“And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” — Romans 5:2
St. Paul writes that we – that is, all believers, and all those who hope in the resurrection of Christ – “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Some translations render it as “rejoicing” in hope. Ah, friends! To be able to rejoice in a hope altogether pure, to possess a trust absolutely free of suspicion! Who does not see that this is the very essence of hope and that, insofar as we fear that we shall not obtain the glory that we seek, we are that much further from a pure and perfect hope?
To the degree that our hope is tainted with fear, then, to that degree, we are not hoping. No doubt hope must be sown in the soil of hardship and uncertainty. Therefore it differs from knowledge. Yet the flower which buds and gives rise to the rejoicing that the Apostle here mentions ought not to be a dead thing or in the process of decay. Hope must be for the Christian a source of joy. I do not say it cannot be attended with tears. But I do say that, if it is to be pure, it, like love, must cast out all fear.
How therefore can one hope in God his maker if he believes that maker capable of damning him forever? How therefore can one love his neighbor and hope for his salvation, if that neighbor may be tortured for eternity?
Even those who believe in a never ending hell will tell you that they wish it were not true. They will tell you that they hope that, in the end, all will be saved. I do not doubt their feeling. I only ask how their hope is authentic, or how it is consistent with the other truth that they hold, namely that some souls in fact shall suffer forever. If what is commonly held to be divine revelation is true, then some – most? – shall be damned. There is no getting around the fact. But how then could one hope or wish otherwise? Can a person hope that divine revelation is wrong? Can he who holds the truthfulness of a proposition concerning the afterlife, at the same time think that proposition false, or possibly false? If you believe divine revelation infallibly declares that some shall be lost, how then can you honestly pray for all? If divine revelation cannot err, then it cannot be true that your prayer for universal salvation shall be granted. How then pray for it?
“We are not to pray for the salvation of all, but only to desire that all be saved.”
Why do you desire their salvation, if you know that they will not be saved?
“For to desire their damnation would be wicked.”
Shall we desire that which God has expressly told us shall not come to pass? Is that not disobedience, or at least idiocy? Hence the same difficulty arises. How desire that all be saved, if all certainly shall not be? I do not ask if one cannot hope and pray for and desire universal redemption. Surely one can. I ask only how this feeling is not absurd, yea at total odds with one’s faith, if he believes in eternal torment. Shall not God’s will be done? Surely, you say. How then is your hope at odds with his will, if you are this God’s child? Thankfully your soul shall not let itself hope for the final destruction of your human brother or sister. Yet how does the tension between your hope in God and his will as you perceive it, not tear asunder the communion with of soul with its God? Where can you hope, but in the will of God? Yet how can you hope in the will of God, if his will be not altogether good for all?
A person may say he hopes for the salvation of all, but if he does, when he does, he cannot also be holding to the certain damnation of some. His hope is at that point at least inconsistent – indeed irreconcilable with – his doctrine. For this reason most are in constant flux between what their hearts want for their fellow human and what they believe that a tradition of men teach is true. But others take a different way. Others hold that, although some will be lost, and that although there is no getting around the fact, yet, still, in the end, “all will be well.” In heaven, they believe, they shall see the final righting of all wrongs, and everything shall be finally reconciled and brought to a completed harmony. There shall at last be a state of agreement wherein they shall say “yes, this is good” and feel it true.
. . .
It is often said that no one could know a personal God unless that God freely revealed himself, and that the revelation of the Bible is therefore our only way of knowing God’s relation to us. God is unknowable, such say, unless he speaks. I ask, cannot God speak in the heart? If he can speak on a page, can he not speak in a conscience? Shall God’s written word be more trustworthy than the heart from which that written word has come? How believe that which comes forth from God into our minds, if his word tells us that he who speaks in our minds is incapable of hope and trust? God’s word cannot have more integrity than God himself. Therefore no word of God could ever describe a God delighting in the torment of lost souls, nor a God weak enough to justify to himself bringing them into being, if he could not save them. Any revelation from God, then, must be pure enough to make trust in that being something possible, nay necessary, else it would be useless. What good would a revelation do, what would be the point in studying it, if, at the end of our inquiry, we arrive at the conclusion that the being who gave it could not be trusted, could not be hoped in? The whole enterprise would be futile.
“But we must trust in God. Else life becomes unlivable, hope impossible.”
Indeed! But that comes to this: we must trust in the necessary goodness and unconditional love of God, for it is only on such basis that we can ground our hope in the first place. Otherwise what we termed hope would spring, not from love, but fear, and therefore could not be strong enough to give eternal life. Even if we are mistaken, even if there is no God, or even if there is an evil God, we cannot hope in anything less than an all-loving principle that is necessarily altogether for us. If our hope shall live, it must cast its roots into this soil of gold. Our hope cannot stand on shifting ground or sinking sand. It can only lift its eyes confidently to the heavens and spread wide its wings if it believes that the giver of its life is something altogether good for it, yea and that it cannot even in principle be bad for it. The giver may be bad for it for a time, or may appear bad for it, but hope, if it be hope, must needs see these ills as transitory, and as bowing towards an ever greater, more glorious end.
But if that which breathed life into us, friends, is altogether for us – or if we must believe this in order to live – then it must also be altogether for everything that we love. What could be for us, or to say the same thing, what could love us, that did not also love that which we loved? Does a mother love a child who has no care for the child’s loves? No doubt the child may love very low things, and no doubt the mother will want to correct the child, to redirect it to higher things. But this is only because the mother loves the child and wants what is best for it. The redirection exists, not to take away the loves of the child, but to enable the child to more fully love the very things it loves. Would not a perfect parent seek to do this in the grandest way it could, not with child loves only, but with all loves – yea with very love itself in the heart of its child?
I ask, what is best for mankind – for all God’s children – if not to love God and each other? St. John the Evangelist tells us “he who does not love abides in death” and “if any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Can we then love God, brothers and sisters, if we do not love each other? And can we love each other if we find it acceptable, or if we are in any way indifferent to the fact that, some of us will be lost forever? How can one human really love another if he can justify in his heart the ultimate destruction of that other that he loves? How has his love not shrunk, wilted, yea evaporated into an unreality?
If you love something – not to say another person – how can you ever tolerate the utter destruction and loss of the thing you love? Ask yourself! Look your loved ones in the eyes! Can you find it acceptable that they could become to you as if they never were? Can you ever find it tolerable, that that human there – that person who has laughed and cried and wanted happiness and been afraid – shall suffer in unimaginable, lonely agony, forever?
Who have you loved, and really loved, that you could bear to part with, knowing that now that that one is gone, he never shall breathe or smile or have joy again? I do not say perfect love could not be content in never beholding the beloved again. It could, in the strength of its perfection, throb unwounded by the separation, but only if it knew that the object of its love was itself happy, was fulfilled, that it neither suffered nor lacked, or if it knew that, should it suffer or lack, it was all in the end for its own glorious good. Thus love’s action would still be itself and still be complete, insofar as it rested in the beatitude and good of the beloved. Yet how could this be, if the beloved was no more? How could love throb perfectly pure and healthy and without wound, if the beloved was miserable, was hopeless, yea suffered an agony of soul darker than the void, never endingly? What weak love is this that now calls itself love, which could ever be content with such! If such is its essence, it is not eternal, not infinite, not divine! It may cool and dwindle; it may evaporate and cease! Would that God and Jesus Christ do not love us with a love like this! Would that we do not love each other with such!
Can a person ever desire or accept his own ultimate destruction, his own eternal torture? Yet we are told to love one another as we love ourselves. To the degree that we love our neighbor as ourselves, then, we must be at war with – we must find utterly intolerable and unacceptable – that one’s damnation. Insofar as we resign ourselves to another’s lostness, or even possible lostness, we have to that degree ceased loving them. We have ceased finding them necessarily valuable. We have ceased to declare that the destruction of love is an intolerable thing! Have we not taken the lover out of ourselves, out of our heart, and put them in a corner unseen and uncared for? There they may rot, or suffer, or, for all we care, cease to be. We thus kill them in ourselves, we remove them from the organic family-unity which binds their humanity to us as siblings. We trivialize them, and make them unloved by God, thus no longer images of him, no longer valuable. We give up on them, and so make them into nothing. In so doing we dehumanize not only them but ourselves.
“But God says that some shall be lost! It is plain in Scripture. Do we not then have to accept such a thing?”
To be driven to accept the will of God! To suppose the will of the All Perfect Love-Beautiful God could be a bitter pill that we had to swallow! What is this other than to suppose that God is not Almighty Love? That he is not essential goodness? That he is not altogether Father and altogether for us; yea the one thing best for all that is?
“In loving God, we must love him so much that we do not care whether any of his creatures are saved or lost. For he alone ought to fulfill us such that everything else is inconsequential.”
If God had never created our neighbors, it would be enough that we not love them. But God has created them: and not only that, he has created that in us which is fulfilled and finds its joy in loving them. God has created us therefore as dependent on our neighbor, as that which finds its own perfection in its loving other people. In a word, God has created not only us and our neighbor but, also the very relation that arises between the two. He has made the very bond, the very relatedness, the very essential dependence itself. There is therefore not only person and neighbor, but neighbor-in-person, and person-in-neighbor. Such realities of relation are themselves unique phenomena that must be accounted for by an all Loving God. The question is: are they to die? Or are they to be perfected by our God?
There is a space carved out in each of us made specifically for all the others of our race. It is the infinite compassion in us, the movement of each soul into its fellow soul, which lets us become all that we know and all that we love. We thus desire and are perfected by our entering into another’s singular individuality. There is a need in us, a unique satisfaction that can be attained only in our loving the entire variety of God’s humanity. If there was but one human left in the cosmos, one lone individual who was its own unrepeatable spark sent flying out of the divine fire-heart of being, we would still yearn to meet, to connect with, to be united to and become one with and participate in, the existence of that one. Must there not then be a space in us, not only for this or that person, but for all people, yea all possible people, which is filled only by our loving each?
God has made us and our neighbor one: for the two are only explicable in relation to each other. Neither is explicable in isolation. Who is my neighbor, except someone other than myself? Thus my understanding of myself necessarily involves the idea of some other that is not myself. Thus the definition of my neighbor enters into the very constitution and definition of my being myself. He is that which I am related to, but not identical with. I cannot then know myself without knowing my neighbor, nor know my neighbor without knowing myself. The two are essentially, inextricably, connected. Likewise there is no humanity without humans individuals, and there are no human individuals without humanity. Thus, were I to cease loving my neighbor, so too would I cease loving the humanity of myself that I essentially participate in, in which no human being is totally alienated from any other.
God made me to love himself in loving myself, which means at the same time in loving my neighbor. Therefore to love God, I must love both myself and my neighbor. It cannot be possible to love God and not my neighbor, for then I would not be loving myself, whom I must love to love God, since he loves me also. To love God then must mean to love everything relatable to myself: that is, to love everything that God has made! Do you not see how the whole chain of love is linked together? If there be a break anywhere, the whole thing crumbles!
Ultimately there can be no disharmony in love. All things, from the atom to the human to the galaxy, love themselves insofar as they seek to maintain themselves. In a word, all things like themselves. They naturally love and desire to be what they are. Thus they behave according to their nature, and in doing so reach for and arrive at their loveliness. This self-enjoyment is part of every thing’s glorious imitation of God. Likewise, since things are continually being themselves, they too like God are continually reproducing themselves. This conspicuously applies to humanity. By the mere fact of our being human, we therefore love humanity. Our life is a continual enjoyment and enriching of our humanity, a constant duplication and reentering into it, a playing with it, and a never-ending rediscovery of it. This is not and cannot be bad or wicked. Indeed, it would be absurd for us to hate our humanity, for that would be for us to hate ourselves, to deny the very purpose of our nature. It would be for a creation of God to turn in on itself and destroy itself, for the thing to be that whose goal was to move essentially backwards, whose meaning was to unmake itself. No doubt we hate things about our current condition: our sickness, our anxiety, our troubles and cares, our hardships, our selfishness, our fears. But these hates only arise out of a deeper love of the perfection of what we have when we are fully ourselves and fully alive.
Yet, if we really do love humanity as such because we are human and therefore cannot help it – our loving ourselves being simply what it is to be ourselves – then from the fact that all people are humans, we therefore must love all human beings, for we are essentially like them and in them all. When I look in another’s eyes, do I not see, somehow, myself, something like me? How then can I be careless, unless I be careless about myself? Like all true thoughts, once this it is seen, it cannot be unseen. For the essential connection between all humanity has the universality of a divinely simple truth of existence. You and me, reader, are of the same nature. That fact alone contains a mystery deeper than human knowledge will ever exhaust. It means that you are in me and I am in you. I may not even be alive when you read this. Or I may exist thousands of miles away. Yet somehow, my spirit is now dwelling in you. Here now, even as you read these my words, I am living in you and taking shape and growing. What is the glance in the eyes of a stranger, but that stranger coming, momentarily, to live in you? What is the sound of human voice, or touch of human form, or smell of human figure, but that very soul somehow washing into your being? In a similar way, all humankind, all individual people, are in you, and you are in all. We are all in one another. Thus insofar as any human is lost, and I accept that fact, I have at once ceased to be human. I have ceased to love myself, and have cut myself off from the divine relation I have to my humanity, for I have ceased to see in the lost my own humanity standing there, reproduced, looking back at me. To desire or rejoice or be fulfilled by or accept the ultimate destruction or corruption of another person is, then, immoral, that is true. But in a deeper metaphysical sense it is absurd. For it would require the absurdity that a nature be perfected by the willing of its own destruction.
If eternal enmity between humankind is possible, if the saved and the lost can be possibly eternally opposed, if the brother or sister across from me, who looks me in the eyes and whose common humanity dwells in my very self also, if human souls can fail to reach the only thing that makes their human life worth living, and if they can become forever tormented and miserable, how can I love anyone at all in this world? If such things are even possible, each person becomes ultimately expendable, a mere indifferentia that, for all that concerns me, I may have nothing more to with. If this is reality, then did love even ever exist in human soul? Did man or woman ever really feel for one another that which is stronger than death?
Shall a heaven which made the loss of all my earthly loves tolerable, not itself be a hell far worse than one of flames of agony? The greatest torment that could befall a soul is not the torture of fire, but the thought that all his loves – yea and love itself as he had known it – were not real, not eternal, not the highest most grand thing in reality, the only thing worth existing for. Even if a good man were in hell, so long as he knew some were in heaven, so long as he knew that at least someone somewhere was enjoying a primal and boundlessly perfect love, he himself would not be truly lost, for love would still be aflame in his heart.
How hope in God, if the completion of the universe and the perfection of human nature is such as to rend the very fabric of humanity as we know it? How hope in love itself, if the love which knits and binds together the whole human family will one day be torn asunder? How is the world tolerable – or the God who made it – if this is the way of things? Will God unmake the nature he is making? Will he, at length, cause the human heart to be unmoved by suffering, by the spoiled potential in the damned, by the destroyed friendship, the eternal enmity between brothers, sisters, family, friends, yea children, yea spouses, yea lovers?
May we never believe it! If we have ever truly loved someone, it can never be false that we truly loved them. There now exists for all eternity that relation in us, that real love which links us to what or who we loved. And though the memory of such loves may fade, and though time may have quieted the emotion that used to bubble and flow so freely out of our hearts, still, this does not mean that we never loved, nor destroy the fact. For see how even the memory of a forgotten love excites the spirit to hope in that very love’s resurrection. Even if there were no God and no afterlife, the human condition would still have loved, still had hopes of a resurrected, glorified and eternal love for one another. For even if the universe dies a heat death forever, it would still be still true that there existed love between husband and wife, friend and lover, daughter and mother, father and son. Not even an eventual nothingness can make it that such things never existed! Such is the immortality of love itself, that even if death is the end, death cannot make it so that we never loved.
Since those we love are truly in us by our mutual love in times past, there is in us that which was uniquely made by them: a footprint of their soul imprinted into ours for all eternity. Thus, were I to find that I could not believe in a God or a hereafter, I would still believe in the reality of the love I have had in my soul for those I have loved. By clinging to it I would therefore keep my loved ones alive, and bear them with me in my spirit until I died myself, and was no more. Even should my brain decay until I forgot it, no amount of degradation could ever destroy the fact that I truly loved and was loved. It can then never be false that those I loved were truly one with me in the deepest part of my being. Such a thing was: therefore is true, forever. Theologians say that not even God can make the past not to have been. Therefore not even God – at least the god some would have me believe in – can destroy the reality of the love that was there between lovers.
Let us then flame the fires of our loves and love all as truly as we can, where we can. And let us believe that what was begun in us, will one day be perfected, even if we cannot at present see how. Our hope ought to lead to rejoicing, friends. Hope should not lead to death, but life. Because of this, and because we crave eternal life, our hope must then be infinite. It must rest on a foundation greater – necessarily greater – than anything we can conceive. But the greater must exist in the upper direction, not the lower. It must take up our loves and glorify them; not negate and forget them. I ask, is that person there – hold him in your heart, reader, or look at her with your bodily eye – I ask, is that person there, who you are looking at or thinking of, is that human being worth saving? If you say that he may have been once, but at any rate is not now, I wonder how you could call yourself a Christian, and think that Christ died for you.
However, be that absurdity as it may. If anyone was ever worth saving or ever worth Christ dying for, then, in a universe made by an omnipotent and all good God, such a one must be saved. But then all must be saved. The Father must see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. Therefore we believe – we cannot but believe, if we are to believe and hope at all – in one who shall “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace.”