Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VII: An Interlude and Reflection

(the commentary for Sunday 22 in OT Year C Sept 1 is in a post further below)

I am shortly going to wrap up these reflections on the possibility of everyone ending up in heaven with a meditation on humility as a requirement for eternal life with God, but before I do, I'd like to reflect on the hymn Breathe On Me Breath of God, which we happened to sing at the mass I attended this past Sunday in Steubenville.  I was struck by these lyrics:
  1. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
    Fill me with life anew,
    That I may love what Thou dost love,
    And do what Thou wouldst do.
  2. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
    Until my heart is pure,
    Until with Thee I will one will,
    To do and to endure.
  3. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
    Till I am wholly Thine,
    Until this earthly part of me
    Glows with Thy fire divine.
  4. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
    So shall I never die,
    But live with Thee the perfect life
    Of Thine eternity. 
The hymn expresses beautifully a point that I've been trying to make, namely, that to enter heaven we need to experience a transformation of our desires, such that we learn to desire what God desires.  We have to be purified in order to recognize what is truly good, true, and beautiful; otherwise we risk the danger of not even desiring heaven and freely choosing hell.  This is a very real danger, because this world trains us to love hell, which is our own pleasures, lusts, and pride.  
So the hymn says, "fill me with life anew, that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do."  This is not merely a matter of intellectual education, although that helps, but ultimately it is an ontological and experiential reality effected by the Holy Spirit, who truly transforms us and makes us like God. Mohammed does not give the Holy Spirit, nor does Buddha or any other religious leader, but Jesus Christ alone, the true God-man from whom the Spirit flows.  
The hymn writer goes on to describe the heart becoming pure, and the earthly part of himself glowing with divine fire, all of which leads to the perfect life of eternity.  
Purification and burning with fire, however, can be painful.  We can apply these verses not only to the purification of our earthly pilgrimage but also to purgatory.  I believe one way of looking at purgatory is a further opportunity to prepare for heaven for those who desire it but perhaps lack strength yet to endure it, and have not detached themselves from all sin (i.e. not-God) even though they wish to be rid of it—like the addict who truly wants to be free but is too weak.  Purgatory is for us who are like that.  Hell is for those who don't even want heaven, because they don't love what God loves.

I'm leading a pilgrimage to Israel in June 16-24, 2020, themed on my forthcoming book Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Revealing the Jewish Roots of Christianity.  If you'd like to come, all the details and registration are here:  www.JohnBergsma.com/pilgrimage

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