Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Afternoon Follow-Up...

There are different schools of thought on what Jesus accomplished on the cross and with the Resurrection. While every Christian denomination believes He opened the way to our salvation and to an eternal afterlife with the Father (with certain provisos, according to each denomination's "translation" of the Bible), there is one denomination (at least) that believes Jesus intended and intends his act 2,000 years ago of "overcoming the world" to mean that everyone will go to heaven. This belief is called universalism and, while I don't subscribe to it, and many denominations call it blasphemy (since there are so few references to universal salvation in Jesus' teachings), I think my agnostic friend might find it preferable to the belief that some "innocents" might burn in hell because

1) they were never introduced to Jesus

2) were connected to the "wrong" denomination (e.g. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, the list is endless) or

3) because they were introduced to the story of Jesus and just flat-out couldn't believe it. (It is not something one believes readily, without a serious boost from the Holy Spirit. I can witness to this statement personally!)

Based on my Bible reading (for a good eight years to date), I think a heck of a lot more people will be going to heaven than "our" own personal or congregational list would indicate. The Bible says Jesus is the Way, the Door, the Shepherd, indicating an access point to somewhere else. Fair enough. But what does that mean, exactly? Theologians have been arguing over what that means for generations, so I won't solve it here. But let's take a closer look at just one of the appellations given to Jesus... as our Shepherd. (I so love the 23rd Psalm...)

A shepherd back in those days would lie across the open span to the sheep fold to keep the sheep safe and protected at night from the wolves and other predators in the area. They placed themselves there strategically, and a good shepherd (as opposed to a hired hand) would offer his life for the lives of the sheep in his care. Whoever the shepherd allowed into his sheep fold (fenced area) was screened and deemed "safe" to enter, whether it was a sheep of his own flock or another's.

So I have a hunch that there won't just be Jews and Christians in heaven. I believe He came for everybody (Why? Because he said so) who's "safe"/innocent/lost and largely undefiled because of their lack of knowledge about the sins they have committed against the perfect world God created and against God Himself. (This doesn't excuse those willfully opposed to God, I don't think -- people who "know all about God" and consider him bogus, depraved, diabolical or impotent.)

Because we are all human, and thereby fallible (containing the seed of Adam and Eve in our human DNA), we are born with the penalty Adam and Eve received -- to be separated from God for eternity because His criteria for fellowship with Him is undefiled purity. But then Jesus dropped by to correct the mistake Adam and Eve (and we) made, and started us off again with a new slate for facing God in the final judgment.

I truly don't know what His criteria are for access (and no one else can tell you exactly what they are either without finding someone willing to argue the point to ridiculous and un-Christ-like extremes), but I have a hunch that anyone who knows about him, even in a small way, and admires Him (even if they think he was noble but delusional when he went through "all that" to save us and return us to God) will probably get a pretty fair hearing when He comes again. And I think infants and innocents and those who never heard of Him will likely receive an inheritance, too.

Possibly I am in the minority here. But unlike my dear (and getting dearer by the day) agnostic friend, I do believe there is a hell and at the end of the age the truly evil/fallen aspects of creation will go there, either to be burned up or to be caged up, so that God's creation can return to its former, undefiled state.

So, to more specifically answer my friend's assertion (or aside?) about innocent Iraqi children not being loved by Him, I absolutely do not believe that. I believe he loves Iraqi children as much as he loves every other child and human soul on this planet. He really doesn't play favorites. He did not send the bomb or start the war that killed the child or injured the soldier. Humans did that. Humans are the repositories of spirits, whether divine or demonic... or ignorant or delusional... ). Could God stop it? Of course! But not without human agency, because we have free will and He, too, has a sort of Prime Directive when it comes to violating our free will...

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In the interest of self-disclosure, the reason I feel so familiar with my agnostic friend's perspective is that before I came to Christ I shared so much of it. I ,too, am a liberal (in the Robert F. Kennedy tradition, not in the Ted Kennedy tradition, but becoming less so as the years pass, except for areas where their kind hearts and concern for those less fortunate are concerned) and I, too, believe that Jesus was an extreme "Liberal" -- in fact, a revolutionary -- back in the day when he walked the hills and valleys of Israel. Those were "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" times (not terribly unlike today in that regard), and he was out and about saying, "Pay Caesar what is due Caesar... love your neighbor... pray for those who spitefully use you... " He sounds like the original flower child in many ways! He was saying, "Peace...Love...Hope...Faith...Joy" two millennia before the hippies caught on and dropped out to experience them (with mind-altering drugs) in a world that seemed bent on War...Hate...Hopelessness...Fear...Despair, polar opposites of the gospel message.

ON THE CROSS he was praying for the people who had stripped, spit on and mutilated Him:

"Father, forgive them... They don't know what they're doing..."

That's my God!

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One thing you find out when you start a Bible study is that the Bible will say something to you that no one else "gets." It's a Living Word, and each person "gets" it a little differently, because God is working in YOU... not in Joe Blow or Rachel Righteous when you're reading it.

One of my Pastors, Wes Braaten (awesome man of God) is of the Pentecostal persuasion by birth and by nurture. One day in class he told us something that intrigues and challenges me to this day, and every time I open my Bible I think of it.

He drew four boxes on a board and inside one wrote Protestant; in another Pentecostal; in the third, Roman Catholic and in the fourth: JESUS. He then said, "I have friends in all four boxes and much of what the folks tell me in the first three boxes rings true with me, and some rings very false with me. Our goal should be to get into the box with Jesus and read His Word and find out what it means between Him and me... and do you know what happens? When I'm in that box with Jesus, NOTHING he tells me ever rings false."

So gather what "rings true" to you from the various "religion" boxes... but then get into the box with Jesus and discuss it with Him. You will know, in your spirit, what He communicates to you, and that will be the Truth as you will know it, because He has shown you what it should mean to you.

If you find Catholic (or Protestant, or Pentecostal, or whatever) teachings a haunting on your soul, jump in the box with Jesus and ask him to help you to sort it out.

Catholics may be utterly shocked to find Protestants and Pentecostals in heaven, but I won't be shocked to find Catholics there. Not at all. I think we're all in for a bit of a shock when we find out who else Jesus allowed into his sheep fold...

Because He doesn't want anyone Left Behind, or he would have wrapped this whole thing up a very long time ago.


Mark in Texas said...

In perhaps what might be considered an over-simplification, one might take thier denomination or even their entire religion simply on Faith and Hope. And in this, let me update my own saying, "Believe in HIS Hope, for in it, Lies OUR Future."

Blessings and God's Speed in all journies...

Kristine M Smith said...

Thanks, Mark!

Gads, you were aptly named! You sounds like an Apostle!