“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” Ezekiel 33:11
I intensely dislike my phone company.
Our doctrine of hell is harsh, and before we defend it so stalwartly, we might ask ourselves if it is in line with the Jesus we see in the gospels. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvas
Every month they send me an abstruse, intricately convoluted bill to charge me for two things — basic phone service and Internet — and the amount of the bill is never the same. Sometimes it differs from last month’s by pennies, other times it’s $30 or so. Trying to track why they charge what they do is beyond my intellectual capacity.
So I call them, and after waiting 20 minutes and being passed to an average of 3 people, I generally get the problem solved — never to my satisfaction, but at least to what I can bear. When there’s a mistake — whether on my part of theirs — the payment for it always falls to me, and while this never makes sense, what can I say? They’re the only provider of this “service” in my rural area.
When I think of the phone company — something I avoid since they’re irritating — I am profoundly grateful that God does not operate on this random, thoughtless, inefficient, disinterested system, although, if a person’s only exposure to Christianity is the fundamentalist, establishment sort that we encounter on Sunday morning and Wednesday night small groups, one can be forgiven for not seeing it this way.
Because forgiveness is what it’s all about, and forgiveness — in evangelical land — is remarkably difficult to get, that is, if you live in a society where there is no mention of the God of the Hebrews, and the cultural norm is something different. In other words, if you live outside the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. (Israel doesn’t count, since in the pro-Zionist belief system of many Christians who passively accept the words of too many mega-church preachers, Jews receive a special dispensation of forgiveness denied to the rest of us.)
Think logically: how much of a paradise is it when the people we love most are separated from us forever? Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at amazon, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art
For “those people,” the 9/10 of the world that is labeled lost, the only means to salvation is to “accept Jesus as savior” with a series of phrases that one is walked through at a football stadium with a noted speaker at the podium and volunteers in the aisles. But when a person doesn’t say the right words, he’s lost, for eternity. It all. comes down. to words.
This is such a prevalent belief in mainstream Christianity that to question it is to earn the dreaded appellation of universalist, as if there were something wrong in “taking no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” while the mindless acceptance of a disturbing contradiction is, somehow, doctrinally approved:
If a child’s mother dies before her, without saying the right words, and spends eternity in hell, how does the child, upon later saying the words, experience eternal bliss away from her mother, especially knowing the fate of that mother?
Jesus Didn’t Follow the Four Spiritual Laws
Jesus Himself seemed to have had difficulty in applying the Four Spiritual Laws when He outright and explicitly forgave the sin of a weeping woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) and the man who was lowered by his friends from the roof overhead (Luke 5:17-26/Mark 2:1-12/Matthew 9:1-7). In both cases, the response of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was the same:
“Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)
If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the leaders were actually irritated at Jesus for forgiving the sins of hurting, aching sinners, preferring, instead, that these wretched people not “turn from their ways and live.”
I get a similar feeling when I speak to many conventional Christians, who sigh with a shallow sadness upon an earthquake occurring in a distant land and killing thousands of human beings:
“How horrible that so many of them didn’t know Jesus!” the church-goers murmur. “But thank goodness, the Christian relief teams will be able to share the good news with the survivors!”
What’s the good news? “I’m so sorry. Your husband and son will burn in hell for eternity, but you yourself can live forever in Paradise, if you simply repeat these words after me.”
It makes about as much sense as my phone bill.
Mercy and Grace Trump Doctrine and Law
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I know the words — I attended years worth of conventional church services, and I have had recited to me, more than once, “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) and “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household,” (Acts 16:31) although the last four words are generally dropped from the latter verse.
This same Bible, however, says something of possible interest to those highly militarized Christians who advocate invading sovereign (generally Islamic) nations and putting to death both military and civilians:
“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” (Matthew 6:15)
giving the strong idea that words alone are not what God wants of His people, but “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Repentance is not a one-time thing, nor is it accomplished simply by saying words — rather, it is a mindset, a way of living, a distinct choice to live differently than those around us, including those who say they’re already in the club. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that the verse above, from 2 Peter, is addressed to believers, who, those of us who are human know, do not always act in a Christ-like manner.
Dear friends, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11-12)
This means that, if you truly believe that the world is lost if it doesn’t say the words, then you need to get out there — out in that area where 9/10 of the people are living — and urge people to say the words.
But better yet, why not do what Jesus did: love people, accept them, listen to them in their pain, be merciful, and leave the judgment — and the judging — to God?
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. We frequently say, “Jesus is love,” but what does that mean? Perhaps we spend too much time trying to fit into doctrinal molds, when we would be better off contemplating just who Jesus is, and why people were so attracted to Him.
Posts complementing this one are
Dangerous Questions, or Dangerous Answers?
Why Many Christians Doubt That God Loves Us
Isn’t the “Good News” Supposed to Be Good?