Thursday, March 17, 2011

HELL. Does it matter?

Following up on the Rob Bell issue of earlier this week where he brought forth to the public forum an issue many have been contemplating for years but haven't been brave enough (or stupid enough depending on how you look at it) to say aloud.

Hell may not be a literal place.

I know it goes against "tradition beliefs" and years of church tradition and teachings (insert Galileo here from my previous post) but there is the possibility that there is no literal place as Hell. As with many things in the bible, the words and stories and parables and understandings that were common to that time were used (again see previous post). We can point to references in the bible (extremely few in the Old Testament) and somewhat more in the New Testament that elude to the underworld or Hades or Hell or the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) or the grave. While some consider it a literal place of torment, others still feel that it is a separation from God. Death itself. Not judgemental damnation for being a bad person nor a reward system (heaven) for being a good person. Just a state of being after a worldly existence.

Even with all of that (and that is barely touching the surface) the question I ask is "Does it really matter?", this concept of hell? I know to some it really does. I had a southern baptist pastor tell me that he uses this "fear of hell" to convert people to Christ and finds it legit. Many are serious about "saving others" from this eternal torment and getting the name Jesus out there. A lot of twisted doctrine is based upon this line of thinking and "the Great Commission" as certain faith systems have defined it.

I think fortunately for me I grew up in a faith system that used another tactic. One that showed a merciful, loving and gracious God. These traits and stories of the bible that reflected that image of God was much more prevalent in my early years (and still today overall) than the Fire And Brimstone God that many others were introduced too. And that difference led to another approach to Christianity for me, or in another way of putting it, a different motivation.

For me, Hell does not matter one way or another. Whether literally a place of torment and excruciating pain for eternity or just death and separation from God.

I am not motivated by Fear. I am motivated by Love.

I seek relationship with the Father in my feeble ways and try to practice the teachings of His Son. I am compelled by a God who loves me and all of His children to be the person I am. I am not compelled to be a good Christian because I fear being thrown into a really hot place for eternity. Many see Salvation as an insurance policy against the fires of "hell". I see "salvation" as having the opportunity to live in relationship with God and one another here in the present world and the one too come.

Do does Hell exist? Who cares. ~npp

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Defending The Truth even if its Wrong

Rob Bell. It was reported on Good Morning America that Rob Bell, megapastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, asserts that "there is No HELL!". Yes, Rob Bell from Bible Church. This is bound to get things heated up.

In his book "Love Wins" Bell asserts that there are many things in the Jesus story that turns people off, and we don't talk about them, like the concept of Hell and Heaven. Here is an excerpt: "Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here."

Galileo had similar problems with the Catholic church some few hundred years ago when he blasphemously asserted heresy that it appeared the Earth was not flat (simplified). How dare he question the teachings clearly illustrated in the bible that "heaven is above and hell is below and the world was created and set firmly on a pedastal". (Old Testament paraphrased). The view of the world then was based upon the biblical assertion that it was a three teird universe. Heaven above (the sky), the world (where people lived) and hell was underground (Under the world they lived in). 3 Layers. And it was set upon a pedestal. Now that seems a little strange to us today as we grew up understanding a round earth that rotated around the sun and we have a few scientific details to back that up, say like PICTURES! In Galileo's day, that was not the world view. The Bible said this or that, and that settled it.

But does it?

For many, these questions need answers. Or put another way, maybe not answers but at least need to be asked and honestly addressed. And though these issues are not fundamental to the faith that Christians share, they are stumbling blocks (throwing a little Paulianism in here) for many that they can't get over and hence blocks there pathway to Christ.

So why do we go to great lengths to defend the truth even its wrong? Or if not wrong at least not clear? I assume there are many reasons. If you have things totally figured out, then questioning those things will mess up your tidy little doctrinal world. If you find that there are things your faith denomination told you all these years that just don't hold up under scrutiny any longer, does that spead so much doubt for you that you throw the baby out with the bathwater? I think some believe it will.

I love to ask questions. I love to engage others who share this same fascination and who try to become closer to God by understanding. And by honestly talking about these stuff I come to a better understanding. However, there are some people I just can't talk to. Okay, maybe I mean they can't honestly talk with me. Or you. They are too busy defending there tribe's knowledge. I have tried several times over and over to engage in dialogue with these, for lack of a better word, evangelicals (its predominate in a certain denomination in the Southern United States), and have been met with contempt and hostility. The conversation on my part begins with a question that I would like to hear their point of view on, hence a discussion, and quickly turns into a defensive diatribe on their end or an absolute that "cannot be questioned" because it is in the bible. Enter Galilieo. Enter Rob Bell. Enter hundreds of thousands of us, believers and non-believers alike.

Example: This week at the morning coffee b.s. session the abortion issue comes up. Now I will not go into what I think or do not think about that issue here, it was just the topic. And the fellow says how the world is messed up because some kid is getting felony charges for killing a hampster while the world condones the murder of babies through abortion. So I ask the group, what about God in the Old Testament ordering and condoning the killing of whole groups of people, including women, children and pregnant women whose bellies are spilt out on the ground. Yes, I'm an instigator. And without skipping a beat the answer I got from the two Baptists in the circle was "Because God is Sovereign". Oh, okay. Thats a great reason. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I was so confused prior to that.

Idiots. Of course God is Sovereign. But what I wanted was an answer or at least some honest dialogue. Because that Sovereign God seems to be conflicting with the God I understand in the New Testament. The God who says love your enemies. Turn the other check. Or that the eye for an eye thing is no longer a good thing. They get defensive. I am asking questions their belief system can't handle and, as Rob Bell said, "we don't talk about that stuff in this tribe". Its messy.

But no. Christianity for many "professing Christians" has been reduced to a formula that goes something like this:
Adam&Eve = Fall/Sin. Prophets foretell coming Messiah = Jesus. Jesus saves us from Fall/Sin by sacrifice. Accept Jesus in your heart, say a little prayer, and Abracadabra you are in the club. Saved. No flames for you my friend. You followed the process to enternal bliss.

Did you notice anything missing here? Anybody? Anybody? Anybody? Bingo. yes. The Teachings of Jesus. That messy little section of the bible that seems to get overlooked in the formula. The teachings that messed up the whole world and the view of the religious teachings of the day. Turned the world right side up. "I know you have been told...., but I tell you this....".

Yet we still defend the truth as we believe it, even if if we are wrong. And that's too bad. We can't have the conversation because maybe our world would become a little more rounded in the process, and others could join us.

I know. Heresy. ~npp

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Living God

I finally, after all these years, finally get that phrase. I have heard it all my life "The Living God" and absolutely had no idea what the preacher man was talking about. Or maybe I just didn't understand why he was using such jargon. The Living God. Like much of religious jargon it just doesn't resonate with me. "washed in the blood", "salvation", "all about the blood", etc. In my wesleyan view of God growing up, the view of God i received was usually about a loving god who was merciful and gracious and, well, fatherly. I had a good family life and that relationship was a healthy one for me so I identified well. however i understand many do not.
so i'm reading the old testament and i finally get it. the living god as opposed to all the fake, unreal gods that were made from a piece of wood or stone or iron or whatever. I always assumed that the other gods were considered real and that the statues or figures were representative. But it appears in the Old Testament that they would carve these things out of wood and actually pray to the object. The God of Abraham was The Living God, not of form, but a real God that could not be shaped or formed by a skilled craftsman. A really unique concept for the day. The irony is now how we today try to shape and form God for our own sense of who He is.
The conservative God. The liberal God. the vengeful jealous God. the merciful God. the all loving God. Our God. The God of the jews. The God of the Gentiles. The God of the Christians. The God of the New Covenant.
The only God. The Abrahamic God. The God of Jacob and Ishmael.
And I wonder about the Genesis story. Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Where did the wives come from. How did they propagate? Incest? Other people? If other people how did they get there?
Old testament tells of the Persians being very friendly toward the Jewish people. Totally opposite the stories of the Egyptians. What happened? Why were they so friendly and knowledgeable about the God of the Israelites? Did God talk to them as well? Could it be that God operates independant of the ways we think He sould operate? Does our doctrines and belief systems allow that The Living God can do as he pleases? Is our relationship with the Living God exclusive to the point that He cannot have a relationship with other people's in a fashion He so chooses?
Have we made for ourselves a graven image that we pray too that doesn't exactly represent the Living God?
Maybe, just maybe, God is much bigger than we think. Maybe he relates to other people in other ways. Maybe people along the way have kind of screwed up the revelation. Jeremiah 8:8 was quite interesting: “How can you say, We are wise,for we have the law of the LORD, when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?". Can we say that our experiences with the Living God are the only way that God can relate to the people's of the earth? That we have "the law of the Lord" when scribes pens have handled it falsely, got the story wrong, misinterpreted, or our thinking wasn't large enough too allow God to do as He pleases.
I think we should be careful to acknowledge The Living God as he is, and not an image we conjure up based upon our limited relationship with him that has been passed down through our faith system.
The body has many parts, so says Corinthians. Maybe the body is bigger than we thought, the parts just not part of our limited view of religion, but an overall larger view of a relationship the Living God has with his creation.
thoughts?
~npp