“Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.
God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision, God gives us the freedom to move away from God’s love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God’s choice. It is ours.” Henri Nouwen
I realize the concept Nouwen proposes may be radical to some. Yet the older I have become, the more my relationship with God through His Son is based on love and forgiveness, praying for enemies rather than hating them. I hold the promise the Lord gave to Israel long ago through the prophet, Jeremiah:
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:33,34
Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
They will enter Jerusalem singing,
crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with joy and gladness.
Meg and I spent time again at Mt Cook National Park, a must visit for anyone who is drawn to the mountains.I “enjoyed” a steep and strenuous hike with Ant Harris, a guide whom Meg and I had gotten to know on the previous visit. He is a skilled mountain guide and a deep, authentic thinker. He took me on his day off to the Mueller Hut–a three thousand foot elevation gain in three miles, up never ending, straight up steps, through challenging rock formations, and finally up snow where crampons helped us along. It was a thirteen hour day, including lunch at the hut. I was slow, but my muscles held up both the ascent and descent. Fortunately, however, I did not have to go anywhere the next few days, so sore muscles had plenty of time to recover.
Meg and I returned on our own for a second visit to the Oparara Basin. We took a lovely walk through the rain forest old growth to the Moria Arch, a limestone arch formed by the erosion of a cave. It was named because of its resemblance to filming locations in Lord of the Rings.
Meg and I try each year to find “off the beaten” path locations in New Zealand. This year’ we found Karamea, at the end of the road on the West Coast of South Island. We flew into Nelson and rented a car. We discovered a delightful little garden restaurant in Wakefield, enjoyed the New Zealand’s longest walkway suspension bridge in the Buller River gorge, and drove up an over a twisty mountain road to reach Karamea.
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation.
During Meg and my recent travels on South Island, we renewed our friendship with Ant Harris, a professional guide with Southern Alps Guiding at Mt Cook National Park. On his day off, he took me up to the Mueller Hut, a hike that climbs quite steeply from the valley floor. We started up into clouds, but soon climbed above the inversion layer, where we delighted in glorious views of Mt Cook and the surrounding ranges.
I was deeply happy with this challenging day–exhilarating and exhausting. But ultimately this happiness, like any other, was transitory, always needing to be refilled by another encounter or another event. I seek and hope for the ultimate good news or peace good tidings and salvation, where divine union with the Living God brings joy that never ends.
BSA Troop 514 Scouts enjoyed a sunny, chilly day marching in the parade in La Grande. After the parade they went over to the local Safeway and collected food for agencies that help those in need.