In his book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News,” the late Rev. Peter Gomes quotes G. K. Chesterton, who said, “Christianityis not a faith that has been tried and found wanting, but a faith that has been wanted and never tried.”
How true. In spite of having the “good news” as its very basis of existence, it seems that the news spewed and shared by far too many Christians for far too long has been anything but good; it has been, rather, a religion that has left far too many people out of the loop, in despair, worried, and afraid.
I have watched with interest the controversy brewing over Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins,” and over his theology that a loving God simply would not condemn scores of good people to hell just because they don’t accept Jesus Christ.
If I understand the life of Jesus, he ministered to everyone, he loved everyone. He reached out to anyone. Yes, he wanted people to accept what he was teaching, but he didn’t cast those away who didn’t. He won people over by loving them.
Seems simple enough.
Since Jesus died, though, those who call ourselves “Christian” have shied as far away from the message of love as one could possibly imagine. Instead of imitating the Christ, loving and including people as they are, we have pushed people away, setting up standards of worthiness that immediately put scores of people out of the realm of the possibility of “salvation.”
Using the name of Jesus, some Christians have excluded everyone from blacks to people with AIDS to gays to whoever they have decreed is not worthy of Jesus. We forget the words of Paul, whom many of us put in front of Jesus anyway, who wrote that in Jesus there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female…
It’s as though we say to Paul, to Jesus and to God, “that’s good and all, the doctrine of love, but you don’t really know how to do this. Let us handle it.”
The result of our “handling” the message of inclusive love has been that many people have been turned off, turned away and turned against God and Jesus, or at the least, this religion called Christianity.
Where is heaven and hell, people wonder as they listen to Bell? Right here on earth, I’d say. In fact, I’d say that many Christians have made life on earth hell for those who are seeking God. It is as though the basic tenet of theology – the need to “love the Lord God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength” as stated in the Shema, is ignored. The addendum that Jesus adds, in the so-called “greatest commandment” found in the Gospel of Matthew 22, “…Love your neighbor as yourself” has been lost to a whole host of us. We absolutely ignore the words of the savior and the God we purport to believe, love and follow!
This gospel says that even those who offend others grievously are worthy of grace and entry into heaven.
Rob Bell cannot reconcile the Christian tendency to slam doors in people’s faces, symbolically, while holding onto the notion of a loving God. The reason God is power is because God is love, and the way I read the scriptures, God sent his son Jesus to send, or to bring, that message of love, which embraces, to balance out the law, which excludes and excoriates.
Both are necessary.
Carlton Pearson suffered greatly some years ago when he began to teach this doctrine of universal salvation. People called him a heretic. He went from being on top of his profession to the bottom. A pastor and musician, he lost his huge church; people began falling away like flies. Other clergy who had supported him deserted him, and yet, he held onto this belief that God couldn’t be as exclusionary and cruel as to, say, keep his own grandmother, who was a good woman, out of heaven because she decided one day to wear pants, which church doctrine forbade.
My own mother taught me this inclusive requirement of Jesus. She taught me that Jesus would demand that I love and forgive even the racist white people who were hurting black people just because they were black. “Do you mean they’ll go to heaven?” I remember asking her, and she said, “If Jesus says they can come, if they’ve done what God needs for them do to, they’re going.”
In other words, she was telling me, the choice and decision were not mine to make. What I was supposed to do, though, in order to please God, was to love and accept everyone, and let God and Jesus handle the heaven thing.
I am with Bell. At the end of the day, Christians ought to be the portrait of the divinity – a portrait that is splashed with all kinds of people, who have done all kinds of things, embraced by a smiling God who loves them all. Just like our parents love us, no matter what, so does this God love us, no matter what.
Call me a heretic. I’ve been called worse.
Susan K. Smith | Mar 17, 2011 3:59 PM