For me, when I poke around, I find a very unorthodox theologian. It makes me nervous to see that staring back at me, but it sure explains a lot.
I suppose this unorthodoxy started only a few years after my conversion. I was 18 and working/schooling at a ministry down in Texas. Some friends and I went to hear a preacher who was known for his hard/no compromise message. He was a talanted speaker, and he had the audience mesmerized. He just didn't seem happy. In fact, I was quite sure he was angry. He went on and on about luke-warm christians and counterfiet conversions.
Then suddenly, he got happy. He started to talk about judgement day. He described in detail the suffering that would be waiting in Hell for those who mocked God and his children. I am not sure, but I think he started salivating at this point. He couldn't wait for sinners to get their portion of this.
I left that night perplexed. I believed in eternal damnation, but I never hoped it on anyone. Is God angry? Does he get as excited as this preacher did about sending people to Hell?
After this, I started to notice how much time my brothers in Christ spent on who was going to Hell. They often said they were burdened over the souls "pouring into the Pit". They would say, "It breaks my heart that my neighbor is going to Hell", but then through conversation I would realize that they did not even like that neighbor. Was it really breaking their heart?
It seemed Hell was just one more item to show others that, "My God is better than your God, my faith is better than your faith".
I started to question Hell. In a previous post, I pasted a letter that I had written years ago to a number of my friends in which I shared my wrestlings.
In addition to the items I put in that letter, becoming a Father has really made me question Hell. What could Kathryn or Jacob do? What could they possibly do that would make me inflict such violence on them?
Brian McLaren's son said, "Dad... either Christianity is true and almost everyone I love is going to burn in Hell forever, or it's not true and life is meaningless."
This is the set of options Christianity presents the world with, but is that the God of Hope?
McLaren says that he struggles with being a pacifist. He says that, more accurately, he is a pacifist sympathiser.
I think that is how I feel about Universalism. I cannot, theologically, completely commit to it - but I sure want to. This quote from Bart Campolo summarizes how I feel lately..
"If indeed faith is being sure of what we hope for, then truly I am a man of faith, for I absolutely know what I hope to be true: That God is completely good, entirely loving, and perfectly forgiving, that God is doing all that He can to overcome evil (which is evidently a long and difficult task), and that God will utterly triumph in the end, despite any and all indications to the contrary.
This is my first article of faith. I required no Bible to determine it, and—honestly—I will either interpret away or ignore altogether any Bible verse that suggests otherwise.
This first article of faith was the starting point of my journey back to Jesus, and it remains the foundation of my faith. I came to trust the Bible again, of course, but only because it so clearly bears witness to the God of love I had already chosen to believe in. I especially follow the teachings of Jesus because those teachings—and his life, death, and resurrection—seem to me the best expression of the ultimate truth of God, which we Christians call grace. Indeed, these days I trust Jesus even when I don’t understand him, because I have become so convinced that He knows what He is talking about, that He is who he is talking about, and that He alone fully grasps that which I can only hope is true.
Unfortunately for me, God may be very different than I hope, in which case I may be in big trouble come Judgment Day. Perhaps, as many believe, the truth is that God created and predestined some people for salvation and others for damnation, according to His will. Perhaps such caprice only seems unloving to us because we don’t understand. Perhaps, as many believe, everyone who dies without confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior goes to Hell to suffer forever. Most important of all, perhaps God’s sovereignty is such that although He could indeed prevent little girls from being raped, He is no less just or merciful when He doesn’t, and both those children and we who love them should uncritically give Him our thanks and praise in any case.
My response is simple: I refuse to believe any of that. For me to do otherwise would be to despair.
Some might say I would be wise to swallow my misgivings about such stuff, remain orthodox, and thereby secure my place with God in eternity. But that is precisely my point: If those things are true, God can give my place in Heaven to someone else, and go ahead and send me to Hell. For better or worse, I am simply not interested in any God but a completely good, entirely loving, and perfectly forgiving One who is powerful enough to utterly triumph over evil. Such a God may not exist, but I will die seeking Him, and I will pledge my allegiance to no other possibility, because, quite frankly, anything less is not enough to give me hope, to keep me alive, to be worth the trouble of believing."Amen.....