Consenting to die

Thoughts on consenting to die.

Do not go gentle into that good night;

Old age should burn and rave against the close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

These lines are from a famous poem, but Dylan Thomas is wrong.  Simone Weil gives us some of the reasons.  For Weil, heaven and hell are essentially the same. Both are a cover for nothingness. We come from the void and we return to the void. Heaven is the nothingness of consent to the void.  Hell is the refusal to accept nothingness as the destiny of the soul. The only difference is whether we accept or refuse this nothingness. In consenting to die, we share in the transcendent value of God (McCullough, p 188).  Why?  Because we no longer belong to a world in which the self and its desires come first.  Or as Weil put it, “The self is only the shadow of sin and error cast by stopping the light of God, and I take this shadow for a being.” (GG, p35)  

When I consent to die, I thank God for my existence, the tremendous, miraculous fact and privilege of existing.  I did not have to be; nothing that exists had to be.  My existence on this earth is a gift beyond measure.  But because I live, I must also die.  Not just every living thing, but every thing that exists must die.*  Only the time scale varies, from minutes for some insects, years for human beings, to aeons (a billion years) for the earth itself. 

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The Kingdom of God is Within

The kingdom of God.  I’ve always wondered what the term “kingdom of God” meant.  What I’ve learned is that it’s complicated.  The term kingdom of God (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦo) occurs 162 times in the New Testament.  It’s important because it concerns our relationship with God.  Is the kingdom coming for us?  Do we make it ourselves through the work of our hearts and hands?  Is God’s rule now or sometime in the future?  Or both?

There seems to be no difference between the terms kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven.  Matthew uses the latter because Jews, who were his primary audience, would have been uneasy with frequent references to the sacred name of God (Turner, p 41).  Mark and Luke refer to the kingdom of God, and so shall I.

The kingdom of God can refer to the second coming of Christ, when the world would be become God’s kingdom (Weiss, Schweitzer).  Or, the kingdom of God can refer to the new world already begun by Christ, the first advent.  We must work to make it happen, but at the same time it is already here, in the work of those who would bring it about.  This is called realized eschatology, or a variant, inaugurated eschatology, depending on the degree to which you think the kingdom is already present.  But using the right term is not so important.  Important is the idea that the kingdom of God has, in some measure, already begun with the life and death of Christ (Perrin, pp 1-2).

If the kingdom of God has begun with the life of Christ, what are we to do?  How does it happen?  One answer is that it happens because individuals have made the kingdom of God their own.  Inspired by their own experience of the kingdom of God, some men and women work to make the world in its image.  A variant of this view (it seems like all there are is variants) is that the kingdom of God is unfolding in the course of history, and best realized in utopian communities and the like.  Personalism is associated with this view in Catholic theology (Alford, pp 59-63).  As for me, it seems as if history is headed in the wrong direction, at least in the terrible twentieth-century.

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The Gospel of Q: the Gospel that doesn’t exist

The Gospel of Q: the Gospel that doesn’t exist

The gospel of Q doesn’t exist.  It was absorbed into the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  But the gospel of Q does exist.  It can be reconstructed as a separate document, casting Christianity in a new light.  Q. stands for Quelle, the German word for source.  Scholars figured out that large parts of Matthew and Luke told not just the same story, but used almost the same words.  Both are working with an oral tradition, but while oral traditions repeat set scenes, they do not repeat large sections of material almost word for word.  So, scholars removed these sections and put them together, and lo Q was born.  This is sometimes called the two-source hypothesis, Mark + Q = Matthew or Luke.

Q contains roughly 235 verses found in Matthew and Luke, about an equal number from each.  Without Q, Matthew and Luke would have lost much of their content, the Sermon on the Mount aQ nd the Beatitudes becoming no more than passing references.  Q. provides the content. 

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