Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love's Threat to Fundamentalism

Even the word "eternity" is less open-ended than the heart of Jehovah when it comes to restoration.
This is my favorite place to sit, think and read at MaulHall. It's a gathering of four leather chairs around a dhurrie-style rug and in the company of good books; we call it "The Tea Room". My comfortable reading nook is lit from the old dinning room window, affords a pleasant view of the front garden, and looks into the kitchen and beyond.

As you can see, I have my Kindle e-reader balanced on my knee.

It's late afternoon and I'm studying for my evening Men's Room small-group. A comfortable chair, great ambiance, a glass of wine and Rob Bell's "Love Wins". Ah, the contemplative life.

Interestingly, the chapter I'm reading is #3, "Hell". I can't help but realize how literal and overwhelmingly present hell can be for so many people in our world. Broken homes; mangled relationships; terrorism; the twin-towers; fireballs of death; 12-year-old suicide bombers walking into market places; the deliberate mutilation of children in Africa; the lucrative sex-traffiking right here in the USA that trades in slavery, the ownership of women, and the systematic abuse of very young children....

Later, picking up this train of thought Thursday morning, I'm thinking about the most excellent discussion Bell's chapter prompted yesterday evening. So much of the "information" we repeat about Hell turns out to be completely ungrounded in biblical scholarship. Once again, and this seems to be common practice in religious frameworks that value control rooted in fear, what is presented as "common knowledge" has more to do with manipulative religiosity than the living word of God.

Of particular interest to me was the conversation we had around the idea that God's judgment is purposeful and rehabilitative rather than vindictive and cruel. This resonated with me on so many levels.

I've always been skeptical of the cut-and-dried legalese fundamentalism employs to justify its prescriptions and proscriptions when boxing in God's behavior. As if dotting your doctrinal "i's" and crossing your doctrinal "t's" can paint the Almighty into a corner. As if anyone's narrow thinking can leave the Creator of the Universe helpless to apply the balm of grace or effect redemptive compassion in response to the imperative of Love. What?

We were all struck by the consistent and insistent story of reconciliation as recorded in the biblical narrative. Time and again, God not only gets furious and applies timely judgement... but 
  • God heals, 
  • God redeems, 
  • God redirects, 
  • God forgives, 
  • God revisits, 
  • God leaves open possibility, 
  • God believes. 
  • In fact, God consistently refuses to close the door.... 
In other words, when it comes down to God, even the word "eternity" is less open-ended than the heart of Jehovah when the subject is restoration.

My question is this: "Why is it so important to so many people to close the door tight on someone else's potential future with God? Does it make you feel better about your capitulation to religious fundamentalism if you 'know' that everyone else is destined to an eternity of absolute suffering, without the possibility of salvation, because they didn't get their ticket punched according to the (often arbitrary) rules you require God to follow?"

Is it God who has the last word when it comes to the scope and the reach and the duration of redemptive Love? Or is it your nuanced, exclusionary, legalese?

Our job is to communicate the Good News! And the Good News is this: God's Love is complete and invitational and liberating and rich. Living in the knowledge of this Love, and applying the precepts of Love to the way that we live, leads to an otherwise unimaginable fullness of life (John 10:10). That's not pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die, but a present reality we can embrace.

Anyway, and before I start to sound like some blog-based ranter ("too late", I know!), my men's group had a good conversation that will continue with enthusiasm. The next important question turns out to be this: "Now that we have chosen to follow Jesus, and now that we are embracing all the "rights and privileges thereto appertaining"... what about the responsibilities? 

What are we going to do to be the presence of God in this broken world, and to extend the kind of compassion and healing Love that Jesus modeled with such eloquence and such courage?

Peace - DEREK


Alisia said...

Thank you for this post! I so love reading your blog!

Steven Clark said...

Thank you Derek,

An Orthodox understanding (short form) of Heaven and Hell has to do with one's relationship with God. Heaven is encountering the Love of God as an Illuminating Light. Hell is experiencing the Love of God as a consuming fire.