(Yes, I know the title is similar to my first post, but it’s different. I promise)
Last week, I watched the movie “Come Sunday,” which follows a portion of the life of Bishop Carlton Pearson. Bishop Pearson was a protégé of Oral Roberts having attended Oral Roberts University in the 1970s. By the early 2000s, he had fallen out of favor with Oral and was deemed a heretic by the Joint College of African-American Bishops for preaching a gospel of radical inclusion.
After watching a documentary about the suffering and genocide in Rwanda in 1994, Bishop Pearson began to reconsider the beliefs of his church that non-Christians were going to hell. As a result, he stood in the pulpit one Sunday and publicly stated his doubt of hell as a place of eternal torment. Instead, he believed that hell is created on earth by our human behavior (sin) and depravity. As a result, his congregation of 6,000 dwindled as people flocked to the exits. They refused to even entertain the notion that God could so radically love ALL humans—each and everyone whom the Bible states are created by God.
It’s puzzling, isn’t it? There are some Christians—many Christians—whose faith rests on the idea of hell and eternal punishment. They can not imagine that God can be so forgiving and loving that eternal salvation is pure grace and gift. Why is that? Why do well-meaning Christians insist that someone has to burn? If God is love, then something does not add up. Does a God of love enjoy sending people off to the lake of fire, as much as some human beings enjoy making that judgment?
Following the death of Bishop Desmond Tutu on December 26th, I posted to Facebook this quote of his: “God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God.” Some of my Christian friends liked the post and echoed these sentiments. Most ignored it–which means they either scrolled right past while saying a prayer for my heretical soul or they have long ago unfollowed me for fear of God holding them guilty by association. However, one of my well-meaning Christian friends quoted John 14:6 where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I don’t disagree with this verse. However, I do not believe one has to say the sinner’s prayer and convert to Christianity in order for Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5 to be true, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”
This was my reply: “Several premises to begin with: God is love—ultimately and finally. Secondly, ALL humans are created in the image of God as stated in Genesis 1 and God declares humans good. God was/is the God of all people on earth and was/is not a Christian. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. (I am not taking away that Jesus was Immanuel—God with us). Neither is Jesus or God an American who loves us better and values our lives more because we happen to have been born here.
Some questions building on those Biblical truths:
1. If God is love above all else, do you think God would punish/doom/send to hell one of his children (Gandhi in this example) who acts more Christlike, did more good things, and was significantly more loving and nonviolent than many Christians out there?
2. If all people are created in God’s image and are children of God, do you think God would create offspring who are going to hell just because of where they happened to be born or the fact that they worship him differently or maybe never heard of our Judeo-Christian God? Honestly, that makes God sound like a mean and angry old SOB instead of a God of love shown to us in the person of Jesus.
Sadly, the personality we attribute to God has been thousands of years in the making by institutionalized religion and a bastardized American view of God. It’s about control—you believe or act this way, or God will not only not love you, but God will also torture you forever. We are the ones who have placed limits and boundaries on God’s love. We want God to be vindictive and “give people what’s coming to them” because that’s how WE, in our less-than-perfect humanity, believe it to be. God’s grace is often too much for us to fathom. However, God’s love is infinitely bigger than anything we humans can comprehend with our limited and finite minds.”
When will we ever stop categorizing people as in or out, saved or damned, them or us? Sadly, I am not sure that will ever happen on a global scale. However, it can begin in our world with us. If we truly believe that God is love, let’s not only preach it with our lips but also live as Jesus did.