Thursday, September 22, 2011

Banned Questions About the Bible

My friend, Deb Sampson, has been collecting a set of responses from all over the Diocese of Colorado to an adaptation of 50 questions from Christian Piatt's book, Banned Questions About the Bible, to be used for a class at her church, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. I was honored to be asked to participate, and here are the questions that I chose to answer:

#6 -- If people have to be Christians to go to heaven, what happens to all of the people born before Jesus or who never hear about his ministry?

I think of heaven as being united with God, and I think of God’s time as being without beginning or end (God, the alpha and the omega). Jesus IS God. God is Love. Knowing Jesus-God is knowing Love. Knowing the stories of Jesus-God’s ministry is just details. So, in God’s time, in eternity, people in their soul form have an endless opportunity to choose to be united with God. God never gives up on his beloved Creation, which includes all people.

#15 -- How can God be all-loving yet allow people to be thrown into hell?

I think of hell as being separated from God, from Love. God created people in God’s image, with free will. Love is an act of will. People choose to love or choose not to love. God is Love, and God-Love allows people to exercise their free will.

#19 -- Where are all the miracles today? If they were so prevalent in biblical times, why don't any happen today? Or do they and we just don't notice?

Miracles are all around us, everyday, everywhere, but we have succumbed to the distractions of our egos and our lives. Humankind is narcissistic. We tend to see the world only through the lens of our own selves. That narcissistic lens is like a permanent cataract that distorts our vision. As with cataracts, our vision isn’t good enough to see all the small daily miracles all around us. We only notice miracles if they’re huge enough to drop on our houses and heads and shake our world.

Think about the joy that a child, a young innocent, takes in simple things like blowing bubbles or mushing up a sweet, ripe fruit. Think about the occasions when you’ve stopped suddenly and noticed the fragrance of blossoming honeysuckle or the smell of wet grass after a rainfall. When we can step outside of ourselves into a stiller, simpler moment, we then have the eyes to encompass the miracles, because we see with an inner vision as well as through our physical eyes, and that inner vision is connected to God, the source of all miracles. Miracles are messages from God, invitations to come and see “my Creation and that it is very good.”

#23 -- Hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are all labeled as “hell” by one or more Christian groups. Are they really the same? Are they all places of fiery torment? Are such things to be taken literally, metaphorically, or both?

All of those names for hell refer to the same thing, which is separation from God who is Love, separation from Love. Separation from Love is experienced and embodied by each person differently, in different intensities at different times, triggered by different external life events of all sorts – from loss of a parent to loss of a partner to loss of a job or loss of an ideal, etc.

Because love is an act of will, separation from Love carries with it the added pain of self-hurt, of self-inflicted injury that our soul recognizes as such even when our conscious mind believes that the hurt is other-imposed. It is that self-denial of our willful withdrawal from Love that is sinfulness manifest. And that sinfulness and self-denial imprison us in our own individual hells.

Certainly there are instances of separation from Love that a person can experience as torment so strong that it feels like one is being consumed by an unquenchable fire, but there are also instances of separation from Love that feel like a complete absence of feeling, a disembodiment of self, a numbness that feels more like being frozen solid than like burning up. You can call it a metaphorical feeling, that burning up or being frozen solid, but the person experiencing it knows it as real and palpable and present, now. 

In one of the reviews that I read about Piatt's book, the writer made the point that it's not necessarily the answers that matter, but that the conversation continues about these important, and perhaps occasionally, impertinent questions. I agree.


Mindie said...

Love your responses to these questions. Equating the concept (or reality) of he'll to the absence of God or love makes so much sense. What could be worse?

PseudoPiskie said...

I'm helping make grape pies this week with a parish that experiences miracles regularly. Nobody knows how they do what they do or where the money comes from but they undertake all sorts of impossible projects and usually accomplish more than they set out to do with an ASA of 25 or so. Their vicar believes and lives assuming that everything will work and it usually does. Of course it takes a lot of hard labor. The disciples had to work to take the food to those thousands and to collect the remains. As you said, miracles are all around us. We just don't recognize them if we see them at all.


Thanks, Mindie and Shel, for your comments.

I can't think of anything worse than being separated from Love.

Shel, your parish sounds delightful, and it also sounds like it's a community. When parishes grow larger, it becomes much more difficult to retain a sense of community. There is much more segmentation. I really miss that sense of community being in a larger church with Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of around 165.

Christian Piatt said...

Can I get a signed copy? :-)
Christian Piatt

PseudoPiskie said...

I wish it were "my" parish but it 70 miles away in the snow belt. I'm trying to replicate it in our parish but I don't have their vicar. She is my inspiration and guide however. Fortunately our priest likes her too.