Human authority figures often misrepresent the nature of God by demanding (as egos do) that those socially subordinate to them serve them rather than humbly offering to serve those who appear on social terms to be beneath them. Pyramid-shaped structures of social power convey the idea that those at the bottom serve those at the top. We need only turn the pyramid upside down to see the truth of the power dynamics at work within God’s kingdom. It is true that “He who would be greatest in the kingdom shall be servant of them all” because that is how humbly walking with God works miracles of mercy and justice by grace for those Jesus calls “the least of these.”
A chain mail of service extends from God to interconnect all who serve others on God’s terms of humility and grace. This chain does not restrain the freedom of God’s servants. Its links join every servant-child-of-God to the power that sets all of us free to serve ever more effectively on God’s behalf as agents and ambassadors of God’s realm of mercy, forgiveness, healing, justice and liberation from bondage to suffering and sin. This is the chain mail that offers all participants in God’s kingdom of mutual service constant relief from suffering because it heals pain on an on-going basis. To belong within such a network of servants requires that one participate in it as both giver and receiver, not just passively ride on its coattails as a parasite or wastefully dispense power through co-dependent activities as a host to parasites. It works for all who serve with both heart and head made fully available to God: 1) hearts open to and connected with each other and with the Source of All Love with empathy, compassion and wisdom and 2) minds open to intuitions, insights and understandings conveyed by the Holy Spirit. God is the Great Innernet Provider for this mutually supportive, interactive network within which every participant has his or her own mailbox through which to give and receive all the power needed to enjoy life as a rewarding experience to be celebrated with deepest appreciation and affection. Not a pyramid of scared power seekers, God’s kingdom is a paradox of sacred power sharers that includes God Himself/Herself.
Once we realize that we only live in “sin” when we suffer and believe no relief is available, we will see the wisdom of God’s Plan to relieve all suffering through mutual appreciation and service in order to relieve all motivation to live the isolating, hypercritical and hypocritical lifestyles we label “sinful.” In the final analysis, all actions declared by religious leaders and other judgmental folks to be sinful are actually symptoms of unrelieved suffering, unhealed pain and unrecognized loneliness. The same suffering and pain that drive people to be hypocritical and also drive them to be hypercritical of others and themselves – and both conditions foster loneliness.
Let’s see how suffering and sin are linked by the Law of Cause and Effect. Of the seven deadly sins, Anger (or Wrath) is merely an early stage of grieving, not a sin at all but rather a symptom of underlying pain and the fear that the pain will never go away. Unresolved emotional issues give out false signals that healing is impossible and cause those in chronic pain to conclude that they will never find relief and must instead accept perpetual suffering. Since the state of perpetual suffering feels like hell on earth, it can convince sufferers that they are destined to remain in hell forever and may as well stop struggling to live lives worth living. Spiritual practices taught by Jesus relieve anger and its associated pain and suffering, both chronic and acute, because these practices connect practitioners to renewed awareness of their natural oneness with the Source of All Well-Being, a connection which feels much like heaven on earth. Renewed awareness of one’s natural place within God’s realm of inner peace and health is the antidote to anger because peace of mind and anger cannot co-exist. Anger along with all other symptoms of unhealed heartaches must disappear as heartaches heal in oneness with the Master’s heart.
Sloth, Gluttony and Vanity (or Pride) are likewise symptoms of unresolved grief, as depressed people lapse into inaction, eat to drown their emotions and busy their minds with distracting images and activities in order to escape from awareness of their pain. Similarly Envy, Greed and Lust (for pleasure and for power over others) are symptoms of pain that manifest the sufferer’s desire to have what others pretend to have and amass material wealth, physical pleasures and power over others as false substitutes for true relief from pain they feel powerless to overcome on their own. In sum, all “sins” are symptoms of the ego’s dominion of perpetuated pain, suffering and fear. The ego presides over the illusion that earthly existence must eventually become a lonely hell on earth.
At the core of all “sins” is a “State of Sin” in which one who acts out due to pain believes and experiences himself or herself to be separated from God. The perception of separation from God is the mental/emotional state called “Sin.” Under the influence of such a state of mind and heart, acting “sinfully” becomes “normal” as the product of a mind driven to unhealthy means as well as unhealthy ends by pain. To believe that such a separation is permanent (a belief that the Church promotes for many people of whom Church leaders personally disapprove) causes agonizing fear of eternal condemnation to a state of perpetual separation from love and loved ones. When we suffer alone, we will not overcome the pain we’re holding onto because relief comes only through daring to share our hearts within the Innernet and letting others know about the emotions that are brooding and broiling around inside of us. Jesus modeled a humble lifestyle of transparent connection with the Father as he allowed others to be aware of how he felt about life’s painful experiences, both in regard to his own pain and in regard to the pain he saw others suffering. He modeled how pain is released through grieving within a sacred community. The ego’s pride, shame and denial of emotions arrest grief’s honest process that heals our hearts and actually matures them to be all the healthier, more resilient and stronger.
As an ego-free person, Jesus was and still is well acquainted with grief and the process of relief we call “grieving.” He did not judge as “bad” and hold in contempt those who acted out their pain in ways that moralists and legalists judge to be “sinful.” Instead, sensitively empathetic to the pain others carried within them and motivated by compassion, Jesus extended himself and the ego-free kingdom of God to those who suffered – offering to heal their wounds and illnesses and relieve them permanently of all their symptoms, including those symptoms that others labeled “sins.” Jesus did not stop to see the symptoms. He saw beyond them to the pain and suffering, to the causes of the grievances that plagued those around him and to the reality of health and wholeness that remained restorable within each person to whom he ministered. He gave his all as well as all he could download from God to aid those who believed in him, helping them to find relief in the form best suited to their needs and personal dispositions.
Rather than to cozy up to socially powerful elite, Jesus kept company with those the socially elite assumed to be out of favor with God and consigned to society’s lowest classifications. To each person of any social classification whom he encountered, Jesus offered permanent residency as a citizen within God’s unified realm on earth and heaven if only each would repent of ego’s perspective and seek first that kingdom and the “righteousness” or “native holiness (health)” of the One Who Created the Kingdom of Love. To follow Jesus’ example, we must likewise seek that kingdom and its holiness as if it were as native to us as it is to Jesus and the One Who Created Us in the Nature of Divinity. We cannot hold ourselves apart from God and God’s Plan as separate egos and still expect to participate in God’s Plan, manifest its power as God’s servants and reap its benefits. We must make the choice to accept that God is reasonably and helpfully making the offer our hearts desire to accept and receive. Grace is God’s gift to us but no gift is fully delivered until the recipient accepts it fully. Full acceptance of God’s gift of empowering grace is both our responsibility and our privilege.
In Part 1 of this essay, I described how the Church that followed historically after Jesus’ life on earth gradually turned his presentation of God’s generous gift of grace on its head and made a mockery of Jesus’ teachings. The Church leaders converted God’s wisdom once again into human foolishness because they were afraid to suffer openly and honestly and instead indulged in what today psychologists call the “Stockholm Syndrome.” The Church leaders came to identify their safety with cultivating the favor of those who threatened their safety most. In this manner, they became unwittingly co-conspirators in perpetuating and exacerbating cycles of neglect (passive violence) and abuse (active violence). They cozied up to their abusers and made heroes out of bullies by offering the one aspect of life that the abusers believed they deserved the least. Without first requiring repentance from their lifestyles of violence, the Church offered bullies a free pass into heaven that no violent person ever truly believes is open to him or her. The bargain was that the Church would speak to God for favor for the bullies and abusers if the bullies and abusers would direct their violence towards others and stand guard over the Church’s accumulated wealth and social status too.
Unlike Jesus who conditioned entry into awareness of God’s kingdom within us upon repentance (choosing a new way of thinking based on forgiveness), the Church conditioned entry into a false heaven somewhere outside of us upon the bullies’ redirecting their violence towards those it considered mutual enemies (maintaining the old way of thinking based on revenge). In doing so, the Church made those enemies into scapegoats to counterbalance the hero status it assigned to its violent allies. To preserve themselves in their state of perpetual fear of those they perceived to be threats to their hegemony, Church leaders made a pact with society’s leaders who believed that violence solved problems. Once the pact was sealed between socially powerful bullies and the Church the system spun along on its inevitable course to become totally out of control – as do all dysfunctional social systems based on illusions of power behind which powerlessness and unmanageable lives (addictions and co-dependency) inevitably hide. No one among monarchs, merchants, military and missionaries saw a need to repent so long as the system of deceit appeared to work for them because they did not examine it too closely and avoided noticing its inherent shortcomings and failure to provide long-term, sustainable benefits even for their own children and grandchildren. Having chosen to rely upon the Emperor of Roman (and all subsequent empire builders) to protect them, the Church failed to point out that the Emperor had no spiritual clothes on.
In his time on earth, Jesus was aware that the socio-political system in place in his homeland was no different from all such systems that had been and ever would be in place around the globe. He saw the nakedness of raw power exercised for the benefit of the few rather than for the benefit of all. The details might vary but the ultimate dynamics by which social power was and is distributed would remain the same. Disregarding Jesus’ insights into the futility of politics as usual, Church leaders became stuck in the stage of grief called “bargaining” as they negotiated pacts with politicians. To maintain their bargains, Church leaders attributed to God the ego’s characteristics of violence and revenge that abusers and bullies exemplified and cast such politicians as doers of God’s will. To do so, the Church had to downplay Jesus’ teachings regarding forgiveness and love towards family, friends, neighbors and enemies alike.
It is a wonder that so many of Jesus teachings about forgiveness and love remained in the sacred texts that the Church authorized to be preserved. To counterbalance the passages about the power of forgiveness to heal and bring peace that remained in the Bible and to temper their authority with contradictory positions, the Church found ways to put words into Jesus’ mouth that compromised the radical qualities of forgiveness and love he expressed throughout his life, death and resurrection. Social elites have made good use of the confusion generated by these implanted contradictions and inconsistencies to maintain and justify their preservation of any status quo that favors their retention of power over others. So far at least, people who are, in the main, unconsciously under the influence of pain-generated anger, sloth, envy, vanity, gluttony, lust and/or greed – and fearing themselves to be perpetually at risk of being powerless victims of suffering – have successfully conspired to suppress the gentle rebellion Jesus started. Instead of honoring his teachings, they turn distortions of them into propaganda in support of their campaign to dominate the world by violent means and maintain political institutions rooted in mistrust and awash with emotional dishonesty.
Jesus presented God’s kingdom as the one truly different social dynamic rooted in trust and awash with heartfelt emotional honesty and the divine power “victims” deny they can access while they remain trapped in unresolved grief. So long as Jesus’ leadership of his gentle rebellion is ignored, ignorance-based violence and its consequential suffering will prevail throughout humanity. This is the will not of God but of the preservers of the status quo who fail to see the wisdom of resolving their grief, accepting emotional healing and submitting their wills to God’s will as Jesus did – and of those seekers of social approval who cozy up to the socially elite in hopes of currying their favor and avoiding their disfavor. It is emphatically not the will of God that any man, woman or child should suffer. But it is the will of God that the free will of every individual be honored with utmost patience while he or she is allowed the privilege of choosing freely for himself or herself to which realm on earth to pledge allegiance and dedicate his or her life without compromise. It is our responsibility to learn how to reconcile all of the implications of the gifts of grace, free will and the opportunity to complete our grieving and rise beyond suffering. Those who fail to forgive harm done to them harbor ill will, seek to turn the tables and march them themselves (and others) into a hell of unforgiveness of their own making. Each of us has the power within us to march against this tide by forgiving those who trespass against us and not identifying with the ego which claims territory that is in truth neither its nor ours to claim.
So long as our grieving remains arrested at various stages, complacency and compromise will reign as social norms. Whether compassion and commitment as Jesus modeled ever reign supreme will be decided by each of us one by one. Perhaps in time compassion and commitment will become the new norm if Jesus’ followers all support each other in finding the courage to repent of our complacency and compromised positions and follow Jesus wherever he leads us in completing our grieving and in serving others in their grief and loneliness. Until this change occurs, we can only reasonably anticipate that suffering will continue to plague humanity and be excused by the Church as inevitably endless. Suffering’s end awaits in the heart, head and hands of each of us. Even when social institutions discourage us from daring to believe and implement Jesus’ teachings about
- forgiveness as the pathway to peace,
- faith as the pathway to hope and health and
- friendship as the pathway to shared, ever-enriching freedom, power, joy and love,
we remain free to choose as individuals to implement them within mutually supportive, informal social networks that help us to finish grieving and to love ourselves and one another as God loves us all. Perhaps that’s how Jesus intended for us to relate all along – informally as if it’s only natural to comfort, heal and bless each other that way. We can do so without the formalities and costs of religious institutions. Religion without institutionalization may have its merits and be the baby we can wisely not throw out with the bathwater of unforgiveness.
Perhaps we need no social institutions with their rules, roles and rituals to impose upon us what is already natural to us and native within us. Only our egos resist such an outcome, urging us instead to obey fear’s dictates and maintain egos as our artificial concepts of who we are. When we elect to come out of the closets of our egos and finish grieving, we will discover that God’s kingdom has been waiting patiently to welcome us all along. Only our egos justify the perpetuation of grief’s inner conflict and interpersonal violence in place of relief’s inner peace and interpersonal domestic tranquility with its resulting voluntary collaboration in nurturing the soil of unconditional love as our social norm. The ego resists God’s Plan because in the Presence of God’s love the ego fades like darkness fades in the presence of light. We will cling to darkness only so long as we identify with our egos. Beyond our egos the Light of Love awaits. To Divine Love’s call we hunger to respond as fully as our courage allows us to set aside our egos and be free – “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we free at last” as the words of Martin Luther King Jr. cry out to us to join with each other in liberty and justice for all – no matter what our respective religious affiliations (or none) may be.
© Art Nicol 2013