Thursday, October 18, 2012

Putting the "Judge" back in "Judgment"

Rev. Gini Gerbasi
I take a class on Monday nights, and the other night I heard a classmate say that he believes that God punishes some people with eternal suffering.  It made me recoil – the idea that there is really a hell, and that God will send some of us there forever. I know the same scriptures he knows (though, probably not as well…), but I also knew my grandmother.

Emily Morse Cook Riley. For the sake of avoiding argument I'm willing to assume that throughout the course of human history there have been grandmothers as wonderful as mine. But more wonderful? More loving? Just not possible. Everything about her – her gravely South Carolina drawl, her apple bread, the way she stuffed a Kleenex into the sleeve of her sweater – was as appealing and warm as sunshine through your kitchen window. She called everybody Darlin' and the thing was, you knew she meant it. Though she wouldn't have put it quite this way, she told us we all had a special place in her heart.

The summer my sisters and I were 8, 9, and 10, my parents left us with Grandma for two weeks. As the youngest, I just knew I was Grandma's favorite, and I set out daily to justify my favored status by proving my superiority over my sisters – especially Terri, who was 9. I offered to set the table, I was the first one out in the carport to snap peas, and I watched my notoriously smart mouth in front of her. But a girl can only hold back for so long. I lasted about a week. It was late afternoon and I had gone inside to refill my tea. A Wrinkle in Time, open and faced down, evidenced my entitlement to the hammock. I opened the back door with my elbow, two Hello Dolly cookies in one hand and my tea in the other, so I didn't see her right away. But Terri was swinging in the hammock, smiling. I looked frantically for my book. Clearly she had thrown it, because it was 10 feet away. She looked at me, all fake innocent, and I unleashed a week's worth of pent-up anger and swear words. I suppose I ended my tirade with a chorus of "I hate you," because that's the part that rung in my ears when she got up to run inside. I picked up my book, shaking the pine needles out of the pages. Maybe she won't tell, I thought, even as I started to cry. She opened the back door. "Grandma wants to see you," she said, smiling just a little. My heart broke clean through.

I was terrified, but not of Grandma. I knew her. But now she knew me. I knew she wouldn't hit me, or tell Mom and Dad to come get me, or tell me she didn't love me any more. I had no fear of her. I was heart broken and afraid because now we both knew who I really was – a regular little girl with a smart mouth, who fought with her sister, and who wasn't all sweetness and light, as she liked people to think. It was agony.

I imagine that this is what it's like to face God when judgment comes. Everything we've tried to hide comes out, and we're heart-broken and ashamed. It burns. But we focus so much on the "what will happen to us" part, that we forget what we know about God who IS compassion and love. Why would my faith require me to believe that this God could condemn me – or anyone forever? I don't think it does. What do you think?

Rev. Gini Gerbasi is the assistant rector at St. John's, Lafayette Square.

"Why would my faith require me to believe that this God could condemn me – or anyone forever? I don't think it does. What do you think?" Share your thoughts, reflections, and questions on Facebook.