tells us in his Chapter 4 of the Rule to have a great horror of Hell and reflect on it, I think of the opposite of love: what it would have been like if there was no Resurrection? What could I look forward to, if I was not an adopted son? That is the true horror of Hell.
I don’t want to be Hell-centric any more than I want to be sin-centered to the exclusion of Grace (God’s own energy in, with, and through Christ to sustain me through the Holy Spirit. My purpose of life is Philippians 2:5, “..have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” You can’t have both Heaven and Hell as your Center any more than hatred and love can exist in the same room. You must choose. I must struggle with the choice. The Old Testament is our reminder that, even if the choices seem irrelevant, God’s folly is greater than the wisdom of humans. The sign of contradiction makes sense only in three universes (physical, mental and spiritual) and just just two (physical and mental).
During this season of penance and asking for God to be merciful to the Church Universal and to me, in particular as a Lay Cistercian, I reflect on Hell as the ultimate result of my not loving others as Christ loves me. I think about the desolation of what it would be like to be human without the concluding chapter of the Book of Life.
I re-energize my commitment to make all things new around me, giving glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and forever. To God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen -Cistercian doxology