Of all the Images of God that theology presents, God's judgment is the most often misused, misunderstood and self-serving of the Christian Doctrines. Too often, the way God is portrayed encourages people to fear God; instead of, loving Him. The concept of a weak nature to man and the inability to atone for our transgressions, coupled with the idea of a judgmental God: all lead to a psychologically dangerous potential that can foster pathological fear, guilt, and low self esteem. It can also lead to manipulation of the faithful by the clergy, projection of personal responsibility of the individual, and intolerance of those who whose moral opinions may differ from ours.
Much of the present theology motivates us to put more emphasis on our faith and worship, rather than, the reality of the way we live our lives. We have created a moral system of "Thou Shalt Not," instead of encouraging people to strive to be better than they are - instead of helping them to develop their full potential. We shall see in a moment how Jesus pronounced our judgment in what we accomplish for one another; not, the amount of temptation we resist. It is not our acts of contrition, nor the pronouncement of our faith in Jesus, which allow us to live in God's favor. It is our interactions with each other, and God's creation, which gives true relevance to our relationship with God.
For far too long, religion has
used the judgment of God to serve their own ends,
rather than, serving the
GUILT, described by someone as a gift that keeps on giving, has long been a MAJOR WEAPON in the ARSENAL OF THE CHURCH. ITS PRIMARY USE, IS BEHAVIOR CONTROL...
†††† ...When the Church added the reward of heaven to its power of forgiveness and the punishment of hell to its power of withholding forgiveness, the LEVELS OF GUILT MOVED THE PUBLIC TO OBEDIENCE. A POWERFUL SYSTEM of BEHAVIOR CONTROL THEN WAS ABLE TO CONE INTO BEING. This system was managed by the church and is still unmatched in Western History for its effectiveness.
(J.S.Spong, LIVING IN SIN, Harper & Row, cl988, plOO)
The idea of a judgment is not necessarily where the problem lies. Accountability before God can be a powerful motivator in an individual's choice. The problem becomes when the theologian or church declares that accountability for people, instead of; guiding them to establish their own set of values based upon responsible treatment of one another; which as we shall see, is what Jesus really claimed was the basis of our Judgment.
Before presenting responsible and alternative ideals, we need to explore some of the psychological consequences of the Punitive God of Theology that predominates so much Christian thought.
Guilt becomes one of the major problems of religious ideologies that are founded upon the concept that God had to die for our sins; or, that we will be severely punished if we do not follow God's laws as they interpret them; or, profess faith as they tell us it must be professed.
We should interject here, when we talk of guilt we are talking about something different than remorse: where feeling bad about some action leads us to change our direction because we have learned from the experience. Guilt makes us feel low, creating at a conscious or subconscious level a constant desire to do penance or experience punishment. The guilt triggering action may be actions we have performed, but sometimes, the guilt is triggered by actions performed upon us, or, actions we may have been forced to participate in against our will. The American Educator Charles P Curtis gives a definition of guilt as we are trying to convey it here:
GUILT AND SIN ARE ONLY A FEAR OF THE PAST!
(C.P. Curtis, A COMMONPLACE BOOK, Simon & Schuster, 1957, pl9l)
To live in fear of the past is to live in fear of that which cannot be changed. It is to live in a phobic fear. It is bad enough that we often need to approach the future with apprehension, but it is totally useless to live in fear of the past.
This guilt, of which we are talking, is often compounded by unrealistic moral standards, which consider natural urges, such as lust or masturbation, as evil and sinful. In much of our religious ideology, men pronounce Godís judgment for Him by proclaiming they can interpret Godís Will. It is not the idea of the judgment of God which is the cause of so much guilt, but rather, the assumption of men that they can pronounce God's Will by implying they somehow can tell us what God demands of us.
Yet, all this guilt seems to accomplish nothing. It makes people dependent upon the church, rather than using religion as a tool that liberates them. It creates an atmosphere of projection and intolerance whereby people are "pulling the speck out of their brother's eye," while remaining blind to the "plank in their own." It allows for human standards of judgment, which in turn, allows one people to think they are somehow superior in the Eyes of God because they are saved over another people they might see as being damned. Much of the religious persecution of the ages was prompted by this theological ideology.
In a healthy remorse, we can face our mistakes, trying to avoid making them over in the future. In guilt we feel sorry for ourselves and are filled with shame, not so much that we have made a mistake, but because God or some other party may find out. While guilt is harbored internally, its cause is generally external; that is, a fear that someone will find our what we did, or, the desire to have someone forgive us. Remorse, however, is felt and caused internally which seeks to correct itself by some external direction, we seek to make amends or correct that which makes us feel bad. While remorse is in our control, guilt is often not.
Guilt can also make us vulnerable because we can become motivated by those who put us on the "guilt trip". A mild example of this, of which we are all too familiar, is the mother guilting the child into something he or she may not want to do. A more serious aspect of this can be demonstrated in the person giving contributions to a church, one which they may be truly unable to afford. The minister might make them feel guilty about not giving; and because of the individual's gift, their children or some other necessity might be neglected because of it. Unfortunately, this is a common practice with many clergymen. Tele-evangelists often use guilt in their fund raising techniques.
As long as men are men they will continue to error and fail. This is part of our learning process, and is natural in our world. Mistakes can be positive if we learn from them and go on; but guilt, lessens our ability to face these mistakes, yet alone, learn from them. Guilt, often, can so overwhelm us that the error becomes repressed and forgotten at the conscious level, manifesting itself as neurosis, personality disorder, projection, or bigotry.
While punitive based theologies do teach of the forgiveness of God, that forgiveness usually has strings attached which pronounce the criteria for the forgiveness of God, such as: profession of personal faith, confession, tithing, or penance of some sort. In reality, men have no more authority to pronounce God's forgiveness then they do Her Will or Judgment. Logic would dictate that it seems almost blasphemous that any man can claim the ability to declare anything for God!
These religious laws, given by men, often do nothing to help what the church may call a chronic sinner; that is, one who has urges (such as: to masturbate, homosexual tendencies, or lustful thinking; not that this treaties condones such reasoning). They lead the faithful to think that if they follow the given formula that the temptation will go away. For example, homosexuals are often told that if they profess their faith in Jesus they will be free of their "SIN," and somehow magically turn heterosexual - or, at least be free of the temptations. Those people for whom the miracle fails are often burdened with feelings of being weak willed at best, or possessed at the worst; either way there can be severe psychological guilt that can even lead to suicide.
Psychologists are also plagued by sexually dysfunctional marriages, which are often related to guilt inflicted upon one of the partners due to their religious indoctrination. Very often, we give children the Image of God as a Peeping Tom who just waits for us to step out of line so She can record it in His big book. This Image can effect us in adulthood, while often at a repressed level, it can have far reaching consequences.
All of the problems with punitive theologies do not come from the idea of a judgment of God. Much of the psychological damage can come from seeing natural urges as sinful, as we shall see when we talk about morality. In reality, creating unrealistic moral expectations, or, painting a portrait of natural human desires as evil and of the devil: can be far more damaging than the punitive Image of God. But what such a negative theology cannot overlook is that the Punitive God Image is what gives substance to the rest of their reasoning.
Another area where the judgmental God becomes problematic is when the theology encourages belief that forgiveness is earned through proclamations of words of faith, rites, or repetition of prayer. While it is psychologically true that confession can be good for the soul, this does not require that the confessor needs the power of God to absolve transgressions. And the idea that we are forgiven simply because of our acceptance of a belief, (without any change of heart, or, remorse that is necessary to see the hardship we may have caused others) allows individuals to have a sense of self-righteousness that is often not healthy.
The idea of faith alone saving us is not healthy at its root because it shifts the emphasis from personal responsibility to a profession of a belief. It can replace responsible action with empty words. Our society clearly reflects this danger in many of the religious social positions that are taken. The faith in the redemption of Jesus is often emphasized to be the salvation, which reduces salvation to belief rather than act.
To reduce salvation to faith is to miss the reality of the message of the Gospels. This can be demonstrated in the social interactions in the everyday dealings of people with people. Love, compassion, social justice, social responsibility (key points stressed in the Gospels) are often made secondary, and, sometimes even ignored by those who claim to preach the Gospel of Christ.
The religious ideals of the redeeming and punitive God have us looking outside ourselves for a spiritual fulfillment, which MUST come from WITHIN. These controlling tactics that clergymen and theologians have grabbed hold of actually thwart the message of Christ's Gospel - which is, "to carry our cross." In other words, to accept personal responsibility for our own messiah-ship, a position we will develop much further as we move forward with this work.
While one can argue that the punitive God theology has some motivational aspects, the risks involved are far to great for any responsible theology to promote it. In dealing with judgment from a Christian perspective, we need to look at what should be the cornerstone of any Christian theology.
Most Christians profess Jesus to be God Incarnate, and if one professes to believe this, then it should follow that the words of Jesus must take priority over any other consideration in the theological speculations. Yet, time and time again, what Christ had to say about the final judgment has become second place to other pronouncements. Jesus' teachings become secondary to the teachings of Paul as filtered through Augustine, or the declarations of churches and their ministers. The teachings of Jesus do not seem to be enough for many Christians; yet, they do hold all we need to know how to live in God's favor, and at the same time reach spiritual fulfillment.
Jesus did address the concept of judgment many times in the Gospels, and we need not look further than he for a psychologically sound approach toward it. Although it is worth mentioning that throughout inspiration, be it in other sacred writings or in the myths, Jesus' ideals are repeated over and over. One of the most powerful comes from the Sermon on the Mount:
Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you yourselves will be judged. And whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brotherís eye, with never a thought of the great plank in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye", when all the time there is a plank in your own? YOU HYPOCRITE! FIRST TAKE THE PLANK OUT OF YOUR OWN EYE, AND THEN YOU WILL SEE CLEARLY TO TAKE THE SPECK OUT OF YOUR BROTHERíS.
(Matthew 7: 1-5)
And every time we recite the Lord's Prayer, do we not say:
Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we have forgiven those who wronged us.
Simply put, Jesus is saying that God in Her Infinite Wisdom will hold us to the standard that we hold others. That He will treat us in the same manner as we treat others, for as we shall see in a moment, the way we treat others is the way we treat God.
Chapter 25 of the Gospel of
Matthew contains a powerful message for those who look to it for its true
inspiration. Verses 1-30 talk about the
The first story tells us that the prudent girls were responsible enough, and reflective enough, to take extra oil with them for their lamps; in other words, they showed responsibility by going beyond just the norms of everyday life. In the second parable, the servants who earned more for their master (again, showing responsibility and contribution through thoughtful actions just beyond the socially acceptable) were the ones who received blessings from the master. The foolish one who sat on the masters investment (which one could say is like those who thrive on faith alone) were cast out into the night.
In sections 31-46, Jesus talks directly about Godís judgment. He tells us what to do if we are to be like the wise maidens, or the prudent servants. He reveals in clear terms what the judgment of the Father means. If you will take notice, in this passage about Divine Judgment, Jesus NEVER MENTIONS FAITH, WORSHIP, RELIGION, HIS REDEMPTION OR ACCEPTANCE OF HIS DIVINITY AS ANY CONDITION OF JUDGMENT.
When the Son of man comes in his glory and all his angels with him, he will sit on his throne, with all the nations gathered before him He will separate men into two groups, as a shepherd separates sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right hand, "You have my Fatherís blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me; when I was ill you came to help, when in prison you visited me."
Then the righteous will reply, "Lord, when was it we saw you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you a drink, a stranger and took you home, or naked and clothed you? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to visit you?"
And the King will answer, "I tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me."
Then he will say to those on his left hand, "The curse is upon you; go from my sight to the eternal fire that is ready for the devil and his angels! For when I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat; when thirsty nothing to drink; when I was a stranger you gave me no home, when naked you did not clothe me; when I was ill and in prison you did not come to my help."
And they to will reply, "Lord, when was it we saw you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or ill or in prison; and did nothing for you?"
And he will answer, "I tell you this: Anything you did not do for one of these, however humble, you did not do for me." And they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous will enter eternal life.
(Matthew 25: 31-46)
Considering that this oration
was preceded by several parables about the
Isn't it odd that if salvation is based on faith, or the church, or our prayers, or worship, or even on the redemption of Jesus himself: not one of those things is mentioned in any of these parables about the final Judgment? One would think that if these things were the priority, as the theology of Pauline Christianity leads us to believe, Jesus would have at least mentioned them in this basic reference about our final judgment.
Bottom line is: Jesus is telling us that what matters most to God is our treatment of one another. This interpretation becomes the only logical interpretation if we take into consideration the whole of what Jesus preached. It fits in with his primary directive in John where he repeats three times that his commandment is to love one another. It makes sense in light of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount, the Two Great Commandments and all the other directives of Jesus about loving one another.
In Luke, Jesus again conveys this message that we are judged strictly upon our interactions with each other. After delivering the Beatitudes in Chapter 6, and going on to speak about loving your enemies, he goes on to say:
Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Acquit; and you will be acquitted; give and gifts will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap; for whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you in return.
(Luke 6: 37-38)
Although not as directly as in Matthew; isn't Jesus saying the same thing here? We will be treated and judged by God in direct ratio to the way we treat and judge others. God's blessing will come upon us in direct proportion to the way we bless others.
So in effect, while God may pronounce some final judgment upon us, we are the one's who will determine the final criteria of that judgment. We will be dealt with in a manner that is consistent with the manner we deal with others, and all this redemptive theology and punitive ideology, has little to do with our judgment in the context of the words of Jesus. It becomes going beyond the call, helping and loving people, "picking up our Cross", (in other words, being Messiahs). It is only in this way that we might encourage God to deal with us in the same helping, giving, and loving manner.
The psychological advantage in looking to these words for guidance is that they encourage the individual to be loving and tolerant of their fellow human being, no matter what they believe; for in doing so, they earn God's love.
So, the responsible theology will encourage this assessment of God's judging nature; and by doing such, places the individual in charge of redeeming his or her own soul - which Christ also emphasized. Five times in the first three Gospels, Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him:
No man is worthy of me who does not take up his cross and walk in my footsteps.
If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind; he must take up his cross and come with me.
Anyone, who wishes to be followers of mine, must leave self behind; he must take up his cross and come with me.
If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind; day after day he must take up his cross and come with me.
No one, who does not carry his cross and come with me, can be a follower of mine.
It would seem that the writers of the Gospels were trying to make it clear that this was a very important point to be made by Jesus.
Obviously, Jesus is not being literal here. He is telling us that we must be our own messiahs. We must try to save mankind in a manner that is consistent with our lives and our abilities to do so. Like the maidens bringing a little extra oil, we need to do just a little beyond the expected. Like the thoughtful servant, we need to consider how we might produce interest on the treasure of life that God has seen fit to trust us with. We must become responsible to the world in proportion to our ability to become responsible. We are responsible for others in the manner we are able to be responsible. We should give to others according to our ability to do so and, according to the way we have been given too. These are theological concepts that are healthy, useful in the reality of our world, and allow religion to give meaning to the life of men.
And this theological concept really doesn't have to be all that complex. All it says, in its simplicity; IS, DO WHAT WE CAN! And while simple, it does require us to become responsible enough to ask ourselves, and answer honestly: are we doing what we can?
Paul, and the theologies that
lean heavily upon Paul, have us judged for our sins
and saved by a blood bath upon
Why do you keep on calling me "Lord, lord" - and never do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears what I say and acts upon it - I will show you what he is like. He is like a man who, in building a house, dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came the river burst upon that house, but could not shift it, because it had been soundly built. But he who hears and does not act is like a man who built his house on soil without foundations. As soon as the river burst upon it, the house collapsed and fell with a great crash
Our actions become the
foundation of a faith that cannot be shaken, not even by the waters of the
flood. Words alone, however, will meet the same fate as those who stood outside
The idea of blood sacrifice cannot be a healthy ideal in the modern world. "Eating the Flesh of the Savior," or, "Drinking or Washing with his blood" does not seem to be psychologically suggestive concepts that are positive for adults, yet alone, what they might mean to a child. On the other hand, doing what we can to make life on this planet better for one and for all offers no negative psychological qualities. To help people take responsibility by caring, and encourage them to be the best they can be - to contribute in the best way they can - can hardly be construed as a bad thing. AND THIS IS THE FUNDAMENTAL MESSAGE OF JESUS! According to Jesus, this is what the final judgment of God will rest upon!
Many present theological concepts have turned the judgment of God into a whip that will keep us in line. The problem with this Image of God is, it can lead to one of a dysfunctional parent (in this case God) who will beat their child into submission. Fear becomes the motivational tool.
Jesus truly preached a God who is a Father of Love. He presented an Image of God that is compassionate; only asking us, to do what we can to make life better in some way. And what about this image of a God who is willing to deal with us in the same manner as we deal with others? One might ask what could be fairer than that? Such simplicity is not only beautiful, but also practical. Such simplicity is the message of Jesus!
A believer should not be motivated by God's judgment. Instead, the love of God should be our primary concern. In theory, this would have us looking to do something for God, instead of being motivated by fear or guilt. Jesus, in his psychological wisdom knew that love was a stronger force than either guilt or fear. In love, we perform out of a sense of wanting to; not for any reward or punishment. The second beautiful psychological element here is that Jesus, realizing that there is nothing we could do to express our love for God, encourages us to show that love in the treatment of one another. Add to this ideal, that we can show our love to the Creator by our treatment of the creation - we have a grand formula for religious people everywhere to participate in the sprucing up of the Garden Eden for the Love of God.
Our religious theological concepts should be encouraging us to emulate the love and compassion which Jesus emphasized; rather than, washing our sin in the blood of Christ. Faith should be motivating us to have tolerance and true social justice; instead of worshipping with merely words. It is the responsibility of religion to empower men to help save mankind in the reality of this life; instead of, projecting that responsibility back unto God. Such projection not only fails mankind, but it also fails God; especially, the God manifested in the teachings of Jesus!
It is time that a responsible
theology has us searching our own hearts to examine how we might better
contribute; and cease from proclaiming the judgment of God upon men, a judgment
which no man can fathom. It is time to encourage people to examine their
conscience to see how they might better serve each other; rather than having
them seek out and confess their past sins. It is time for theology to realize
There is little one can do about what they have done, but we have plenty of control over what we will do today and tomorrow. Our relationship with God isn't about the past; it needs to serve the present and the future.
The responsible theologian need not dispute the fact that God saves us, for this is truly the message of all revelations. There can be no mistake that God has provided fulfillment (salvation) and that such is Her gift - but it is our choice to the acceptance of it.
To give an analogy: Let us compare the salvation of God to a human parent giving a child a gift, such as a car. In this scenario many of our present belief structures seem to imply that God would not only have to give us the car; He would also be expected to chauffeur us - take care of the vehicle maintenance - keep the car clean - keep it filled with gas; and, our only responsibility would be to thank Him, tell Her how great She is, and spread the word that He gave us the car. Very often parents will give a car to a child to teach them responsibility. Why do we look so differently at God's gift of life? The best way for a child to show their appreciation would be by their caring for the car, their maintaining the car, and driving the car responsibly. In other words: cherish the gift by taking care of it! Why should our thanks for life be any different in its logic?
The concept of salvation and judgment, in its inspirational sense, is not about faith or even justice. Simply put: it's about the acceptance of personal responsibility for the shape of our world. It's about loving one another and balance in our lives. It's about seeing the paradox and accepting our role in it:
Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and what is within like what is without. And what is above like what is below. And when you unite male and female into one so that the male is no longer male, and the female no longer female. When you make the eye in place of the eye, and the hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and an image in place of an image; then you shall enter the kingdom.
(Gospel According to Thomas logion 22)
The Image of God as LOVE is the only pure Image by which we can accomplish this. To be able to tolerate our differences and overcome our human problems, we must start with love. In the final analysis our salvation does not rest in God's judgment, it truly rests in our ability to love. That is the redemptive message of Jesus.
If theology encouraged us to participate in the love of God as its priority, by the expression of that love in our very lives, there would be little need to talk of Her judgment because there would be no need for one.
We must keep in mind, that while we have touched upon the concept of judgment, establishing that in the final judgment we determine the criteria God will use to judge us with; this is only a small part of our fulfillment (salvation). The tentacles of judgment reach out into morality, the concept of eternal life, ethics, personal messiah ship, personal responsibility, and self-discovery. These things become connected in our reason for being and will ultimately be explored as we continue with this text.
The major point that the theologian or clergyman must keep in mind about our judgment, is that like all other aspects of reality, judgment is a deeply personal and individual experience. While God has given us some input through inspiration which can point us in the right direction, it is irresponsible of the theologian to proclaim there is a particular set of laws which declare the Will of God in such matters.
The degree of responsibility that we as human beings must accept before God becomes a uniquely individual criteria. If religion is to serve God it should help, not direct the individual to discover what the Will of God is within their self. Like psychology helps us to understand the workings of our own mind, religion should be helping us to explore the inner workings of our spirit in conjunction with the mind. It is as dangerous for spiritual leaders to overlook the natural drives of human beings, as it is for psychiatrists to overlook our spiritual needs; which are always individually unique.
If we accept an Image of God where all men are created equal, then we must see that the diversity of mankind is God's Creative Will. Logically then, God must take into account the individuality of a being when pronouncing any final verdicts.
The ultimate goal of religion must not be the declaration of God's Judgment, for such a thing no man can truly know for another. The aim should be to help individuals find God within themselves so they might never fear God or Her Divine judgment. Judgment is a metaphor for accountability and that accountability will always be an individual one. To declare God's wrath upon others is to ask for it upon one's self.
9-Summary of A Perception of God† ††††††††††††††
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