Friday, November 11, 2005

God's love (It's not what you think)

Since I wrote yesterday morning's reflection, I tried to put it unto practice as much as I could. Frequently, I let my thoughts rest on other people, and I continually thought to myself about God's love for them. I had to do the same thing for myself as well, but as I wrote, not on myself as me, but myself as though I were other--simply another individual, like the rest, unknown to me, but loved ridiculously, absurdly, and totally irrespectively of anything good he ever did, or will every do.

But this practice was joined with another insight--the insights of the Council of Trent, regarding the judgment of God. And so I began to reflect on the very old question: how does God's absurd love coincide with his terrible judgment? And so comes the conclusion, not far off: the Love of God is a terrifying thing. It is a furnace of judgment, and not everyone can survive the Love of God.

It is not often that I hear this notion, that God's love and his judgment are not separate from one another, nor do they compete, but in fact the latter is the consequent of the former. That is because, as much as God loves each of us individually, that is as much power he grants us to throw ourselves into an everlasting fire. You see, God freely elected to give us this terrifying power: to resist him, to say no to God. And so one may say that all sins which condemn take ultimately the shape of theft. We steal ourselves away from God. And this is the true origin of divine wrath.

Consider for a moment the parable of the woman and her lost coin, one of ten (Luke 15:8-10). Consider that the coin, having been lost (or perhaps hiding itself), stirs the woman into a fit. She turns the house upside down looking for it. However much joy she had in finding it--imagine her wrath if it were not found! If she damaged goods in seeking it, imagine the destruction if she despaired of its return! If you had a winning lottery ticket, but lost it and, though you searched your house (and your neighbor's houses) madly, overturning furniture and hiring detectives, did not find it again until one day, the date its validity had past, you discover it hiding under the couch? Would you not tear this now worthless ticket into shreds?

These are natural analogies, and while helpful, they fail on multiple levels. On the one hand, it is true, God does not experience anguish, loss, grief, anger, or rage in the pedestrian sense that we do. Yet neither does he experience love in the pedestrian sense that we do. I have called his love absurd, whose etymological meaning--out of tune--comes from the sound made by someone who is surdus--tone deaf. In that respect God's love is absurd, because it is a love come from One who is utterly deaf and impassive to our squeamish complaints for autonomy and "balance." This terrifying love has as its direct consequence, and not as a consequence of a separate "emotion" of God, such as anger, the pains of eternal damnation proportionate only to the negation of its immeasurable self.

I think of the description of infinity lifted out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the BBC article I linked to... "Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real 'wow, that's big' time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here."

Such is the love and the judgment of God alike.

But do not be afraid. I am not finished with this topic. :)


Br. Thomas said...

Whoa, God tearing me up like a newly worthless winning lottery ticket? Certainly, we don't want to discard Final Judgment, and God is bigger than any single theology, but something here gives me pause.

Suppose I am that coin lost in God's household, or that lost sheep... God searches for me. If I am that coin, let's say I'm only a penny; how absurd for any woman to scour the house for a single penny! Or as a sheep, how irresponsible of the shepherd to leave behind the 99 (who will all scatter) to find me?!

Let's imagine that God's wrath is that absurd longing, the crazy woman, the irresponsible shepherd, searching for me. As long as I am lost, that is my punishment, that is a foretaste of Hell. God's wrath, to me, seems like the mother who zealously promotes her son's singing though he's tone-deaf.

Once we are found, IFF we are found, i.e. if we let ourselves be found... we may be chastized by the parent who loves us so much and knows that our absence is only to our harm. Does this work, or is it squeamishly calling for "balance" as you said?

Jeff said...

Yes, as long as we are lost, that is a foretaste of Hell; however, recall that lottery tickets have expiration dates. In other words, as part and parcel of our gift of earthly freedom, we are granted the radical possibility of hiding ourselves past the point of redemption (c.f. Rahner). That point may take the shape of the Second Coming, or merely the end of our own lives. In either case, God will have "found" us, but it will have been too late. The fires of Hell are the fires of God's love negated (both in a simple sense, i.e., we negate God's love, and in an analogical, mathematical sense--the intensity of God's love x our own "-1").

Remember the foolish virgins...

Jeff said...

The unforgiveable sin is impunctuality. ;)

Br. Thomas said...

If you read my latest blog entry (I'm sure you did!), you see that I do not discount the wrath of God: to the half-hearted too-late conversion Christ says, I know thee not. That's my interpretation, that because the conversion is half-hearted it is too-late. Maybe we must meet God half-way... allowing ourselves to be found versus God burning down the house to find the coins, or burning the forest to find the lost sheep.

You're right, either way we get 'found' by God, but in the latter cases we are still trying to hide. It is our hiding still, maybe, that constitutes the wrath of God.

The foolish virgins were foolish maybe not because they let their lamps burn out, but because they cared more about oil than the Bridegroom when he came. Surely the Wedding Feast has its own lamps? Come and eat without cost.