In an email exchange with a friend this morning over some harsh words that were spoken during Sunday’s Bible study, he expressed genuine concerns over the false gospel of love apparently being taught by “some” in our group.
He worries that some of us have embraced an “ecumenical position that all religions are right and lead to the same God and that all people will eventually be saved and God would never send anyone to hell because God is love and he just loves everyone and love will assure that no one goes to hell. This is as far off base and unbiblical a position as anyone could take.”
While acknowledging that the emphasis of some others on God’s wrath and destruction is worrisome, he adds, “God does love all people, but, not all people who God loves will repent of their sins and turn to God. Many will be cast into the lake that burns with fire that will never go out.”
I’m glad that we had this discussion because I didn’t realize that some of my recent musings on kindness and compassion were being misunderstood in this way, and I can see why as a pastor he would be troubled by the things I’ve said.
But it got me to thinking…
I think a lot about heaven and hell. And while I don’t think I’ve found all the answers to my questions, after ten or twelve years of sometimes agonizing searching I think I have a decent understanding of what happens after death, of who goes there and who doesn’t, of what it means to be saved and how that happens.
But I’m not here to talk about that at the moment. All good answers begin with a willingness to ask hard questions. And—setting aside, for the moment, my conversation with my friend—I worry that too often in our churches we simply accept the answers that have been given to us as though they were scriptural, without ever pausing to question how we feel about what’s being spoken, whether it agrees with our reason, our emotions, and our conscience. Some of us grew up being told it was wrong to engage our hearts and our minds when we read the Scriptures, because it could lead to believing in the wrong answers, and there was nothing that God hated more, nothing that could be more perilous to our souls in an ultimate sense than to believe the wrong answers.
And I think some of us have a view of God as a universal dictator who’s coming to establish a global theocracy, whose truths are not open for discussion, who would not permit us to dissent if He was being murderous or authoritarian because whatever He does is somehow good even if it contradicts all that we know about goodness. A God who permits only one style of worship, only one kind of novel, only one kind of music. A God who has no respect for the differences between peoples and cultures and customs.
I remember after an especially nasty dispute with Tyler in October 2010, I told him, “I just think we have different ways of looking at God.”
And one of the girls said to me, “Boze, in the end there can only be one way.”
But I believe in a God who is comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, I believe in a Bible that is filled with multiple perspectives, many of them contradictory—compare the book of Psalms with the book of Job if you want a very clear example—and I believe that the God who created people with the ability to think critically and feel deeply is exalted when they challenge what folks say about Him.
And so I’m going to start raising some of these questions, not because I’m trying to lead people into a fiery pit of darkness but because I respect God enough to believe that He’s not a tyrant handing down a uniform set of truths that have to be received and obeyed without question, but a splendid, multifaceted being not unlike us who by His life and death embodied mysteries that are beyond comprehension. A God who created us with a capacity for mystery, symbolism, poetry. A God of the hard things. A God whose heart is deep beyond all knowing.
The human heart is so full, so complex. As is life, which Ralph Wood (in his book on Chesterton) beautifully describes as “a paradoxical and multifold affair of deeply layered levels of meaning, from the strictly literal to the profoundly spiritual.” But our modern way of looking at things reduces life to its shallowest layer of meaning. But when I think about the cross, when I drink from the grail during mass, when I read the book of Job or the tales of King Arthur, I know there’s something more, something deeper.
And I may not have it yet, but I’m going to. Because I want it. Because I’m hungry. And because God will not always deny Himself to the one who is hungry.