Looking back over the years , I wonder if my uncle was correct. You see, my uncle “RM,” was hellfire-damnation preacher of the basest kind. He belonged to some independent church of his own making and, both he and his wife-preacher could scare the bejeezus out of us kids. I remember we were afraid for him to come over to the house because he might start preaching at us for having a television, or for wearing shorts or to be found not sitting there reading the eternal word of God. Like yesterday, I remember when he saw me doing my homework, he went into a rage because I was drawing a map of the "Holy Roman Empire". Needless to say, preachers of that ilk were very anti-catholic, and there was nothing "holy" about Rome. No, RM wasn't altogether right, but I wonder if maybe we should be a bit more tuned in to the message of today's gospel reading which tells us to get rid of evil before we are, "cast into hellfire where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." Now that sounds like my uncle. It sounds like a quote right out of his makeshift church's cookbook for salvation.
For a while in my spiritual journey, I was a member of the opposite kind church, a church which almost altogether eliminated sin from its lexicon. That church thought that its teaching was too negative and that we ought to soften the message a bit. (Sure, just like the gospel did when it commanded that whoever harms an innocent child should have a stone hung around his neck and be thrown into the sea or, that if you sin with your hand or foot, they should be cut off.) We now understand that these barbaric commands were metaphors for the way we should rid ourselves of evil in order to avoid a life of hell. But the message here is clear - sin is real and sin is a disgusting thing. Evil is real. Satan does exist. Hurting a child or any other human being is below our calling as Christians. Doing evil will cause a hellfire-type of punishment. Hell might happen while we are still on this earth and, if it is part of the afterlife, it probably won't be a place of fiery dungeons, or a red man with a horns and a tail and a pitchfork, but we ought never to pretend it doesn't exist because somewhere, somehow , sometime, we will get our due reward. We will reap what we sow.
Unfortunately modern Christianity has evolved in to a terrible type of relativism. This relativism says that "Bad or evil or wrongdoing has to be understood in the context of the situation." This became know as situation ethics and became a popular movement in the 20th century. From the book "Situation Ethics" by Joseph Fletcher, we read that "Nothing is intrinsically good or bad, and that good is only that which in the end justifies the means, nothing else." Fletcher (1963, pg. 120); "So then if situations are always relative to the circumstances we should always strive to avoid such words as "never" and "always". Situationalists say that there are no moral absolutes. "Good" is a floating concept, not a reality.
Let's bring this down to a personal level. Have you ever wondered what you would do if you were in the colosseum as lion bait and you were given a chance to deny the Christ? Hungrily eyeing you as a prime rib, the lion tempts you saying; "If you deny your God, you can do more for your cause than if you are my dinner." "You will still be around tomorrow to preach the gospel". "You will still be able to tend to your family needs". "You will still live to fight the good cause." Given the choice, denial doesn't sound too bad, does it? To our situational mind, that makes sense, to our fearful, non-trusting soul, that scenario seems wonderfully logical. Is there then a moral imperative to stay faithful to your God? If it only "depends", imagine what would have happened if the thousands of Christian martyrs had made the choice to deny, would we now be Christians?
Or another situation question might be, "Is it ever right to kill a child, even if it is severely impaired, or if it might be "in the way" of your life - if you allowed it to be born?
Hear are some common words to worry over, some dangerous words that you might find yourself using too often: "If" (the circumstances were..), "might" (it be that), "maybe" (it doesn't matter), "it depends" (whether) , "could be" (that the circumstances). If these are a large part of vocabulary, you might be in big trouble.
Orthodox Christianity has always taught that there are static moral imperatives that have been laid down by God throughout history. ("Now and ever, unto the ages of ages.") We believe in those imperatives, and that is why our church doesn't change with the prevailing winds of current times. That is why we believe in heaven and hell, damnation, and the devil. That is why Orthodoxy is the belief in the Rock Unmoving, the Faith Once delivered. That is why my uncle was probably more orthodox than Joseph Fletcher.
Just say "NO" to the lion.