One of my favorite things to do in the morning is to watch the sunrise from the deck of my split-level home.
My backyard is full of trees, and the birds and crickets begin their early morning singing promptly at 5 am.
The sun rises perfectly every morning, just to the left of my line of vision, through a small clearing in the trees.
In the winter, when the leaves are dead and the trees are bare, I can see the sun more clearly, and it shines more brightly.
But in the summer, I pay less attention to the sun because the rays throw such a brilliance on the greenery around me, I’m stunned by the beauty of my yard and less focused on the sun itself.
This morning it occurred to me that my walk with God is a lot like the sun rising.
When times are good, I seem to be more focused on what I have, what’s going well and what I want more of. I still see God, but I’m not as connected to Him as I am in awe of the gifts that He’s given me.
But when times are bad, when my life feels dead, I see Him more clearly. Even in times when it seems like I’ve lost His vision or I can’t hear Him, my focus on finding Him is larger than my focus on what I have.
The strange thing is, the same sun is there, “rising” or “setting” to us, though in its fixed position, we only call it that. We’re the ones moving, not the sun.
In the same way, I don’t believe God hides. The Creator is always there, always in His fixed position, though we move. We lose our focus, or we gain new insight, we change our mind, or we decide maybe we were okay all along.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my views on love. How we love, who we love, what love even means.
I believe God is love. Love is creating. Love is remaining. Love is choosing.
One of the biggest objections I have to taking the Bible literally is the idea some people hold that God has created an entire group of people as “vessels of wrath,” which in a large part of Evangelical Christianity means people God “pre-ordained” to burn in hell forever.
I’m sorry, but what man would willingly choose to put his trust or faith in a God who creates human beings just to burn them for eternity?
We should really sit with that. I don’t think Christians give enough thought to their beliefs about an eternal hell.
For example, there’s a statistic somewhere that says something to the effect of, 62% of Americans believe in a literal eternal hell, but only 1% believes they are the ones going there.
So basically, people who believe in hell, believe it was created for someone else.
And among those people, many of them profess to be Christian.
The general Christian belief is that “Christians” share in Christ’s glory while “non-Christians” burn for eternity.
It’s easy to surface-level believe this, right?
But it’s quite another to really sit in that belief and picture it in your mind.
Human beings…burning…for eternity.
If we call ourselves Christ-followers, then it would flow that our greatest act would be to love the way Jesus loved.
If Jesus’ greatest commandment was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself” (which he called equal–in other words, you can’t have one without the other), then…
Are we really following the commandment of God?
I mean, if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we truly believe there will be people burning in hell for all eternity…
Then, shouldn’t we be dropping every single thing on earth to make sure this doesn’t happen?
But we don’t.
And I have a theory as to why:
It is my belief that deep down, none of us truly believes that a part of God’s creation burns for eternity in a literal hell.
Many of us, thirsty for Earthly justice want people to. It would certainly make sense that the “bad” people would go to hell and the “good” people to heaven, right?
But…to what degree?
To the Catholic, it depends on whether or not you have lived a life complicit with the Catholic Church’s doctrine of sanctification.
To the Presbyterian, it depends on whether or not you’re one of God’s chosen.
To the Baptist, it depends on whether you’ve made the altar call to “accept Christ” into your heart.
To the Methodist…
To the Church of Christ…
What’s the truth?
If we’re going to actually believe this Jesus-thing, it might be a good idea to really deep dive into the history behind what we’re believing.
Faith sounds great and all and is an easy way to not have to study history.
But it’s only in studying the origins of our faith–in other words, why we believe the things we do–that we begin to realize so much of what we think is Biblical truth is simply someone’s interpretation of it.
My study of the history of Christianity started innocently enough.
Since the age of thirteen, when I sat on my bed with a Bible and a prayer, I have gone through Seasons of pouring over the “Word.”
I was also raised in church for most of my life. True, my church story is a little wonky, but growing up in the Bible belt, the norm is to attend some sort of church.
However, like most Christians, I took my pastors at their word. I believed my Sunday School teachers knew what they were talking about. I never stopped for a moment to think that really, they were just like me.
It never occurred to me that a pastor going to seminary was a lot like a salesperson being trained to sell a product. They’re not going to tell you the scary parts of Christianity, such as the fact that almost no one agrees on exactly the same version of it.
Or that it took hundreds of years to even really pin down what being a “Christian” meant (and even then, again, there was little to no agreement).
Or that, as years have gone on and we’ve studied more and more the history of our faith, we realize there have been some pretty shady parts of it that have hidden in dark corners for far too long.
It wasn’t until I really researched the historical origins of my faith while preparing to teach medieval history and literature, reading books by a variety of people from all walks of life, liberal and conservative, Protestant and Catholic, Jewish and Christian, that I realized a very important truth:
Everyone interprets the Bible differently. Everyone. Always.
And this is only my personal opinion built on my own childhood experience, but the God of the Far-Right, Extreme, Evangelical, Conservative, Republican World is a God who favors White, American, Republican Christians and their safety and certainty–and power–over anyone else.
I’m so sorry, Evangelical World. I can no longer get behind that.
I want the real Jesus. True Love.
The love that redeems all, conquers all, renews all.
The love that finds the Jewish man on the side of the road, and even being the “bad Samaritan,” cares for him, carries him, and pays his debts.
The love that bashes in temples, tears down cathedrals and hangs dead things like sin on a cross.
The love that comes back and says, “I choose you. The World. All of you.” Forever.
As I sat and watched my sun rise this morning, I thought, I’m willing to take my chance on believing that, because Jesus died for all, all will eventually choose Him.
I believe this is Biblical (“Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess”), it’s literally in the Word (“In Adam ALL sinned, but in Christ ALL will be made alive”), and it’s the most loving (“God is the Savior of ALL men, but especially those who believe”).
Paul says it is “God’s WILL that all men be saved.” Are we going to place our faith in a God who can’t achieve His own Will?
I also believe Jesus told us He planned to redeem us.
I’m willing to love those that certain Christian groups tell me not to, and I’m willing to love those that certain Christian groups support, even when I don’t.
I’m willing to love those who look different, talk different and believe different, and I’m willing to love when I’m tired of loving and don’t really want to love again.
I’m willing to love when I don’t understand, when I need to sit down, when I need to speak.
Here’s the most important question we should ask ourselves: Why do we need for people to burn in Hell for eternity?
What’s the payoff of believing this?
Does believing in people burning in eternal torment keep us safe? No.
Does believing in people burning in eternal torment make us love God? No.
Does not believing in people burning in eternal torment excuse sin? No. (I could argue we’ve been excusing certain sins while condemning others for centuries.)
Does not believing in a literal burning stop us from evangelizing? No. (Because we shouldn’t be evangelizing based on fear anyway.)
Does not believing in a literal burning make the justice or wrath of God any less? No.
But does no longer believing in eternal torment force us out of our comfort zone of being safe, certain and “in control?” Absolutely.
Before the sun peeked through the trees this morning, I said to God, “I know this house won’t be here someday.”
Because all houses fall.
“I know I won’t be here one day.”
Because we all die.
“I know that America might not exist one day.”
Because kingdoms crumble.
“I know that I will be a faded memory to someone, someday.”
Because we forget.
So let me go. Let my house go, my people go, my country go.
Let it all die, knowing that I left behind a legacy of love.
For love covers over a multitude of sins.
See you soon,