In the 14th century, Italian author Dante Alighieri wrote his Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso political allegory revealing the vile acts of those nefarious individuals living during his time. His various nine circles of Hell represented an increased level of wickedness and strife ranging from the following: those in limbo who were unbaptized Christians and virtuous pagans, lustful individuals, gluttonous individuals, greedy sinners, wrathful sinners, heretical sinners, violence and malicious sinners, those who commit fraud and those who commit treachery. Such a poem, while unlikely in terms of the reality of Hell, is nevertheless our call as Christians to realize that such a place is real. The cycle of readings from the lectionary today come from Deutoronmy 9:4-10; Psalm 79 and Lk 6. The old testament reading speaks of a great and awesome God who keeps His merciful covenant to those who love Him and observe His commands. The writer from Deuteronomy acknowledges that the God from the old testament is one of compassion and forgiveness. The psalmist notes that we should be pardoned from our sins. Meanwhile, the Gospel from Luke asks us to “stop judging” so we will “not be judged” and to “stop condemning” so we “will not be condemned.”
Why does a merciful God allow bad outcomes to occur is the question asked by many atheists and Christians alike. When one sees such destruction and violence, especially toward the pure and innocent, even the most devout faith going Christian has to ponder such issues. These are all great questions to ask ourselves while on our faith journey. Ultimately, tragedy is the great paradox of God’s mercy and love. Would we question such matters if the world were perfect and we were still living in a garden of Eden with a God that had provided all the necessities of life? In a sense, the stain of original sin and our concupiscence or ability to choose that which is contrary to our unordered reasons and desires not of a dependence on God is why tragedy occurs. In the Judeo theology, the concept of yetzer hara, or an evil inclination of humanity that goes against God’s will is seen in such rabbinical texts. Overall, I have contemplated such visions of Heaven, Hell and judgement whenever the time comes through deep contemplative prayer and meditation. I truly believe that when we go before the throne of God to make our choice, we may be left with a choice that is an empty façade of our ability to choose the idols we worship here on earth. The seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth may resemble our choice to become dependent on God’s love and mercy, or dependent on our disordered desires to turn away from an infinite love versus a temporal love. Heaven, on the other hand, replaces those temporal idols with a greater infinite love as in 1 Jn. 4:8, the author states that those “without love does not know God, for God is love.” Let us start prayerfully turning to God now in our daily encounters before we are not able to recognize who God is when we shall be unable to recognize Him once we pass away from this earthly abode. Pax.