Romans 8. 26-39
This morning, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a fictional story, based on the recent events in Norway, and on today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I don’t claim that every detail in this story is correct. But I offer it as a thought…as a story…in the hope that it will open our imaginations to what might be possible in the love of God. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin…
Once upon a time, not very long ago, a young man called Anders lived in Norway, the land of the Norsemen, the Vikings. Anders was blond, and blue-eyed…a true Viking, descended from Vikings. In his history books he read about the time when the Vikings had ruled vast swathes of Europe, a time when blond and blue eyed people had been in complete control.
But looking around his own country now, he saw that Vikings were no longer in control. Instead, Norway was ruled by faceless bureaucrats in far away Brussels. He saw that his country was being too kind, too welcoming to people from other countries. Foreigners were crowding his streets…people from Africa, people from Asia, people from parts of Europe which certainly weren’t blond. And worse than that “these people are taking jobs from us Norwegians. They are claiming money from our Government, living in our houses, and stealing our jobs.” thought Anders.
Slowly, day by day, anger started to grow within Anders. He couldn’t understand that the world was a shrinking place, in which overpopulation, famine and war were driving desperate people across all sorts of borders, in search of a better life. No-one challenged his thinking. When he complained about black people in his city, friends and family members would just shrug their shoulders, and agree. It was easier to agree…even when they didn’t agree. Anders always looked so angry about the issue. It was easier to just go along with him…not to challenge him.
Slowly, slowly, the hatred grew. Anders began to look around for someone to blame. Someone had to pay for this situation. It was impossible for him, alone, to attack all the foreigners in his country…there were too many of them. But perhaps he could attack those who had let them in? In his unchallenged, warped mind, his anger turned towards the leaders of Norway. It was the fault of the Government. It was the fault of the Prime Minister. It was the fault of the Labour Party of Norway.
A desperate, angry plan began to form. Anders gathered his resources. Guns, bullets, explosives. He built up a stock-pile, until one day, on the 22nd of July 2011, he was ready to show the Government that they were wrong to let so many foreigners into his country.
So, with deliberate care, and seething rage, Anders planted his bomb. The bomb would go off right outside the Prime Minister’s office. Anders planted his bomb, and then waited for it to explode.
Boom! The bomb ripped a hole in the Government’s main building. The Prime Minister’s office was shattered. Anders had started his war. What next?
Anders knew that there was an island where the ruling party of Norway took its young people for training and indoctrination into their stupid beliefs about the equality of all human beings. That is where he would strike next. Gathering his many guns and bullets, Anders set off for the Island. He would strike a blow not just at the present Government, but at the next generation of politicians. He would teach them a lesson they would never forget.
Arriving at the island, Anders set to work at his grim task. He opened fire on hundreds of people, sending them scattering all over the island…they climbed trees, they tried to swim to the mainland, they barricaded themselves into log cabins. Terrified.
At the end of his days work, 84 people – mainly young people – had been slain. Another seven had died in the earlier bomb blast. Anders was content. He had sent a message to the whole world…a message that no-one could ignore. He allowed himself to be taken…to be arrested…so that through his forthcoming trial, his message of “Norway for Norwegians” would have the maximum impact, as the press followed every twist and turn.
Then, one day, many years later, after spending the rest of his life in prison, Anders died. There were many who celebrated that day. Many of the parents of those children, the ones who were gunned down in their prime, believed that prison had been too kind a treatment for Anders. “Now, he’ll get what’s coming to him”, they said to themselves. “Now, he’ll burn in hell”.
Anders himself had thought that would probably happen too. After years of thinking about his actions in jail, he had come to understand that he had taken the wrong course. But what could he do about it? What was done was done. And if there was a God…well, he’d just have to take the punishment, wouldn’t he?
Anders’ day of judgement had arrived. He stood, in the presence of God. An awesome light shone all around him…a light which pulsed with love, and yet also judgement. There was clarity in that light. Anders knew that everything he had done, everything he had thought, every warped impulse was seen, judged, weighed in the balance, by that light. And yet, there was love too…along with judgement.
Anders took his courage in his hands. He looked into the light. And said…”I suppose you’re going to send me to hell now?”
“That’s up to you”, said the Voice of God.
“But I have done awful things,” said Anders.
“Yes,” said Jehovah, “you have”.
“So, surely I deserve to rot in hell”
“Probably,” said Jesus. “But then so do many of my children. Your crimes were particularly horrible…but you are not the only one. Many of my children have killed their brothers and sisters. It started with Cain and Abel…and it has never stopped. Many have lived lives of hate. Others have stood by, taking no action at all, while their brothers and sisters have died in famine and war. Many have carried on partying, taking massive bonuses and living on luxury yachts, while others around them were dying. Your hatred is great, Anders…but it’s not all that unusual.”
“So what’s going to happen to me? What are you going to do to me?”
“I’m going to love you,” said the Spirit.
“What?” said Anders, struggling to take it in.
“I’m going to love you,” said God.
“How? How can you do that? After all I’ve done?”
“I can’t do anything else.” said Love. “That’s what I am. Love. That’s what I do. Love. I created you, and the whole Universe out of love. It was love that brought you into being. And it is love which will bring you home.”
Anders was speechless.
“Did you ever read the Bible, during the life I gave you?” asked Love.
“Well…” replied Anders, “bits of it”.
“There’s a passage in there that I am especially proud of”, said God. “It was written by a child of mine called Paul. Now he was a mess…let me tell you. He actually started out by murdering followers of Jesus. But eventually, Love got to him…and he saw the light. He wised up, and got the message of Love. Fortunately, for other Christians, he did it while he was still on Earth. Paul ended up writing this, in a letter to some Roman Christians: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Pretty good eh?” said God.
“Lovely,” said Anders, “but what does it mean?”
God sighed, and said, “It means, Anders, that whatever you have done, whatever warped influences you gave into, whatever your weaknesses, whatever your thoughts, whatever you were driven by madness to do, I will never stop loving you. I will always keep on inviting you to give in to my love.”
Anders didn’t know how to respond to this. It was so far removed from what he had expected. He had spent years of seething anger in his cell, watching the little television that he was allowed. Over the years, countless journalists and commentators on his crimes had convinced him that he was at best , nothing. Or at worse, he was evil personified. Even if he believed in God, Anders had always thought that there could be no other outcome for him than death and destruction. In his heart, he had accepted destruction as inevitable. He had even started to embrace it as welcome. He looked up to God…
“What if I don’t want to be loved?” he asked. “I’m not sure that I want it. I’ve kind of got used to who I am, and what I’ve done. I’m not sure I want to give that up.”
“That,” replied Love, “is why I said that the decision about whether or not you will go to hell is yours”
“What do you mean?” asked Anders
“I will never stop loving you, Anders. But I can’t make you want my love. That’s your choice. I give you free will to accept my love, or reject it. After all, I can’t make you love me. That wouldn’t be love…it would be manipulation.”
“And what happens if I reject your love?”
“You’ll die, forever. Remember what I told you…I created you out of Love. My love brought you into being. My love has sustained you and all people, even through the terrible things you have done. But now, you have a choice. If you refuse my love, you’ll gradually wither up, and die. It’s a bit like food. If you stop eating, eventually you will die. If you stop receiving my love, you’ll fade away. My bible talks about those who reject my love being thrown into the fire, or thrown into the rubbish dump called Gehenna…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those are pictures… metaphors that I have used to warn all my children of what happens when they reject my love. Fading away, becoming less and less real, wailing and crying in the pain of selfishness, until eventually, destruction takes place. Paul called it “the second death”. Anders… don’t choose that path. Despite all you’ve done, I still love you”.
“But what about justice?” said Anders. “Surely there has to be some justice for the people I killed?”
“Yes,” said God. “And for all the millions who have died through the selfishness of my other children. And for all those who lived lives of abject poverty because the people of the West would not share the world’s resources. And for all those who died in leaky boats escaping wars over oil and gold. There has to be justice for all of them too.”
“So…how?” said Anders. “If all the world is guilty of sin…can you punish everybody?”
“I could. But what kind of Father sends all his children to hell? All have sinned, Anders. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Love, Anders. Love is the only way. My justice is not like the justice of human beings. My justice is tempered with love. My judgement sees all that is wrong with the way humans chose to live…and then meets it with love.”
“How?” asked Anders.
“Through a cross.” said Jesus. “A cross where love and mercy meet. A cross where God and human beings have the chance to connect, through Love. A cross where the evil that all human beings are capable of doing is confronted with the force of my love.”
“My Lord, and my God!” said Anders. “Teach me more about this kind of Love!”