A gentleman with whom I’m distantly acquainted recently expressed his dismay that close family members of his are blocked from eternal salvation because, at present, they are not visible, formal members of the religion to which he belongs. Only by joining the Roman church could they have any hope to join God in heaven. He quotes papal bulls issued over the centuries as the basis for his painful conclusions. He doesn’t even expect children who died before receiving baptism to find comfort among the saints, believing they are destined for some place other than heaven.
With all due respect to my fellow Catholic, his deity is a jerk. As a rule, I don’t take issue with talk that the believers of various religions worship the same God, if with different names, stories, and symbols, but I can confidently say that I don’t believe in his image of God. Nay, I oppose such terrors of the mind.
Here’s an old story: God, who is love itself, freely creates the universe as an expression of his overflowing love, and as part of this creation he creates beings in his image and likeness whose purpose in life is to share in the love life of God by loving and being loved by others. This God issues commandments as instruction on the proper ways to love God and neighbor and stranger. God then incarnates, participating in humanity so that human beings may participate in divinity.
A lovely little myth, this. It’s part of my tradition and I like it very much. It’s not incompatible with talk of sin or even hell, as I can refuse to love or love properly, but it’s not focused on sin or separation. It’s a myth of belonging and hospitality, not primarily one of guilt and punishment. I dare say, however, that it is incompatible with the image of God envisioned by my acquaintance and fellow Catholic. Let’s think this through: God, love itself, creates fellow beings of love destined for fellowship with love itself, and yet the majority of these creations, due to accidents of birth or placement or belief, will suffer eternal separation from this God? I’ve got to call that a big flaw in the design and feel compelled to speak to the manufacturer. Really, if that’s God, creation is an epic fail.
Personally, I’m banking on the hope that God’s not a monstrous jerk or an incompetent lover. I don’t really know what to make of God, but I have a fairly developed sense of what constitutes a healthy relationship, and a relationship with either one of these figures doesn’t qualify.