Kids playing in the living room, contemporary Christian song playing in the background. Safe and fun for the whole family, right? Well, its certainly better than 7 year-olds taking in Lil Wayne lyrics uncritically, but...
I wasn’t really listening consciously but suddenly realized that I was frowning. It dawned on me that the theological conundrum I was wrestling with was stemming from the music wafting through our house. The basic idea of the lyrics was: God doesn’t ever let us down. God loves us. We don’t deserve this, we don’t deserve God, we’re pathetic.
I looked at my wife and asked her, “What would you do if you overheard one of our boys telling their friends that we love them even though in our eyes they are pathetic?” To this Rachel replied, “It would break my heart.”
Last night I had a nearly 3 hour conversation (over the course of a 6 hour work shift) about God, salvation, evil, hell and whether or not Love Wins with a young man who is working on a political science degree. I was somewhat surprised by the position this guy raised in a conservative Baptist church had settled on.
Then I spent the next 6 hour shift in short bursts of conversation with another young man who is quite pleased that none of the felonies he committed as a minor ever stuck on his record. He seemed most pleased that he’d been able to have lots of fun and get away with it!
At the heart of our discussions of heaven vs hell and salvation vs damnation lies an often unspoken question, “What kind of god is God?”
I am a part of a worshipping community that focuses on the good news that God has come to redeem that which was lost, heal that which was broken and reconcile that which was painfully separated. Though it comes up occasionally (thanks in part to Rob Bell), hell isn’t a common topic of conversation in the midst of our worship gatherings or shared meals. However, it comes up with great frequency in my conversations with those who’ve been hurt by Christians in the past or have never even had much connection to a gathering of Christians.
Some of these folks question from a place of rebellion, others from a place of pain, rejection, frustration and disgust. It has, in effect, been said to me, “If God is going to send me to hell after this life because I couldn’t put up with the hell in his church during this life, then to hell with God.”
Meanwhile, another friend of mine, very much a committed Christian, often makes comments about how sinful and evil we are; how without the blood of Christ, God cannot stand the sight of us. I’ve said this before on this blog, but it sickens me to think that God could only love me if, like Jacob with his father, I’m tricking him into thinking I’m actually his favorite son.
The egotistical (and insecure) college student, the rebellious miscreant with a heart of gold, the twenty-something Calvinist, the seven year-old wonder boy, the thirty-one year-old minister/salesman/security guard/grad student/husband and father...all of these people are loved by God, flaws and all.
That isn’t to say that God doesn’t want better things for us, that God doesn’t call us to a higher standard, that there aren’t consequences for the choices we make, or that God doesn’t have plans to prosper us and not to harm us (a message originally delivered to people living in captive exile).
There are plenty of conversations floating around right now about hell, I’m not interested in getting into that one too much right now. What I do want to be on record for, however, is stating my deeply held belief that God’s love and mercy is vastly more expansive than our own. At the heart of any discussion about theology or church or Jesus or whatever, the question rings out, “What kind of god is God?” While I wrestle with how to answer many of the more surface-level questions, I cling to a belief that the answer to this one is simple. God is love and Love is good.
On this issue I cannot waiver, because if I do, I don’t think I’ll be able to find much reason to keep pressing forward. As I move outward from this central conviction, I believe it is necessary to hold everything else with a confident humility...or a humble confidence...or something like that.
What’s the point of convictions if we don’t believe them? If we believe them, we should hold on to them. But the reality is, there are plenty areas in which I’ve grown and had to let go of certain previously held convictions. So I hold my convictions with confidence but also with humility, knowing that I could be wrong. This should lead (and I confess that it doesn’t always) to treating those with whom I disagree with gentleness. Admittedly, and to my discredit, I am noticeably better at this with non-believers than with fellow Christians.
May God strengthen us to hold to our convictions in such a way that honors Love. And may we continue to hope for the reconciliation of all things by the power of the Love That Will Not Let Us Go.