The Absurdity of the Christian Faith? Hell, yeah!

THE FOLLOWING IS THE RESULT OF A CONVERSATION WITH AN ATHEIST WHO ASKED ME SOME BASIC QUESTIONS ABOUT MY CHRISTIAN FAITH.

the-preaching-of-foolishness

What is the purpose of the New Testament?

Well, the writers of the New Testament want to enable an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.

Why would that be important?

The New Testament authors all believe in God. They are convinced that God is revealed in the person of Jesus, who is therefore called “Christ”. Basically they claim that knowing Jesus is an excellent way to know God.

Okay, now suppose there is a God – which I don’t believe, by the way –, why on earth would it be important to know God?

Maybe you will label the following answer as an absurdity, if not as an outright offensive statement.

The New Testament writers are convinced that you cannot know yourself if you don’t know God. So, according to them, if you are interested in knowing yourself, you must know God.

Your prediction turns out to be right. The Christian faith sounds ridiculous. It claims that there is a God, which is a first absurdity to my atheist ears. Second, it claims that I should somehow learn to know a poor Jewish guy who lived and died two thousand years ago in a remote area of the Roman Empire if I want to know that “God”. Indeed, that sounds absurd!

Does the Christian tradition claim that this is the only way to know God? What about the people who lived before Jesus? What about the people who have never heared of him?

I don’t know about all the Christian churches, but I do know that the Catholic Church acknowledges other ways through which God can be known. In that sense the answer to your question is no. The Bible and the Christian tradition as a whole are not the only ways to experience the reality of Christ.

Anyway, what you are saying still sounds patronizing. I’m an atheist. I don’t have to know a fictitious “God” to know myself. Moreover, what if I’m not interested in knowing myself at all? Why would it be important to know myself?

Let me ask you this question: is it possible for people to know themselves without love?

What do you mean? What has that got to do with anything we are talking about?

Well, you will need to be a little patient now. I’ll try to explain it.

I’ve learned from child psychiatrists that there are basically three types of child neglect, which are often mixed together. All of them have to do with a lack of love. The first one is treating a child as if the child is worth nothing. That is the merely negative approach. The second is treating a child as if the child doesn’t exist. That is the indifferent approach. The third is treating a child as if the child is a superior being. That is the merely positive approach.

Children who are treated in these ways will grow up craving attention and recognition. In order to satisfy this craving, they will tend to present an image of themselves that they believe will give them the desired attention.

The child who ends up thinking he is worth nothing might try to avoid further negative criticism by attempting to meet everyone’s expectations. This child does not know who he is or what his qualities are, apart from being whoever people want him to be. He has difficulty recognizing his own talents because he suspects others might ridicule them. Being ashamed of himself in this way, he tends to look up to others – as if they are flawless and he is full of mistakes.

The child who experienced a lot of indifference while growing up might think he must be a bully to get recognition. This child does not know who he is or what his qualities are, apart from being a bully. He reduces life to a powerplay.

How seldom we weigh our neighbor in the same balance with ourselves (Thomas a Kempis)And the child who is used to be treated as a superior being might think he indeed is superior to others and might only listen to people who confirm his self-concept. This child does not know who he is or what his qualities are, apart from being the narcissist he has become. He has difficulty recognizing his own flaws. Being ashamed of himself in this way, he tends to look down on others – as if he is flawless and they are full of mistakes.

If those children would have been treated with love, they would have discovered their talents as well as their flaws without being ashamed of them. Moreover, if people can recognize their own true talents, they will be more able to recognize and appreciate the talents of others as well, beyond inferiority complexes, powerplays or jealous competition.

In short, loving others is only possible if you truly love yourself and that’s why you should know yourself in some sense. If you believe loving yourself and others is important, then you should develop a minimum of self-knowledge. This is only possible if you refuse to treat anything as divine, except love itself. If you open up yourself to receive love, you will be able to love yourself as well as others.

I understood everything you said until your next to last statement. Could you please explain what you mean by “love is only possible if you refuse to treat anything as divine, except love itself”?

It is a short version of Mark 12:28-31, in which Jesus summarizes the teachings of the Bible:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees debating Jesus. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, the teacher of the law asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The Greatest Commandment in Hebrew.jpg

“To love God” is, in a Jewish sense, the prohibition to consider anything as divine or “perfect” (see Exodus 20:3-4). It is the prohibition on idolatry. Now let’s connect this principle to what was mentioned earlier.

If you want to learn something that will help you, learn to see yourself as God sees you (Thomas a Kempis)Someone who suffers from an inferiority complex has the tendency to idolize others and to blame himself for everything that goes wrong in his life. He also has the tendency to compare himself to those so-called “perfect” others in order to develop an acceptable self-image. Thus he is primarily interested in others as “mirrors”. Others are reduced to means who should confirm a certain self-image. Having experienced a lack of love while growing up, the person who suffers from an inferiority complex is not interested in himself apart from the image he hopes will give him some social recognition. Unable to truly respect himself he is also unable to respect others. As said, he is only interested in them as means, not as ends in themselves. His whole life is dominated by fear, more specifically by the fear of punishment or rejection by others if he doesn’t live up to a so-called acceptable image in his main social environment. His life is hell. Hell is real. 1 John 4:18 puts it this way:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

no fear in love

The same reasoning goes for someone who suffers from a superiority complex. This comes as no surprise, as a superiority complex is often a compensation for feelings of inferiority and shame about one’s own flaws. The person who suffers from a superiority complex has the tendency to idolize himself and is again only interested in others as means to confirm his so-called “perfect” self-image. Fearing failure the person who suffers from a superiority complex turns his own life and the life of others into hell.

Love is the abandonment of the fear of not being perfect. It is the abandonment of any kind of idolatry, which creates the possibility to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Again, “to love God” is, in a Jewish sense, the prohibition to consider anything as divine, neither yourself nor others. As such, it is the conditio sine qua non “to love your neighbor as yourself”. Respect for the prohibition on idolatry as an absolute commandment is the recognition of the singular divinity of love. That is the paradox that is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Indeed, the Christian tradition claims that “God is love”. Hence, in this light it is true to say that you can only know yourself if you know God: you can only know yourself if you know love.

See for instance 1 John 4:16b:

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

agape love

Love allows us to discover the truth about ourselves and others, beyond illusory self-images. It allows us to discover each other’s beauty, as we no longer consume each other as means to satisfy our desire for recognition, but recognize each other as ends. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodies the reality of love in an excellent way. That’s why they call him the Christ and that’s why they call for an Imitatio Christi. The importance of that kind of mimesis in the Christian tradition runs from the apostle Paul over Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) to René Girard (1923-2015) – to name but a few.

Jesus criticizes both superiority and inferiority complexes in people in order to enable “re-connections” and reconciliation between them. He offers the grace of forgiveness so that we might no longer be ashamed of ourselves and that we might be able to forgive and accept the flawed nature of others as well. Whenever that happens and the reality of love is established, there is “heaven” – “the Kingdom of God”. Love leads to the salvation of ourselves and others.

The glory of God is a human being fully alive (Irenaeus of Lyons)As Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202) writes, “the glory of God is the human person fully alive.” The human person who is “fully alive” is the person who overcomes fear in order to love more deeply. Love transforms fear from fear of the other (as a potential rival) into fear for the other (as my neighbor).

I guess my next question is superfluous. You do believe in God, heaven and hell?

In Christianity you are not martyring yourself (René Girard)Yes. I do believe in the reality of love, and I do believe that wherever it is given room to establish itself there is “heaven”. As I also believe that wherever fear takes over there is “hell”. And as far as this world is concerned, we always find ourselves between heaven and hell, between love and fear. The challenge is to distinguish between those two “spirits” or dynamics, and to rely on love ever more deeply. In reference to Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), discernment is key in order to follow the transformative and creative power of love, which turns fear of the other (as a potential rival) into fear for the other (as my neighbor). We can only hope people will imitate each other in this way.

So love over fear, even if love can bring you in a situation where you end up being despised, rejected or crucified by people who hate the criticism of their socially mediated self-images?

That’s the challenge, yes, in which we more often fail than succeed.

Isn’t it foolish, if not absurd to live that kind of risky life?

Hell yeah, it is! But I would rather live an authentic life in the realm of love than die to an inauthentic one because of fear. As that saying goes, derived from a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892),

“It’s better to have lost at love than never to have loved at all.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson In Memoriam XIV_XXVII_XXXV

I believe that is true. There is a comfort in love that does not depend on its eventual outcomes. In that sense it is “all-powerful”, however much vulnerable and fragile it is.

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The TRUTH that sets us FREE to LOVE

[ZIE VERDER VOOR GEDEELTELIJKE NEDERLANDSE VERTALING]

THE STORY OF PETER

Peter was the new kid in town. Still he felt rather confident at his new school since he knew at least one of his schoolmates beforehand, a guy named Jesus. What Peter didn’t realize, however, was the fact that Jesus was heavily bullied by Peter’s new classmates, although Jesus was in another class. When he became aware of the situation, Peter made a “wise” decision to battle his FEAR of becoming an outcast. To gain the approval of his new classmates, he disassociated himself from Jesus. He pretended not to know Jesus that well. By playing along with the crowd Peter protected his good reputation and HONOR (see below Matthew 26:69-74). It was also a good way to ensure his position within the group; playing along gave Peter control and POWER over what could have been a precarious situation. After a few weeks Peter felt pretty comfortable going to school. Being among his new friends gave him lots of PLEASURE as he enjoyed the WEALTH of their luxurious parties. The fact that his friends did not accept him but only the image he forced himself into did not seem to bother Peter too much. After all, wasn’t that kind of over-dramatically characterized “selling your soul” self-denial in reality but a small price to pay in order to gain this world of honor, power, pleasure and wealth (see below Mark 8:35-36)? Why respect yourself if the rewards of not respecting yourself felt so good?

To make a long story short, Peter’s new life went pretty well until he ran into Jesus one day. Jesus was severely beaten up by some of Peter’s classmates. From that day onwards, Peter made a decision that would have sounded “foolish” to his friends and to his former self (see below 1 Corinthians 1:20b-25). In the face of the victim of the world he had been a part of, Peter decided to abandon a life that was defined by the pursuit of honor, power, pleasure and wealth (see Matthew 5, 1-11). His whole identity was transformed by the love for the enemy of the group he belonged to (see below 1 John 4:16). The fear of being “dead” to his classmates and of “social punishment” changed into a fear of being the cause of the “murder” of others (see below 1 John 4:17b-18). Peter also no longer considered honor and pleasure as ends in themselves, but as possible consequences of a life in love. If taking sides with the marginalized other made Peter DISHONORABLE in the eyes of some of his classmates, then so be it. Peter chose non-violent conflict in his own “house” over the violent peace and unity at the expense of excluded others (see below Matthew 10:34-36). He did not want that kind of sacrificial peace. He desired a different kind of peace, not based on “sacrifice” (see below John 14:27).

If willing the good of someone who had every reason to hate him made Peter feel UNPLEASURABLE, then so be it. The LOVE that was discovered by Peter and that became the basis of his life did not depend on whatever outcome. He would still love others even if, for instance, their farewell or their suffering or death would make him sad and wouldn’t bring him any pleasure at all. Independent of whatever outcome, the love Peter lived by can be called all-powerful in a paradoxical sense. Even if his classmates and their world would hate him (see below 1 John 3:13-14), Peter wouldn’t avoid being vulnerable and eventually POWERLESS from the perspective of that world (see below John 15:19). He would not seek power to dominate others but as a means to serve them (see below Luke 22:24-27), at most. Equally, Peter would not seek wealth as end in itself but as a means to serve others, at most. His spirit would be POOR in worries with regard to his possessions.

If Peter felt worried and guilty at all it was no longer because he didn’t live up to the expectations of the world of his classmates, but because love informed him that he had hurt others. Peter no longer respected social rules and laws because they would gain him recognition, but only insofar as they would be helpful in the service of love (see below Mark 2:23-28; see also Mark 12:29-31 and Paul on “spirit of the law vs letter of the law”); neither would he transgress rules because it would grant him a new social status among “the cool dudes” (see below Matthew 5:17). Love detached Peter from the addictive desire for approval. He tried to no longer imitate a man-made social environment based on exclusion but tried to imitate the flexible ways of love (blowing like the wind, free from all the man-made attachments – see below John 3:8). Love became his “Creator”. In taking sides with Jesus and the marginalized victim of whatever group, Peter lost a “masqueraded” life that was defined by the attachment to honor, power, pleasure and wealth, and he eventually saved his self-respect (see below Mark 8:35-36).

In short, Peter’s story ends with his refusal to take part in the sacrifice of others and therefore he runs the risk of being sacrificed or crucified himself, although he of course hopes that the world is able to show “mercy, not sacrifice” (see below Matthew 9:13). Peter refuses to “crucify himself” to participate in the masquerade of the attachment to approval and therefore he runs the risk of “being crucified”. Peter is willing to run that risk because of his obedience to the demands of love, which is an obedience that allows him to accept the truth about himself as a former persecutor and which sets him free from the destructive “powers and principalities” often governing this world. Because of love, Peter is no longer dead to himself and others (see below 1 John 3:13-14).

THE STORY OF MARY

Peter’s story is reminiscent of Mary’s story. Mary was the victim of a rape that made her pregnant and she was forced by her family to marry her “boyfriend(-rapist)” Saul. She was often beaten by her husband who could make her feel guilty about the beatings, as if she “deserved” them. In reality, Mary was a scapegoat. She was blamed for things she wasn’t guilty of. Sadly enough it took years for Mary to realize how badly she had been manipulated.

For years Mary lived in FEAR. She forced herself to be someone who would receive the approval of her husband, not his beatings. That’s where her HONOR lay, or so she thought. In trying to gain POWER over her husband’s behavior, however, she lost herself more and more. She was really hunting an illusion in her attempts to turn her family life into a comfortable environment of PLEASURE like the one of her best friend. Moreover, she worried about losing the WEALTH of her husband too. She thought that she would not be able to make a living of her own. It was only when her husband started beating her son too that she regained her self-respect: the love for this victim of the situation she had been part of, opened her eyes for the truth that she had hunted one illusion after the other, and liberated her from the addictive attachment to honor, power, pleasure and wealth.

Both the above stories of Peter and Mary show what the Christian tradition is essentially about. Christianity thus:

  • subverts any system (religious or secular) that originates from man’s attachment to honor, power, pleasure and/or wealth (attachments that are based on fear of death), even if that system calls itself “Christian”. Explanations on the origin of religion that rely on man’s attachment to honor, power, pleasure and/or wealth thus do not explain the origin of Christianity as such (but of perverted versions of Christianity). Explanations like the one proposed by Yuval Noah Harari’s (in Sapiens) should be evaluated from this perspective.
  • believes that love is a divine reality, which is not a sentiment or a feeling, but an active willing of the good of the other as other. This divine reality thus is not all-powerful in the sense that it controls everything, but in the sense that it is independent of any calculations about possible outcomes. Love gives itself, regardless of the question whether it is accepted or not. That’s why “grace” is what it is. God as “Creator” should be thought of as a loving dynamic that seeks to hold everything together, although not as an all-controlling entity (see Matthew 27:39-44).
  • shows the futility of many of the things we consider “meaningful” and thus opens up our eyes for a more comprehensive look on reality.
  • does not easily comfort because it challenges us to abandon our “comfort zone”.
  • is not “irrational”. On the contrary, it has a very sharp and clear view on the reality of human life and its absurdities, opening up a logic that could save human life from its absurdities.
  • testifies to a spirituality of “a love for reality because of reality itself, without ulterior motives” that can be found within other traditions as well.
  • is non-dualistic, as it does not seek the destruction of a so-called “evil world” but its transformation and fulfilment through love.
  • is not about “seeking the approval of God”, but is about the paradox of obeying the liberating demands of a love that needs no approval.

SUMMARY (click here for pdf):

AGAPE LOVE

To finish, some excerpts from the Bible on which all of the above is based:

Matthew 26, especially 26:69-74: Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), especially the Beatitudes (click here for more).

1 Corinthians 1:20b-25: Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 John 4:16: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:17b-18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'”

John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Matthew 9:13: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 8:35-36: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

1 John 3:13-14: Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Mark 2:23-28: One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

P.S.: THANKS TO James Alison, Robert Barron, René Girard, Emmanuel Levinas and many others for the inspiring insights into the reality of Christian life.

HET VERHAAL VAN PETRUS

Petrus was net verhuisd. Toch voelde hij zich vrij zelfzeker op zijn nieuwe school omdat hij ten minste een van zijn medescholieren al kende: een jongen genaamd Jezus. Petrus realiseerde zich echter niet dat Jezus hevig gepest werd door sommige van zijn nieuwe klasgenoten, hoewel Jezus tot een andere klas behoorde. Toen Petrus eenmaal begreep hoe de vork in de steel zat, nam hij een “wijze” beslissing om zijn ANGST voor sociale uitsluiting te bezweren: om de waardering van zijn nieuwe klasgenoten te verkrijgen, nam hij afstand van Jezus. Petrus deed alsof hij Jezus helemaal niet zo goed kende. Het bezorgde Petrus de EER van een goede reputatie in de wereld van zijn klasgenoten (klik voor Matteüs 26, 69-74a). Door het spel van de groep mee te spelen en zich niet met Jezus bezig te houden, kreeg Petrus controle en MACHT over de nieuwe situatie waarin hij zich bevond. Gaandeweg verwierf hij zekerheid over zijn positie binnen de groep. Na enkele weken voelde Petrus zich helemaal comfortabel op zijn nieuwe school. Hij ervoer veel GENOT in aanwezigheid van zijn nieuwe vrienden en hij verdronk in de WEELDE van hun rijkeluisfeestjes. Het feit dat zijn vrienden niet hem aanvaardden maar alleen het imago waaraan hij trachtte te voldoen, deerde hem niet al te erg. Zelfverloochening leek helemaal geen dramatische “verkoop van je ziel” als je in ruil daarvoor een wereld van eer, macht, genot en weelde won (klik voor Marcus 8, 35-36). Waarom zou je jezelf respecteren als de beloningen voor een gebrek aan zelfrespect zo goed voelden?

Om een lang verhaal kort te maken: Petrus genoot met volle teugen van zijn leven totdat hij op een dag Jezus opnieuw tegen het lijf liep. Die was in elkaar geslagen door enkele van Petrus’ klasgenoten. Vanaf die dag nam Petrus een beslissing die “dwaas” zou hebben geklonken in de oren van zijn vrienden en van zijn vroegere zelf (klik voor 1 Kor 1, 20b-29). Geconfronteerd met het slachtoffer van de wereld waarvan hij deel had uitgemaakt, besloot Petrus zijn leven niet langer te laten definiëren door het streven naar eer, macht, genot en weelde (klik voor Mt 5, 1-11). Zijn hele identiteit werd getransformeerd door de liefde voor de vijand van de groep waartoe hij behoorde (klik voor 1 Joh 4, 16b). De angst voor “sociale afstraffing” en om “dood” te zijn voor zijn klasgenoten veranderde in een vrees voor de “moord” op anderen (klik voor 1 Joh 4, 17b-18). Petrus beschouwde eer en genot niet langer als doelen op zich, maar als mogelijke gevolgen van een leven in liefde. Als partij kiezen voor de gemarginaliseerde ander hem ONEERVOL maakte in de ogen van sommige van zijn klasgenoten, dan was dat maar zo. Hij was bereid om daarover te discussiëren. Petrus verkoos niet-gewelddadig conflict in zijn eigen “huis” boven de gewelddadige vrede en eenheid die parasiteerde op een gemeenschappelijke externe vijand (klik voor Matteüs 10, 34-36). Hij wou geen vrede die gebaseerd was op uitsluiting. Hij verlangde een ander soort vrede die niet op offers was gebaseerd (klik voor Johannes 14, 27).

Het goede willen voor iemand die meer dan genoeg redenen heeft om je te haten, levert GEEN GENOT op. Het voelt op zijn zachtst gezegd onwennig aan, maar dat hield Petrus niet tegen. De LIEFDE die hij had ontdekt en die de basis werd voor zijn leven, was niet afhankelijk van enig mogelijk resultaat. Petrus zou anderen liefhebben, zelfs als bijvoorbeeld hun afscheid, hun lijden of hun dood hem verdriet zou doen. Onafhankelijk van gelijk welk resultaat kan de liefde die Petrus draagt op een paradoxale manier almachtig worden genoemd. Ook als zijn klasgenoten en hun wereld hem zouden haten (klik voor 1 Joh 3, 13-14), zou Petrus niet ophouden om zich kwetsbaar en zelfs MACHTELOOS op te stellen vanuit het perspectief van die wereld (klik voor Johannes 15, 19). Als hij al een machtspositie zou aanvaarden, dan zou hij dat niet langer doen om anderen te domineren maar dan zou hij die macht gebruiken als een middel om anderen te dienen (klik voor Lucas 22, 24-27). Op dezelfde manier zou Petrus ook niet langer weelde nastreven als een doel op zich, maar opnieuw als een middel om anderen te dienen. In ieder geval zou zijn geest ARM aan zorgen zijn inzake zijn bezittingen.

Als Petrus zich al zorgen maakte en zich schuldig voelde, dan was het niet langer omdat hij misschien niet aan de verwachtingen van de wereld van zijn klasgenoten beantwoordde, maar omdat de liefde hem had geopenbaard hoe hij anderen had gekwetst. Petrus was niet voor of tegen de sociale regels en wetten die heersten (klik voor Matteüs 5, 17), maar terwijl hij vroeger voor of tegen regels was om ergens aanzien te verwerven, stelde hij zich nu de vraag op welke manier de regels het best de doelen van een liefdevolle gerechtigheid dienden (klik voor Marcus 2, 23-28). Met andere woorden, de geest van de wet werd voor Petrus belangrijker dan de letter van de wet (zie Paulus alsook Marcus 12, 29-31). De liefde bevrijdde Petrus van het verslavend verlangen naar erkenning. Liefde werd zijn “Schepper”: de identiteit van Petrus hing niet langer af van een door mensen gecreëerde sociale omgeving, maar van een liefde die, als een frisse wind wars van de bekommernissen om eer, macht, genot en weelde, relaties aanknoopte met al wie en wat zogezegd “geen betekenis” had (klik voor Johannes 3, 8). Door partij te kiezen voor Jezus en het gemarginaliseerde slachtoffer van om het even welke groep, verloor Petrus een onwaarachtig leven in functie van eer, macht, genot en weelde, en redde hij uiteindelijk zijn zelfrespect (klik voor Marcus 8, 35-36).

Het verhaal van Petrus eindigt, kortom, met een Petrus die weigert om nog langer te participeren aan een wereld die is gebaseerd op offers. De liefde heeft Petrus de waarheid omtrent zichzelf doen ontdekken: hij is een vervolger geweest, iemand die zijn medemens kwaad doet. Gehoorzamend aan die liefde wordt hij, paradoxaal genoeg, vrij van de “duistere machten en krachten” die vaak deze wereld beheersen. Omdat hij niet langer in de ban is van de duistere gehechtheid aan eer, macht, genot en weelde, is hij ook niet langer dood voor zichzelf en anderen (klik voor 1 Joh 3, 13-14).

Wie het opneemt voor wie wordt gepest, loopt evenwel het gevaar om zelf ook te worden gepest. Petrus weigert de “afgodendienst van het sociale succes” en weigert aldus iedere vorm van “zelfkruisiging”, maar loopt daardoor ook het gevaar dat hij zal “gekruisigd worden”. Natuurlijk hoopt hij dat de wereld in staat is om te kiezen voor “barmhartigheid en geen offers” (klik voor Matteüs 9, 13), alleen weet hij niet op voorhand of de wereld die keuze zal maken. Wie niet buigt voor het bedrieglijke, vernietigende verlangen naar totale controle (“de almachtige god die alle touwtjes in handen heeft”), maar wel leeft vanuit een God die liefde is, kan anderen redden maar zichzelf niet (klik voor Matteüs 27, 39-44). Als je het opneemt voor wie wordt gepest, leg je je lot immers in handen van anderen die zich al dan niet tot “de liefde” zullen bekeren. Voor hetzelfde geld word je ook gepest. Als er dan toch nog sprake is van “almacht” in deze context, dan ligt ze in het feit dat je zelfrespect niet afhangt van het respect dat je al dan niet van anderen ontvangt als je vanuit de goddelijke liefde leeft. De narcist is afhankelijk van de erkenning die hij van andere mensen krijgt voor een onwaarachtig zelfbeeld. De mens die zich door de liefde gedragen weet, kan de realiteit van en omtrent zichzelf en anderen op een completere manier beleven.

HET VERHAAL VAN MARIA

Het verhaal van Petrus doet denken aan het verhaal van Maria. Maria was het slachtoffer van een verkrachting waardoor ze zwanger werd. Haar familie had haar gedwongen om met haar “vriend(-verkrachter)” Saul te huwen. Ze werd vaak geslagen door haar echtgenoot. Hij slaagde er bovendien in om haar een schuldgevoel te geven over dat geweld, alsof ze de slagen “verdiende”. In werkelijkheid was Maria een zondebok: ze werd beschuldigd van zaken waarvoor ze niet verantwoordelijk was. Jammer genoeg duurde het jaren vooraleer Maria zich realiseerde hoezeer ze door Saul en haar familie was gemanipuleerd.

Jarenlang leefde Maria in ANGST. Ze dwong zichzelf om iemand te zijn die waardering zou krijgen van haar echtgenoot, en geen slagen. Daarin lag haar EER, dacht ze. Terwijl ze MACHT probeerde te verwerven over het gedrag van haar man verloor ze zichzelf echter meer en meer. Ze jaagde werkelijk een illusie na in haar pogingen om GENOT in haar gezinsleven te vinden. Daarbovenop maakte ze zich zorgen over het verlies van WEELDE als haar echtgenoot haar zou verlaten. Ze vreesde dat ze de eindjes niet aan elkaar zou kunnen knopen als ze er alleen zou voor staan. Alleen toen Saul ook hun zoon Stephanus in elkaar begon te slaan, herwon ze haar zelfrespect: de liefde voor het slachtoffer van de situatie waarvan ze deel uitmaakte, opende haar ogen voor de waarheid dat ze de ene na de andere illusie had nagejaagd, en bevrijdde haar van de verslavende gehechtheid aan eer, macht, genot en weelde.

Zowel Petrus als Maria keerden zich af van een leven in functie van een imago dat waardering moest opleveren. Petrus verheerlijkte zichzelf niet langer, waardoor hij respect kreeg voor zichzelf en niet langer op anderen als Jezus neerkeek. Maria verheerlijkte haar echtgenoot niet langer, waardoor ze zich bevrijdde van een minderwaardigheidscomplex en meer respect kreeg voor zichzelf. Bij beiden leidde het herwonnen zelfrespect tot meer respect voor (onderdrukte) anderen. Anderen werden niet langer benaderd als middelen die het onrealistisch zelfbeeld van Petrus en Maria moesten bevestigen, maar als doelen op zich.

Zowel het verhaal van Petrus als van Maria openbaart de bekering tot een levenswijze waarop de christelijke traditie in essentie doelt.

EEN SAMENVATTING:

(klik hier voor pdf van het overzicht, en klik hier voor pdf inzake zaligsprekingen en voor post over zaligsprekingen en religieuze geloftes)

AGAPE LIEFDE