Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The fate of the cowardly

Rev 21:8 reads as follows:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
It is interesting to that cowards are numbered among those who are condemned to the second death. I can understand why sinners of various different sorts might be excluded from salvation -- murderers, rapists, and the such -- but what is the problem for cowards? Why were they excluded? What exactly is the nature of the cowardice which excludes a person from salvation?

It may be that the cowardly who are here being punished are those who denied Christ under the threat of death or persecution. Fear of pain and suffering led them to make a shameful renunciation of their faith. As Christ himself says, Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:26).

There is another sort of fear or cowardice which might lead a person to damnation, too. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue, writes about persons who turn from sin out of fear of damnation and the punishments of hell. These persons don't repent because they feel contrite for having offended God; they neither love God nor their neighbors, but merely abstain from grave sins for the sake of avoiding the torments and an unfavorable judgment. Their servile fear, as Catherine calls it, is insufficient to save them, however, because the Law is summed up in two commandments: to love God with everything we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. They haven't even begun to fulfill the Law, and they deceive themselves if they think that they can avoid hell merely by abstaining from sin.

These persons are cowardly, because the only motivation for their activity was fear of punishment. It is a cruel irony, then, that the only proper reward for their unrighteousness is that they should suffer exactly that which they feared so gravely, All that fear helped them naught, because fear is not properly a cause of righteousness. It is true, as the scriptures say, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10), but it must be emphasized that it is the beginning of wisdom. It is insufficient to make a person wise; it is insufficient to win a person a place among those wise who shall shine like the brightness of the sky (Dan 12:3) at the resurrection.


Philip Hallstrom said...

"It is a cruel irony, then, that the only proper reward for their unrighteousness is that they should suffer exactly that which they feared so gravely" This is a hard saying.

Steven Nemeș said...

You're right; Catherine pulls no punches. God forbid that it should come true for anyone.