The Curmudgeon


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 18 vii-ix

Jesus calls down misery on the world because of its temptations, and in the next breath proclaims that temptations are necessary, and in the breath after that calls down misery on those who perform the necessity. This is a frank and even cynical recognition of the moral quality of His Father's handiwork, whereby God's creatures are punished, even unto death, for displaying those very qualities which God has made intrinsic to their nature.

In the famous passage recommending bodily self-mutilation in the interests of moral purity, Jesus draws an important distinction between physical and spiritual punishment. It is generally assumed that these words are mere hyperbole, like the ones about giving away worldly goods and unlike the ones about rising from the dead; but in purely literal terms His reasoning is quite cogent. If the torments of hell are worse than physical pain, it is reasonable to undergo physical pain in order to avoid the fires of Gehenna. By extension, subjecting others to worldly tortures in order to spare them the demonic tortures which their loving Father has been keeping warm for them is not only reasonable but, as any good Inquisitor would confirm, a moral imperative and an authentic act of charity.

Whether or not He knew or intended it, Jesus provided explicit and straightforward licence to persons of goodwill for inflicting pain and torture. Given His words about the fate of those by whom temptation comes, it is possible that His resignation to His own physical torments at the end may have derived at least in part from a belated recognition of His own culpability.


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