“In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.”
So wrote St Isaac the Syrian, who, perhaps more than most, provides the profoundest fruits of meditating upon what it means to say ‘God is love’.He does not deny, as some try, the reality of hell, but rather offers us a reading of it which ought to make us stop and think:
As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.
That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse.
St John tells us that: ‘ If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.’ Unlike some who claim that once you have received Christ you are ‘saved’, St John knew that it was still possible for us to sin.
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
If we say we are without sin, then we lie – only to ourself; God knows the truth. If we lie to ourselves we do not walk in the light; if we do not love, then we walk in the darkness.
The Trinity, the Godhead, is love – and through the mutual love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, everything that is has come into existence is the result of that love. But although we are created in the image of God, we have chosen to err and stray like lost sheep. Not even the first generation of Jesus’ followers were free from those who claimed inspiration as their excuse for dissent. Our greatest failing is wanting to be at the centre of things – like children, we can want everything to revolve around us. But we are already loved. If we do not feel that, we might try attributing that to a failure on our own part rather than blaming God.
We have been presented with the Good News. Never, in the history of mankind, has it been easier to know that news; but since it requires of us a humility foreign to our culture, it may be more difficult than ever to hear what God is saying to us. If we imagine it has to come in a blinding flash as a one-off event, we shall miss the other ways God works. We shall miss the still, small voice in the darkness, we shall miss the mustard seed which needs only watering to grow; we shall remain in the darkness because we do not recognise what light looks like.
Do we allow ourselves enough time and space to hear and respond to God’s love? If so, how do we pass that on to those who have not yet heard it?