Posts Tagged ‘ free will ’

Jesus Christ. What’s the point.

A few years ago, I heard the question, “There is a reasonable hope that all are saved.”  Michael Voris was repeating what Bishop Robert Barron said Urs von Balthasar said Karl Barth said.  Voris was shaking his head as he said it; the bishop was not, and I suppose Balthasar and Barth also believed it.  That question prompted me to do my daily Bible reading with a particular focus: “Where in the Bible would anyone get that impression?”  Where does it say, or imply, that all are saved?

Over the past few years I have compiled quite a list of Bible references that seem to dispute this notion.  I have not been able to find the one quote that is so significant that no other passage could possibly stand.  Or, conversely, the one passage that supports the empty Hell theory.  Since I am no Biblical scholar or theologian, I approached trying to argue against a giant like Balthasar, or a brilliant priest like Barron with a great deal of fear: clearly I was missing something.  Clearly, any justification I might find that they could use, I was missing.  Clearly any justification that I might use, I was missing.

I met Fr Jack when I was in high school.  Some 40 years later, we still keep in touch; and altho he is now a semi-retired parish priest, he still reads the Bible in Greek and Hebrew.  He is absolutely convinced that Jesus left no wriggle room.  Nothing Jesus said leaves any doubt.  I have known Fr Jack for more than half my life; I could not possibly hold him in higher esteem.

But, a couple of weeks ago, finding yet another passage that just screamed “few are saved” I had a Damascus Road experience, an epiphany that was appropriate for me.  (So, no voices, no thunderstorm, etc.)

The most significant statement is not the Bible itself, or any words in the Bible.  There is nothing that Jesus said or did that speaks louder to the question than simply, Him.  He is The Word (gee, where have I seen that?)

While all things are possible with GOD, it was His original thought that we humans should have free will.  This is absolutely fundamental to who (what) we are.  This, I believe, is what is meant by we are created in His Image.  Free will is our sine qua non.

And so, Jesus Christ was born of a woman, just like the rest of us.  He spent some time with us.  Not too long and not too short.  Just enough to make a point – for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

You see, if we are all saved, if we are all going to Heaven anyway, there would have been no point in anything remotely like Jesus Christ, a Messiah.  I suppose some would have needed a magical figure to tell us we were on the right path anyway.  Or, it didn’t really matter what we did during this life, we were destined – whether we wanted it or not – to an eternity of milk and honey and song and dance.

But, that’s not what happened.  We did get Jesus Christ.  Thousands of years and thousands of pages and gallons of ink spoke of His coming.  Of the need for His coming.  Afterwards, a few hundred years and a few hundred pages told us of His life here.  If we are all doing the right thing, then why?  Why all those years of discussion and countless parchments and pages and gallons?  Just an academic exercise?  I think not.

There is that one passage in Isaiah where the lion lays down with the sheep (Isaiah 11:6), which might imply that, regardless of whether we are a lion or a sheep, in the end it won’t matter.  I’d like a Biblical scholar or theologian to help with this passage because I can’t really find that much credence in it.  I don’t mean to cherry-pick the Bible, but it doesn’t seem to me that either the lion or the sheep are living within Natural Law.  So, I don’t see this one passage as justification for the idea that all are saved.

In any event, the mere existence of Jesus Christ proves that we are not a priori saved.  Maybe we are, after all anything is possible.  But, then we wouldn’t need Jesus Christ.  We could ignore Him, casually, completely.

Some would argue that we don’t have Free Will.  Ok, if we don’t, then again, there is no point in Jesus Christ.  It seems to me that our Free Will absolutely demands Jesus Christ.  And, Jesus Christ proves that we do have Free Will.  Dunno if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ if you can have Free Will or not; I’ll save that for later (much later).

My years of careful, pointed, focused reading have lead me to just one conclusion: my salvation, at the very least, is not guaranteed.  It is not written in stone, or in some book somewhere.  I can still screw up – I pray that I don’t.  I pray every day that I do stay on the Right Road (and I am thankful that, for the grace of GOD, I did find the Right Road).  Maybe I just need Jesus Christ, and some do not?  Well, I don’t think that is true, and I certainly would not encourage anyone to think that they can do without.  But, I do have a Faith that requires that I do believe in Jesus Christ; and that He is “the point.”

Is there a “reasonable hope that all are saved”?  Obviously, there is a growing number of people who do think that; Voris calls that the “Church of Feel Good.”  And, he’s right.  For those who want this life to be as comfortable as possible, they must hope they can still sneak under the wire when the get to the Pearly Gates.  But this does not answer the question of why Jesus went to the Cross.  Whatever His life was like, it did not end well.  He’s in Glory now, but that transition from this life to Eternal Life was, well, hell.

So, I don’t belong to the Church of Feel Good.  I do “fear” GOD.  I know that Christ stands at the door of my heart and knocks (Revelation 3:20); and the things of this world make so much noise that it is damned hard to hear Him.

Oh, and don’t get me started on whether we are all going to see each other in Heaven.  Or, if our pets will join us.

Jesus Christ.  What’s the point?  My salvation.  For eternity is a long time.

I am moved to wonder about the nature of things:

Things of this world are not bad. Things of this world are good; they are good because GOD made them. But, things of this world are not what we are made for; although we, too, are good. Things of this world exist to give us a choice. For, without options, without different things to choose from, we could not have any choice at all (by definition), let alone free will.

GOD gave us the intelligence and the possibilities so that we would have the freedom to choose. But, the freedom to choose comes at a cost: responsibility. We have the obligation to choose and the responsibility to be held accountable for our choices.

And the first, last and daily choice we cannot escape is the choice between GOD and the things of this world.

Two Goods.

GOD is good, things of this world are good. How about some of each? After all, it’s ALL good, isn’t it? Yasureyoubetcha.

However, while these mortal, flesh-n-bone bodies need things of this world to survive and even thrive, theses bodies will cease to function one day, and the things of this world will too (just ask the dinosaurs). I guess we are the ultimate house of cards on shifting sand. And, if all you see is a mortal, temporal, temporary, this-is-all-there-is existence, then your life just got really, really simple, and really, really pointless. At least I am unable to convince myself that all of the heartache and body aches all thru my short, miserable life were meant to enable me to eat this pepperoni pizza.

Actually, I would not call five score years a “short” life, but the heartaches I have lost count of, and the body aches I have never counted are real enough.

So, where does that leave us? I mean, if we can’t depend on the things of this world to bring us satisfaction and even joy, then what is there? I mean, what point is life after you have the iPhone and the 60 inch flat screen tv and you can tell your co-workers you’re flying to Lexington, Kentucky for the weekend, just to watch some horses run around a dirt track (and, only once, at that). At least the Indianapolis 500 takes all day, not just two minutes. (No, I’ve never seen either race, even though I grew up in Indiana.)

Maybe the things we can touch and smell and hear are not all there is? Maybe we do have a choice between things of this world and, um, I guess it would be “things not of this world.” If we have free will, then I guess we do have that choice. If we don’t have that choice, then we don’t have free will. Which would you want, if you (wait for it) had the choice?

Me? Both, thank you very much.

Catch-not-22

In fact, things of this world were made for us human beings; and we human beings were made for the things of this world. Pretty clever, huh? Kinda like, fish need water and birds need air, and presto (as if by magic) there is water for fish and air for birds. Who woulda thought? We human beings eat more different kinds of foods than any other creature (if you ever had balut or natoo, you know what I mean by “different”); we can live in more different climates than any other creature (if you live east of the Rocky Mountains, you can attest to what “different” means when it comes to winters, esp recently). When it comes to living in this world and doing things in this world, humans can do more different things (to varying degrees of success) than any other creature. I guess that house of cards is made up of jacks? (That would be “jack of all trades” for those of you that haven’t had you first double shot espresso of the day.)

In summary, human beings were made to go almost anywhere and do almost anything; there is very little about this physical world that is not accessible to human beings. Such versatility. Why? So that our choices could be very nearly limitless. So that our egos and abilities and talents could be given free reign. We are not big fish in a little pond. We are small fish in a unfathomable cosmos, and we want to explore it. We need to. We have to. We are made to.

So, what’s the catch? The catch is, damn it, we are responsible for our choices. Or, to quote someone who used to be a very important person in my life: “choices have consequences.”

Tilting at windmills

The fact of the matter is, there are worldly things that are good to have and other-worldly things that are good to have. Stands to reason.  You know: some of this, some of that; a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that. For some, it seems like 100% here-n-now; if it feels good, do it; the person who dies with the most toys wins; and 0% whatever else there might be “out there”. Certainly our culture pounds this mentality into us: get as much as you can, while you can, and absolutely nothing – and no one – else matters.  Whew!  No wonder we’re tired all the time: running day and night after the latest and greatest novelty.  And people think Don Quixote was a fool.

But this brings us to what it is you put in your old kit bag.  First, there is more than enough in the world for most of us.  Most people who have the resources to be reading this are sufficiently wealthy and live in sufficiently free societies to have a veritable cornucopia at their fingertips (if you are not one of these, please advise: I really don’t have very good grasp of who my audience might be).  What you pick and put into your lives is just a small fraction of what you could.  Everyday, we chase after more and more, fall into bed exhausted and join the same rat race again the next day.  There is no danger of running out of stuff; either stuff to do, or stuff to stuff into our garages and our rented storage containers.

And, while we are gathering stuff to stuff ourselves with, where is GOD?  Where is our preparation to meet Him?  Oh yeah, “Tomorrow – I’ll love ya tomorrow.”  Maybe not.

In the first place, why are you convinced you’ll have tomorrow?  All you really have is today.  Yesterday is just a memory, and tomorrow is just a dream.  In the second place, if you’ve spent all your earthly time pursuing things of this world and haven’t given your life after this one much thought, then how will you recognize it when death hits you in the face like a cold, wet fish?

Besides, hope is not really a strategy.

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While this essay really doesn’t end here; too much has happened in my little corner of the world recently to keep on this particular track.  Rest assured: I’ll come back to it  (as some of you know, with me there is no such thing as a short answer).  In the meantime, mosey on over to BernardGaynor.com.au   I am a very proud United States Marine (no longer on active duty), and I just can’t imagine going through what has recently happened to Major Gaynor.  Sadly, I don’t think the Red, White and Blue is far behind.

Get out of Jail Free

Dunno why – tho I can certainly speculate – but the world has gotten to the point where it’s obsessed with “I want it all, and I want it now.” Of course, in this mad rush to accumulate toys, there is no time to consider the consequences, the cost. If there is any threat of accountability, then Flip Wilson’s classic “the devil made me do it” leaps to mind (if that is too, um, flip, then you can always go for John Belushi’s apology to Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers,” as theatrical as it was insincere). A life of no payback and no pay-it-forward. A life of no stubbed-toes, skinned knees or bloody noses. The narcissists wouldn’t be so intolerable if they didn’t expect others to pay for their self-aggrandizement.

But, completely convinced that everything good is because of my efforts, and everything bad is the result of your screw-ups, we press on regardless. Until cut-down, or slowed-down, by some unfair quirk of fate, when we reach into our (or their) hip pocket and pull out the sacred “Get Out of Jail Free” card. And then life is not forever changed, and we go right back to the same hedonistic existence we have come to love, and expect. Infants are supposed to be all about themselves; aren’t adults supposed to be more than just large infants? What am I missing?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Even if you don’t believe in Jesus the Nazorean as the Son of GOD, there is still the purely historical account of the purely human preacher who was no less than a member of a long line of rabble-rousers (aka prophets). And, as well documented as anything else was in those days, the Romans were not impressed, and summarily executed Him. And, within another generation, razed Jerusalem (as if to say, “We’ll show those pain-in-the-ass Jews”). Those penniless preachers who made the moneyed elite squirm paid for their beliefs with their lives (voluntarily, as opposed to someone like Julius Caesar who probably did not throw himself on Brutus’ sword).

So, is Jesus my “Get Out of Jail Free” card? If He saved me, “once for all,” then I can pretty much do anything I damn-well please, and Bob’s your uncle (or something else equally non-sensical), right? Some would say, yeahsureyoubetcha (no, that’s not Yiddish, it’s Yooper). There’s a whole mess of folks who point at the empty cross…and pray, “I’m saved, I can do no wrong; and the rest of you are going to Hell.”

Really? Jesus died for me so I could avoid all unpleasantness? His only possession was the cloak on his back, so that I could accumulate so much stuff that my three-car garage doesn’t have enough room in it for my cars? (see George Carlin’s treatise on “Stuff” – it’s on YouTube, like most everything else). Maybe so; but I don’t buy it. Call it my old-fashioned, middle class and mid-west upbringing. The alphabet I was taught began with the letter “a” which stood for accountability – not accounts.

To me, the empty cross is hope; but I can’t allow myself to skip the Crucifix. I can’t allow myself to expect that this world owes me “the car and the dream vacation.” I’ll never believe that He suffered so that I wouldn’t have to. His whole point rather, was choice; and He showed me that free will is a two-edged sword. Christ offered salvation to me, He did not guarantee it. He’s knocking on the door, but I have to open it. I have to pick up my pallet and walk. I have to do something.

There’s the story of the guy who gets down on his knees, day after day, to pray to GOD for help. “Dear Lord, please just let me win the lottery. Please Lord. Somebody’s gonna win, let it be me.” Finally, more out of exasperation than anything else, a voice comes out of the heavens, “For pity’s sake, man. Meet me half way: buy a ticket.”

Yes, Jesus is my “Get Out of Hell Free” card; but I’ll be damned if I’m going to get to the Pearly Gates and have Him wave the card in front of my face and ask, “What have you done for me?”

Yes there is. No, there isn’t.

For you, maybe it is a point of debate. Maybe you don’t care enough to debate. That’s your thing. I believe, so: Yes there is. Yes there is a God. Frankly, it doesn’t matter at all to Him what you call Him, just as long as you do. This is not a semantics exercise.

For those that don’t believe there is a God. For those that don’t believe there is anything in store for us after this life. For those who don’t see any point, rhyme or reason to this life. For those who are too interested in accumulating the most toys, using the most things, exploiting the most situations, abusing the most people, I wish you the best. No, I really do. But, I am not like you and I don’t want to be like you.

Because I believe in God, I believe there is a life after this one, and it will last a lot longer than this one. It will also not be comparable to this one. So, whether you’re into Fires of Eternal Damnation (in Dante’s Inferno, the Devil was not surrounded by fire; did he know something, or was he just being Italian?), or Streets of Gold and Fountains of Milk and Honey, well, guess again.

I also believe in Judgment. As in a Final Judgment. As in “sheep you come here and goats you go there”. I am no Biblical scholar (unfortunately, one of the many available gifts that were not sitting on the shelf when I was conceived), but in my reading, I have not be able to avoid Judgment throughout the Bible – it is a recurrent theme. It is what makes Mercy possible (The Major Theme of the Bible, aka Jesus Christ). No Judgment, no Mercy. But, if we’re all saved, then what is the point of Judgment; what was the point of Jesus; why did he say the things He did? Nope, in my cosmology, there is God, there is Eternal Life, there is Heaven and there is Hell. And, since the Catholics have had more time than most to think about it, we have come up with Purgatory (cf 2 Machabees 12, 40-46). I think it was Avery Cardinal Dulles who quipped: “Believe in Purgatory? I’m depending on it!” That is good enough for me.

Begs the question, tho, doesn’t it? To wit: Am I saved? We certainly all have that opportunity – the offer is there, the door (gate) is there – all we have to do is choose. Yep, that’s it: free will, free choice. Unfortunately, this free will thing is also our greatest enemy. Pogo was right: the enemy is us. But, am I saved? Certainly a possibility – all things are possible under God. Also equally possible that I won’t see the gilt streets, maybe ever, maybe for a very long time (enter Purgatory). Can I earn salvation? Nope, no way. But I can prevent my own salvation. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Ultimately, of course, This Life is just preparation for the Next Life. This Life is not the end-all and be-all; it is just a dress rehearsal. What we do now will follow us. Isn’t that a pleasant thought? How many people do we know that we’d rather not see in Heaven? They’re probably thinking the same about us. Did Groucho have it right: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member”?

But, whichever side of the fence you are on, you should live this life congruent with your beliefs. That might be called “integrity” which is in very short supply these days for obvious reasons. As my good friend Andy Dufresne said: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” (How do you spell “Zihuatanejo,” anyway?)