Making Sense Of Things

It took me a very long time to understand how one is supposed to love and fear God, when actually, it’s not all that complicated. There are a lot of passages in the Bible where, in the same sentence, the speaker will say one ought to fear the Lord and, oh by the way, he loves you. On the surface that sounds contradictory, but what I think it means is that God is exceptionally powerful, and his power, understandably, should be feared and respected. There are a lot of verses that instruct the reader not to be afraid of dangers in the world. We are loved by the most powerful being in the universe.

Before I continue, I want to address some objections. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are as follows:

1) If God loves us (all of humanity), then why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just fix everything?

2) If God truly loves everyone, then why does the Bible, as well as many followers of the Christian faith say that a large portion of the world’s population is going to Hell where they will be tortured for eternity?

These are two questions I encounter a lot, and they are questions that have bothered me for a long time. I don’t think I will ever find answers that will completely satisfy me, let alone anyone else, but I wanted to share the conclusions I have come to over the past several years.

1) God has a plan. It’s a good plan, and God intends to redeem humanity: to make the world a better place where there will be no more suffering. For whatever reason, it’s taking a long time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means that it has to take this long.

2) The fact of the matter is, I know close to nothing about the afterlife. I am certainly not an authority on the issue. I have come to a couple disjointed conclusions, based on research and personal experience, which are as follows:

I: No one is predestined for Heaven or Hell. I should preface this by saying that my understanding of Heaven is being in the full presence of God, while Hell is complete separation. In God’s presence is love and joy and peace, while outside of it is some sort of emptiness and danger. I believe that, in this life, we are stuck somewhere in the middle. That being said, It’s a choice where we end up.

II: Jesus died and rose from the dead so that all of humanity could be redeemed. God doesn’t want anyone to be left outside. Historical and linguistic evidence suggests that while some might go to Hell, it won’t be forever. When the Kingdom comes, even the worst, most immoral people who rejected God their entire lives will be returned to him. In fact, there is reason to believe that Hell is a place of reformation. This is evidenced by the development of the idea of Purgatory.

III: It isn’t the duty of any Christian to condemn people. It’s our duty to teach love and salvation. For one thing, it’s more effective, and for another, it’s closer to the Truth.

Another objection I can think of is: If salvation is universal, then why bother being Christian?

Salvation isn’t about booking a room in eternity. It’s about making the world a better place. Most of what Jesus told people to do was relevant to here and now. It was about taking care of the poor, making peace among enemies, and respecting people because they are worth a lot to God. It’s a way of life: not strictly an escape from death.

I just wanted to get this out there.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Free Will, God’s Plan, Faith And Unbelief

I read something interesting for class the other day. A guy named Gerald Sittser said–not a direct quote–that if we seek God’s kingdom first, then our choices become his will for us. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It feels too simple to me. I tend to think that God is really complicated. Maybe complicated isn’t the right way to describe him. In some ways he’s no more complicated than any average person. Maybe it’s more that what he does and controls is complicated. In fact, he’s more one-track-minded than most people. He’s not emotionally volatile for one thing, and he never sways from his plan for the Universe.

People tend to fall off the wagon. A lot of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives or what we’re supposed to be doing. It seems to me that if God has a grand, master plan, and if we’re part of that plan, then wouldn’t it follow that he would want us to do certain things? A lot of people talk about God’s calling; what God calls them to do. How does that relate to free choice? Obviously people can ignore God’s calling, but I think it tends not to end well–at least not as well as it otherwise would. This is coming from personal experience.

Is there a best way to go? Sittser used the analogy of a road trip. He and a friend had a set destination and a date they had to get there. They planned their road trip around these. They decided not to follow any highways if possible, and instead, meandered along seemingly random back roads. Is this like how we choose what to do with our lives? He said that we can see how God had a plan for us in what we chose if we look at it in retrospect. Is this just conjecture, or is this God’s way of showing someone how they’ve progressed towards their destination?

I believe that I was destined to be a Christian and maybe I was destined to be a musician, but for a long time I chose not to be. For a long time when I was younger I decided that while I believed in God, I didn’t believe in Christianity, partly because I didn’t understand it. However, I believe that God made me so that I would need him, emotionally, among other reasons.

I do think that people are a product of their environment, upbringing, etc, but I also believe that God makes people in specific ways, and I think he makes people for other people. I also think that people can choose to be whoever they want to be. This is just an idea I have, but I think God presents us with choices throughout our lives and I think he probably wants us to choose certain things, but he also gives us the option not to. Furthermore, I think there are certain choices we make that God probably doesn’t care much about either way–like if we want chocolate or coffee flavored ice cream.

I was thinking about my friends last night. Many of them don’t believe in God partly because they don’t see any reason to; they haven’t seen any evidence that he even exists. I wonder if they think I’m crazy. I think I always believed in God; at least I’ve always believed that he exists. I’m not sure why. I guess because I was able to imagine it. For a while it didn’t really matter that much. He was just there. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that prayer saved my life when I was a baby… Which is a long story for another time.

The point is, I’ve always felt like he’s just been around. I can’t even understand not having that feeling. I know I choose to believe because I think I have good reason to. Can someone choose to believe without thinking they have good reason to? Isn’t that kind of the point of faith? If someone doesn’t have faith in God, what do they have faith in? Not believing in God sounds as crazy to me as believing probably sounds to my friends.

A large part of the reason I believe in free will is because some people don’t believe in God, but many people change. I don’t think God would intentionally create people who don’t believe in him. I’ll say it here because very few people I actually know read my blog, but I’m closeted universalist. I believe that Jesus died to redeem everyone. My belief is that at the second coming, everyone will be rejoined in the same place and we will all finally be on the same page. I don’t like talking about hell, but I do think that nonbelievers and really terrible people spend different amounts of time there for different reasons. This is why I desperately want my friends to be saved.

Would I give up free will to make this happen? Not a chance. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? I think God gave us free will for that reason, though. I think he wants us choose to believe in him. Are some of us destined to? I don’t know. Maybe. I think actually, some of us are made in such a way that it’s easier for us to believe. God gave me a crazy imagination, which made believing easier.

What about when it comes to music? Was I destined to be a musician? I’ve always loved it. There’s always been music in my life. When I was 14 I came to the realization that my friends were all good at something, and I was okay at writing poetry, but I didn’t think that counted. I told my dad that I wanted to learn to play guitar, but I didn’t think I could because of my disability (I can’t turn my hands over). He told me not to worry about it and took me to guitar center. It turns out I can play guitar upside down. Now I want music to be my career, partly because it’s wicked fun, and partly because I can use it for God’s glory. Was this all part of the plan? When I first started playing guitar I wasn’t Christian, and I intended to play in a punk-rock band. When I became Christian I was conveniently getting good at songwriting.

Something we talked about in one of my classes is that maybe God has an overall plan for humanity but not necessarily for every individual. At first I kind of liked the idea, but now I don’t think I do. I think God definitely had a plan for people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. The only way I can see free will and God’s plan working together is that he gives us the option not to operate according to plan. It’s sounds sort of weird to me, but then I think I know what God’s plan is for me, and I like it.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Thoughts On Universalism

A few things have just been bugging me lately, so I thought posting about them would be helpful. My 3 main questions are:

1) What is the best way to evangelize?

2) Is universal salvation plausible?

3) If everyone is saved, should we still evangelize?

I’ve always found evangelizing annoying. It seems a bit pretentious to try and talk to complete strangers just to convert them to your religion. Students are told over and over in writing classes that we should show, not tell. It took some getting used to as I developed as a writer (I’m still no brilliant writer), but it really does make for much better writing. I try to take the same approach when it comes to my faith. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, so I try to act like I follow Jesus instead of just saying I do. I find that weirdly enough, people are willing to listen to me talk about my faith once we’ve hung out for a while. I never come into a conversation with the intention of talking about my faith. I want it to just sort of umbrella over everything I am and do. Have I converted anyone? No; so it’s certainly not very effective in terms of evangelism, but it’s much less obnoxious.

I read a blog post by a woman who was an atheist, talking about what Christians should not do when trying to evangelize. She said the thing that would help the most would be if no one proactively evangelized. She said a lot of people are atheists or follow another religion because they have at some point, looked into Christianity and rejected it as a viable religion. Therefore, trying to convince them that it actually is right looks a bit crazy or is at least annoying. She said that it would be best if we were less exclusive as well, which I agree with. A big part of this would be changing the way people talk and write. Sometimes it’s almost like we speak in code and I find it downright silly at times. I sometimes find myself using “Christainy” expressions and then asking myself, “What does that even mean?” It almost seems artificial. We need to just find better ways of talking about stuff.

I read a bit about Islam the other day because I was curious, and something I found interesting was their interpretation of some verses in the Bible. There are many verses in the Old Testament that most Christians see as foreshadowing the coming of Christ, but Muslims read them as foreshadowing Mohamed. I thought about it, and I didn’t see anything particularly wrong with that interpretation, and the way the website explained it, it made sense. In fact, couldn’t it foreshadow both? It is an interpretation after all. I read a blog post by a guy who used to be a missionary who said that Muslim leaders actually like to study Jesus’ words and life because they see him as a great prophet and role model for leadership. The author of the article suggested that instead of trying to strictly convert people to Christianity, we should teach them to follow Jesus’ example; i.e. to stand up for what is right, to do right by our neighbors, to advocate for peace and love and to love our God.

This brings me to my next question; is universal salvation plausible? I read one article that talked about mistranslations of the Greek Bible into Latin. the author wrote that universal salvation was actually accepted through the first 500 years of the Church. I personally believe that the farther back you go in time, the closer to the truth you will probably get. Of course this isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to the medical field, etc, but I think it is probably true when it comes to religion. They believed in universal salvation because according to the article, the Greek originally said that torment in Hell would last for an “eon” or an age– not eternity. That meant that everyone would eventually be reconciled to God, even if it took a really, really long time.

This seemed awfully compelling, but there are still a few things that don’t sit quite right with me. It doesn’t completely make sense with statements that Jesus made such as “no one gets to the Father except through me.” I suppose he could have meant that his sacrifice was necessary so that all people could be reconciled to God. That is in fact what Christians believe, but maybe it extends beyond just one group of people. Furthermore, if salvation is universal, why bother praying in Jesus’ name or celebrating the Eucharist? There are things within Christianity as a religion that seem potentially inseparable from salvation. The only thing I can come up with at the moment is that we do those kinds of things to say “thank you” and so we don’t have to wait to get to Heaven when we die. I know I do it in part for emotional reasons. I’d bet a lot of people do. In large part, Christianity is about relationships with each other and with God.

I’m not saying I’m a universalist just yet because I’m still researching and I don’t want to jump that way if that’s not where I should be jumping. I’m just theoretically mind spewing at this point. My next question is; if salvation is universal, do Christians still need to evangelize? I would say “yes,” but maybe we need to get a little more creative with it. I’d also say that maybe we should focus less on converting people to our religion and focus more on teaching them about Jesus and what he did and represents.

To be honest, I still don’t even entirely know what salvation really means. It probably means a whole lot more than what I think it does. I don’t think anyone can be 100% right about it anyway, but it’s worth trying to figure out.

Discussion would be lovely. Just don’t fight, please. 🙂