Tag Archives: Christ

Damnation

Fallen angels in Hell

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There was a difficult time in my life, where, due to having no career or even a job, I did a lot of housework and puttering about, and spent way too much time watching TV. I discovered old sitcoms like “Gidget” to be pretty good, and wound up watching episodes of kids’ cartoons like “Thundercats” and “He-Man“. I also watched a lot of the evangelical talk show “The 700 Club” (presented by Reverend Pat Robertson and his genial co-hosts Danuta Soderman and Ben Kinchlow.) Now the basic theology of this program is called “Dispensational Premillennialism”. That God will for all eternity torment those He judges to be sinners seems an especially strong belief among those with this theology.

Recently I read “Love Wins”, a book by Pastor Rob Bell, which is a look at the Christian doctrine of Hell, defined as the place where conscious souls will suffer unimaginable suffering, as well as understand that their suffering will never end. Of course I had to read it, because it is gently but firmly critical of this conventional understanding. His teaching dovetails nicely with things I have been thinking about for a long, long time.

Following is my 1986 poem “Damnation”, wherein I muse about the paradoxical effects of Hell on those who are not condemned to it.

The flaming fire of Hell will burn their immortal hearts,
As the saved ones and the blessed are by compassion torn apart.
The city of the Lord! Could it be touched by human pain?
Could the Raptured faithful there still be burned by sorrow’s flame?

Though the mighty Lord of Life will wipe the tears from out their eyes,
Love-filled and merciful, could they be heedless of the cries
Of pain-racked guilty Damned who die eternally?
Unblessed by Jesus Christ the Lord: from torment never free.

The neighbor whom you love, who will not see the light,
With many Good Samaritans cast bound into the night.
Do you, who’ve been from youth well-taught to love your fellow-man,
Believe that most will feel the wrath of Him who made Leviathan?

Could you still feel joy despite their pain, and for salvation praise the Lord?
Or could compassion be your bane and take their pain for yours?
Or rapt in holy joy, could it be taken light?
Could dark and fear and death, and death, seem small in Heaven’s light?

Love is the greatest thing that lasts: this all His friends know well.
A lover’s empathy is plain —
Would not Hell’s pain be Heaven’s Hell?

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Shield the Joyous

Dear L___,

I thought of the following prayer last Sunday in church, watching the bell choir, and noticed your son S___ at the end of the song holding his bell aloft and turning it for the best ring sound. He  seemed to be filled with joy.
I was reminded of a prayer.

My sister first heard the prayer in her Episcopal church, where it is said in the final prayer service of the day — the Compline.

The earliest portrait of Saint Augustine in a ...

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I have learned that it was one of the prayers of Saint Augustine. The thing that struck her was one phrase above all the others —  — that God should “shield the joyous”.

Keep watch dear Lord with those who work, or watch, or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over
those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary, bless the dying,
soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

I will think of God shielding S___’s joy whenever I remember the prayer.

Your friend,

G___

A Truly Wonderful Christian Flag

2010-02-20

Dear Christian,

thank you for sending me the Web link to the Christian Flag. I found it quite thought-provoking. So I was thinking about it, and feel that you already have one. All the symbolism you need is readily available.

Imagine a city surrounded by tall, strong walls. It stands on a high, forested plateau overlooking the plain. There is a low hill outside the city wall, far from the abodes of the elite. Here’s where the Roman occupation government puts its enemies to death. Romans call it Calvary; the native Jews call it Golgotha, The Place of the Skull. To be near it is an assault on the senses. The air is full of the stink of death and blood-soaked earth, full of cries of pain and weeping. Here, you can see them, the most wretched on Earth. People forced to pass that way cannot bear to see their suffering, and look away1. None wants to stay and experience the end of the course of merely human justice. And this end is the bitterest that human ingenuity can make it.

A man hangs on one of these crosses, just another criminal like the ones crucified to his left and right. His name is Jesus, a Jewish teacher from Nazareth, in Galilee. He is innocent of any crime. But he is not just innocent — he is the Christ, the Lamb of God, willing to give his blessed life to save a world so sinful and depraved as to think up a punishment like crucifixion. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, God turned hopelessness to hope; fear to confidence, and utter loss to stunning victory. It isn’t a worldly symbol — it isn’t even an object. Those who hate it will never be able to capture, cut down or defile it. Those who hate you for its sake cannot shame or defile you, for you have filled yourself with it. Out of this image, this faith, arises the living water Jesus promised: the spiritual water that brings eternal life. And from you too, now, it rises as a fountain2. Its source is Christ, and him crucified.

Here is your flag, Christian — always hold it fast to you. It’s not a proper flag, as such things are judged. See, it has only the color of Jesus’ blood, shed for you. But I assure you, dear Christian, that this color don’t run.

Your brother in Christ,
Paul A.



1. Isaiah 53:3

2. John 4:13-14

A Satisfying Job to Do

This is a meditation on a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, pastor of Montgomery United Methodist Church in Skillman, New Jersey. I consider him to be world-class as a minister, preacher, organist, choir director, friend and all-around mensch. In other words, a blessedly nice guy.

In his sermon “A Satisfying Job to Do” , Dr. Godlefski quoted Luke 1:76:

And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord, to prepare the way.

From this, he derives a simple yet satisfying job that every Christian, no matter his condition of life or wealth can do: to prepare the way for the Lord. To quote Dr. Godlefski:

We need to take away obstacles and blockages so that people would feel welcome and accepted whenever they come here [to church]. We need to reach out to those who have not been touched by the love of the Lord, because we have this precious gift, and we can do it. Take a moment and close your eyes and think about the people who prepared the way of the Lord for you. Who were they? Who were those wonderful people?

Later, I decided to remember some of the people in my life, who, known or unknown to themselves, had made “the crooked straight and the rough places plain” for me. Here’s what I came up with after only a half-hour’s reflection…

My grandma, Mary, who always said her rosary, and most days sat with it always within reach. She taught us that faithfulness was not a function of whether one was sitting in church on Sunday morning.

My parents, who sent my sister and me to church at St. Matthias, where we learned about the Christian faith, made our First Communions and were confirmed in good time. Our parents had some serious reasons not to go back to church, but they kept them to themselves. They took care not to poison us against it. That is just one more reason to thank God for them.

Father Ed, the adviser to St. Matthias’ youth folk group, a group of junior high school and high school students who provided the singing and guitar music at the Saturday evening Mass. There was no wall, no unbridgeable gap between him and us. The whole group of us teens often went down to the seminar room where he actually did advise us. He even went with us on our excursions to the ice cream parlor at Rutgers Plaza. We were as silly and rowdy as people of that age could be, but he saw fit not to dampen our spirits. He treated us like real persons, and we came to understand that despite his clerical collar, he was a real person, too.

Father Joe, who at first we knew as Deacon Joe, who invited the folk group to sing at his ordination in Long Branch, NJ. He often worked with the folk group, and was part of our lives and we of his as he dedicated that life in eternal service to God and his people. He taught us that such dedication was a possibility even for ourselves.

My parents again, who after a long time away from the Church, became members of St. John the Evangelist in New Brunswick, NJ, showing us that even if you had been away a long time, there was still a pathway back to faith.

Reverend José, pastor at St. John’s, who helped bring them back. He was a Franciscan, which explained why he wore sandals even in the snowy winter. He made sure that the Spanish-speaking people living around the church knew that it was their church home, too. He had a great heart full of love for all people of the world. When a huge earthquake killed thousands of people in Nicaragua, he celebrated a Mass for those who were suffering there, changing what was to be a festive day into a day of mourning in spite of how it incensed the Altar Guild. He taught us that we should be about love and not about punishment or even over-much about formality.

Dr. Bob, who, when I decided to return to the Church, advised me on what church might best suit me. One of the places he directed me to was the United Methodist Church, due to its long tradition of freedom of thought. It was the first one I tried and I felt so at home that I didn’t bother going anywhere else. He called himself a “recovering Evangelical”, and ran the “Heretics Anonymous” discussion group. By that time, he had become a Baptist and was intending to go to school for eventual ordination. He taught me that there was the possibility of finding peace at a new church.

Pastor Kay, who shook my hand at Allerton United Methodist Church when I unknowingly chose Palm Sunday as the day I decided to return to the church. Eventually, she told me about her vision of Jesus she had had while sitting with her sleeping father in his hospital room. He had appeared to literally step out of a strange shimmery area in one corner of the room. From this I learned that even someone who was not any sort of ascetic or mystic or hermit might have a face-to-face encounter with the living God.

Clifford, who occupied the bed next to mine in my hospital room last month. He taught me three things: firstly, he had seen me reading my Gideon Bible and got an idea that perhaps “someone” wanted him in the hospital until he should read the whole New Testament. He told me he had always prayed for guidance in the name of Jesus. He wasn’t a churchgoer, so he often had questions about what he read, so I kept reading ahead of him just in case he had a question I could answer. The first thing I learned was that by just reading a Bible, someone like me could be a witness for Christ;

secondly, he also made me realize just how much of the Bible I know, and how passionate I am about it;

finally, when I was feeling depressed, he tried to make sure that I understood just how many blessings I had had in my life. Now I can count them all the better. Thank you for all these things, my brother.

Janice, who on Thanksgiving day, brought slices of her homemade sweet potato pie and her faith to me and Clifford in our hospital room. When we were hungry she gave us to eat. She was also an excellent apologist, paging backward and forward through her Bible to give proofs of Christ as we understand him.

Abiba, who is a tech at the hospital, and loves Jesus more than anyone I know, confessing her Lord joyfully and unabashedly. Perhaps one reason is because the still, small voice literally saved her life in her homeland. She told me how one of the soldiers, from one side of the war or the other, stuck the business end of a rifle up against her chin. Then she told me that she heard a quiet voice say to her: “Grab the soldiers gun barrel…”, so she did. She struggled with the soldier and managed to keep that business end away from her long enough for the other side’s soldiers forced the vicious soldier to run away, leaving his rifle in her hands. From her, I learned about the importance of listening to that still, small voice. She had quite a few friends who got the “rifle-in-the-neck” treatment. She was the only survivor.

There is a song by Dan Fogelberg, containing the line “his gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand”. It made me think of Rev. Godlefski. He is a positively-directed Titan on my list of preparers of the way. I don’t think I will ever be able to recount all the things that he has taught me about our faith and about our Christ. He truly is a mensch.

Finally, that one person who shall remain nameless. Lately I think of a line from a song John Denver wrote, dedicated to his uncle, a person for whom “love was just the way to live and die”. This is the one person who taught me most that love is not an illusion.

It says in Philippians 4:8 that when we see things that are true, noble, right, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, that we should think about these things. Today I’m thinking about you, my preparers of the way, and I want to thank you. For you and for all the others whom I did not write about, I pray God open the floodgates of blessings in your lives. Amen.


For those unfamiliar with the Yiddish language, the word means “person”, but is said about a person who is, as Leo Rosten defined in his classic book, “The Joys of Yiddish”:

“Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”

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Want to read more on how to be a mensch? Just click:

Kawasaki, Guy. “How to Be a Mensch.” How to Change the World 11 Feb 2006