Part of the enlightenment that Jesus brought to mankind was to center everything around love, including laws written by God the Father back in the Old Testament. The heart and soul of Hebrew Law was the ten commandments: Four about duty to God, and six about duty to each other (“Honor your parents, don’t lie, steal, covet, etc.)
Part of Jesus’ message was to change the focus, the perspective, of Old Testament law. He did this in two ways. The first was to get at the very essence of those ten commandments by refocusing them from something driven from the outside (Thou shalt not!) to something driven from within: Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Verse 40 emphasizes, “On this hangs the law and the prophets.”
This is a major transformation. It parallels an individual’s years-long transformation from child to adult during which children must internalize lessons taught by their parents. When we’re young we just have to obey: Don’t touch the stove! Put on your seat belt! Brush your teeth!
As we mature we understand the reasons for these things, and we’re no longer confused by the contradiction that mom or dad can cross the street but I can’t. With more maturity, more is expected of us, but along with that comes more freedom.
So the emphasis is now on Love, but what about “Law”? The New Testament continues to speak of it. Paul discusses the law at length. The commandments might have been changed to “love”, but are we legally bound to love? The same way the ancient Hebrews were bound to follow the ten commandments and all the other 600-plus Hebrew laws? Did Jesus just switch one set of laws that had to be followed on pain of death for a greatly simplified version that also has to be legally followed on pain of death?
How does THAT work?
Actually it does not work at all, and it never could. Love comes from the inside, it is spontaneous and natural, and no outside force can make you genuinely feel and express an emotion like love. Love is not experienced on demand.
So here’s us Christians saying, “Love God, or you’re going to roast in hell for eternity.”
To love under such conditions, under such a threat, is impossible. Absolutely impossible. The way we’re trying to bring people to Christ seems better modeled after the Stockholm Syndrome than on anything like genuine, spontaneous love. So what’s this all about? And could we Christians do a better job of making our case if we took a second look at it?
I believe we can, and I believe we must address the notion of eternal hell. Point blank: there is no such thing. It is a religious metaphor shared by many of the world’s religions and has a very long history. Some of Christianity’s most vivid imagery about hell comes from Revelation 20, where the devil and the beast and the false prophet (at least one of these is a metaphor) are to be thrown into the lake of fire to be “tormented forever and ever.” Later we read that both death and hell are also thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14), which the Bible then refers to as the second death, i.e. the real, final death from which there is no resurrection.
Whenever we find a passage in which a metaphor or even a real event (death) is being treated like a physical object that can be thrown into a lake, you know that the entire sentence, verse, or passage is metaphorical, it is representative of something, but not to be taken so literally that you miss what the prophet is trying to tell you.
In other words, the concept of hell is a metaphor. Hell symbolizes endless suffering without hope of relief, which is the way all spiritual traditions describe a life without God. Jesus himself used it in his parables, which were themselves metaphorical stories intended to convey spiritual lessons.
Was there really a wise man who built his house on a rock and a foolish man who built his house on the sand? (Luke 6:48-49) Was there really a king who invited beggars to the feast when those he originally invited wouldn’t come? (Matthew 22:1-14)
Does it matter? No. They’re metaphors. They’re parables that illustrate truths about mankind and our relationship with God, and they are “true” regardless of whether the events really happened or not, or whether the characters and situations really existed or not.
To believe in a hell that is anything other than a powerful metaphor, to believe it literally, and that a God of Love would create and maintain such a place, would defy and deny everything that Jesus came here to teach us.
So shame on religion in general and Christianity in particular for using fear and terror of a literal, eternal hell as a way to manipulate their followers. There is probably no greater stumbling block for those who might otherwise accept Love as taught by Jesus than this glaring, contradictory doctrine of eternal hell that some parts of the his church insist on clinging to.
Back to Law, the Bible seems to have lots of them, both criminal law and civil law. Where would the ten commandments fit in after Jesus redefined them in terms of Love? As “a law written on the heart”?
Put simply, where it would fit would not be in legal, written, judgement law but in something more like the laws of physics or other science disciplines. Law as in the law of gravity, the law of the conservation of energy, etc. These types of laws are descriptive of the “behavior” of objects or forces in their respective realms. They describe behavior, rather than demand it.
We’re approaching some insights I got from reading Teilhard de Chardin, which is why I introduced him before getting into this. In a nutshell, a person who has God’s love written on his heart, who has established a connection with Spirit, who as a result has no fear of death, who lives his or her life with the unshakable certainty that when this life comes to an end it will be like kicking off a worn-out pair of shoes and stepping into something far better, that person is going to think and feel and act differently than others.
That person isn’t going to be jealous of his neighbor’s stuff. He’s not going to be interested in lying, cheating, stealing, etc. There won’t be anything else out there that is more worthy of attention or “worship” than what he’s experiencing in that connection to Spirit. With that connection, love comes naturally.
That’s how Paul can say that those with love in their hearts are “a law unto themselves” (Romans 2:14) and that they follow “by nature” God’s law of love. When one accepts this way of life, when one consciously establishes this connection with Spirit, it is a literal and very real transformation of consciousness. It changes the focus of conscious awareness. One’s life is no longer directed by something outside, but rather from within.
I think this is something like what Teilhard was getting at: if you hold a physical object and then release it, when it falls to the ground it is obeying the law of gravity. It is a functioning member of the physical world, of Teilhard’s Physiosphere, obeying the physical law of gravity.
If the object you dropped was a seed, and it lands in some dirt and few months later you find a bush growing there, then the object was also a member of Biosphere “obeying” biological law.
If you’re reading this and it is prompting your own thoughts and ideas, you’re demonstrating the natural law of Noosphere.
What is the law of a consciousness that is connected to Spirit? It is love. Not something you do, it is something you become. Love is such a transforming force that it changes your very nature.
This body is temporary and unimportant, and it doesn’t really matter all that much what happens to it. Obviously we need to take care of ourselves and we have a duty to ourselves and to family, but the striving, driving force within us is no longer Ape.
We apes are social, tribal animals who by nature compete for status within whatever group we’re in. This leads to more breeding opportunities and a better share of whatever food is available. We’ve spent millions of years honing these instincts. Jesus’ message was a call to consciously transcend all that. It has to be conscious and it has to come from us, because there will be no transformation if someone were to magically do it for us.
Ape world is a world of pain and struggle and hardship, of disease and brutality and death. I’m not providing any newsflash here. Using our conscious minds to decisively transcend Ape does not immediately liberate our bodies from suffering or protect us from other apes, but it most definitely liberates the heart and the soul and the spirit, and that liberation changes who you are. The law of love becomes written on the heart, such that as conscious connection to Spirit grows stronger, this Law becomes part of your nature.
Forget hell, it is nonsense. The power of love and of Spirit to lift us out of embeddedness in Ape is the genuine transcendent message of Jesus. The body will eventually deteriorate and disintegrate, but Spirit within us can grow stronger and stronger right up to the point to where we kick out of this body like a worn out pair of shoes and go home.