Ye Of Little Faith
Disclaimer: This is a post about faith and religion. I am not here to tell you what to believe or not believe. I pose a lot of questions in this post and would love your commentary on any of them. I will not belittle or berate your beliefs or lack thereof in any way. I believe that love wins in the end.
My favorite non-fiction author Rob Bell was the founder of a church called Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
He wrote a book called “Love Wins”
And was subsequently pushed out of that same church....
Wait for it...
Because he believes that GOD IS LOVE.
And since we’re talking about Christianity let’s talk about the definition of love as presented in 1 Corinthians 13:
Does not envy
Does not boast
Is not proud
Is not rude
Is not self-seeking
Is not easily angered
Keeps no record of wrongs
Does not delight in evil
Rejoices with the truth
So with this definition in mind, and taking God at his word when he said “For God so LOVED the world...” in John 3:16 (and by WORLD i’m interpreting it as EVERYBODY) Rob Bell had a somewhat difficult time reconciling this with the idea that if you choose NOT to love God as laid out in the Christian bible you’ll be punished.
This idea was SO radical that he was shown the door by the clergy and elder members.
Their fear was likely that if you eliminate the fear of hell, eternal damnation, the weeping and gnashing of teeth then we are headed to any manner of lawlessness, immoral acts, capable of the most depraved atrocities.
Let me tell you why that attitude by pisses me off.
Operating from the position that the Bible is the truth for the sake of this post and argument, then it must also be true that all men (and women) are created in God’s image.
So that alone gives us some really basic info about the nature of human beings.
But then according to the Old Testament Adam eats the forbidden fruit given to him by Eve and suddenly humans that were at the beginning created wholly in God’s Image now have quite literally consumed the knowledge of good and evil.
When I was younger I thought it was the “Tree of knowledge, good, and evil” but it’s not it’s the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Anyway...how do I interpret this? I interpret it as people were created in God’s image, but against all divine guidance they acquired knowledge of good and evil.
With knowledge comes great responsibility
And there’s an entire Old Testament full of stories about what future generations of people chose to do with that responsibility.
But how often was there mention of what would happen to the folks that didn’t wield their responsibilities responsibly after death? How many times does the word hell, Hades, Sheol, or Gehenna occur in the Old Testament?
But more importantly, in what context?
Don’t worry I’ll wait.
No I won’t....I’ll just tell you.
Sheol (a Hebrew word that means “state of being dead”) was interpreted by someone to mean “hell” (as we know it) when translated into English and it appears just 64 times.
The three words often translated as hell (as we know it) in the New Testament: Hades and Tartarus (taken from the Greek pagan belief in an underworld for all-good and evil) and Gehenna (which is a Hebrew for The Valley of Hinnom) appear 11 times.
In total...we’ve got 75 appearances of words that reference what we have now loosely translated to mean the hell of eternal damnation.
Out of 783,137 words.
Which is the number of words in the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
Let’s do some quick math...
Hell is mentioned .009577% percent of the time in Christianity’s sacred text.
Whereas “Love” is mentioned...
310 times in the King James Version
348 times in the New American Standard Version
551 times in the New International Version
Alright, let’s move on...
fast forward a few more generations from the Old Testament and we’re at John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son and whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Some people take the bible literally.
But it’s my experience that people take what they want to literally and what they don’t want to...metaphorically.
But I digress.
So now we’ve got this “path” back to love.
Still no punitive measures spelled out though.
Just a declaration of love and what you stand to gain if you’re open to accepting it.
And definitely no declarations about what kind of person you are if you don’t.
Then later Jesus is quoted as saying “I am the way the truth and the life; no one can come to The Father except through me.” John 14:6.
Taken alone and therefore out of context John 14:6 reads as if its condemning every other religion and belief system on the planet.
But do you also know John 14:5, and John 14:7?
Because taken in context, Jesus is explaining to his followers that knowing him is enough to know God, but that also there’s room for a lot of other people because in his Father’s “house” there are many mansions. Sorta kinda like one university has a lot of different colleges.
Have we put God, and the ability of God to love and accept humans created by them in a box constructed with human limitations?
So my question is this: where did hell come from?
Jesus was Jewish, there is no heaven or hell in Judaism.
When did HELL become THE alternate destination when neither God nor Jesus said that hell is your punishment for not falling madly in love with them.
What kind of relationship is that anyway?
sounds vaguely familiar to one of mine.
And why are people so worried about those other people that don’t believe in hell?
Is it because “fear of hell” is what’s keeping their own behavior in check?
Isn’t that just projection?
Or is it an admission that human beings are no good?
And if humans cannot be good, was it a mistake to say that we were made in God’s image in the first place?
Or was that image erased entirely when man acquired the knowledge?
And if that’s true, you can’t be both knowledgeable AND godly?
Are we really going to pretend like good people outside of these faiths don’t exist, or that atrocities aren’t committed by people of faith?
Or are we now at the point where groups of humans have decided that other groups of humans are inferior to them or are automatically evil because of their beliefs.
Oh wait. Historically speaking...that’s exactly what HUMANS do...
The pilgrims didn’t like it when the British did that to them so they set sail for a new land.
My ancestors didn’t like being called savages by the very pilgrims escaping their homelands because of being persecuted for their own beliefs.
The book of Genesis was in existence even as it was decided African slaves were only 3/5ths of a person.
That’s what humans do.
So have we also decided that that’s what God must do too?
Is it possible that we have ignored that we are all made in God’s image
In favor of
Manipulating our “image” of God?
I have so many questions....
If you were born in Pakistan would you practice the faith you practice now?
What about if you were born in Greece? Or Russia? Italy?
What about if you were born in the middle of the Amazon rainforest?
If there is one true God why is it impossible to think that THEY in THEIR infinite wisdom, full of love and light can’t change forms and be accessible in different ways, in different places, at different times??
What if the faith you’ve come to practice and believe is how God decided to present Themselves to YOU because they KNEW that’s what would resonate with YOU?
You’re a student in the college of liberal arts
I’m in the college of biomedical sciences
Another is in the college of education
And yet we all have the same university printed on our degree at graduation.
A brief story
When I lived in Orlando, Florida some young men from LDS knocked on my apartment door and asked if I could spare a minute.
I said of course.
They showed me a picture.
In the picture was what appeared to be Ancient Aztec or Mayan architecture. They asked me a question:
“What if we told you that Jesus came to America? What would you say?”
I pondered the question, my eyes darting around the picture for a moment before answering,
“If Jesus was the son of God as he said, he could go wherever the f**k he wants”
they stood stunned.
Maybe from the use of my casual use of the “f bomb”
But I’d like to think that I showed them what truly radical faith looks like
One that is unlimited in it’s potential
One that doesn’t need the Ten Commandments
Or the fear of hell
To know that good resides at my center.
Resides at the center of us all.
Or that anything is possible.
I don’t need salvation from flames dangled in front of me like the metaphorical stick and carrot to make me “act right”
And if that makes me a heathen
Or the devil you know...
That says more about what you think about yourself and who you believe you’d be without your beliefs than it does about me.
I’ll wrap this up with just two more points because I can go on and on and on about this but there’s a reason Jesus warned people to remove the beam from their own eye before trying to remove the splinter from another’s.
Is a lot larger
A lot more substantial
than a splinter
Meaning...take care of yourself. First.
And then...my personal favorite, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
“At all times preach the gospel, and when necessary use words”
Meaning...your life is supposed to be the biggest example of your faith
Not your words
Your Facebook sermons
Your calling people on the phone and telling them nothing good will happen to them until they believe what you believe. (Even though Matthew 5:45 says that God causes the sun to rise on everyone and the rain to fall on everyone)
Your life is the example.
How do YOU love?
How do you treat people that don’t think like you? Or believe what you do?
Do you not invite them over?
Do you not hire them?
Do you not help them?
If not...reread the gospel.
Jesus has a few things to say about that.
Blogger’s Note: This post was spawned by a specific incident and is about faith and religion. I do not believe they are the same thing (faith and religion). This specific post is from the Christian perspective as it’s the religion I have the most familiarity with as I was born into it, and raised in it. I no longer subscribe to a religion and have not formally since 2007. I tried to be atheist and agnostic because I was extremely and sometimes continue to be quite turned off by the behavior of these religious institutions and the people that proselytize for them. But something in me still longed to believe in something bigger than me, and that I have a larger purpose. It has allowed me to frame my victories and tragedies in a way that nurtures my development as a human.
I am a woman of tremendous faith apparently. Which is the only reason why I’m still on this earth today.
My faith is what keeps me believing in myself. Even when I’m plagued with the thought that the people I love would be less burdened without me.
My faith is what keeps me believing in people. Even as I’m given reason after reason not to.
I believe in love.