"...if you do not forgive"

Today's readings from the Daily Office challenged me to think some more about heaven and hell. Can I still read these passages and continue to rethink hell and heaven?

I think so.

The New Testament reading is from John's Apocalypse.
Revelation 22:14-15 “How blessed are those who wash their robes! The Tree of Life is theirs for good, and they’ll walk through the gates to the City. But outside for good are the filthy curs: sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters—all who love and live lies.

The Gospel reading is Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant.

Matthew 18:21-35
21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” 22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
23-25 “The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.
 26-27 “The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
 28 “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’
 29-31 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.
 32-35 “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.

What is the debt Jesus is talking about? To spiritualize the parable is to see the servant's debts as those sins like the ones described in the Revelation passage above. But there might be a bigger debt, the debt of forgiveness. Permit me to jump back to the end of the Lord's Prayer, earlier in Matthew's gospel.
Matthew 6:14-15 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part."
God's forgiveness sounds conditional in both passages. Perhaps one of the lies that keeps people out of the heavenly city is the lie that entrance can be gained without forgiveness of those who have hurt us. In my crazy view of hell, all of us after death will spend our time outside of the heavenly city until forgiveness and justice, grace and truth*, peace and repentance are sorted out between all of us. Those things listed in the Revelation passage are the kinds of things that injure others. These are examples of things that need to be sorted beforehand, outside of the gates of the heavenly city. The torture of hell, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, is the effects of the process of reconciliation. It's painful to admit we are wrong. It is painful to see the impact of our selfishness through the eyes of those who have been hurt by it. Our opportunity now, in this life, is to seek that forgiveness and reconciliation and peace and love now as much as it depends on us**. Some of those who hurt us will not be able to stop hurting us until the next life. Some relationships will not, or cannot, be fixed until the afterlife. But there is hope. Grace and truth will eventually meet.

*John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
**Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.


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