19 May 2016
We have some rather bleak readings today: all this talk about “weeping and wailing,” and “impending miseries;” and Jesus really leaning into the imagery of the “unquenchable fire of Gehenna.” But, you know, these readings just seem to be highlighting something we already know: that it’s our choice how we live—and that we have to live with our choices.
Now, unfortunately, in ages past (and even among some Christians today) all this talk of eternal fire and misery was seen as an extension of God’s character—as though God is simply an angry, vengeful God who you better be careful around, or you’ll end up in the flames of hell. And that’s sad and unfortunate, because then life choices aren’t made in love; they’re made in fear.
Then life isn’t about choosing to love and adore God; instead, life is about living in such a way so we don’t get God mad at us. And that really isn’t any way to live at all. Happily, though, that’s a poor interpretation of these Scripture passages. God shows us the way to live, and he gives us today something of a preview of where our choices naturally take us—whether that’s the “weeping and wailing” of Gehenna, or the Kingdom of Heaven and the radiant City of God.
Life doesn’t have to be bleak. Our Scripture readings today don’t have to be our present or our future. God puts before us—as he does every moment of our life—a choice: the way of life, or the way of death. Now, obviously, our loving God would prefer we choose the way of life; he’d prefer that we choose: charity over greed; and humility instead of pride; and hope and peace rather than despair and fear. But, you know, that’s what we hope for ourselves, too.
We just want to be good people, living everyday life as best we can, with the help of God. That’s the life we choose to live. And as long as we keep that choice fresh and alive in our hearts, we won’t have time to worry about Gehenna and the “weeping and wailing;” . . . we’ll be too busy singing God’s praises, and enjoying his company today and forever.