I have been consistently judgmental — a pejorative characteristic these days, but a laudable trait in my opinion. For, to put it bluntly, just as humanity must distinguish between what is true and what is false, so it must discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. ¶ Good and Evil are not merely subjective perspectives of various civilizations. They are basic notions of humanity, even if often erring. They have to be decided by thoughtful exploration and not by public opinion poll. Just as the belief that the world is flat is mistaken, even if at one time most people thought it to be true, so to kill a person who is blameless is wicked, even if in some cultures it may be justified.
And today is Sabbath. And I’m not sick. And the sun is already so hot outside that everything’s all bleached and wobbly-looking, as if the whole world was just an overexposed home movie God was showing Jesus up on their living room wall. And whenever it’s really hot Elder Babcock’s sermon — even if it starts out being abut some nice quiet thing like the poor or meek or weak — will sooner or later twist like a snake with its head run over to the unquiet subject of heaven and hell, and who all is going to which, and how long you’ll have to stay, and what all will happen to you when you get there, and he goes on so loud and long and the air gets so used up and awful that bit by bit you lose track of any difference between his heaven and his hell and would gladly pick either over church. Then the sermon ends, and the long prayer after it, and it comes time to belt out the big hosanna that means it’s almost time to go home. Except that last hymn always has about fourteen verses. And when you stand up to sing it you discover your blood has got stuck down in your feet. And all through the sermon every grownup in the place has had their mouth clamped shut trying not to yawn, so when the glad voices suddenly upraised this tidal wave of pent-up halitosis comes swashing out of them and up your nose and all through the parts of your head where the blood that’s in you feet should have been, till your brain feels like it’s going to barf.
Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually-abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last “trick” whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school; the death-bed convert who for decades had his cake and ate it, broke every law of God and man, wallowed in lust and raped the earth. “But how?” we ask. Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There they are. There we are — the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith.
I looked at the Gita and was deeply moved, as who could fail to be, but I was not convinced. When it came to the point I found myself quite unable to believe that what happened in the world as the result of my actions was not of ultimate importance. To be sure it mattered little what I, as a single individual, did as the German tanks rolled into France, but what thousands like me did might make a crucial difference to the course of human history. At that moment I discovered myself to be profoundly occidental. ¶ I do not suppose that even now I can render fully explicit what lay behind that conviction, but it had, I believe, something to do with the Christian pattern of Creation and Redemption and a consequent vision of the world as the theatre of irrevocable choices.
Thus from the dawn of recorded history the scourge of God has humbled the proud of heart and laid low those who hardened themselves against Him. Ponder this well, my friends, and fall on your knees. If today the plague is in your midst, that is because the hour has struck for taking thought. The just man need have no fear, but the evildoer has good cause to tremble. For plague is the flail of God and the world His threshing-floor, and implacably He will thresh out His harvest until the wheat is separated from the chaff. There will be more chaff than wheat, few chosen of the many called. Yet this calamity was not willed by God. Too long this world of ours has connived at evil, too long has it counted on the divine mercy, on God’s forgiveness. Repentance was enough, men thought; nothing was forbidden. You fondly imagine it was enough to visit God on Sundays, and thus you make free of your weekdays, You believed some brief formalities, some bendings of the knee, would recompense Him well enough for your criminal indifference. But God is not mocked. These brief encounters could not sate the fierce hunger of His love… To some the sermon simply brought home the fact that they had been sentenced, for an unknown crime, to an indeterminate period of punishment.
“No, Frank, not here”, said the Lady. “Listen to reason. Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was real misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. No, no, no.
Come to us. We will not go to you. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?
Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation thoughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is — what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself — the greater I am.” …
Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) “thou shalt not” predominates unduly over “thou shalt.” In its horror of sensuality, it made an idol of asceticism, which has been gradually compromised away into one of legality. It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man’s feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow-creatures, except so far as a self-interested inducement is offered to him for consulting them. It is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established; who indeed are not to be actively obeyed when they command what religion forbids, but who are not to be resisted, far less rebelled against, for any amount of wrong to ourselves.
Of forgiveness, indeed, I speak briefly, for, as we said above, vengeance in no sense belongs to you, since you are not your own, nor is he who injures you yours or his, but you are both the servants of one Lord, made by him out of nothing. And if you avenge yourself upon your fellow servant, you proudly assume judgment over him when it is the peculiar right of God, the judge of all. But what do you give to God by your obedience, which is not owed him already, since he demands from you all that you are and have and can become?