The Right Hands of our Fathers

On a Catholic catechism site I stumbled on a set of questions about Jesus “Sitting on the Right Hand of the Father.” The priests answering them were adamant that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, and “sits” in his physical, finite, earthling body at the “right hand” of an eternal, incorporeal, infinite deity.

At the same time, they accept that the universe is vast and billions of years old, and that humans have existed for just a smidgen of that. If creation happened in “six days,” (wink wink), humans would have existed for about 13 seconds. In this ancient universe of perhaps 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 stars, if we are alone, we are very alone.

So is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, for every species on every world, Jesus of Nazareth, whose redemptive actions occurred only once, on Earth alone? Must every species but ours rely upon an alien savior, in events that happened on an alien world, to be saved? The infinity of God, and the vastness of the observable universe alone, makes the idea of a Jesus-centered universe as problematic as one centered upon the Earth, for pretty much all the same reasons.

It’s easy to approach questions like these with a big rubber stamp saying MYSTERY, as they did when I was a kid in Catholic catechism. But I’m beginning to wonder if requiring Catholic college kids to take logic is a good idea, if you want them simultaneously to believe literally in ideas as plainly absurd as a God in permanently human form.

hildegard-trinity
Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s Vision of the Holy Trinity

Maybe there’s a place in heaven next to God’s right hand where a literally infinite number of Jesuses sit, from different stars, epochs, galaxies—even universes. Finite incarnations smaller than one of our atoms, or larger than our whole universe. If our finite universe is just one in an infinite “multiverse,” there would be room (so to speak) for an infinite number of separate, finite “universes,” as well as an infinite number of infinite ones. There could be incarnations at the Right Hand of the Father from among life forms who are infinite in size and eternal, existing among an infinite number of other infinite, eternal individuals living in one of the infinite number of infinite universes outside our own.

That would solve the problem of the alien thing, but would also open the possibility, e.g., that the Lord Krishna was an incarnation of the Second Person, who is the “Way, Truth, and the Life…” The priests answering peoples’ questions on the site were quaintly adamant about the bodily ascension thing, but they never said Jesus had to be unique. We had a priest in Spokane who said that when Jesus uttered that, he was speaking not as the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, but as an aspect of the Eternal Godhead—meaning, “Just F.Y.I., whenever anyone comes to the Father, be it through the teachings of one of my infinite incarnations, by meditating under a tree, or whatever, they’re doing so through me.” The idea of God becoming incarnate wherever and whenever needed is not at all in fatal conflict with anything I was ever taught.

It does, however, negate the strictly exclusive Evangelical interpretation of that saying, which coupled with the command to “make disciples of all nations,” is supposed to mean that Jesus wants them to convert every single person on Earth to their particular vision, to save them from Hell fire. He may well have meant, simply, that anyone from anywhere could become a “Christian” if they wanted to, that the New Covenant was not to be limited to Jews.

Making disciples “of” all nations, in 17th-century (i.e., King James) English, means “from”—to make disciples from among any nation. It’s not a command to grind the world under your heel, but to invite it to your table. Just because someone declines the invitation, doesn’t necessarily mean they are damned for all eternity.

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