“You won’t even know until you die.” Those were the words of my cousin, Ken, in May, 1973. Simple, yet profound, especially for a youth of 17 years. This is so long ago now that it seems as if it occurred in a different lifetime.
My family had driven up from Maryland to my uncle’s home on Long Island, east of New York City. Ken was referring to our Christian faith and his apparent struggles with it. My parents took young Ken to task during this conversation, and later Ken said that “He (referring to God) will just zap me down to Hell.” Perhaps, for his lack of faith?
Many years later, in 1994, I worked with a woman who was close to retirement age (of 65). She was from Germany originally, and had lived through the relentless Allied bombings of the German cities as a teenage girl. One day, we talked briefly on religion. She may have been an agnostic or even an atheist. She scoffed at the idea of a hell and remarked that she did not believe the stories about boiling pots of water. This was a new one for me. I had heard of hell-fire and burning flames, but not of boiling pots of water for the damned to find themselves in. Perhaps different peoples have different conceptions of Hell or of a place of punishment. (This woman was also adamant that the “Hitler regime” had to be destroyed even at the cost of German civilians being incinerated nightly in German cities (which did not hasten the end of the war). I did not agree with this ends justifies the means argument at the time (1994) , and I still don’t.)
Here now are my thoughts.
We may not even know that much after we leave this world. It may not be man’s destiny to ever become all-knowing. But, as to faith, one must work at it and it is a challenge to achieve and hold on to one’s faith. As one of the early Church fathers advised – “Believe, so that you will understand.” A certain humility is appropriate. There are mysteries of the faith that are beyond our limited human comprehension. As such, our minds can get in the way. Practice love, devotion (bhakti) and surrender to God. One’s heart can help one to achieve faith. (Long time readers may criticize me here for saying that one must govern one’s religious fervor with reason. Yes, I do say that – to warn of degenerating into mindless fanaticism. But, I am not denying that love of God starts in the heart. Both reason and emotion can be employed to achieve the goal.)
I struggle with my faith from time to time. Not as to belief in God, but as to why so much evil and suffering and injustice are allowed to go on in this hellish world. Perhaps, I am naive, or still too idealistic.
Faith is like anything important or valuable, and is worth working for. Most people do not wake up one morning and find that they suddenly have it. It takes an investment of effort and time to gain it. But, it is said by others, much wiser than me, that if you take one step towards God, He takes 10 steps toward you. So, you may want to make the effort. As well, God’s love is qualitatively much superior to human love. We do not appreciate, nor recognize, the quality of God’s love for us because we never experience such love from other human beings. Humans are rather imperfect, and thus human love is imperfect.
As to so-called predestination, we believe in the individual’s free-will. Boethius (died circa 524 A.D.) believed that God stands outside of time. God sees past, present and future in the same view so to speak. Thus, He knows of our decisions and actions (or lack of loving actions) “before” we freely choose them. God’s “fore-knowledge” of our free choices does not of necessity determine those free choices (of ours). There will be some Christians that will disagree with me here. But, as I said above, we believe in free-will and not determinism.
Some years ago, I read a book entitled The Tiger’s Fang, by Paul Twitchell (non-Christian). He tells of travels through various realms or planes of existence. (It is up to each reader to decide if the book is a work of fiction or not.) He claims that in each realm or at each level there is a god who is bellowing about how powerful he is and that he is the only god. As the narrator progresses upward through higher levels, he encounters the same claims aggressively asserted by each level’s “god”. It is as if each god is completely unaware that there is a whole series of higher gods stretching away above him on higher planes of existence. The writer may have been simply mocking our monotheistic belief in Christianity. I choose to believe there is one God, independent of how many levels of existence there may be.
Truth be told, the Eastern religions that teach reincarnation do trouble me. Why? The prospect of having to return to this world, or any world similar to this one, is just not very appealing to me. However, if one were to be reborn into a more loving world, that would be appealing. We still value the many insights we have found in some Eastern thought.
This image of a painting is from Wikipedia and can be found here:
Thanks for reading.