Sunday, 31 October 2010

non-Biblical witness

Yesterday in the park an Enthusiastic Evangelist approached me and started to chat.

He was moderately polite, but took great pains to explain to me at some length that if I believe that God's love is unconditional, I believe in a made-up-in-my-head God, contrived based on my own desire for comfort. He quoted the Bible at me to try to prove that Jesus believed in hell and judgment, that anyone who fails is eternally damned.

I tried to explain something I've tried to explain before: that if Christ will draw all people to himself, then any hell that exists cannot be eternal, and hope must prevail. He wasn't having any of it.

We went our separate ways. I didn't get into discussions about scriptural literalism, and I didn't get drawn into prooftexting, and the whole thing bothered me a lot less than it might have three or four years ago.

I've been thinking about it, though, about how my beliefs and convictions differ from those of this young man so doggedly determined to save, to convert, by discussion and reference to scripture.

Maybe that works for some people.

My understanding of Christianity is certainly informed by scripture -- it would be difficult for it not to be given my background and upbringing -- but I do not believe in God's love for all humanity because the Bible declares it, or because people preach it. I do not believe in God's love for us because I have been told it exists.

I believe in God's love for us because I have been shown, in a hundred thousand little ways. I believe Christ died on the cross and rose again because a hundred thousand actions have pointed to that.

I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the mother worrying over her sick child.

I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the teacher who risks missing her train home in order to spend another five minutes reassuring a nervous student.

I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the counselor who responds promptly to a last-ditch-effort e-mail from a girl suffering from depression and supports her through the years of upheaval that follow.

I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the woman whose greatest concern on holiday seems to be that she can't keep in touch with friends who need her prayers and support.

I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the churches who operate a Floating Shelter because local council provision for the homeless obviously isn't enough.

I have seen Christ crucified and risen in a vicar who says "God loves us to bits" and means it, in a woman who cares for her ailing husband without complaint despite the toll on her own fragile health, in an online community where all are welcome, in the very oak leaves that fall dancing from the tree and go on to form soil.

It is not only the grain that, in order to live, must fall to the earth and perish. Sometimes I am the leaf, sometimes I am the tree, sometimes I am the grass growing in the soil of the sacrifice of others. And always, Emmanuel -- God-with-us. I don't believe this because I have read it. I don't need to read what I have lived.

That doesn't mean I don't have any use for canon, for scripture, for the Bible. But I don't believe the things I believe because they are written down in words somewhere. I believe them because they are inscribed on the hearts of the faithful and acted out day after day after day.

And these same things are inscribed on the hearts of those whose faith is known to God alone, those who acknowledge no higher power, those for whom talk of a personal God is nonsense but who work tirelessly to heal the sick, comfort those who mourn, help and encourage one another in what is good, bring justice to the poor.

Theism is not a dealbreaker.

Philosophy is not a dealbreaker. Political affiliation is not a dealbreaker. Sexual orientation is not a dealbreaker. Race is not a dealbreaker. Achievement is not a dealbreaker. Competence is not a dealbreaker. Income is not a dealbreaker. Social class is not a dealbreaker. Health is not a dealbreaker.

Sin is not a dealbreaker.

There are no dealbreakers in the Kingdom of Heaven. Thanks be to God! There is nothing that cannot be forgiven by a God of infinite love.

May my thoughts and words and actions reveal this as truth.


UKViewer said...

What a wonderful post. Saying some of the very things that I believe in my heart, but have never felt quite able to articulate.

I don't know where the journey is going, but if it is going on this path, there is real hope for mankind and the Kingdom here and now.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Ernest.

it's margaret said...


And even hell is not a deal breaker....

And since there is not place where God's love will not prevail, hell doesn't stand a chance.

Love to you.

Song in my Heart said...

Exactly, Margaret! Thank you.

Simon Marsh said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you ... for the Leonard Cohen and Hafiz quotes and for this excellent post - which has, (forgive me), literally put "a song in my heart" this morning. Keep writing, please ... :)

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Simon.

St said...

I've been pondering some new things to say about heaven and hell in an advent sermon coming up. Thanks for helping the cogitation.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, St.

I am SO not ready for Advent...