We’re not ready to dive deeply into our Dante work, but we do have contemplate the bold vision that drove him. Not the entire vison, but one of its boldest most stunning principles. To understand the idea of Absolution, you have to first picture God, and most of all, God’s heart.
I know we’ve already pushed the limits. Picturing God breaks most people’s mental power instantly. But, to go further and picture God as having a heart, well, just to keep up with the logic we have to go a bit abstract and reduce a heart to its most basic, most elemental emotional functions:
Pleasure and Pain
If God has a heart, an emotional one, then he must be able to feel both pleasure and pain. If we weren’t so overcome by the monotheistic tradition, this would not be a difficult idea. When you have a Pantheon of gods, all demonstrating different characters and powers and different relationships to each other, they’re always getting angry, hurting each other, winning some form of partial forgiveness and the cycle goes round and round. It really is fun to read about Greek, Roman, Norse, Indian, Chinese and other people’s Pantheons. The stories are always fabulous. And no one would pause for a moment over picturing Zeus as angry or his so-often-spurned wife Hera being in pain over her wounded pride.
In monotheism, however, and especially as we’ve shifted from the ancient into the modern era, our One God has become far more, well, watch-maker like. A bit sterile and distant and filled up with His Omni-presence, Omniscience, Omni-benevolence and Omnipotence and all that. How does such a cosmic entity feel pain or pleasure, let alone suffer from the possession of a heart?
Yet, turning to Christianity – and so many other religious beliefs – God’s love is most often presented as his most definitive aspect. And we all know that love lives in the heart. So, if God loves us…
Stick closely, we’re about to go deeper. My own definition of love is that: whatever you love can break your heart. If you’ve never been heartbroken at work, by your work, you therefore do NOT love your work. If you love your work, it will absolutely break your heart, and many times.
So God loves us, and this defines him in this age of ours. Okay, but does God love you, you know, as in YOU, you yourself, little old you, just you? Obviously the basis of the Christian message is that He does, and it is very, very personal. That’s a huge part of the power of the idea of Jesus as God’s Only-Begotten-Son. In Christianity (and come on, it really is a three-eon, forgive me, for all its attempt at monotheism), Father, Son, Holy Ghost (and for good Catholics the Virgin Mary is kind of part of God too), has this family feeling to it which is, again, please forgive my blasphemy, hard to fit inside the idea of MONO-theism.
Letting go of the mathematical dilemma (how do you count one?), God the Father loves Jesus, who is God the Son. Love is in the heart. QED God the Father most certainly has a heart. And, loving (assuming God the Father did not reject little Pasquale’s definition of love as that which can and most certainly WILL break your heart), God’s heart can and therefore WILL be broken. And of course, he really does, therefore, have to have a heart!
In addition to the forgiveness for blasphemy, forgive the tortured logic over what seems, on the surface, to be such an easy idea. The idea isn’t easy, no matter how simple it appears. Allow me this further proof…
When I ask true believers about God’s love they instantly answer yes, of course, that’s what runs the world. Screech. Slow down. Have you looked at the world closely? Then, when I challenge them like that, well, it all starts to be more idea than real. And now we swoop down into our real point…
Not only does God love YOU, you yourself, personally, you; you yourself personally hold the power in your person to hurt God.
Screech twice. Slow down twice as much. The power to hurt God.
Two questions jump up and start yelling at us about you yourself personally. Do you believe in God? Does God have a heart? Okay, a few more follow…
If God loves you, he surely has to have a heart. And with that loving heart of his, and with him loving you yourself personally, you have to have the power to hurt God, since love always conveys that power. So…
Have you understood that you have this power and…drum roll please…do you believe in your own power to do just that, hurt God?
But we haven’t said a word about absolution yet. What’s up with that?
Well, to even draw anywhere near Dante’s idea of absolution you have to picture God’s heart in pain. And more, you have to own the cosmic power to do something about that. No, you can’t resolve God’s pain over everything, that would make you a god too. But, if you picture that you have the power to hurt God’s heart, then you can begin to picture that God has given you the power to heal his heart. The logic is sound. It simply requires that the only pain that God suffers which you have the power to heal is the pain that you, you yourself personally, caused God’s heart to suffer.
Wrongly, I imagined that tomorrow’s essay would turn to the term Self-Absolution. Now, having read what I wrote above, I realize that before we turn there we must first discuss the steps that Dante gives us, detailing how to employ our power to heal God’s heart from the pain we’ve caused Him. These steps, and I may as well give them to you now – 1.) Contrition, 2.) Confession and 3.) Satisfaction – will consume our efforts over the coming three essays. At that point, we’ll return and try to tackle the even more challenging idea of Self-Absolution.
I know, this is not easy work. But after all we are dealing with the issues upon which the very existence of the universe depends, or at least, our understanding of this crazy place, such as we are able to create such understanding.
So, don’t get discouraged. You need to do this work. Honest you do. Tomorrow we’ll figure out just what step 1,) Contrition actually is. Admit it. You know you need to know. But for today, just meditate on the fact that you, yourself personally, have the powers to both hurt and afterwards heal God’s heart. Now that’s power.