Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Testing some heresies, Part 5: Conclusion… Yeah right!


Here are two religious/philosophical attitudes I don't understand:

  1. I've finally figured it all out. I now have all the answers to life to the extent that a human can, and therefore I have no need of further research or analysis. I will feel comfortable arguing them down to the smallest jot and tiddle until the day I die.
  2. I can never truly know anything so why bother composing a consistent worldview?


The more I learn about the history of ideas, the more I see how ridiculous it is to think we moderns have it all figured out. I'm not studied nearly enough to be able to tell if humanity has been building progressively towards more accuracy, or simply cycling through an array of truths and falsehoods. I lean towards more truth. At least within the Church Universal. (I'm sure that's a term that's already been taken, but I plead ignorance and am using it to denote the collective of all true believers throughout time.) I think that's what all the birth-labor analogies in the Bible are pointing to. We are building towards something. I hope that my life and beliefs are a positive influence in that process.

The matter of authority and Truth

I love getting feedback from my dad; he's always very frank with me, which is not ironic at all since his name is Frank. My dad's much smarter and more learned than me and I know he loves me dearly, so I take his feedback very seriously. One of the things he warned me about was making an idol out of the Bible. By this I assume he means that the Bible is not God. And if my argument is based solely on the Bible (or my interpretation of it.) than it will be insufficient. And I agree with that. It may surprise my gentle readers to know that my regard for the Bible is probably more liberal than most. In fact, I only use the term "the Bible" out of utility rather than as an axiomatic statement. I don't think there is a "the Bible". When you consider all the books that used to be included, or were closely considered, or almost got the boot, or are only included in the Catholic version, etc. it's hard to hold to a view that what we modern Protestants have now is the perfect, written revelation of God in its entirety.

This is not only a historic problem but a philosophical one as well. If God is truly with us, still guiding and talking to us today, (As the Bible implies) than His Word is extended into every Christian. His activity would be continually broadcasting His Word, and His spirit in us would be the receiver. So to call the Bible "THE WORD OF GOD" is to undermine all the current activity He does and was promised in that "WORD OF GOD". The term implies exclusivity where there should not be, because that would exclude God's current work.

Beyond that there are issues within the text itself. There are all sorts of inconsistencies in little facts. Things like the number of demon possessed men at the tombs and details about the empty grave of Christ. There's the redundant story of David catching Saul asleep and taking something from him rather than killing him. (1 Sam. 25 & 26) You could say they are two separate accounts, but they are clearly the same story but with different details. And there is a chapter between them that continues the story, but then jumps back to where Saul is pursuing David.

These little inconsistencies lead me to two conclusions. First: not every word in the Bible is the perfect Word of God. Otherwise there would be no contradictions of any size or importance. And second: parsing the Bible into little verses is not a great way to build theology. I don't think God wants us to dissect the Bible. I think that's why He let the inconsistencies stay in there. It teaches us that we need to consider the revealed words of God as a whole. Word-by-word breakdowns don't facilitate that. And we need to consider the people who wrote those words and why. Not in the post-modern sense of determining motives and deconstructing meaning. But simply to understand that a letter written to a wayward church is different than a Jewish songbook, prophetic revelation, or traditional proverb. And you shouldn't use them all the same way when you form your doctrine. When you read a newspaper you generally assume the stories in there are fact. You repeat them to your friends as fact. You make decisions about your life based on them. (Gee, the paper says it’s going to be raining this weekend, I guess I’ll cancel my fishing trip. Or Congressman so-and-so was caught stealing lingerie, I don't think I'll vote for him again.) But when you read an advertisement, the comics, the personal classifieds, you don’t read them in the same way. You don’t assume there is a war going on simply because you read Beatle Bailey, or that the sale at Mervyn’s really is explosive. Yet there are a lot of theologies that incorporate verses from Psalms and Proverbs as though they were statements of fact rather than wise sayings and expressions of wonderment and love.

When you study the history of the Bible you see all the competing ideas. Even within the text itself you see the difference between Paul and Peter's take on things. And you see little parenthetical asides where Paul admits that what he's writing is at times his own opinion and not God's Words. And you have to wonder how anyone knew about the times where Jesus was alone, like during His temptation in the wilderness or His prayer in the garden.

None of this is meant as an attack on the validity of the Bible. I only wish to view it in the proper perspective with the rest of reality and God's revealed wisdom. I think the term "the Bible" is a bit of a misnomer but it's acceptable enough to work as a guiding principle. In other words, the Bible's not THE perfect word of God. But I think it's the best and most reliable guide we've got. And as loose as the term is, it's absolutely necessary to keep any sort of coherence within the Body of Christ. Because without an easily accessible authority that supersedes the people and organizations within Christendom you would have no Christendom.

So is the Bible the only authority in my life? No. Ultimately God should be. But how do I understand God? There are 3 ways I can think of. The Bible, the Church, and myself. And they have a lot of interplay with each other. It's quite impossible to separate them completely. I've looked at the idea of the Bible as the ultimate authority and I find it insufficient. Even if it were the perfect, unfiltered words that God spoke, it would still go through the filters of translation into my language and my receptivity to them. Which puts me squarely back to relying on myself as an authority. Because my receptivity to God's words would be affected by my upbringing, education, philosophical dispositions, personality, etc. And how is it possible that all of those elements are just right for receiving the Truth of the Bible perfectly? Well it's not possible. Or at least, highly improbable.

Now I could claim that one could simply obey the authority of the Church in order to derive proper doctrinal beliefs. But that only lasts so far as there is one church with one doctrine. This is not the case, nor has it ever been. I do believe there is a Church Universal as a spiritual entity that is the Bride of Christ. But she is far to multifaceted to derive consistent doctrinal direction. Even if I were to go back in time before the Reformation I would still have to choose between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church. It’s not like you can really claim that one is ‘older’ in the sense that they are closer to the truth. And even within Roman Catholicism there is a huge variety of opinions. (My Catholic cousin was telling me about fist fights breaking out between Free Will® and Sovereignty-of-God proponents. He said the Pope had to issue some kind of decree that forced them to shut up about it for a hundred years to stop the madness!) But the crux of the matter is that it always comes down to a choice. I have to choose whose authority I will follow. And once a choice is involved, it comes back to ME. My will. My best reasoning. My best attempt at hearing God and seeking Truth. So I’m in the same position I am with Biblical authority. Don’t think for a second that I keep coming back to myself because I want to. Believe me, I want to find THE Truth and submit to it fully. Unfortunately the filter of myself is always in the way. It is inescapable for a purely logical reason.

So how to interpret the Bible, and what ecumenical authority I place myself under is subject to my best attempt at figuring it out. Which is a position that I’m not comfortable with at all! I just don’t trust myself that much. Simple observation shows that there are godly, loving, brilliant people who end up with totally different positions on these matters. If I am inclined to say that only one combination of interpretation and church is correct than I would have to write off an awful lot of great, godly people. As it turns out, I’m disinclined to do so. I recognize that better folk than I have made worse decisions than I have in certain areas of life. And I recognize that worse folk than I have made better decisions than I have in certain areas of life. How arrogant would I have to be to believe that I am the one who has figured everything out? And how foolish would I be to put myself under the authority of anyone who claims the same?

And yet, that is the implicit claim of all doctrine. Doctrine is a series of truth claims. All my thoughts and deeply held beliefs are a series of truth claims. If I can’t put my faith fully in the Bible, Church, or self, I am hopeless without the faith that God is guiding me. And I am presuming that He is using all three of those entities to do so. But if I lean too heavily on one of them I think it would collapse under the pressure. Though, if God is leading everyone who seeks Him in one direction, than how do you explain the divided state of the Church? Here's my best guess: God is NOT leading everyone in the same direction. He's leading some to know Him in a more personal way, some to know Him in a more authoritative way, some to Him in a more prophetic way, some in a radically experiential way, etc. And all of these ways of knowing Him leave errors when a human applies the lens they were given through which to see God to the rest of Him, His ways, and His people. In other words, no single human can know all there is about God in this lifetime. No human could be sufficiently suited to the task. Every person is created with a certain personality, is nurtured with a certain set of principles and outlooks, and no combination of those things will bring about a perfect knowledge of a God Who transcends all of reality.

While I fully acknowledge that I am not the best educated, most devout, most intelligent, best dressed, etc. I'm thinking that those are not the prerequisites for God's revelation. If that were the case than only rich, old, PhD professors of theology would know God well.

How do I navigate this maze towards Truth when I have an imperfect Bible, an imperfect Church, and an imperfect self? I suppose the way I frame the problem could change my thinking on it. For some reason, when I was thinking about Truth -the kind with the capitol T- I conceptualized it as a consolidated mass of data. And the pursuit of it is like an Indiana Jones movie. There is some little golden statue sitting on a pedestal in the middle of trap-laden temple. And if I can successfully navigate the pit of spikes, poison darts and swinging scythes, (possibly losing a native guide or two along the way) I will eventually find the coveted treasure… and then I will know Truth!

That may or may not be the best way to picture the search for Truth. I’m going to lay out a much less videogame-friendly format though, and see if it fits reality better. Imagine that there is a God who has always existed. Now, stop and realize that you’re lying to yourself if you think you are actually imagining that, because it’s impossible for the human brain to comprehend, since every experience we have on this earth has causes, but this God of ours doesn’t. So right there, at the very beginning of our search for Truth, we hit an unassailable chasm that we can never cross in this life. And what if God is full of such unknowable attributes? What if God is so broad and involved in every aspect of reality that His Truth is everywhere? (I'm not saying that everything is true.) Not in fullness of course. But bits of His Truth are spread throughout matter, time, and every other concept that the human brain or spirit can perceive.

If this is the case than the ‘target’ we are shooting for is much bigger and more inclusive than I had been assuming. It's not a little consolidated mass of data. This Truth can not be consolidated because it knits the universe together. This way of looking at it accounts for all the godly, loving, fruit-bearing people I know who vehemently disagree with each other on so many basic theological ideas. This is not to say that everyone is right, or no one is wrong! It is to say that everyone has different bits of a transcendent Truth that no one could fully discover. Different understandings of a God Who can not be understood fully. How could it be otherwise? (Seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question. Write me if you know.)

And if there are a variety of forms of knowing God and His Truth, and different people finding different bits of it all over, cobbling it together into doctrines, then excluding everyone else who has found different bits of God and His Truth, how could I know that I’m in the best camp, or was born into the one variation of Christianity that has the most correct doctrine? Look at the whole of history up until now. Look at all the different forms that Christianity has gone through. And imagine a thousand years from now, how many other forms it will go through. Why would I point to American evangelicals in the early 21st century as the “ones who got it right”?

This makes me less afraid of stepping outside of that box, and looking at a minority view of scripture. For surely there were many majority views throughout the history of the Church that were wrong on many levels. (Burning witches, Inquisitions, Indulgences, etc.) I don’t think I’m thumbing my nose at anyone by saying that this could easily be the case in our day an age. (Not the burning witches part… the being wrong part.) Especially when you consider the unprecedented convergence of technologies, philosophies and theologies flying around right now.

So to sum it up I will say this. I don't believe that a church doctrine and the Bible should conflict. And if they do, I will take what the Bible says over the doctrine. My dad told me not to have so little faith in the organization that gave us the Bible. I say that the worldly organization of the church that we see and understand is different than the Body and Bride of Christ. Not that they don't overlap. I believe very strongly that they do. But I also believe the church organization is composed of fallen people that do not respond perfectly to God. I don't believe this is in any way an attack. It's a simple assessment. I'm not perfect. People aren't perfect. Their organizations aren’t perfect. But God still works through them.

So I'm not saying that the Church is all wrong and it's the Whore of Babylon and it's sending people to Hell™, etc, etc. I'm saying it's imperfect and I think it's wrong about a couple things. It seems to me that a church can be wrong about things the same way a government can be wrong about things. It isn't a bad thing to evaluate your conscience and the leading of God when it comes to adhering to their statutes. In general, patriotism is good. But when your government is not good your patriotism is not good. No one would complement a Nazi for being patriot. In the same way, if a church teaches wrong things, it is not wrong to question its teachings and believe otherwise.

Tradition Vs. Truth

Here's a question for you… Do you agree with the new Bibles that have been coming out that use gender-neutral language? Calling God a her or it, and other stupid stuff that violates the original intent of the message? Imagine for a minute that these versions become the norm, and in a couple hundred years the majority of Christians believe that God is a she. In the year 2,500 it will have been an established tradition. Now imagine you are one of a few people who do a bunch of research and find out that the original language doesn't call God a her. What do you do? Do you ignore what you've learned so as to stay consistent with tradition and agree with your pastor?

Please don't argue that such a scenario could never happen. Don't say God wouldn't let the church go so far astray. Burning heretics and witches was pretty darn astray. Clearly, God let's His Bride stray from Truth. She was pretty far a field when Luther came along. He had to decide whether to follow tradition or his conscience which I believe was moved by God.

So here I am looking at the overwhelming evidence that the Church has got some things wrong. What am I to do? Well, I suppose that since the road to the place I'm at now was paved with research and prayer, I should continue that course. Perhaps it will loop back to my origin. I don't see how. But then, I'm only 31 and I'm not terribly well read.

Being divisive

Another warning my father gave me was that I was sounding divisive. After all, what does a heretic do but divide the Body of Christ. Heretical ideas are intrinsically divisive. But then, all doctrine does is divide. It says, “This and that is true, and those who don’t believe it are wrong.” There is nothing wrong with that, it’s important to divide right from wrong. But it’s also important to note that the creators of any doctrine are fallible humans. It could be argued that experience shows which doctrines are better than others, and that the experience of the Church has shown this or that to be true. That’s all well and good, but how many of those doctrines are believed by all “the Church”? Or even most of it.

Even if I decided that I had to submit to the authority of whatever church I attend, can I force myself to believe in something that I don't currently believe? I don't know if that's possible. I really doubt I could convince myself that bread and wine turn into Jesus' actual physical flesh during Eucharist. I don't think I could make myself believe that everything the Catholic Church declares true is true. I don't think I could force myself to believe that a handkerchief blessed by some televangelist will heal me. No matter how hard I tried or researched the topics, I don't think I could make myself believe them.

I think that is because, as the Bible says, faith is a gift. We can't generate it. I'm not saying that things we do can't have the effect of producing faith in us. I'm saying that those things we do are done because God gave us the inclination, will, ability, etc. to do them, thereby gaining faith. But faith in God, and faith in a specific doctrine are two separate things. You could say, as the Catholics do, that if you have faith in God you also believe that His Church is controlled by Him to speak perfectly for Him. But I think that's quite an assumption.

Outside ideas

So I’m looking at a variety of authorities and trying to figure out who to believe. The breakdown goes something like this. The established Christian authorities are united in an idea that seems to me to be entirely illogical and demeaning to God. But the opinions I’ve read that tend to agree with my thinking on the matter are from lone wolves and heretics. Ie. Universalists and the like. (Although, after looking into their beliefs I don't know if they are technically heretical. I suppose it depends on who you ask.)

So this is where things get tricky. Is it possible that a corrective voice for Christendom can come from outside of it or those marginalized by it? I suppose that depends on what you mean by “corrective”. It’s very easy to see heavy influences on Christian thought and doctrine coming from outside of the Church all throughout history. Augustine, one of the most influential theologians ever, uses copious amounts of material from the pagan Greek philosophers. Enlightenment thinking that shaped the view of the self and autonomy affected countless theologies. I’m certainly not going to condemn any of this activity. Each age has its truths and lies and no one can deny that they seep into Christendom. Martin Luther was more than marginalized by Christendom, yet he became one of the most powerful shapers of it. And let's not forget the Old Testament discipline God poured out on Israel using Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, etc. So to answer my question about correction to wrong thinking coming from outside the normal ecumenical boundaries, I would say, ‘yes, there is precedent for it, and it happens all the time.’

Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s happening on this particular issue. All I want to do is establish the possibility that these ideas could be true. The mechanism by which right thinking on any number of doctrines could have been repressed in Christendom is a separate issue which I'll look at in a bit. Like I said up front, I’m just sketching out these ideas that sound right to me. After further research they may not sound right any more.

I want to be clear that I'm not yearning for the good ol' days of Church doctrine. History and the Bible makes it clear there never were any. Right there in the Bible you can read about tons of false doctrines invading the Church from day one. So I'm not saying that if we can just learn and believe exactly what they did in the first house churches of Paul's day, than we will have the perfect essence of Christianity. I'm not claiming that every doctrine and idea since the writing of the New Testament has taken us further from God's intent. After all, I believe everything is God's intent. Some say the Church has left its roots and is fallen into apostasy. Some say it's getting better and better, being perfected with time. Well I have no way to asses either argument, as I am not God. To me, things SEEM to be getting better. We aren't burning witches any more or killing other denominations. But simple logic tells me that if the Church has made stupid, evil decisions in the past, and WE are the future's past, than we can not exempt ourselves from the mistakes of our forefathers and we too are probably making some stupid, evil decisions.

And the Church is still changing. It's being changed by culture, politics, mass media, a shifting to poor, southern hemisphere nations, etc. Mostly, I believe, we are being changed by the providence of God. We evolved out of some bad ideas and we have evolved into some bad ideas. It would not surprise me at all if the doctrine of Hell™ was something our great, great, great grandchildren look at in the same way we look at witch burnings and Indulgences. (Not that I'm equating a belief in Hell™ with those things.)

Heavy words

In my introduction I used the analogy of stone towers that represent doctrine. (I want to make sure I'm clear that I'm talking about doctrine, NOT the Church Universal itself in this analogy.) I complained about the quality of our building materials. If the scriptures we are reading in 2006 in America were a perfect translation this wouldn't be nearly the problem it is. But there is no such thing as a perfect translation. And as I've shown, there are words that have changed meanings, words that can't possibly mean what they are translated as, and words that have been redefined in the popular Bible concordances and dictionaries to fit a doctrine of heathen origin that was embraced by the church centuries after Christ. I likened these processes to corrosion and sediment. And as I've been reading the scriptures with a new outlook I'm seeing the build-up is worse than I initially thought. It's not just that specific words are turned to mean something they don't. But when doctrines are built on those redefinitions, it's necessary to read other passages differently than you would otherwise. For instance, when one reads the Bible with an Eternal Torment perspective, words like 'saved', 'fire', and 'death' take on new dimensions that were not necessarily in the mind of the writer. When you look at the context of most verses that have the word 'saved' or 'death' they are talking about temporal salvation or death. As in, "I'm drowning, save me!" Or "You will surely die." But when you apply a need to justify a doctrine that does not exist in scripture you end up reading eternity into those words. Or at least that's the way they have always been read to me. I learned to silently attach 'eternal' before 'death' whenever I read it. And 'saved' was always followed by 'from Hell™' even if it was actually followed by 'from your sins', and then I'd add 'that will send you to Hell™.' As I'm re-reading I'm seeing what a messed up way I was viewing the Bible. I'm not saying that that I now have an error-proof system for reading the Bible with zero eisegesis, I'm just saying I didn't realize how pervasive the process was. Now I can take what I've learned of that process and apply it to this new way of understanding God. Maybe as I'm reading the scriptures now I won't make so many assumptions. Here is a verse that gives me great comfort:

Pro 3:5 Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, And lean not upon thine own understanding: 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, And he will direct thy paths.

That's what I'm counting on. That's what gives me hope. As long as I trust and acknowledge God in all things, He will direct me. I don't have to rely on my understanding. Which is a good thing. Because the only place my understanding takes me is to more questions than answers. But I trust that even without all the answers God will still direct my paths.

Do the math

So if this idea is true what are some factors that could keep a doctrine of universal salvation from gaining traction in the Church at large? Well, I won't dare speculate concerning others since I am not them and to do so would be presumptuous and rude. Rather, I will look at my own hesitations. If you see yourself in any of these than perhaps my feelings can be projected on some percentage of Christendom.

My first hesitation I had when I discovered this idea was one of fear. Fear that I'd be insulting God. Because our understanding of Him comes a great deal from what we've been taught. And it took me a little while to understand that questioning my understanding of God is not the same as questioning God Himself. But it was a heavy weight on my mind because I've always believed that as a Christian we have The Answers when it comes to God. So examining those answers and their validity felt a bit like betraying the Organization. Like I work at the Chevy factory, but I secretly think Fords are better. Of course this is nonsense, because God is not a product that Christianity is selling. But my experience has shown me that we have cultivated a no-questions mentality in the Church. Of course, it would probably be hard to keep the organization stable if we were all supposed to be questioning everything all the time, so I don't blame the Church for this. It's simply an inevitability in any religious, political or social group.

But like many things, I think the good or ill comes from the motives. I looked at my motives for examining my understanding of God. Did I want to tear Him down, or justify myself by redefining Him? Or do I want to glorify Him with the best understanding I could find? With a clean conscience I can state that it's the later.

Besides a fear of insulting God, there was the fear of rejection. That fear reminded me of a similar situation I've heard of. I read a lot of stuff about the whole Creationism/I.D. Vs Evolution debate. One of the reasons that creationists give for the institutional tenacity of the theory of evolution is the social aspects that a dissenter has to face should they air their dissenting opinion. They get marginalized, mocked, loose the esteem of their peers, and their careers are over. There may be the same percentage of Universalists to Eternal Tormenters in the Church as there are Creationists to Evolutionists in the sciences. So I imagine the pressure to conform is similar. I'm really glad that I'm not a pastor or church leader. I can't imagine the fallout for them if they had the same issue that I'm going through. I imagine it would take the form of marginalization, mockery, loss of peer esteem, and their career would be over.

The third reservation I had was the institutional momentum. The notion of Hell™ has been pervasive in Church thinking for over 1,500 years. So it's no surprise that Strong's Greek dictionary and most of the other recourses that Christians use to study the Bible will have biases towards the doctrine. It's no surprise that they render the Greek word aion as eternal even though it's demonstrably untrue. And why would any Christian think that their Greek dictionary would have errors? I wouldn't have thought so had it not been pointed out to me.

The last hesitation I'm listing barely qualifies, but I figure I'll throw it out there. It's just a lot of darn work to rethink doctrine. To restudy and reevaluate all your past assumptions takes a lot of time and effort. I think the vast majority of people would find this process really difficult. The reason I said it barely qualifies for me is that God has put a ferocious appetite for study and prayer in me as of late. And my only issue with tackling such an endeavor are the constraints of the reality of having a wife, kids, job, and trying to start a business.

So there you have it. Fear + Fear + Assumptions + Laziness = Quite the barrier for one to overcome if they want to believe in Christian Universalism. That's assuming they've even heard the idea. Like I said, this is MY equation. Your's could be completely different and I'm not judging you at all if you have better reasons than I for not making the leap.

At this point I'd like to praise my parents. Thank God for the amazing, loving parents He gave me. That is one fear I never have… I'm never worried that my beliefs would cause them to stop loving me no matter how foolish they think that I am.

A test of spirit

We are told to worship God in spirit and in truth. One without the other is close to useless. But like I stated earlier, we can't understand the whole truth of God. But we sure should try. I think the biggest impediment to finding the truth is our spirit. And by that I mean our attitudes, emotions, and preconceptions. Everyone wants to find a truth that complements those preconceptions. Vengeful people want vengeful truth, proud people want proud truth, etc. And so as they look through the facts of life all around them, they cling to whatever they find that justifies whatever attitude their spirit has. The temptation when reading the Bible is to insert your own desires into the words. To eisegetically massage the ideas until they meet your expectations. So a thorough examination of your expectations is always in order. That's why I've been praying so hard as I study these things, asking that God would not let me bring any kind of baggage into it.

I can think of a couple of motives that people could have that would incline them to believe in the restoration of all humanity rather than eternal torment. Inclinations that would tempt them to force scripture to bend to their will. Things like the loss of a loved one in suicide. Or a desire to do whatever they want and still go to heaven. Or laziness towards the great commission. Or the idea of being one of a select few who have uncovered a secret that the rest of Christendom hasn't figured out. Or discomfort at the thought of a God who would punish people. (Although that's not Christian Universalism's stance at all.) Or an attitude of resentment towards established religion. Or a desire dance in elysian fields with Attila the Hun… I'm running out of motives here. Anyway, I'm going through all these and not finding a trace of any of those things in my spirit. Of course most people are blind to their own shortcomings, and I'm not ruling out that possibility in this case. But what I feel like I really want, most of all, is to serve a God Who is as perfect as He says He is. And I feel like our doctrines of Hell™ and Free Will® steals that from Him. So I can not in good conscience continue to propagate those ideas.

Of course, I'll be the first person to acknowledge that people's opinions and beliefs change all the time. And as I grow spiritually, mature, and learn more, God may show me that I'm wrong, at which time I will acquiesce. But at this point I feel very sure that He is showing me this Truth about Him. Why He is showing me this, and not my pastor, parents, or the Pope is a great question and one that deserves contemplation and prayer. But the sense I get is that they have seen Truths about God that I haven't seen. And not all Christians end up seeing the same Truths about God in this life. I'm sure that I have tons of misperceptions about God that other Christians don't. And I'm willing to believe that God could be showing me things that other Christians – indeed most other Christians - have misperceptions about.

I don't like that position. I'd rather have God give one long, systematic theological syllogism to all Christians at the time of their conversion. But He doesn’t. He let's some be born into poverty in Calcutta then learn about Jesus from a Baptist missionary who was shot in Vietnam and has some racial prejudices. He let's other's be born into rich families, inherit their wealth, go to Harvard and learn about Jesus from a Campus Crusades for Christ gathering. He let's some be born into royalty and learn about Jesus from their Catholic schooling. And all of these people will have very different ideas about Who Jesus is and what He's like. And apparently that's ok.

I don't like not believing what my pastor, parents, and Pope say about Hell™. I'd love to think that they have everything figured out. But simple logic tells me there is no way they could possibly have everything figured out. Sure, there are broad strokes that connect us. There is a Mere Christianity. There is a Church Universal. But I don't think any of us understands what those things truly are. In the preface to Mere Christianity Lewis imagines a hallway(Christianity) with many doors (denominations). A new convert comes into the hallway and should find the door that God is calling them to enter. In this imaginary house I would end up in the broom closet.

So now I'm in a spot I really don't like. But I don't feel like I've come here on my own. I feel like I was led here. Now I am in communion with those who disagree with me on a fairly fundamental issue. When it comes to Free Will® they just think I'm kooky. But when it comes to Hell™ I'm downright dangerous. Because if it is like they say, I'm quite a fool for defying it. And I'd be downright evil if I ever told anyone it wasn't real.

On the other hand, if I tell people about the Good News, but it's news that I don't believe is good, how is that going to help anyone?

So if this rejection of a doctrine takes me out of communion with those I love it behooves me to ask if it's a necessary step. Can I choose to just ignore my conscious on this matter for the sake of unity? I know Martin Luther went through these pains. Now… I've read Martin Luther, and I sir, am no Martin Luther. I would never presume that. I only identify with his quandary.

Of course I have no desire to be contentious, and would love to be at peace with everybody. But like I've explained, I don't think I can simply decide to change what I believe just to get along. I fully recognize the idea of doing what you don't feel like doing. That's a healthy thing and God expects that from us often. But what about doing what you don't believe in? Or believing in something when everything within you tells you it's wrong?

My problem is that I've seen God work in my life in amazing ways that are unmistakable to me. I'm finally starting to recognize God's peace when a thing is right. And that's just what I'm feeling about this. I hate to rely on my feelings, but think I may be slighting God with that bias against feelings. Especially when they line up with scripture as beautifully as I see them do.

I think I misspoke when I said I don't like the spot I'm in now. What I mean is that I don't like that appearance that it creates: the appearance that I'm some spiritual genius that figured out what my pastor, parents and Pope never did. But on the other hand, as I'm writing this I'm feeling like God is telling me that the love He puts in me will counteract any imperceptions others may have of me. And the love that He put in my pastor. And the love that He put in my parents. And I don't have to worry about the Pope because I'll probably never meet him. So I feel like God is telling me everything is going to be all right. And I feel like that is conformation that I'm not deceiving myself about this Hell™ thing.

Or maybe He's saying that Love covers a multitude of sins. Or I could just be full of crap.

I'll level with you. I hope that God is a certain way. I think we all do. Of course no one in the world knows exactly what God is like. Everyone has experiential or philosophical reasons to believe that God is the way they see Him. Here is what I hope… I hope that God is loving, rational, consistent, just, and all-powerful. If He is that way, I will die a very happy man. I see Him described that way in the Bible. And I seek to conform my philosophy and theology to that description of Him. If I encounter an idea that seems to me to be contrary to that idea of God, I will argue against it as I just have with the doctrines of Free Will® and Hell™. If man has a will that can overpower God's will than God is, by definition, not all-powerful. If God will torture a being infinitely more than the sins they committed, He is not just, rational, or loving. I admit that there could be some way these logical contradictions exist, and if there were a clear and focused argument for them in the Bible I would have to accept those contradictions as unknowable. But when there is a strong case to be made from scripture and logic against these ideas, I see it as a duty to defend them.

If I'm going to err on one side or the other, I will choose to err on the side of God's unlimited grace, love, and forgiveness rather than on His wrath, anger and indignation. Obviously I don't want to err on any side, and I am currently convinced that the eventual salvation of all IS a proper, scriptural balance. But as with all beliefs, the fruit will be the evidence of the righteousness of the root. (And I have to tell you, I've never been more at Peace with God and those around me than I am now.) If should I fail to increase in good works and love towards others, or should I fall away from faith in Christ, then let this essay be a warning to all Christians who would head down this road. But if the opposite occur: if the joy of God and faith that I feel as a result of this idea propels me to great works that are blessed by God, than I hope that my life will be an equally powerful testimony to the power of faith in an all-powerful God who saves all!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mom said...

In the broom closet! ha ha ha! With McDonald, the man who baptized C.S. Lewis's imaginationl

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

read this. Its very in depth. will take you alot of time and cause you to think and rethink many things, if read with an open mind.

http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/ccc_toc.htm

2:15 PM  

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