Unfortunately, it’s much easier to organize people around fear and hatred than around love. Most people who want to hold onto power view God as vindictive and punitive. Powerful people actually prefer this worldview, because it validates their use of intimidation.
.. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but this “cultural” god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” times, but this god doesn’t. Instead, this god burns people for all eternity.
.. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god. We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust.
.. The words Sheol and Gehenna are used in Matthew, but they have nothing to do with our later medieval notion of eternal punishment. Sheol is simply the place of the dead, a sort of limbo place where humans await the final judgment when God will finally win.
.. Gehenna was both the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem–the Valley of Hinnom–and an early Jewish metaphor for evil (Isaiah 66:24). The idea of hell as we most commonly view it came much more from Dante’s Divine Comedy than the Bible.
The cold person lives from a place of scarcity, invariably protecting and defending what little they think they have or are. A person in the flow neither protects nor guards their inner source, vitality, or emotions–any more than necessary to maintain a needed sense of identity. You can tell when someone is in the flow, when they trust that their very life is given freely; you may see it in their smile.
The natural flow of grace is largely impossible when we are “sucking in”–when we’re stingy, petty, blaming, angry, playing the victim, or in any way offended. When we’re recounting what people did to us or what they did not do for us, we’re pulling back and sucking in. We need to notice when we’re in this constrictive state right away before it takes hold of us.
Love has two lovely daughters, twins called grace and mercy. Like identical twins, they are often indistinguishable: Grace is the inner freedom to be merciful. Mercy is grace in action.
God does not choose to love the Israelites, anybody else, or us today because we are good. God loves us from a completely free, deliberate, and arbitrary choice. This recognition is the engine that drives the entire divine drama. Without it, we have nothing but sterile requirements and rituals. From the very beginning, receiving God’s love has never been a “worthiness contest.” This is very hard for almost everyone to accept.
The word that is translated as “steadfast love” is often rendered “covenant love” or “faithful love.” Today we often call it unconditional love. It’s “one-sided love,” if you will, because Israel never keeps its side of the covenant, just as we never keep our side of the relationship to this day. Yahweh has learned to do it all from God’s side since we are basically unreliable as lovers.
We all want to manufacture an answer to take away our anxiety and settle the dust. To stay in God’s hands, to trust, means that we usually have to let go of our attachments to feelings–which are going to pass away anyway (which is the irony of it all). People of deep faith develop a high tolerance for ambiguity, and come to recognize that it is only the small self that needs certitude or perfect order all the time. The Godself is perfectly at home in the River of Mystery.