How odd of God

Now here’s an interesting statistic. Currently the proportion of Christians in the world today is about a third, that is 2.4 billions. So what is going to happen to the other 5 billions, given that the New Testament assures us that baptism into Christ is a sine qua non of salvation? I hesitate to criticise the Almighty which is a dangerous step. But what we see here is a God who created a vast number of human beings with the intention that they should live in blessed eternity with him. But in fact two thirds of them won’t make it: they will live out infinity either in some limbo or in the punishment of hell. Most of them will not have encountered Christianity, let alone had a realistic opportunity to consider it. And of course we need to count in the whole lineage of homo sapiens who have preceded us – over perhaps 200,000 years.

If all that is true we are talking about a very odd God. He seems to have got his sums wrong. I cannot avoid the thought that he must be an unjust God – or that his creation idea was basically a failure.

Fortunately that is not like God at all. The truth is that every human being has been redeemed by Christ – backwards to the first human, forward to the last. And with that gift comes another one: he has left us free to choose. The choice is straightforward: either we choose to love or we choose to reject love. Christ himself explains this (Matthew 25) when he speaks of how the blessed loved the hungry and the sick and those in need. And when they said they had never met him he replied that what they had given to the least person had been given to him. And that test of love applies equally from the most important person in the world to the beggar on the street corner. You and me.

Is Christ’s grace like a kind of whitewash covering up our sinfulness? No, the love we choose is our love and it is Christ’s love. We become truly holy through his love. Paul tells us: “I live, now not I, Christ lives in me.” A mystery indeed, but a wonderful one.

And that love includes loving ourselves. Search for the truth, search for the good. And Christ is there. As he was with Socrates and Aristotle as they began to unravel the nature of the good life. Benedict XVI, before he became pope, described Socrates as a kind of prophet of Christ.

Many of you will be parents, so you know what extremes you went through to help the children to find their way to maturity. And how, if they wobbled on the rails, you would find any excuse to get them back on track. God is the father after whom all fatherhood is named. Do you think he does any less for each of his children?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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36 Responses to How odd of God

  1. John Thomas says:

    “New Testament assures us that baptism into Christ is a sine qua non of salvation” – perhaps this does not mean only the thing the Church (=all Christians? … bit controversial, maybe …?) does here and now, but also something in the hereafter? I often think (as, say, C. S. Lewis, I think, did) that your Catholic doctrine of Purgatory had much to commend it.

    • David Smith says:

      “I often think (as, say, C. S. Lewis, I think, did) that your Catholic doctrine of Purgatory had much to commend it.”
      *
      Interesting. I’ve not read Lewis, but I think I can guess what he means. Heaven vs. Hell seems awfully binary, unforgiving. Sorry, you failed the test. From this moment forward, you will burn in Hell for eternity. What test? You were supposed to figure that out.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Thomas

      but then again C S Lewis was not a Christian.
      And contrary to Catholic belief, Purgatory is neither an Apostolic doctrine or teaching.
      It is a wicked thought up dogma by the Catholic Church in its clerical power madness.
      Ignore it.

      • Alasdair says:

        Nektarios,
        when you say “but then again C S Lewis was not a Christian” presumably you are referring to the part of his early life when his faith fell away before it returned. Otherwise your statement will be rather shocking to many, myself included. To quote Wikipedia “Lewis’s faith profoundly affected his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim”.

  2. David Smith says:

    Grace is –

    Merriam-Webster:

    unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification

    Chambers:

    1. Kindness, good will
    2. Pardon (archaic)
    3. The undeserved mercy of God
    4. Divine influence
    5. The state of the soul freed from sin and assured of eternal life (theology)

    The Vatican:

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm

    “Grace” is clearly a terribly unclear term, a word with little semantic value. Divine help, divine guidance. Unmerited. But circumscribed how? The Vatican (see above) defines it differently at different times, in different words. I imagine it’s one of those terms that everyone who chooses to use them uses individually, for the moment, depending on both the interior and the exterior context. Goodness. Truth. Kindness. Charity. Evil. Salvation. Value.

    Theology is not a hard science. Despite what we used to be told, it does seem to change with the cultural weather.

    Color me puzzled, but curious.

    By the way, I’ve tried to post the note above for several days, from two different tablets (iOS and Android), without success. I’m trying now to post it from a Windows PC. Anyone else having a problem posting? If so, I suggest writing Quentin.

    Cheers!

  3. Alasdair says:

    When David says “What test? You were supposed to figure that out” he hit the nail on the head. What is the test? Can you make a statement of it without drifting into mumbo-jumbo which is unintelligible to the uninitiated?
    In other words “Answers on a postcard please”.

    • G.D says:

      The Test is :- To believe there is no ‘test’. Only unconditional love. And you are (will be) that love; God’s ‘intent’ (grace?) can not fail.

    • ignatius says:

      I may be wrong but Idon’t think David was implying that there was an actual ‘test’.Rather he was using a figure of speech But if you make your question clearer then I will invest in a postcard.

  4. Nektarios says:

    Quentin

    You wrote in your preamble, “And that love includes loving ourselves. Search for the truth, search for the good. And Christ is there. As he was with Socrates and Aristotle as they began to unravel the nature of the good life. Benedict XVI, before he became pope, described Socrates as a kind of prophet of Christ.”

    Benedict X1V was wrong. Both Aristotle and Socrates were pagans and produced philosophical reasonings and questions of their time. It is a far cry from being a prophet of God. I wonder if you understand what being a prophet of God really is? How they prophesized so clearly and accurately? The prophets were alive to God, they up to the measure knew God. LIke I say a far cry from Aristotle and Socrates who knew not God.

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you Nectarios for your comment. I am not altogether surprised since I am aware of your theological approach on grace. But I will leave the discussion to others for the time being.

      I notice elsewhere that Alasdair defends C S Lewis’s writings on Christianity. I would add my voice. His work is a masterpiece to which I return from time to time when I want a little strengthening.

      • galerimo says:

        And what a perverted joy it would bring to any Northern Ireland Catholic Nationalist to hear the Protestant origins of his fellow Ulster man described as “not Christian”.

        There’s opinion and then there’s historical fact.

        According to Elizabeth Bowen the English would do well to keep history in mind more and Irish to keep it in mind less.

      • Nektarios says:

        Quentin
        I am aware of the life of C. S. Lewis and his works, they are on my shelves. His wartime broadcasts which we now have in book form was indeed a masterpiece and was helpful to many during and at the end of the war. Arguably among his best work of all his works.

        He was an academic, and never openly professed faith nor really attached himself to any religious Church denomination or group. His writings display some understanding of religious feelings which was going through a hard time during the war. Those writings of his help many after the war where many were losing their faith.

        I wonder what C.S. Lewis would have to say to the Church today were he still alive?

  5. galerimo says:

    A very odd God indeed. And the plan of salvation gives an even poorer mathematical account of itself than the one you describe.

    By that I mean the vast tide of humanity with its origins at conception that never makes it to birth or does not survive more than a day or two. There must be millions more to add to your statistic here.

    And how odd too that this “sine qua non” of baptism is so recklessly disregarded by Jesus.

    There is no reference to any baptismal certificate for Dismas who gets to bypass hell, limbo and purgatory and then enter heaven directly on the last day of his life of crime.

    All the highly sophisticated ecclesiastical structures so generously facilitated by the Emperor Constantine or more recently, Martin Luther make the processes of salvation very clear.

    If you are not baptised our way you don’t get to go in.

    How odd of God not to comply.

    Even with the ticket scalping of desire, intent, martyrdom or anonymous Christianity the numbers still remain at odds with God’s desire that all should be saved.

    Frankly, Limbo as a way out of hell is just too hard to even contemplate for the masses of souls who have to go there so that our structured reception of God’s grace can hold.

    Thankfully there is little more to add to the theological answer you give to your own question except to lay an additional emphasis.

    The love of Christ as you propose as the offer of universal salvation is love that is crucified. We see our salvation always hanging on the Cross. And we receive it in the cross that is universal human experience.

    And if that does not satisfy the diligent process operators then the last resort will have to be Canon Law!

    It would be very odd if Jesus did not have the right intention in His work of salvation for all. So even if all the elements of sacramental Baptism are not always present, as they evidently are not in billions of cases, then the Church will supply for whatever is lacking.

    God can be as odd as God likes-the church will be able to make up for Him. Ecclesia supplet!

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you for mentioning the Good Thief; it illustrates the point I am trying to make. First he reviled Christ, then he told off the other thief, declared Christ’s innocence, and asked to be with Christ. We must assume that, as a thief, he would have done many wicked things. But his one moment of repentant love just before his death was enough. And so, we may hope, for us. You remember the old rhyme: Twixt the stirrup and the ground is mercy sought and mercy found.

    • Martha says:

      Baptism with water, Baptism by blood for martyrs, and Baptism of desire for all who live lives, or who repent, according to their knowledge and ability to understand wht is good.

  6. David Smith says:

    So much dogma, magisterial teaching, whatever it’s called, seems to me to be so very vague, so very capable of being interpreted variously, indeed, interpreted practically out of existence. Which I suppose is what happened in the sixteenth century. Once you decide that orthodoxy needs to be brought radically up to date, you’ve practically decided to start a new church. Where’s the grace of God in all this, Quentin?

  7. Nektarios says:

    David Smith

    Quite so, David, that is why the only solution as I see it, is to revisit the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice. And, to preach the Gospel and the whole counsel of God faithfully. Christians if Christians at all, should see the need around us and the world for Revival, perhaps in our own lives too and seek God and pray accordingly.
    Clergy should realise they are first and foremost servants of God. They owe their allegiance to God and to serve the people of God faithfully. The people of God if the Apostolic Doctrine Teaching and Practice are faithfully taught we will all come to see our rightful place as members of the Church (Body of Christ), their spiritual gifts, long denied by clergy. Lastly, come to realise their Spiritual powers God has gifted with by the Holy Spirit and our obligations one to another.

  8. ignatius says:

    Nektarios,
    CS Lewis – Lecture 1-A: Mere Christianity Study
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeBU5yck2ss&t=595s

    Sorry you can’t seem to understand CS Lewis. I’m sending you this link. If you listen carefully to his letters being read out it will become clear that Lewis’s stated primary aim was to advance the gospel. As far as I understand not many people seek to advance the gospel unless they believe it…of course I understand that your personal insight, as usual, exceeds any other and that the entire CS Lewis institute is part of a global, communist inspired, Illuminati led conspiracy to overthrow the Western world, but try your best anyway 🙂

    • David Smith says:

      ignatius contributed:

      Thanks for that. I watched it. C. S. Lewis has been just a name for me, one celebrity intellectual figure among a small universe of them, but maybe he’s a good place to start in helping me think through the religion, morality, and ethics puzzle.

      The Catholic Church’s idea of moral indoctrination seems to me to start too far down the line (as, I suppose, does that of many if not all other Christian churches). They have traditionally formed the child with a little simple text from the magisterium repeated until it’s been absorbed mentally and emotionally and with a lot of family and cultural immersion. The first can no longer work, I think. The establishment culture of the West has become far too noisy, and all that noise and all those words contradict and ultimately destroy any amount of memorized and absorbed rules. The second can work to some extent, but it assumes that the family is part of a much wider culture of believers. As the number of orthodox Catholics has, apparently, decreased hugely in the past five decades or so, that much wider culture probably no longer exists in most places. It was good for different times and places, but it’s good now only in small and closed communities, and it’s always in danger if exposed to the poisonous air of the naturalist chaos outside.

      Lewis, on the other hand, is apparently willing to start way back at the beginning of the human brain and mind, with the quasi tabula rasa. The human animal is designed with enormous cognitive limits. Any answers we come up with for any questions are bounded by our small organic brain, as, of course, are the questions themselves. Take that as a given, and think things through, slowly, patiently, carefully, humbly.

      • G.D says:

        Even leave thought behind altogether, and Contemplate the Reality of God. … Experience the Presence beyond thought, and let it take on a life of it’s own.

  9. Nektarios says:

    Ignatius

    I read Mere Christianity in my early 20s, nearly 50 years ago.
    As for the rest, you say, I won’t rise to the bait. Too silly for words.

    • ignatius says:

      Hi Nektarios,

      Yes, hopelessly childish I must agree. Perhaps we can discuss the matter more fully during our stay in purgatory when, no doubt, we will be required to share a cell… 🙂

  10. ignatius says:

    Hi Nektarios,
    Yes, hopelessly childish I must agree. Perhaps we can discuss the matter more fully during our stay in Purgatory. No doubt, we will be required to share a cell… 🙂

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius

      An interesting thought. However, there is nothing in Scripture or the Apostolic doctrine or teaching about Purgatory. I would, therefore, deduce that Purgatory is a fiction of a rather fevered and somewhat fearful mind and has nothing to do with Salvation we have in Christ.
      One of the problems with all of this is we think Salvation is all about us when it is all about God’s plan and how He has executed that plan and it will be fulfilled for certain.
      We trust Him, not ourselves, don’t we?

      • ignatius says:

        Nektarios, I am again amazed by the sheer scope of your deductive reasoning..perhaps we should ban Christmas too… on the same grounds of course, that the celebration of Christmas lacking biblical evidence is a fiction of fevered and fearful minds having nothing to do with the salvation we have in Christ…Tinsel, too, must be a tool of the devil….

      • Nektarios says:

        Ignatius

        Your view on what I should do about Christmas below, I would only direct your attention to the historicity of Christmas on the Catholic website and search for Christmas.
        Google up:
        New Advent.org

  11. ignatius says:

    Whoops…sorry about the double posting…..a glitch in my system.

  12. David Smith says:

    G.D writes (in response to my note of November 12, 2018 at 4:56 am):

    “Even leave thought behind altogether, and Contemplate the Reality of God. … Experience the Presence beyond thought, and let it take on a life of it’s own.”

    Yes, I suppose that’s the gift of faith. I’m afraid that’s one of the many gifts I do not have. Trust, for some of us, seems to be much harder than for others, alas.

    • G.D says:

      When you talk of ‘trust’ in this ‘contemplative’ context it is preceded by the ‘discipline’ of simply ‘sitting’ quietly with the intention of ‘letting go & letting God’. Waiting for the ‘thoughts’ to be ‘bypassed’ (not stopped initially). Trust is given (graced) and grows stronger; often despite of our selves.

    • ignatius says:

      David, There is an excellent little book on the subject : “Into the Silent Land” by Martin Laird DLT publications. The Contemplative way is not primarily a matter of ‘faith’ but of desire and temperament. I have no idea where you are in terms of your journeying into God but, at whatever level, I think ‘faith’ is not so much a ‘thing’ but more of an action. When you see a bird sail the wind I doubt it could describe the feeling of that wind any more than you or I can describe how gravity feels..but we live in it. It’s an odd business following getting to know this God whose we are.
      The point of the matter is that God comes to us only partly via our intellects.We are given reason for a purpose though, one of these purposes is to begin at least to fathom the mystery of faith and grace – you seem to do a pretty good job of thinking your way through things-. Considering those issues..however we do it, and surrendering our mentality to them will pretty certainly lead us deeper into the presence of Him who is the object of our desires..

    • Nektarios says:

      David Smith

      Whatever has been your journey in life from what you say, there is a difficulty for you
      respecting faith and trust. If so, regarding faith, no need for a complex belief system,
      because even with that many think they have faith and don’t.

      Faith is a gift from God, David, so ask God for it and it will be given to you.
      as we experience and understanding grows, so does one’s trust in Christ’s merits and Salvation for you grow too.

  13. ignatius says:

    Galerimo,
    “The love of Christ as you propose as the offer of universal salvation is love that is crucified. We see our salvation always hanging on the Cross. And we receive it in the cross that is universal human experience..”

    This is an interesting assertion. I have fairly recently begun to see things in similar perspective..that the ‘universal’ human experience is in fact synonymous with the cross of Christ, a cross which is sweetened by his presence with us, which presence though we accept or deny it, is salvic and real.

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