October 11, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 10:26-31.
“Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus was speaking to his disciples whom he was sending out among wolves. They were undoubtedly a little fearful about their mission, about being away from the messianic certainty that characterized Jesus, away from his courage. He tells them not only to not be afraid but to proclaim the good news he has taught them from the rooftops! Not to be circumspect about it but defy those who would harm them, maybe kill them.
Why should they not be afraid? Because God knows them intimately; He cherishes them. The body is transitory, temporary, but the soul is forever. So, Jesus told them to be afraid for their souls not because of Satan but because God alone could destroy both body and soul. If there is no body and there is no soul, what is there? Nothing. As John Sanford states in The Kingdom Within, “the destruction of the soul is a calamity.”
I thought a lot on my bike ride along the Missouri River about heaven and hell. So, this is an appropriate passage for me today. On first reading I assumed that the “one who can destroy” referred to Satan as I usually link hell with Satan. And I don’t like to think of God as the destroyer.
However, Satan cannot destroy my soul. Only God has that power and will use it only with my consent, with my participation. If I repudiate Him, if I purposefully exert my will above His, if I work to subvert His kingdom on earth, if I hate His children, then and only then will my life force, my soul be extinguished forever. It will cease to be. God is the creative force of the universe. All matter and energy comes from Him. There is nothing else, no other way of being. There is no hell; there is no endless torment. Gehenna was not hell; it was just an image familiar to Jews of a place of smoldering fire and worms consuming corpses. Jesus used this image because our imaginations are finite and how can we conceive of nothingness? Nothingness is not the death of the body; it is total separation from God, from energy.
This is what happens when I have time to think! The Catholic Dictionary states, “[T]he dogma of eternal punishment if undoubtedly one of the most awful and mysterious truths taught by Scripture and the Church.” This was the conclusion of the Fourth Council of Lateran in 1215 C.E. I think we invented hell to serve our own purposes, to feed our own imaginations, to answer unanswerable questions. I always go back to the teaching that God is love and that He sent His only Son to save humanity. Without God there is nothing. There is only the kingdom of God on earth and in heaven.
The idea of hell has bothered me for many years. I could never find anything in the scriptures or teachings of the Church that satisfied my questions. I find this notion that I puzzled out on my ride to be very comforting actually. I know that God counts the number of hairs on my head. I know that He loves me without conditions. I know that I have to be resolutely intent on separating myself from Him to risk the destruction of my soul. Because of that belief I know that He is my Father and that my soul, my life force that He created, will never perish. I am His captive. That’s why I can take to heart Jesus’ encouragement to not be afraid. I am worth more than everything to God — and so are you. And because of that, I will never be separated from Him. He will not separate Himself from me; I need not fear the destruction of my soul.