Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unconditional Love, The Heart of a Child

As I get older and grow more nostalgic, I've found myself re-examining the thousands of seemingly disparate threads that have been woven together over the years to create the tapestry of my life. When I consider my religious inoculations, many booster shots came from the usual places: an early fascination with dinosaurs, a strong curiosity about biology, astronomy, and science generally.

However, there is one life lesson that derives from, perhaps, a more unusual source: Ernest Scared Stupid.

This idea of unconditional love is, I think, poorly understood, especially among religious practitioners who believe in a God that loves us but who also must be feared. That very idea is an oxymoron. Any Being that threatens you with eternal damnation cannot love you unconditionally. Ernest's waltz with the troll is the perfect metaphor for selfless affection and is even more profound, to me anyway, than the sacrifice of Christ.

No, I'm serious! If the Christian God is a god of love, then He has a funny way of showing it. The very nature of His affection is apparently contingent; follow these commandments, meet these standards, and you will find His love. Very well, you can have your conditional love, but Ernest taught me about a better love, the love of a child, pure and incandescent. This is, I think, closer to a Jewish conception of God, in which the very idea of a loving God who doles out eternal punishment is laughable. There is no slight, no matter how evil or corrupt, that justifies eternal damnation, least of all from a loving God.


Mack Ramer said...

Interesting that you find the Jewish version of God more "unconditionally loving" -- have you read the book of Leviticus? lol

"follow these commandments, meet these standards, and you will find His love"

And so you sum up the biggest popular misunderstanding of Jesus; who He is, what He came for, what He said and what He did. What you've just said there is is, in fact, the exact opposite of the Gospel's message!! St. Paul's epistle to the Romans is the key text here (read the whole thing) but read the Gospels too, really!

The idea is this: nobody, ever, ever, ever behaves correctly, but God forgives us in Christ. Romans 3:23-24, NIV translation (my emphasis): "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Again, in the fifth chapter of Romans, verse 6: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The "do this and that or you're going to Hell for all eternity" model is bullshit (read the sixth chapter of Romans for why we still shouldn't sin, and should seek His forgiveness when we do). Our tickets are all paid, though. :-)

Jay said...

I guess in both instances, I've fallen victim to what is preached versus what is written. In the case of Judaism, I find the reasoning and dismissal of hell fairly convincing. But that reasoning doesn't exactly jive with the Torah's tales of wrath and commandments. In the case of Protestant Christianity, the emphasis is generally placed upon the threat of damnation. But that doesn't really jive with the ideas of love, mercy and sacrifice.

I think the best interpretation given the parameters that god is loving, merciful, and sacrificial, is that, as you say, "Our tickets are all paid." or, in other words, we will all be welcomed into the kingdom of God, regardless.

In which case, I recommend we kick religion to the curb, drop the guilt-trip act, and move on with our lives.

Mack Ramer said...

Insofar as "religion" = "the guilt-trip act", insofar as it exists as preaching eternal damnation or political causes, I agree that it ought to be kicked to the curb.

But there really is no "moving on with our lives" -- because nothing is more important! We are still profoundly in sin; not that we should weep for this, or tremble, but we should be reminded of it and be deeply humbled by it. And we should get together and rejoice that we have been freed from sin, and thank God together. And we should pray as Jesus taught and do as Jesus taught, and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, break bread together in memory of Him etc. And that's precisely what we are doing (or supposed to be doing anyway) as churches!