I have felt a little “low” these past few days, but I know that we all have to make progress in both our service to our Churches and our own intimate spiritual lives in whatever way we live them.
The other day, I quoted Israel’s No: Jews and Jesus in an Unredeemed World by Jurgen Moltmann and remembered what Pope Benedict XVI said on visiting Auschwitz in May 2006:
How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel’s lament for its woes: “You have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness … because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Ps 44:19, 22-26). This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age – yesterday, today and tomorrow – suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are, even in our own day!
The tears well up as I find myself tempted to doubt the Redemption or at least ask serious questions about the meaning of that word. I did not begin my life until fourteen years after the end of the war, but I have seen the films of the Nuremberg Trials and the concentration camps. I have visited Oradour-sur-Glane and Dachau. I have seen the film Schindler’s List and others. Seeing these horrors of man’s inhumanity to man is like being strapped to a table, skinned alive and the raw flesh being slowly cooked by a jet of steam!
Is this the humanity that God came to save?
The main source of conflict between groups of Christians is the question of “who will be saved” – all, many, a few or even none. What does “not being saved” mean. The usual answer is – You go to eternal hell. Some time ago, I wrote Hell and Salvation in which I expressed a fairly “universalist” kind of position.
No one is going to get off scot free for living an evil life or being a crass materialist or whatever. I do believe there are conditions in which souls will suffer atrociously for aeons, reaping what they sowed by cruelty, selfishness, hypocrisy or whatever. But, I do believe that the notion of eternal hell, as eternal as God and goodness, is nonsense.
The notion of salvation is necessarily in relation to the notion of what happens to “unsaved” souls. These are the thoughts going through my mind as I was confronted with the double predestination theories of Calvin and others, albeit based on St Augustine. In many ways, I share Augustine’s pessimism and see daily examples of man’s evil and moral weakness in the newspapers, television and the internet. I am then uplifted by the poetry of William Blake, the music of Bach and our crowning artistic achievements in the gothic cathedrals of Europe.
What Jesus changed is above all interior. He gave us hope against ourselves and the kind of evil that overwhelms us. It is above all that, that spark of divinity within us all that brings each one of us genius, inspiration and knowledge from experience.
Our hope is that evil men are powerless in their ambition to spread their nefarious seed beyond this world.