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"For God delivered all to disobedience,
that he might have mercy upon us all,"
Instead of focusing on these unnamed theologians, however, I wish to quote a feminine theologian and mystic, the great Blessed Julian of Norwich. In a famous paragraph from her Revelation of Divine Love (short text), she writes: "But I did not see sin; for I believe it has no sort of substance nor portion of being, nor could it be recognized were it not for the suffering which it causes. And this suffering seems to me to be something transient, for it purges us and makes us know ourselves and pray for mercy; for the Passion of our Lord supports us against all this, and that is his blessed will for all who shall be saved. He supports us willingly and sweetly, by his words, and says, 'But all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.' these words were shown very tenderly, with no suggestion that I or anyone who will be saved was being blamed. It would therefore be very strange to blame or wonder at God because of my sins, since he does not blame me for sinning," (Ch. 13). In the longer, revised version of her text, she writes, "Furthermore he taught that I should consider the glorious atonement; for this atonement is incomparably more pleasing to God and more glorious in saving mankind than Adam's sin was ever harmful," (Ch. 29).
Sin--that great Christian preoccupation--is trampled under foot by Saint Paul and Blessed Julian, two great Christians who were privileged to really understand the meaning of the Passion of Christ--an act not of a stingy, exclusive, and selective God, but the supreme act of divine generosity toward all of humankind. How, after all, could God choose between peoples, when "all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Blessed Julian was so moved by the realization that human sin was so petty and little compared to God's love that she struggled to believe that any would be in hell. In the end, she only believed people would be in hell, because the Church taught that there would be (Chapter 32 of the long text).
And St. Paul? He is so moved by the conviction that God's mercy triumphs over all that he reasons that even the rejection of the Messiah by most of the Jews was for the good, because it was a major reason that the Gentiles were brought into the covenant. In supreme, or divine irony, God would have mercy of the Jews, because they helped him to have mercy on the Gentiles (Rom. 11:31). Indeed, Paul argues that God allows everyone to fall into sin--Jew and Gentile alike--so that he can have mercy on us all. This is a bewildering and astounding claim, the revelation of a mystic.
Mystics are comfortable with the strange peculiarities of God. They do not try to categorize God and fit him into a nice little system. In the end, they recognize that to encounter God is ultimately to realize just how "other" he is. As the Prophet Isaiah says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says Adonai. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts," (55:8-9). Paul echoes this sentiment when he writes:
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments
and how unsearchable his ways!"
If the great apostle can admit that God's mercy is such a powerful, overwhelming force--one that eclipses human sin--how is it that so few others are able to do so, as well? Again, I think it is a small, insufficient understanding of what the Passion of Christ was really all about, and perhaps it is self-denial about one's own sinfulness--for Saint Paul and Blessed Julian were two people who meditated on their sinfulness and had an appropriate hatred for sin. Penitents desire mercy for themselves and for all sinners, while the self-righteous see only the sins of others, and have no problem contemplating divine wrath raining down on their neighbors. Would that we were all like Father Abraham, risking God's annoyance by interceding for fellow sinners (Gen. 18:16-33)!
Saint Paul and Blessed Julian call for us to contemplate God's great love for us today, shown through the Passion of Christ, and to have confidence in God's divine mercy. "For his love is so great that everything seems a trifle to him in comparison. For although the dear humanity of Christ could only suffer once, his goodness makes him always ready to do so again; he would do it every day if it were possible; and if he said that for love of me he would make new heavens and a new earth, it would be but little in comparison, for he could do this every day if he so wished, without any hardship; but to offer to die for love of me so often that the number of times passes human comprehension, that is the most glorious present that our Lord God could make to man's soul, it seems to me." (Revelation of Divine Love, Long Text, Ch. 22).
Br. Paul, OP