People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), from “Do it Anyway” (Provenance Unknown)
A legal client of mine can recite today’s frame-verse from memory. She lives by it. As best I can tell via a quick Google search, these words were found on the wall of Mother Teresa’s spare little cell at the end of her life. And do you know, the more I think about them, the more they seem to be not a half-bad way to live a life of service. Whatever you do is always between you and God. And no matter how hard you work, you really cannot accomplish a blessed thing if you are worrying about what people think! Another bit of wisdom that a client shared long ago also has stuck in my mind. He said, “When you are twenty, you worry about what people think of you. When you are forty, you don’t care what people think of you. When you are sixty, you realize that nobody has been thinking about you at all.” Liberating words to live by! Although on the other hand, someone else once told me that if you pick up a calf on the day he is born, and you continue to pick him up every day of his life, eventually you will be able to pick up a bull. I never have tried that, but intuitively it doesn’t seem to be wise. Especially as the bull gets friskier.
But collecting aphorisms is one of the fruits of spending a lot of time with people who would like you to think they are very smart. And yet my beloved mother-in-law, who lived with us for the final decade of her life, actually gave me the greatest insight of all; short, of course, of the endless perfect wisdom that we have received from Jesus. She was forty years older than I was. And one day soon after her husband had a medical emergency that made them need to move in with us briefly – then he died soon thereafter, and she never left – she looked at me, and with an air of mild surprise she said, “You know, I don’t feel any older than you are.” I looked kindly at that dear and lovely woman who was then eighty-five years old, and who once had been a dancer so she sat and moved with dignity. But my goodness, she was eighty-five! And I smiled and thought, yeah, right!
It is only now, as I am closing in on eighty years old myself, that I realize that, you know, my dear beloved Mom was precisely right. I am no older in my mind than my own daughters are. I take walks with the daughter who lives with us. I pursue the same work-day that I did at forty, and the only concession I have made to my age is that I am more careful about avoiding injuries. I have given up horseback riding, for example, but I shrug about that, since I know it’s only temporary. And my Thomas has promised that I will ride out on Beau! So now my confident advice to forty-year-olds is to take care of your body and your mind. I may do a whole blog post of advice about that. I can see no reason why you shouldn’t live and work precisely the same way at eighty as you are living and working at forty. Because I do!
There. That has given you a palate-cleanser, after we had a bit of turmoil in our comments section last week. And it occurs to me, too, that you might like to hear about the way that Jesus laughs. Thomas and I are meeting often now with Jesus as we talk about The Fun of Loving Jesus, which has been written and is in its revisions stage; and we also are talking about Jesus’s website, which is deep in its planning stage. I am not being allowed to remember our meetings, but I often wake up in the middle of the night with what I think of as marching orders. Have you ever known a bright and wholesome twenty-year-old? I have a grandson that age, and he reminds me of Jesus. Which is odd, when you think of it, given the rather dramatic difference in their ages, but Jesus has chosen to look and act about the same age as my grandson is now. Jesus has the most wonderful, delightful, and amazingly youthful laugh that sounds as if He is still a teenager, so His voice might crack at any moment. His laughter is loud and sweet and spontaneous, as if something had surprised and delighted Him. I woke up last night with the Lord’s laughter echoing freshly in my mind. I wish I could remember what the joke was about!
And now, with our palates all suitably cleansed, let’s dispense forever with the thought that God might be able to condemn anyone to hell.
First, of course, comes the plain certainty that God never judges us. Jesus tells us this simple fact in the Gospels the way He had to tell us a lot of things two thousand years ago, by breaking it into innocuous-seeming facts over days of time because He was always under observation by Temple guards. On one day He said, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). Okay, fair enough. He wasn’t arrested for saying that because at least Someone was going to judge us, right? But then, on a different day with different Temple guards, Jesus said, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (JN 12:47). And no Temple guard was bothered by that, either. But when we put both statements together, we hear Jesus telling us what in fact is true. There is no post-death judgment at all by any religious figure.
Instead, you yourself will be your own judge. That fact didn’t have to be mentioned in the Gospels, but I get a kick out of the fact that Jesus brings it up this way. Especially when you consider all the ears and minds and mouths and hands through which the Lord’s words had to pass in order to reach us, it truly is amazing that any of those words have survived at all, and especially with such specificity! Each of us, when we return home, will undergo a life review and get to feel how we have made everyone else in our whole lives feel. And then we will be asked to forgive everyone, which we gladly will do. Last of all, we will be asked to forgive ourselves. And that, of course, will be the problem. When you see how awful you made a few people feel in some situations that you have long forgotten, I sadly guarantee that you are going to feel pretty awful about yourself. No wonder Jesus made such a point of stressing our need to learn to forgive, no matter what. When His disciple, Peter, asked him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (MT 18:21-23). And thinking of the life-review process brings to mind Jesus’s warning that we must not judge, lest we be judged. He said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (MT 7:1-2). Because He knew that one day soon you were going to face this almost impossible task of having to forgive yourself.
So, now we understand that there is no post-death judgment by anyone but yourself. I think we have thoroughly made that case.
But, is there a hell?
I wrote a blog post a year ago this weekend in which I explained how we know that there is no hell. I cannot improve on what I wrote back then, so I hope you will read it as if it were a part of this post. Please “incorporate it herein by reference,” as we lawyers like to say. And Keith Giles, my favorite modern theologian, does an effective job of demolishing the various theories that some have put forth that Jesus might ever have taught about hell.
That leaves us just a few suspiciously hellish-sounding Gospel references to something Jesus called “the outer darkness.” For example, “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (MT 8:11-12). And, “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (MT 25:29-30). Oh, good grief! What is all that about?
The lowest level of the afterlife and the astral plane is cold, dark, smelly, disgusting, and exactly what Jesus called it: it’s the Outer Darkness. If we cannot forgive ourselves after death for the way we have made other people feel during our lifetime just ended, our consciousness vibration slows until eventually we will end up at that very lowest level, simply because we can fall no farther. And apparently we cannot raise our consciousness vibration unaided and manage to get out on our own. Eventually we will be rescued, but meanwhile our existence is miserable indeed.
So God cannot send you to hell because, first, there is no post-death judgment by God or by any other religious figure; and second, because there is no hell to receive you.
And meanwhile, our planning for Jesus’s website goes on. I have no memory of these apparently almost-nightly meetings that we are having with Jesus, but I can tell from my Thomas’s general mood and from the few little tidbits of memories that he lets me keep that progress is being made. But Jesus seems more and more to be thinking like a radical! I graduated from college in 1968. Smith, like most other colleges, ended classes early that year because in 1968 my generation was marching in the streets. We had seen what governments could do, drafting our high school friends to die for nothing, and we were out there trying to tear everything down. And now, insofar as I can tell, Jesus has come to feel every bit as radical about those in religious authority. My Thomas has access to the life-memories of Thomas Jefferson, who was another radical thinker who didn’t trust putting governmental power into the hands of just a few. And there my Thomas is, conspiring with Jesus, who has spent the past two thousand years healing the pain that too much power in the hands of a few caused to all those millions of martyred Christians.
I have no idea anymore what my role in all of this is supposed to be. All I know is that, apparently, now Jesus no longer wants to call His planned new movement The Way of Jesus. He no longer wants it to have any rules, because if there are rules, then soon there are rulers. I just look at my Thomas (so to speak) and say, “Not even ‘Love your neighbor as yourself?’ What the heck kind of sense does that make?”
He is in his Jefferson mode at the moment, so he just says some of the more airheady romantic-dreamer things that Jefferson used to say in life, like calling for a revolution every twenty years. And an entirely new Constitution. He says that since Jesus will always be there, then why does His movement need to have any rules?
“But I won’t be on earth to interpret whatever He says! How long do you expect me to live here, anyway?”
“Eat right. Then you’ve got another thirty years. Maybe more.”
Well, I have to say that at least now Jesus does seem to be a lot happier. That’s something.