This is a sequel to my posting of yesterday, “Will you repent?” This time I won’t merely write a comment on another Friend’s blog posting, but dip my pen, so to speak, into my own heart. (If this figure of speech is found disturbing, it was meant to be.)
I read in the Philokalia, years ago, that there is no salvation without repentance. At once I felt the truth of the statement, for it had already been made clear to me that the God of All Consciousness willed my salvation into everlasting peace, but my sense of myself as a sinner kept me from peace. What names of self-condemnation had I not called myself! Liar. Thief. Cheater. Hypocrite. Impostor. Betrayer of trust. Coward. Selfish. Moral weakling. Sex criminal. Adulterer. Pervert. Addict. Cruel. Loveless. Bully. Persecutor. Racist. Anti-Semite. Would-be rapist and murderer. Failure. Fool. If that person were to stand in a Light of Truth that exposed everything, I couldn’t bear it. I must, therefore, continue to keep certain memories of things I’d thought, said and done hidden and, as much as possible, forgotten. And I must defend the secrecy of my secrets until, mercifully, they died with me and could hurt me no more.
This sense of tainted self, which I sense afflicts most people here on earth, predated my belief in an all-seeing God. But a Light of Truth that exposed everything could exist, theoretically, in the basement of a police station, the brain-decoder lab of a mad scientist, or the anal-probe room of a UFO. So long as our master strategy is to keep the shame of our tainted self hidden, we must mostly hope that no Light of Truth catches up with us anywhere, and that an all-seeing God does not exist – or, if one does, that He, She or It has no interest in turning souls inside-out to expose their interiors. I wonder whether this would explain the appeal, not only of atheist materialism and moral relativism, but also of religions of cheap grace (forgiveness of sins without having to name them), and spiritual disciplines promising cheap liberation, with a guaranteed destruction of the karmāśaya that requires no looking inside it. Collectively, we have an enormous investment in keeping the darkness dark.
I like to call this state of consciousness I’ve just described “fallen,” having personally experienced glimmerings of another state that is “unfallen.” The fallen state is one of fear. I’ve seen how all the vices, anger, lust, greed, pride, envy and so on, can be traced back to fear, including that peculiar one that causes projection and scapegoating of all that we can’t bear to acknowledge in ourselves. It’s not yet known to me, at this stage in my life, whether death, danger, pain and evil result from our choice to dwell in a fallen spiritual state, or are independent God-established facts of life that justify our fear; but faith tells me that we may know this on the day that God “wipes away all tears from our eyes” (Rev. 21:4).
A society of humans in a fallen state is, not surprisingly, often cruel to its deviants, its outsiders, its scapegoats, and it typically institutes systems of domination and oppression to maintain itself, with myths and ideologies to justify the inequities of those systems, and payoffs of privilege to anesthetize those who enjoy what others lack. War, slavery, child abuse, violent entertainment, substance addiction, extremes of wealth and poverty, loan-sharking, prostitution, organized crime, and idolatrous exaltation of vain or evil things as “good” are all common features of fallen culture, now as in ancient Babylon. To what extent a society of fallen humans can be made kinder, gentler, and fairer without addressing the root problem of fallenness is one of the great experimental questions of our time. I’ve seen marvelous improvements in child-rearing and race-relations in my day, but also very ugly developments in the technology of torture and killing. Antibiotics have done wonders with bacterial diseases, but, as I write, medical equipment is being used to force-feed prisoners held without criminal charges by a government that promised their speedy release years ago. I look out the window and still see a fallen world, and fallen people that have a crying, screaming need for salvation from it. (I happen also to believe in hell: an after-death state in which the inner torment of fallen souls continues, but without the disguises and cushions that this world affords. But it’s not necessary to believe in hell to believe in a universal human need for salvation, for this world is hell enough: ask the man who’s falling forty storeys from an overturned platform.)
Now back to Theoliptus of Philadelphia, who wrote that there is no salvation without repentance. How will we be restored from our fallen state without a great transformation in our consciousness? And how will we allow such a transformation without a massive letting-go of hates, fears, grudges, prejudices, false beliefs, and idolatrous attachments to things that can never save us? That is repentance. And it’s not something that we can do in our own power, like saying a polite “I’m sorry.” It must come to us as a gift from elsewhere or it will not happen at all, for it requires something that we don’t have yet. We know when we’ve gotten it; it makes us feel good. We know we’ve been washed clean of all those former things. The sinner, even the chief of sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), is no longer in bondage to sin (John 8:31-36).
“When they heard these things, they… glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” Acts 11:18. I’m now ready to speak about the God who grants repentance and salvation. What can I know about God? I’m less than a worm next to the Creator of one hundred trillion trillion stars. However, I believe that I’ve been spoken to by the voice of God, not many times, but enough. And I’ve been shown that the character of the all-forgiving Jesus of Nazareth, my Savior and the world’s, mirrors the character of God: God is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16) and it is not the will of God that a single one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14) or turn wicked and die in its sins (Ezekiel 33:11), but though its sins be as scarlet, they should be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), and that soul should have everlasting life (John 3:16) in which it experiences righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). I believe that Jesus’ laying down His life for us made these gifts of repentance and salvation possible for us, though I don’t yet know how. But I expect to be taught, once I’m made capable of understanding it.
The reader will note that I quote the Bible a lot, and may wonder why I choose the passages that make God seem easy to love, and not, say, those more troubling ones that liken God to a man in a drunken rage (Psalm 78:65), have God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then punishing him for it (Exodus 4:21 ff), or having people cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19-21). My answer is that these sweeter scriptures have been “opened” to me, and those that make God look capricious or cruel have not. The sheep of the Good Shepherd know their Shepherd’s voice from the voices of the hireling, the sheep-rustler and the wolf (John 10:1-14), and I recognize my Shepherd’s voice in Biblical passages that glorify the mercy and lovingkindness of God. I can believe in a Christ Jesus who freely lays down His life for me (John 10:15-17). I can’t believe in a God the Father who demands the torture-death of his innocent Son as payment for our sins; it can only be a lie invented by fallen theologians. God who planted the moral sense in me must have a far higher one than I do (Psalm 94:9).
Now it’s written in that Bible, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful… and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavory” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, Psalm 18:26). This suggests an important epistemological principle, that the unmerciful cannot experience God as merciful, not because of any sulkiness or wrathfulness on God’s part but because of a psychological incapacity in the unmerciful person that inevitably accompanies his refusal to show mercy. In that vein, Jesus notes “if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We are not to blame the Father for this, any more than we’re to blame the sun for appearing red when the atmosphere is heavily polluted. It is my conviction that all scriptures that put a fierce face on God represent the faith of fierce prophets or the experience of fierce times. The sun often appears red, and threatens soon to turn redder.
This brings me to the present situation of humankind, and the danger our overconsumption now presents to all life on earth. We have been bad stewards over the creatures, and it’s because we’ve been unrepentant fallen stewards. Today there are people of faith who wish to shame, or bully, the most powerful-seeming of the bad stewards into changing their behavior. But fear-based and adversarial actions are not appropriate behavior for people of faith, whose every act should reflect the goodness of the God or dharma that they represent and serve as an advertisement to the evildoer to change his ways and enter into such a path of faith himself. Until the CEOs of the fossil-fuel companies and their financiers are brought to repentance and a living relationship with God, the true mission of the environmental movement will remain unaccomplished. Until the earth itself is recognized not as a multi-use farm and recreation area for mortal creatures but as a staging-area for a life with God in eternity, our uses of it will continue to defile it. We who pray that God grant all creatures of the earth their daily bread, trustful that our Best of Fathers will not trick us by giving us a stone instead (Matt. 7:9), have a prophet’s assurance that God intends the earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). Ask your heart whether or not this is a message of God to you, and if it is, spread trust that God will turn the threatened dying of the earth around. While you are in communion with your heart, ask it whether or not your repentance is yet complete and perfect, and if it is not, whisper to God, “yes, perfect it.” God will do the rest.