Love, Equity and Consequence
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believe in him should not die, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
It would be extraordinarily difficult to point to one single passage from the bible that more clearly portrays what I think Christianity is all about. In a single verse, I think the key to salvation and the nature of Jesus is put forth in terms that even the most unknowing soul could begin to understand. If I lost everything, but were somehow able to save this passage, I think I would posses enough to guarantee my salvation. I don’t think anyone could argue this passage as incomplete. In it’s simplest form, who would dare suggest more is required to attain paradise (although I am sure there would be many who would layer dogma, pomp and circumstance, etc.)? In all of recorded history, what I observe is an effort to expand from this verse thoughts and ideals that have caused more heartache, misery and depression than God ever considered His people would suffer on earth for His sake. And then, why?
For this I have never been able to gain a decent answer for myself. Denominations claiming Christian base are quite prolific, and with very few exceptions, they all proclaim a “key” of one sort or another that puts them on the righteous with God and all others on the outside looking in. Wars have been fought over the righteousness of one denomination over another in an effort to save those from the misguided path of the other! And to any poor soul, trying to discover which path is correct, I have nothing but pity. How can anyone discern for himself or herself whether this denominational interpretation of the Word is the right one? I have never been satisfied that any effort exists that would help anyone desiring to discover for themselves. My best answers have tended to lean to the recognition that any answer (if one can be had) must be given to a person from God directly (in a vision, intense mental thought or revelation). Or, what I believe is the case in the vast majority, a simple resignation to whatever “faith” they have by the happenchance of their birth and a resolution to “keep their fingers crossed!”
Perhaps most troubling to me is the mind-numbing ramification of this issue. Could it really be that our salvation is reduced to a struggle of gleaning one Christian denomination from another and determining which is right or not? Do we really have to properly answer profound questions of predestiny or acquiesce to the leadership and corresponding values and morals of a church? Was it really our Lord’s intent to leave our immortal fates reduced to what would be in the great cosmic reality of it, nothing more than a crapshoot? Somehow, my mind says inconceivable! So, with a great deal of confidence, I conclude:
“NO CHRISTIAN DENOMINATION IS EITHER RIGHT OR WRONG. DENOMINATIONAL AFFILIATION HAS NO BEARING ON THE CONDITION OF OUR SALVATION!”
It can’t possibly matter which denomination brings us the Word. This might be tough to consider for most, given the world has Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Catholics and Presbyterians. However, I think there is much gospel basis for this perspective. Jesus spent much of His time with outright non-believers of many backgrounds and philosophies. He was vocal in His ridicule of the leadership of most, if not all, faiths of His time. He told us that “many righteous men longed to see what you see, but did not see” and He seemed always willing to offer salvation and the Kingdom of God to anyone who desired to enter regardless of background. Even a criminal who just so happened to be hanging on a cross the same day He was killed! Of course, there is going to be a lot of collateral concepts that will go with one denomination over another. Depending on the choice, a person will find in their lives opportunities where they will, by their faith, be doing any number of ceremonies, functions or oddities necessary by edict. Conversely, they will be forbidden from doing lots of things as well, a natural consequence of a denomination’s desire to claim righteousness by outlining earthly “evil” pastimes! Be that as it may, I believe the promise of John 3:16 and am therefore comfortable I do not have to participate in the crapshoot! So, I neither affiliate with nor, just as importantly, will deny any Christian denominations.
Settling this issue in my mind frees me to consider His message unencumbered. I think Jesus tells us this is how it should happen. “Seek, and you shall find!” So, I seek to address what I see as difficult, unanswered questions of equity that plague a person of faith and make difficult their relationship with God and with non-believers. Every Christian faces the queries of equity presented by their own consciousness or the non-believer. Many simply resign themselves to these issues and conclude these are things that “belong to God”, and therefore should not be tackled by man. The professional dogmatic preachers I have listened to who have tried to address these difficult issues often fall miserably short, with their best conclusion to “Trust the Lord”, or some other equally vague response that cannot possibly serve to quell the mind or the questions of the believer or non-believer alike. Or they will take, what in my view, is a radical perspective of these issues and conflict many people with answers that cast God in a way I cannot understand. These issues have fair resolution. There is an answer to them. In the great-unknown story of man’s salvation, whatever you think that to be, these circumstances also fit into that story in some way. They also drive to the foundation of His message and must be answered in such a way to convince us of the righteousness of our Savior.
I tend to see these questions in two troubling arenas:
1. How do we address the early death of children or the mentally incapable?
2. What happens to the souls of non-Christians or non-believers?
I must admit bias at this point in my theological self-revelation. In my simple, mortal mind, however inadequate or misguided, I need a satisfactory answer to these questions that fits my predisposition- There must be equity (fairness) in order for the love promised by John 3:16 to be fact. It must be so.
Many Christian denominations teach the concept of accepting Christianity or face eternal damnation in a miserable environment usually depicted as full of pain and fire. These concepts strike at the very concept of equity and love when asked against either of the two questions above. How do we Christians explain the eternal soul of the 2-year-old child drowned by his mother in a bathtub, or leave unsatisfactorily answered the outcome faced by the soul of an otherwise pious Hindu monk? John 3:16 tells us of the depth of God’s love for us, all of us. But Christians read Romans 3:23, shrug their shoulders in response to this quagmire, and go forward. Somehow, God loves, and yet we are simultaneously asked to believe he damns, apparently indiscriminately with the most innocent and vulnerable. In some way, in some structure our simple mortal minds cannot fathom, God loves us. Therefore, this must be true:
“GOD IS INFINITE, PERFECT LOVE, PATIENCE AND INTELLIGENCE. HE DOES NOT AND CANNOT PUNISH.”
By the truth of this concept, then the 2-year old in the tub is not damned forever nor is the pious Hindu fated to hell for the misfortune of birth in a part of this planet that does not share Christian doctrine. Nor to the untold millions who surely existed long after Jesus left this planet, but as fate would have it, were neither borne in the Holy Land at the right time nor exposed to Judean Christian philosophy prior to Christopher Columbus in 1492! There certainly is Gospel scripture references to discomfort for those who don’t believe. But what isn’t quite so clear from these passages is the source of the agony. Does a vengeful God deliver this agony in eternal, inescapable anguish to the soul, or is the agony the natural consequence God allows by our selfish disobedience or fate owed to birthplace and time? Does an infinite, perfect love deny us, or is there sufficient love to allow us to somehow attain the promise?
I understand why the punishment concept is so important to most. It is a reward and punishment game in the minds of most Christians, with the righteous “winning” and the unbelievers “losing”. I suppose it is the Catholics who have their purgatory, a middle ground that provides an answer to the problems of contemporary Christian ideology. Where this purgatory concept comes from, I cannot say. (Is it based on New Testament concepts outside the Gospel?) At any rate, the reward and punishment game, bedrock too much of Christian theology, has been an easy model to understand for people. It has undoubtedly brought many to a relationship with Christ that would have never been without the “hammer” of punishment. What becomes appalling by this model is the concurrent possibility the relationship would not exist without the “hammer”! Is this what Jesus would consider a healthy relationship? Love me or else? Is this the relationship we have or desire with those we love? No, in our ugly, mortal, imperfect relationships, we strive for models of unconditional, unending love. Parents love their children, even when they do, say or think in ways we as parents abhor. So, why then should it be unfathomable that the Creator of the universe would possess a perfect love for his children incapable of punishment? My spirit tells me His is an infinite love for us, perfected by the sacrifice of his Son on the cross, which cannot be taken away or lost. Our God has no desire to see any of us lost or punished in any way, and that in fact, it will not happen by His deed. And now, what remains, is for our spirit to learn its inheritance.
“GOD’S LOVE NEVER ENDS. WHEN THE SOUL BELIEVES, WE WILL FIND THE KINGDOM OF GOD.”
So, some would say the 2 year old gets “a bye” and spends eternity in paradise. I haven’t heard such generosity for the poor Hindu. But that answer given for the 2 year old is fascinating, if offered, because it opens a Pandora’s box of theological problems. At what age does the sufferer pay for the state of their soul? And why at that point vs. any other a calendar could offer? What is the Gospel basis for any answer? Jesus reminded us all “heaven belonged to those such as children”. And if there are Christians who will argue the 2 year old is damned, then I simply refute their concept completely for lack of equity. My God will not damn a 2 year old to eternal punishment, and my soul grieves for the condition of the relationship such a person has with their God who apparently thinks there exists no mercy for such a circumstance.
In the Hindu’s case, arguments are generally made that, while he may not have ever harmed a soul (and probably lived up to Jesus’ opined 2nd greatest command- “to love one another”), his soul is damned to eternal anguish since he never experienced the “born again” effect. Jesus did say you would have to be “born again”, generally considered to mean a spiritual rebirth, a conversion to Christian thinking that must occur before anyone can attain everlasting life. I am sure there are those who would say the Hindu has heard of Jesus, and having heard but not believed, is damned to eternity. This is a pretty tough message in my opinion. I think there exists a better answer to suggest an equitable option that positions the Creator in such a way to describe the reality of an infinite loving, merciful, patient and fair God.
Such a position becomes clear if we free ourselves from the shackle of a time limit for the spirit to grow and find the faith our Lord described. For most minds, our opportunity to expand our spirit and faith is bracketed in the brevity of our existence on this planet. Certainly, this concept works well with the “hammer”, as not only does it formulate in the mind an unpleasant result for failure to “get right”, but also a time constraint for you to figure it out! That combination would, no doubt, elicit a sense of urgency that might yield more converts, an absolute necessity in an early church struggling to find its identity. But if we consider God has no time limits, and who would dare to think they could exist, then an incredible picture emerges that puts into perspective the true nature of our souls, God’s love and Jesus’ message to us!
“OUR SPIRITS ARE INFINITE, AND THROUGH AN EVERLASTING LIFE AND THE ETERNITY OF TIME, OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES GROW AND EXPAND TO ULTIMATELY ATTAIN THE KINGDOM OF GOD.”
I sometimes ponder the magnificence of the universe. It is almost unimaginable to recognize the planet we live on is in fact such an incredibly insignificant spec of dust in the cosmos. Here, on this most nothing of interstellar matter, I sit and try to describe a mystery of colossal proportions with a pitifully inadequate base of knowledge or intelligence. Yet here I am. And part of my consideration hinges on the reality of a universe that borders on the fringes of the unfathomable. I have a picture on my computer taken by the Hubble space telescope that outlines a galaxy 5,000 light years away.
If ever the Divine Creator had a canvass before Him that would allow for unimaginable love, mercy and opportunity for hundred of billions of immortal spirits he infinitely and perfectly loves, surely the expanse of time and space is such a canvass. Our lives are spent on this incredibly insignificant spec of a planet, pondering right and wrong, love and equity, war and peace. Sometimes it occurs to me God must lovingly chuckle at our self-inflicted mental agony.
Now, I have heard many a Christian attempt to deny the cosmos. They proclaim dinosaurs did not exist, and the bones we find today of animals that clearly no longer roam this planet were placed there by God to test our faith. The solar system and planets and stars and galaxies and pictures returned to us by our satellites orbiting in space are mere illusions our Lord places before our eyes to create an incredible fiction to baffle our mind. To consider such as plausible casts the Creator as a fraud. No, it is as real as our science can learn, and all we see, and feel and hear and taste are part of His majesty as well. These things scream at us, not to confound our faith, but to reaffirm it! Some say there is no God! I say, look around you at the majesty of His creation fool! However, for those who consider the possibility of this unnecessary fraud perpetrated by our God as fact, I say- believe, as you will. However, if you think it all real, then a mosaic is here in front of us that staggers the mind.
Imagine, our Spirit (soul) is growing and learning and becoming perfect, through successive opportunities over the everlasting expanse of time in millions of lives, lived and to be lived, in millions of existences and realities that surely must exist in the unfathomable reaches of the universe! Was Jesus telling us to be “born again” in just the spiritual concept of contrition and belief we currently hold, or was he revealing a duplicity necessary for the growth and evolution of our spirits? When Jesus said that there were some who would “not see death”, was he speaking of the physical or spiritual aspect? Or both? Is our physical death so meaningless to our Lord, that He holds no emphasis to it whatsoever? In this structure, the short life of the 2 year old or the long life of the Hindu are neither lost nor wasted. The experience of each is carried forward to another place and life and experience. Learning and spiritual growth continues through the millenniums. In this way, each of us travels a path to the Kingdom of God Jesus spoke about and ultimately attains everlasting life. In this way, Jesus’ coming again to establish his Kingdom becomes a picture, not of a conqueror, but of a righteous King taking His place on a throne with hundreds of billions of faithful followers in the paradise he promised for all of us. In this concept, God shows infinite mercy, compassion and love. Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh are souls learning the message today, albeit slowly, imperceptibly to us. But over the eternity of time and space, our souls can take whatever time is needed to learn the Truth.
Imagine Christ’s message and words in this context. His death on the cross reconciles the human being with God forever. What a Savior! His message of love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness speaks to every soul and spirit across eternity, not just the relative nanosecond of one’s life on this planet. Following His message blesses us in the growth of our spirits, which is really what our physical lives are designed to do. In fact, His suggestion that it is “better to give than to receive” is a fundamental truth to His Kingdom. These blessings (mercy, forgiveness, compassion, love) we give others help us in our spiritual growth so we might one day live in the Kingdom of God. To my mind, this casts the message Jesus brought to us in an almost completely different light. Here, a message of brilliance, incredible wonder and simplicity.
“THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AVAILABLE TO ALL OF US RIGHT NOW! DO WE WANT IT?”
Everywhere in the Gospels, we find three recurring themes over and over. The first, I think, is His primary desire was for us to understand the Kingdom of God on earth was possible…. now! In fact, after His baptism by John, and upon his return from the desert, the first words from His mouth are “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Is this an admonishment of dire consequence, the often thought end of the world as we know it (which, interestingly, was a common perception held by many of His apostles looking for Him to establish His earthly Kingdom at that time)? Or is it a message of love, mercy and compassion humankind’s spirit has yet to fully understand? Is it a “hammer” or, a key to unfolding the infinite love and mercy of our Creator?
I think this is significant. Many Christian dogmas hold that Christ’s message was one of salvation of our souls. Hear me or burn in hell forever! Surely, Jesus was passionate in his desire. The question is one of motivation. Did His passion exist for fear of the death of lost souls, or His recognition that the Kingdom of God could be had? This is important, and I don’t believe it was lost on Christ that a person’s soul (life) was a risk. But I think the salvation result actually occurs as a secondary outcome to His primary purpose, which was to let us know we can have the Kingdom of God today! In order for this to be accomplished, as pointed out, there must be repentance. There must be a total change in the individual; heart and mind. As I consider this, it occurs to me the mind is the key, and I think Jesus knew this as well. Clearly, a change of this order is accomplished in a complete remaking of the thoughts of the mind, because it is in the mind where Jesus asks us to change something else…our belief, His second great message to “just believe”.
Jesus was blessed with an unimaginable capacity to believe. He could believe storms to stop on command. He could believe walking on water was possible and he could believe the sick healed and the dead to life. He believed perfectly and because of his perfect faith, there was nothing he could not do. His faith even conquered death on the cross. And incredibly, he told us that through faith, all things were possible…even to us. It is a fairly understood fact, that we humans only scratch the surface of our mind’s ability. Could it be, that as our Spirits grow, the capacity of our minds to accomplish what now seems impossible is achieved? Jesus’ message was how we can change the world and bring the Kingdom of God today, immediately and forever. It happens in our faith, in our mind’s ability to believe that, which to us today, seems impossible only because our minds (and our Spirits) have not matured to the point where such things can be achieved. But, in practice and prayer, in “being reborn” untold times over the expanse of space and time, do we evolve to the state of mind and spirit necessary to bring Christ’s view of His Kingdom into reality? Is it a fact, that “all things are possible to he who believes” or is that merely Christian hyperbole? I think he was telling us a stark reality. We can perform miracles, just as Jesus and the Apostles did. We possess the innate capacity to do the incomprehensible. But just as a child born on the planet cannot speak, we haven’t yet come to recognize this inborn, God given gift. Once our faith has grown and evolved to the state necessary, we too will come to exist with Him in a paradise where, by our faith, the very strength of our conviction, we will be able to “command mountains”, just as he promised!
Now, it is also true that Jesus warns us of death and consequence. Much confusion can be constructed over an interpretation of His words in this arena as presented in the Gospel. Jesus speaks to us many times in the Gospels of death, both in a physical sense on this planet and what I believe was His more often held perspective of it; a Spiritual death. In my view, this latter concept is what He wants us to avoid at all costs, primarily because of His love for all of us and His desire for us to have everything of our hearts. I think he tells us this many times. He tells us “not to worry about those who can kill the body”, in a physical sense, because he knows we will all go through that experience many times in our way and that there is nothing in a physical death to fear. He tells us that He is “the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”. Yes, in fact, we will. All Christians will die, many times to live again and again and perfect our Spirit! So, I consider one of two possibilities:
Jesus may speak of a spiritual death in the Gospels with a sense to the reality of a will that many people may keep, for whatever reason, that has them simply refuse to repent and accept His message. He knows they will continue to deny their inheritance throughout eternity. Is it the devil himself who keeps us from accepting our gift lifetime after lifetime? Is the devil “…the One who kills the soul…” by confounding our minds? Perhaps the unbearable truth is that even over the expanse of time, many of us simply refuse to accept the incredible gift of Jesus’ sacrifice. Perhaps the consequence Jesus warns us of, spiritual death, occurs to those who, for reasons I cannot imagine, consider the promise of John 3:16 a lie. Could it be that even over many lives in many galaxies, the people who continue to deny live their lives void of Christ’s gift and compound to an existence together in a place of misery unimaginable? Perhaps just as Christ said He was “preparing a place for us”, I imagine somewhere in the galaxies, there exists a place for those who claim a life of death. Is death a life void of God’s desire for us for all those who simply continue to deny Christ for all eternity?
Or, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the Infinite Love, Patience and Intelligence of our God, coupled with the supreme sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross, create a measure of mercy and infinite love extended even to these hard heads beyond the imaginable. Perhaps, while the majority of us come to find our perfected spirit and faith, and rejoice with our Lord with everlasting life in a paradise unimaginable, God keeps showing compassion and love and mercy until even their spirits repent and they can claim their inheritance.
I believe my God is Infinite Love and Patience and Intelligence. Such a God need not turn His back to anyone!