I’m not a religious person. Spiritual, maybe, but not religious. But I do believe that religion can be beautiful. The way it can bring people together, the way it makes people feel less alone in the world, the way it can give people something to hope for, even if it’s just for a better tomorrow.
Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy touches on this belief. This idea that believing in a God – any God – should be something that brings people together rather than pull them apart.
The Divine Comedy is a poem written by Dante in the early fourteenth century which describes the author’s journey through the afterlife. It has three parts to it: Inferno, which Dante describes as hell, Purgatorio, known as purgatory, and, finally, Paradiso which Dante uses to represent Heaven.
Written in Italian, rather than Latin, Dante provides a blueprint of what was to come with the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of Renaissance humanism, bringing together literary and theological expression, as well as pagan and Christian beliefs, and builds the foundations of the modern world.
What I love about Dante’s works, however, is how he embraces human individuality, happiness and faith. The Divine Comedy is as much about human strength and people’s will to keep going as it is about religion and God.
Previously I have wrote about the first part of The Divine Comedy, Inferno, and how Dante’s message in this was less about the misery of hell as it was about the power of the human spirit to endure any challenge, no matter how daunting.
This time, I’m going to write about the third and final part of The Divine Comedy – Paradiso, or, rather, Dante’s Paradise.
Having plunged to the uttermost depths of Hell and climbed the Mount of Purgatory in parts one and two of the Divine Comedy, Dante ascends to Heaven in this third and final part, continuing his soul’s search for God, guided by his beloved Beatrice. As he progresses through the spheres of Paradise he grows in understanding, until he finally experiences divine love in the radiant presence of the deity. Examining eternal questions of faith, desire and enlightenment, Dante exercised all his learning and wit, wrath and tenderness in his creation of one of the greatest of all Christian allegories.
In this journey through the nine spheres, Dante attempts to teach us about what it really means to believe in God and have faith in a higher being. He takes us back to root of all religion, to remind us of the thing that most of us tend to forget.
In the very last verse in Paradiso, Dante writes:
“ma gia volgeva il mio disio e’l velle,
si come rota ch’igualmente e mossa,
l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.”
– Dante Alighieri, Paradiso
In English, this translates to:
“My will and desire were turned,
as wheels that move in equilibrium, by
the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
– Dante Alighieri, Paradiso
Dante writes that God is not merely just a blinding vision of beautiful light, but He is, more than anything, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” He was trying to explain faith, I think, as an overpowering love. That He comes into our life and suddenly no matter what’s going on in our world we have one truth to hold on to – that we are loved. And that love is the most powerful force in the world; that it can do anything.
Some people struggle to believe in God because of all the bad in the world, we wonder where He is when things go wrong. Other people believe that their belief in God means they are entitled to a good and perfect life. But these are human expectations that we put on religion – that’s not what it’s about.
Believing in God, and religion, whatever God or religion that may be, doesn’t guarantee that everything in your life is going to be good. In fact, it doesn’t even guarantee you that it’s going to be fair. Look at some of the stories in the Bible, was it fair that Sara had to wait 99 years before she had a child, and God said, “Sacrifice him”? Moses couldn’t get anywhere near the Promised Land and I think we can all agree that Jesus got a raw deal.
But if we only believed in God when something good happened, I’m pretty sure most of us would have checked out the minute things got hard. Faith, real faith, doesn’t guarantee you that everything in your life will be good and problem-free, but rather it promises that someone is rooting for you, that someone is there for you when things get hard and when you do encounter problems.
Real faith is about knowing that when the bad things come you’re not going through them alone, and promises, that above all else, you are loved.