Every now and then, I reflect on the plight of the thinking, otherwise rational, truth-seeking, true believer. At such times, as a thinking, rational, truth-seeking non-believer, I almost feel superior, freed as I am from the kind of questions that my faith-based opposites must contemplate and resolve in order to maintain their faith and their sanity.
The easy example of the kind of perplexing, mind-boggling “truth” that might agitate the intellects of folks whose faith aligns them with Christian teachings is the holy trinity. That concept, for those unfamiliar with it, states that God is really three separate entities. There’s God the Father (he’s the one usually pictured with a long white beard, as Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel). There’s God the Son (that’s Jesus, who is both the son of God and God incarnate, a real human being, who was crucified and died a mortal’s death). And then there’s the third of the three, the Holy Ghost (as traditional Catholics refer to it) or the Holy Spirit (as most Protestants prefer).
This three-in-one concept is beyond fantastic in terms of rational intellectual contemplation. It supposes that some kind of omnipresent force (the Holy Ghost/Spirit) exists along with an omnipotent entity (God the Father) and a deceased real person who was every bit as much God as the other two. I’m not sure which of the three is the hardest to reconcile with reality; each presents its own intellectual challenge. Surely the differentiation between God the Father and the Holy Ghost/Spirit must give thinking believers fits. But the God the Father/God the Son dichotomy isn’t all that easy to wrap your brain around either. And the relationship between that Holy Ghost/Spirit and Jesus is really every bit as much a challenge, especially if they are really all one entity, as the doctrine states.
Of course, those troubling questions are supposedly resolved by faith in its purest form. Faith is “beyond the rational,” as Kierkegaard espoused in his existential musings. In other words, don’t think about it; just accept it. And that’s fine if all you are after is a happier way to view reality. Believing that there is a God (in however many parts; who really cares?), who looks out for us (more or less; he does allow things like Ebola and Isis to exist, after all), and provides an after-life for us that is a better place than we can ever imagine, gives many real humans a way to deal with the harsh realities of life and death that makes it all bearable (most of the time, at least).
The sense of solace and comfort that a grieving parent may feel at the death of a child, or a spouse at the loss of a life-long partner, or any of us on being told we have an incurable, terminal disease, cannot be shrugged aside as an irrelevancy. Life is hard. At times, it can be unbearably so. Those who can find some relief or hope or even joy in the face of the cruelest of fates should not be mocked for holding on to irrational fantasies.
But there are more than a few true believers who also fashion themselves to be rational thinkers as well, and for them, any deep contemplation of the holy trinity must send them racing for Thomas Aquinas’s proofs (or devising their own).
But the holy trinity is really just the tip of the iceberg when considering the imponderables that blind faith imposes. Consider, for example, the controversy among true believers about hell. That’s the place that most Christians believe to be the promised after-life for the “unsaved” (or, if you prefer, the wicked) when they die.
Hell is never pictured as a pleasant spot. In fact, it’s supposed to be as bad an existence as can be imagined. Dante envisioned it as an “Inferno” that was both unbearably hot and icy cold—another irreconcilable dichotomy.
Suffice to say hell is not a place to want to have one’s soul consigned, especially if it must reside there for eternity. But, it turns out, there is even controversy about that point. Back in 1982, Edward Fudge, a Christian minister, published a book entitled, “The Fire that Consumes,” in which he posited that souls that are sent to hell are given a kind of release from the unbearable pain that they must there suffer by being extinguished after a certain amount of time.
Bear with me here for a minute while I explain. Reverend Fudge reads the scriptural passages that discuss hell as proving that there is a form of conditional immortality that souls sent to hell receive. In other words, they get a period of what in lay terms we might call “imprisonment” followed by what we might think of as execution. And that execution would undoubtedly be welcomed by the soul, since it would be an end to the suffering that is the 24/7 reality of hell.
Among other scriptural passages on which Rev. Fudge rests his thesis is a verse in the book of Revelations that has Jesus referring to a “second death” for the unsaved. What else, Rev. Fudge posits, could that second death refer to than the death of the damned soul? And, of course, allowing for such an extermination would align with the Christian view of a merciful God (probably referring to God the Father), since it would certainly be merciful to put the damned soul out of its misery.
But, of course, the Bible also portrays God as a vengeful and jealous creature, one who has little patience with non-believers (witness the fate of the Baal worshippers and of Pharaoh’s followers, not to mention Lot’s wife, who had the audacity to look back at the city she was dutifully fleeing from, thereupon immediately being turned into a pillar of salt).
There’s so much to contemplate when you are a thinking true believer. It really boggles the mind, especially since none of it has ever been personally experienced or reported on by any living human being, other, of course, than God the Son.