We have nothing but our language to describe God, heaven, the work of Christ, and so on, and our language is entirely a product of our concerns and objectives and limitations. The words God, heaven, and work are good examples. So is the word good. So is the word example. So is the word word.

You see the difficulty?

For all its wondrous powers, human language is of little use in communicating that which stands outside of our concerns and objectives and limitations. That’s why Jesus is almost always allusive and parabolic in his speech.

Consider the insistence that God is morally just, and how that contention is used to argue that God’s very nature requires the infliction of punishment – perhaps even never-ending punishment – on the wrong-doer. According to this way of thought, moral righteousness requires that each moral being be treated according to his works. So virtue merits proportionate reward, and vice proportionate punishment. For God to arrange consequences according to any other pattern would run contrary to his own nature, which is impossible. Quod erat demonstrandum.

(We won’t dwell on the unforeseen implications this way of thinking has for commonplace notions of heaven and hell, except to say that no imaginable human virtue is proportional (by any human understanding of proportion) to everlasting bliss, nor any vice to endless torment. Thus this argument from God’s nature would rule out both heaven and hell, as they are commonly conceived.)

But from the point of view of our present reflection, there is a much more fundamental problem. Our God-given conscience does most certainly incline us to think that effortful goodness (virtue) and effortful malfeasance (vice) merit or warrant different consequences, just as an itch merits scratching or a full ear of corn warrants harvesting. And so in order to reflect this warranted revelation of conscience we speak of rewarding the one and punishing the other, here as always utilizing words that are products of our own concerns and practices.

We can trust the distinction itself, since it is revealed by God in conscience; but what we cannot trust is how humans have embodied the distinction in language and therefore in thought. How God embodies the distinction in reality may be entirely different.

It may, in fact, be true of vice, as it is said to be of virtue, that in God’s reality, it is its own reward.

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