Qur’an 18: The Cave

The eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an emphasizes God’s greatness, and His use of all of His creation to reach your soul. Not only the Torah, or the Psalms, or the Gospels, but popular stories (including this Lectionary!) proclaim his goodness. The Lord has given you the Rock, the Fish, the Life of the World — just stay focused on him, use these signs for what they are, and proclaim this good news to others.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Genesis 23:19

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent:

“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
Genesis 3:13-14

A Song, from the Psalms:

The mountains skipped like rams,
The little hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you fled?
O Jordan, that you turned back?
O mountains, that you skipped like rams?
O little hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD,
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of waters.
Psalms 114:4-8

A reading from the Letter of St. James

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the LORD wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
John 6:51

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Luke

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:13-21

Communion Antiphon

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
John 11:38

A Qur’anic Homily

God controls time. This is vital for understanding the spiritual sense of scripture. The cave that Abraham acquired for Sarah is the one that Christ freed Lazarus from. The gulf of time means nothing to the Lord, nor do man’s plans for the future

Do not say about anything, ‘I will indeed do it tomorrow!’ without, ‘God willing.’ And when you forget, remember your Lord and say, ‘Maybe my Lord will guide me to more akin to rectitude than this’
Qur’an 18:23-24

Consider Christ’s parable of the foolish man, prompted by someone asking for more inheritance from his brother. The interlocutor demanded more land, more of a Garden of Eden, without even realizing the Living Water was right besides him, Water sent from God through the Wind:, the Word from the Lord through the Spirit:

Draw for them the parable of the Life of this World: like the Water We send down from the sky. Then the earth’s vegetation mingles with it. Then it becomes chaff, scattered by the Wind. And God has power over all things.
Qur’an 18:45

Draw for them the parable of two men for each of whom We had made two gardens of vines and We had surrounded them with date palms and placed crops between them. Both gardens yielded their produce without stinting anything of it. And We had a stream gush through them.
Qur’an 18:32-33

A wise ‘poor’ man realizes his blessings, and the ‘rich’ man harms himself most through his greed. The worship of Mammon besides God had left the foolish rich man condemned and helpless:

Why did you not say when you entered your garden, ‘As God has willed! There is no power except by God!’ If you see that I have lesser wealth than you and children, maybe my Lord will give me better than your gardens and He will unleash it upon bolts from the sky, so that it becomes a bare plain. Or its water will sink down, so that you will never be able to obtain it.’

And ruin closed in on his produce and as it lay fallen on its trellises he begin to wring his hands for what he had spent on it. He was saying ‘I wish I had not ascribed any partner to my Lord.’ He had no party to help him besides God, nor could he help himself. Qur’an 18:39-41

In the proper perspective — God’s perspective — the mountains themselves move. They are built up and torn down. Every false god — Money, Fame, Pride — will fall leaving only the soul, and God:

The day We shall set the mountains moving and you will see the earth in full view, We will muster them and We will not leave out anyone of them. They will be presented before your Lord in ranks: “Certainly you have come to Us just as We created you the first time. But you maintained that We will not appoint a tryst for you.’
Qur’an 18:47-48

This is not to say that Money, Fame, and Pride weren’t created by God. Surely, they were as much as Satan, Iblis, the Devil. But these things are not helpers, and the evil they cause is from the wrong orders. If Iblis had been at Eve’s feet from the beginning we would not experience the wrong ordering of our sinful world. As it is, that serpent will be at the feet of another pair of man and woman — Jesus and Mary — who will crush its head:

When We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam,’ they prostrated, but not Iblis. He was one of the jinn, so he transgressed against his Lord’s command. Will you take him and his offspring for masters in My stead, through they are your enemies? How evil a substitute for the wrongdoers!
Qur’an 18:50

Other Stories

The stories from the bible, in their spiritual meaning, are parables. Whether or not they physically happened, or whatever their full historical context, we are supposed to understand a deeper meaning through them

We have certainly interspersed this Lectionary with every kind of parable for the people. But man is the most disputation of creatures. Nothing has kept these people from believing and pleading to their Lord for forgiveness when guidance came to them, except that the precedence of the ancients come to pass for them, or that punishment come to them, face to face.
Qur’an 18:54-55

To this end, in the eighteenth chapter the Qur’anic author includes several popular stories, such as

In the same way, last Sunday my priest worked Home Alone into the homily. The spiritual sense of scripture can be made easier to understand using these works. Because all good things point to God. For instance, take the story of the search for the Fountain of Youth, with its Fish…

So when they reached the confluence between them, they forgot their fish, which found its way into the sea, sneaking away. SO when they had passed on, he said to his lad, ‘Bring us our meal. We have certainly encountered much fatigue on this journey.’

He said, ‘Did you see?! When we took shelter at the Rock, indeed I forgot about the fish — and none but Satan made me forget to mention it! — and it made its way into the sea in an amazing manner!

He said, ‘This is what we were after!’ So they returned, retracing their footsteps.’
Qur’an 18:61-64

The world was made God, and the world points to God.

The Rock provides shelter. The Fish provides a meal. And the things that point to them — the Shelter of the Rock — are good, and right. But the Shelter is not a Master. Indeed, Satan will trick you into forgetting about the object of your love — God – the Real – and distract you into false gods, into idols, things less real than the Real.

Or consider the Sleepers of Ephesus, a story of how God protected persecuted Christians by allowing them to sleep (with a pet dog!) in the safety of a Cave:

When the youths took refuge in the Cave, they said ‘Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Yourself and help us on the rectitude in our affair.’

So We put them to sleep in the Cave for several years…

You will suppose them to be awake, though they are asleep. We turn them to the right and to the left, and at the threshold their dog stretching its forelegs. If you come upon them, you will surely them to flee from them and will be filled with a terror of them…
Qur’an 18:10-11,18

The Cave can be a place of safety, protected by the Rock. Or it can be a grave. The difference is if you worship the Rock, or the Cave – if you worship God, or a creature.

Keep God first, kneel when you should kneel, be in the proper order

There, all authority belongs to God, the Real. He is best in rewarding and best in requiting.
Qur’an 18:44

Conclusion

God is patient. Be patient with God. And one day, you will see Him face to face, like a friend. Pray, do what you should in remembrance of Him, praise Him with other believes. Just love Him, and not the glittering that surrounds Him

Content yourself with the company of those who supplicate their Lord morning and evening, desiring His Face, and do not loose sight of them, desiring the glitter of the life of this world. And do not obey him whose heart We have made oblivious to Our remembrance and who follows his own desires, and whose conduct is profligacy.
Qur’an 18:28

Every good book, every good story, every good thing sings of the Lord. There is no end to the instruction that you have available to you. The Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, popular stories, and this Lectionary all point to Him:

Say, “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the words of my Lord are finished, though We replenish it with another like it.”
Qur’an 18:109

Now go, and evangelize in your own words, be that good thing that points to God:

Say, “I am just a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is the One God. So whoever expects to encounter his Lord, let him act righteously and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord.”
Qur’an 18:110

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Is it acceptable for a Catholic to hope that all men will one day enter heaven?

Bishop Robert Barron not only wrote the forward for Dare We Hope, he also wrote an excellent blog post summarizing the book’s answer: yes.

Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility. “Hell” or “Gehenna” are spatial metaphors for the lonely and sad condition of having definitively refused the offer of the divine life. But is there anyone in this state of being? We don’t know for sure. We are in fact permitted to hope and to pray that all people will finally surrender to the alluring beauty of God’s grace.

Think of God’s life as a party to which everyone is invited, and think of Hell as the sullen corner into which someone who resolutely refuses to join the fun has sadly slunk. What this image helps us to understand is that language which suggests that God “sends” people to Hell is misleading. As C.S. Lewis put it so memorably: the door that closes one into Hell (if there is anyone there) is locked from the inside not from the outside. The existence of Hell as a real possibility is a corollary of two more fundamental convictions, namely, that God is love and that human beings are free. The divine love, freely rejected, results in suffering. And yet, we may, indeed we should, hope that God’s grace will, in the end, wear down the even the most recalcitrant sinner.

But the counter-argument seem pretty clear, and was put forward by Christ Himself:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:21-30

The counter-counter-argues is that Christ speaks of punishment, which includes purgatory, and the danger of Hell, which could still exist even if no one actually goes there.

But is that a hope, and not just wishful thinking?

On social media Bishop Barron has posted a video in favor of the hope that all men may be saved:

While Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, has an opposing view

So – dare we hope that all men be saved?

The Definition of Hope

While Balthasar takes a number of digs at St Thomas Aquinas, he uses both Thomas’s definition of hope

For, as we have already stated (I-II:40:1), when we were treating of the passion of hope, the object of hope is a future good, difficult but possible to obtain.
Summa Theologica, II.ii.17

And Thomas’s view that hope is a virtue:

Wherefore, in so far as we hope for anything as being possible to us by means of the Divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself, on Whose help it leans. It is therefore evident that hope is a virtue, since it causes a human act to be good and to attain its due rule.

The Scriptures

Balthasar does not claim that all men will go to heaven. Indeed, he urges the spiritually safest position is to consider oneself even more in danger of judgment than Judas, of whom Jesus said. You do not know what weaknesses were in his heart, but you should know your own betrayals of Christ very well:

The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”

He said to him, “You have said it.”
Matthew 26:24-25

Yet Paul writes of the Father’s desire for “all,” and wonders how easily the Father would let His purpose be frustrated by our inclination, all other things being equal, to fail in the faith:

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:19-23

Continuing this theme, it what may have been the darkest period of his ministry, Paul writes:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:7-12

On the “dispensation of the fullness of time,” Balthasar wonders — or hopes — if perhaps God does not let “all other things be equal.” For instance, might He order things such that even a soul inclined to sin would be saved from temptation and brought to repentance and purification.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

The hope that Balthasar seems in the Bible is not a “sure hope” — it is not knowledge — that we are all saved. But that God is willing to lead our free will, using tricks and punishments, to give Christ his due:

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:1-3

The Doctors of the Church

Many Saints have had visions of Hell, and great teachers have lectured about who is in there. Balthasar hopes that these visions, by showing us that saints in this world would be willing to atone for the sins of even the damned, show us that Christ would do also. There surely is a Hell, so from the reactions of saints do we see an image of God’s view?

How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands? No, in absolutely no case do I want to see a single one of my brethren meet with ruin, not a single one of those, through their like birth, are one with me by nature and by grace. I want them all to be wrested from the grasp of the ancient enemy, so that they all become yours to the honor and greater glorification of your name.
St Catherine of Sienna, Dialogues

And while the Lord teaches that wide is the gate that leads to destruction, perhaps actually entering destruction is harder than that:

“A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I’ve mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.

“What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some as I said, caused by the devil, these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing. This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn’t see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and I repeat the worst was that interior fire and despair.
St Theresa of Avila, Collected Works

There’s something going on with all these opposite statements, these theological dialectics. We’re in a confusing space. Balthasar’s reaction to this confusion is hope that all men be saved:

Spare in Thy mercy, and take not vengeance in Thy justice. For although it be hard to understand how Thy mercy is not parted from Thy justice; yet is it necessary to believe that it is not at enmity with Thy justice, that it floweth from Thy goodness, that it is not without justice, nay in truth accordeth with Thy justice. For if Thou art merciful only because Thou art supremely good, and art supremely good only because Thou art supremely just: therefore art Thou in truth merciful because Thou art supremely just. Help me, O just and merciful God, for I seek Thy light. Help me, that I may understand what I say!
Anselm of Canterbury. Prologion, IX

On the Pope and Hannibal Lecter

My greatest doubts to Balthasar’s “hope” comes from free will. What if an individual, consciously, rationally, and in full possession of his spirits, chooses damnation?

Balthasar cites future Pope Benedict XVI to this point:

“Christ inflicts pure perdition on no one. In himself he is sheer salvation… Perdition is not imposed by him but comes to be wherever a person distances himself from Christ. It comes about whenever someone remains enclosed within himself. Christ’s word, the bearer of the offer of salvation, then lays bare the fact that the person who is lost has himself drawn the dividing line and separated himself from salvation.
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, pp 205-206

In the back of my mind is the most Satanic characters I’ve encountered in fiction — Hannibal Lector. I don’t mean the movie version, the guy who eats people, which is bad enough! But in the novel, we hear his eternal narration, and his calm, rational statement preferring damnation in Hell, rather than share Heaven with a God who allowed his little sister’s death. Even if we accept that God is very patient in purgatory, and finds some way to call everyone back who falls into it, what of the Lecters of this world?

Balthasar wonders if every “no” is predicated on a “yes” to God. To go back to my example of Hannibal Lecter, his “no” to salvation” comes from his “yes” to his sister. Might we hope that God uses this right, if out of order, love for his image?

Maybe. Maybe that’s enough for “hope.”

The Catechism

Balthasar’s ambiguous views are reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published a few years after Dare We Hope. The relevant portion of the Catechism reads both in ways that imply that most are in Hell:

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
CCC 1033

And that it’s a free choice, from now until the end, to get in, with God having a clearly desired outcome:

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”
CCC 1037

Thus we should all be very aware of our own sinfulness, and view Hell as a personal possibility. As Balthasar writes:

Even if someone could know himself as being in the “certainty” inherent in Christian hope, he still does not know whether he will not transgress against love and thereby also forfeit the certainty of hope. It is therefore indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost.

And the Catechism confirms:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.” CCC 1035-1036

We do not know the how this all ends. We only know how we should pray:

The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
CCC 1058

Conclusion

Hans Urs Von Balthasar is an important figure of the resourcement — going back to the sources — within Catholicism. I’m glad I read an introduction to his work before beginning Dare We Hope. Instead of focusing on the Summa Theologica as the definitive summary of theology, Balthasar uses church Doctors and Fathers, along with a dramatic sense of the text. Balthasar views some contradictory statements as “mysteries” to fall into, rather than problems already solved, and in some ways is more typical of the Orthodox Church than the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917). But Balthasar’s theologically is fundamentally Catholic, with a focus on the importance of purgatory and clear alignment with recent Popes.

So, dare we “hope” that all men be saved? Balthasar’s answer is yes: yes, we may hope, but to do this we must cooperate with God in the one soul we have the most control over: our own.