Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VIII: Humility

I’d like to wrap up this series of reflections about the nature of heaven with a meditation on the necessity of humility for entrance into eternal peace and reconciliation with God.

In my last full post (Part VI) on repentance, I noted that, in order to enter heaven, we will have to repent of all our sins.  Every sin is a choice of not-love and not-God, and the will cannot continue to be attached to that which is not-love and not-God when we are in the fullness of God’s presence. That means we will have to let go of each and every sin against God, ourselves, and others if we want to live with God for eternity.

Relinquishing all that sin, and admitting that we were wrong in choosing it, is going to require a tremendous amount of humility.  I really wanted to write and post this meditation on this past Sunday, which was the 22nd Sunday in OT C, and could almost be called “Humility Sunday” because the Readings highlighted this virtue so strongly (Sir 3:17-29 and Luke 14:7-14, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted”).

Lack of humility is going to be a major impediment for many to enter into heaven.  Can we really imagine Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and other dictators who were virtually worshiped while alive and caused the violent deaths of millions of persons to stand before God and the cosmos and admit they were wrong: that there actually is a God, that human beings are in his image, and their political programs were all but completely opposed to human dignity?  I would hope they would be, but I’m not sure why we should expect that figures like this would be inspired in the next life to undergo a radical change in mentality from what they maintained in this life.  Men like this who enjoyed godlike dictatorial power (or better, Satan-like dictatorial power) in this life will experience great difficulty—I suggest—in mustering the humility to acknowledge before God that their lives inflicted untold evil and suffering on so many persons made in God’s image.  It seems to me more likely that, rather than undergo that kind of humility, they would choose to maintain their own version of reality, in which they were the champion of utopian progress for mankind, rather than enter heaven, where the truth must be acknowledged by all. 

Of course, it’s easy to use evil dictators as examples, but humility is going to be an impediment for the entrance to heaven for far more people whose sins never made headlines. There are so many people who have been so cruel to their spouses—to the very person they swore to love and cherish until death, and with whom they brought children in to the world—and yet have rationalized their actions and live in denial of what they have done.  Millions have done this—will they have the humility at the particular judgment to do that which they were never willing to do in this life, namely, admit their infidelity and seek reconciliation—at least in principal—with the spouse they sinned against?  This is one of the reasons that the collapse of the institution of marriage within society and within the Church is such a catastrophe.  The wreckage of failed marriages leaves so many people in tangled webs of unreconciliation with persons with whom they are so intimately connected—and yet to enter heaven it will be necessary to repent of all the pain we inflicted on persons who were so close to us.  The truth of what we did will have to be acknowledged because in the presence of God, who is the Truth, no non-truth can be maintained.

I know a Protestant clergyman who had an affair with a woman in his congregation. When it was discovered, he blamed his wife for the failure of his marriage and divorced her.  After marrying a third woman much younger than himself, he continued to pastor churches, explaining his life history to people by insisting his first wife had “left him.” Is such a man going to have the humility on the day of judgment to admit that it was his infidelity that was at the root of this chain of events, and that contrary to the teaching of the very Jesus he claimed to preach (Matt 19:8-9), he had abandoned his true wife and lived in adultery with another?

Or let us consider the many cases of priests and even bishops who have committed sexual abuse against multiple minors and been removed from ministry, yet maintain their innocence and never apologize to their victims or make any external sign of repentance even up to their death.  Will these men do in the next life that which they refused to do in this one, namely: admit the gravity of their wrongdoing and seek reconciliation with their victims?  Yet, is it possible for them to enter eternal blessedness and peace without admitting this wrongdoing and seeking to be reconciled with God and with others? 

I think it will be very hard for those who enjoyed prestige and power in this life—whether in society or in the Church—to muster the humility to acknowledge before God and the world the depth of the evils they committed, yet without such repentance it would not seem possible to plunge into the ocean of transparent self-giving love that is heaven.

The private person who never claimed to be much is going to have a much easier time acknowledging his sinfulness before God than the great political and ecclesiastical leaders who considered themselves the heralds of a new utopia for mankind, but were actually vain, self-seeking, and deluded, to the great harm of those they lead.

Nonetheless, only the saints will have an easy time of this.  The rest of us so rationalize our sins against others, especially if we consider those others to be persons of little worth—whether because they are children, or a different race, or a different political party, etc.—that when we are confronted with the reality of our sin against such persons, it will be a great trial of our humility to admit that “I, yes, I” committed something so evil against a fellow human being.

Pride is traditionally understood as the root of the downfall of Satan, who rebelled against God because it did not seem just to him that he, a higher being, should serve lowly humans.  The true God is humble, and does not shrink from serving lower beings; indeed, he does not shrink from taking on the nature of his creatures and suffering abuse and death at their hands.  That is the difference in humility between God and Satan.  God is humble.  But this truth is part of the uniqueness of Christian revelation.  There are many theistic religions, but few in which God is humble.  Many hold humility to be incompatible with the dignity of the divine nature.  But we claim the greatest revelation of the Triune God is in Jesus Christ, who humbled himself to take on a human nature and suffer for our salvation.  Yet it is truly remarkable that so many of us who claim to follow him are so resistant to embracing his model of humility. This is a failure to embrace the Holy Spirit, who is able to infuse in us this divine virtue.

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