I won’t attribute the source, since I can’t now find it; but in the blog of a friend of mine the question of damnation came up as an example of a religious dogma which cannot be accepted.
I beg to differ. If one accepts at least for the purpose of this discussion certain propositions about God, and heaven (I will reference these propositions as we go along) then some sort of doctrine of damnation is inevitable. The only other alternative is for our independence and autonomy to be an illusion.
Orthodox Christians may object that my argument is very short on appeals to the Bible. That is by design. In our current climate, appealing to Holy Scripture is mostly preaching to the choir. While I do regard the Bible as God’s Word, written, and that it accurately and reliably contains what God intends to say to me thereby, my contention is with those who don’t share that view. If I am going to appeal to an authority, it must be to an authority to which both sides yield. I choose for this purpose natural reason. For me, reason is a gift of God and sign of His presence. It thus must stand under an even higher authority. As Hooker said, it stands underneath Scripture. But whereas my ideas are thus subject to correction from the witness of the Bible, others may not be impressed by that witness. I would wish to show that even natural reason joins with the Bible in asserting this doctrine as true
The first proposition I will claim about God is that God is truth. We are told that, when He was asked by Moses to give His own name, He said “I am that I am… Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you”
A nonchristian diest (or even in my limited understanding, a Taoist) may well define God as “that which is” without getting into any issue about whether or not God is personal, or has intelligent awareness, or even might be a Wordsworthean/Star-Wars “Force” that rolls through all things. God is what He is. He is not what we imagine Him to be, not what I understand Him to be, not what all the great thinkers, theologians, priests, and philosophers, individually or by collective agreement, say that He is. God is what He is. God is truth, and undivided, unlimited truth. “The whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Kind of makes the “… so help you God” part of that swearing seem pretty appropriate.
A second proposition is that I believe that there is an existence after death. My full belief goes a great deal further than that, but for the sake of this article, this is enough to claim. I believe that this existence involves a reunification, or a unification if you prefer, with God, with “that which is.”
One of the truths in this life has been that we are free to acknowledge, disregard or reject any fact we wish. We can reject or ignore facts ranging from our obligations to our creditors to the laws of gravity. But we are not free from the consequences of the actions we then take. If I ignore my debts, I can expect to be sued, or foreclosed upon. If I jump off the house, I will fall to the ground. I can ignore or deny reality, but reality will act upon me in a way consistent with what it is, not with what I proclaim it to be.
As to “What is Heaven like?” I have very little opinion. I think we have been given some peeks in the Bible, but I’ve already declared that authority outside the scope of this discussion.
I do differ with what seems to be the prevailing unexamined view of many people. That view seems to include some sort of really nice place to live, and some sort of ability to interact with the other inhabitants, perhaps some sort of activity or occupation, but otherwise pretty much like the life we know. I don’t believe this.
Or rather, I don’t believe it sufficient. If the goal of this creation is as I believe union with God, then it means that we are to be united with total Truth, with all that is, total light and no darkness at all. In the words of St. Paul, “we shall know as we are known.”
So, is all this clarity to be presented to us inexorably, as inescapable as the light of day washing over us in the morning? Well, I think yes. Will everyone just automatically accept that truth? We often don’t accept it here. I have more than once put my head under my pillow and tried to deny the dawn.
If we continue as ourselves, with our independence, then we continue in that ability to deny the truth.
But what are the consequences of that denial? It is tempting to say that God should “let them in” anyway, that He can and will consider our difficulties, know we did the best we could, and let us in. I share that sentiment. But if I think it through, what do I mean by “let us in”? Let us in to what? How can I be let in to a union with all truth while at the same time saying that truth isn’t true (while knowing the truth)? Insisting on bringing the falsehood into Truth would destroy truth. I cannot insist on truth and reject it at the same time. I cannot be united with God and deny Him with the same voice. Now, it may be that God will continue to work with each of us until everyone accepts the truth. I deeply wish this to be true. I cannot think it likely, but that is another discussion. My point though, is that we cannot be united with the ultimate reality of the universe while also rejecting reality. That ultimate, final separation from God is damnation.
So, then, what is meant by the talk of Christians such as myself when we say that those who accept Jesus are the only ones who will be saved? Well, we mean quite a few things, but for this discussion, one only. Let’s say, again for the sake of argument, that God did in fact do certain acts so that we could be set free from all the lies we have told ourselves and others, in thought word and deed. If I find myself in that realm of perfect light, truth and clarity I will know beyond doubt exactly who I am, what I have done and the falseness in me, and how God has brought me to this place. What if that knowledge is so unwelcome to me that I say “NO! It CAN’T be that!… I know the truth, and it is —–” If I, with Truth seated right before me insist on my own imaginings of fables, haw can I be united with that which I reject?
Some will likely point out that this sword cuts both ways: if on that day Truth is much different than I believe, if my theology is all wrong, I will be in deep trouble. Well, they would be right. But it is not the rightness or wrongness of my theology that matters. It is rather how tightly will I cling to my own thoughts, my own imaginings, my own opinions, my own lies, my own…, my own…, my, my, my,…” for infinity. Will I bow my head and my heart to the one who said “I am the Truth” and accept Him instead? It isn’t about right doctrine, it’s about accepting the truth, in preference to ourselves, when we are invited into it.
Does God damn? Yes. Can we damn ourselves? Yes. I think that ultimately those are the same questions. Our refusal to accept the only reality that is, and this includes who God is, who we are, and what He has done for us; Our refusal to accept the only Truth there is means we cannot be joined to it. And being outside of truth is damnation however ther rest of the details are filled out.