‘Amnesia’ and the big picture
When we’re beginning our spiritual journeys, we really don’t know ourselves. Richard Rohr calls this situation amnesia – we have forgotten who we are and whose we are. The spiritual journey will call us to find our True Self again – the Self who was created to live in union with God.
Most of us depend on religion to guide us on our journey to our True Self, but religions often turn the journey into a worthiness contest of sorts. Religion, too, can encourage us to climb up the ‘ladder of success’, just as our culture pushes us to ‘succeed’.
(We are all proud of the achievements that mark our progress in life – whether it’s a trophy from our first soccer team when we were seven years old, or a year-end bonus from our boss when we’re 40. Yet we have to learn not to confuse these achievements with signs of our spiritual growth.)
When we turn back to Scripture, we are reminded that God invites us “to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The early church called this divinization – that is, God has invited us to take on divinity, to become like God. What Peter and the other early Christians were discovering is that divinization actually becomes possible through God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.
What ‘good news’ this Gospel is! But for people who live in a future-oriented, product-oriented, win-lose world, this good news seems just too good to be true.
‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’
Spiritual growth is much more about unlearning old attitudes than learning new things. For instance, we have to learn again about ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’. In Scripture, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ come near to us in this life; as he begins his ministry, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). Drawing near to God has been called ‘heaven’ by most traditions – and falling away from God has been called ‘hell.’ But through our ‘amnesia’ – forgetting that God invites us into union now, in this life – most of today’s Christians believe that ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are still waiting for them in a future life.
Rohr says, “If you have been taught to believe in a God who punishes – or even eternally tortures – those who don’t love him, then you are living in an absurd universe, where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!” The true Gospel (the one we hear, read, and see in Jesus) is telling us that God doesn’t want to exclude anyone from union. God does allow us the freedom to exclude ourselves; that means no one is in hell unless they themselves have chosen to be finally alone and separated.
Think it through for yourself: Why would Jesus’ love be so unconditional while he was in this world, and suddenly become totally conditional after death?
Our human ego clearly prefers an economy of merit – where we can divide the world into winners and losers, workers and idlers – to any economy of grace, where merit or effort or worthiness loses all meaning.
But remember Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard: the laborers who only worked for an hour were paid the same as those who worked hard all day. (Matthew 20:1-16) What kind of economy is Jesus describing?