Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Best of The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the April 17, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. Your answers on interpreting the Bible are mostly correct, so I agree. But what difference does it make, as long as I get the sense of what the writer meant? Thatís all that really matters, isnít it?
A. Precisely. It should be enough as long as we can be sure thatís what the author meant and not what we think the author should have meant. Itís the difference between a four-letter word and a four-word letter.
The Q.B. scrivener has often reminded readers that enthusiasm is no substitute for knowledge. Enthusiasm and knowledge should walk side-by-side to understand the Word of God with the respect it deserves.
Perhaps the greatest authority in Biblical studies is St. Jerome, who assembled and translated the first edition of the Bible about 404 A.D. He called it the Vulgate edition, meaning everybodyís. He showed some impatience with amateur shoot-from-the-hip interpreters when he said, ďFarming, building, carpentry, etc. all require an apprenticeship, but when it comes to interpreting Godís Word, any gabby old woman, any doddering old fool or dilettante can blithely dissect it and have a go at explaining it, masters in their ignorance.Ē
He may not have been diplomatic, but he was correct.
Q. The very idea of confessing my sins directly to God appeals to me for many reasons. Bible-believers are familiar with the teaching that only God can forgive sins, so why does anyone need human go-betweens?
A. True Bible-believers are familiar with the exact words of Jesus when he spoke to his disciples: ďWhose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retainedĒ (John 20:23). What else did Jesus mean? Could he have said it better?
Itís a puzzlement why Bible believers are selective in their quotes. The Bible is a package deal. We canít flit around like a hummingbird, sampling a little here and there.
In order to forgive anything, the forgiver must have information about the offense, the motive for the offense, and the willingness to make amends. Anyone who has ever made an apology knows that rotten feeling of regret, the urge to make an honest admission of having caused trouble, and a compelling desire to be reconciled. Those are the essential elements of every good confession. Good theology makes good psychology.
Whispering prayers of remorse at bedside may be more convenient, but thatís not the same as a spoken out-loud confession. And hereís the main difference: The Catholic Church has the sacrament that offers total absolution. No sin is too heavy. Every sin can be un-stuck. Thatís got to be the best deal in town.
Q. How can we be sure hell exists as a certain place for punishing evil people? I believe God is good and forgiving. Why does our faith teach about real eternal punishment, since a short suffering would seem to be all thatís necessary?
A. No religious creed can be authentic if it ignores the Bible where the reality of hell is a Biblical ďgiven.Ē Itís there, not as a possibility, but as a reality. We canít pick our way through chapters and verses to select the nice parts and reject whatever we find unpleasant.
Our gentle Jesus, our Good Shepherd who will go to any length to find that one straying sheep, turns around and says to disbelievers, ďGet away from me, you accursed, into everlasting fireĒ (Matt. 25:41). Is there anyone foolish enough to say Jesus was misinformed?
The Bible doesnít waffle on the reality of hell. There may be some disagreement about the residents of hell and what they did to get there, but hell exists for a reason.
Theologians like to say Godís dominant nature right now is merciful forgiveness. But on Judgment Day it will be strict justice.
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