Spirituality · Uncategorized

What difference does it make?

Some time back, someone whom I love and respect whose spiritual views are very different from mine asked me what difference my faith made to me. I gave her an inadequate and inarticulate answer about hope. Once in a while that conversation comes to mind and irritates me. I’m not promising a magical answer here, either, but I want to address a few things that I failed to convey then.

A lot of people claim that God makes their life better without qualifying the statement. Others seem to work really hard to qualify it, pointing to his supernatural influence as the thing that got them a new job, perhaps, or a clean bill of health after an illness. I am not here to disagree with them; I’m not in their shoes. Usually, though, that’s not how I feel about my interactions with the divine.

So, how does my faith enrich my life?

  • The most important thing I can say is that it doesn’t fix my life in the short term. I can’t objectively judge what God has effected in my life because his hand is not always visible to me. So maybe he has made my life easier and better in ways I’m not aware of, but I still struggle to not let depression get the better of me, to motivate myself to do the stuff of daily living, to build relationships and show love. Bad things happen and will continue to happen. But you know that desperate feeling that life is not as it should be? That restless, almost angry stirring that says you should be feeling another way that you try really hard to suppress with worldly distractions? I still have that feeling a lot and still occasionally try to buy or exercise or plan or volunteer my way out of it. But I know that it won’t work. And this is where I find comfort: I believe that I DO know where that feeling comes from and what will ultimately fix it. I will continue to experience it here, but I don’t seek its resolution in the same unhealthy ways I might if I didn’t believe the way I do. I’m also not destroyed when I recognize the futility of those efforts because I already knew they were futile, but I believe that the thing I’m missing IS obtainable after death. Waiting still stinks, though. 🙂
  • This seems off-subject, but to relate the meaning that faith holds for me, I need to address two things about Christianity which often concern people: the biblical assertion that Christ is the only way and the related concept of Hell. I understand why these topics upset people – they absolutely ARE upsetting. My view of faith is dependent on God’s goodness and I don’t believe these apparent hang-ups are obstacles to that goodness. These views likely won’t sway people who don’t already have Christian sympathies and they aren’t unique or revolutionary, but maybe they will be another perspective for someone struggling to reconcile these facets of the religion with their faith. To be clear, though, I may be way off-base. I am not the one who defines goodness, so while I seek truth and have feelings on the matter, I’m no authority.
    • Many of my more conservative friends will passionately disagree with me, but while I believe Christ is the only way, I don’t believe that looks the same to all people. I think it entirely probable that acknowledgment and acceptance of Christ can even happen when the person doesn’t know him by that name. This is not a post-modern or universalist assertion. But I think Christ affects us all individually, quite outside of human religious constructs. I think it is presumptuous to assume that Christ couldn’t reveal himself in a completely different way to someone whose life experience and soul is different from mine. Bottom line: I don’t know, but I do trust God’s goodness.
    • Hell is one of those things that is still largely mysterious to me. I haven’t read anything in the Bible that gives me a solid grasp. What I do believe is that God created humanity and the world we live in. I believe that he cares about that creation and hates what hurts it. I trust that if my soul is so polluted that it would threaten the goodness of his creation, he won’t allow me to continue beyond this life. I also believe that separation from God would be unbearably painful.

Thank you for letting me define the fruits of my faith in a small way. Feel free to weigh in, disagree, agree, whatever floats your boat – as long as you keep it kind. Happy Tuesday!

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Uncategorized

Hell – Accepting my Confusion

Hell is a sticking point for so many people. And why not? It IS distressing and it IS difficult. I never know quite how to respond when someone raises the issue. “How could a loving creator allow his children to suffer eternally?” And actually, not all Christians understand hell that way, but that is beside the point for this post. I can’t give you a neat, it-all-makes-sense-now explanation for hell; but as inconclusive as my current stance is, it has brought me a certain measure of peace (anyway, as much peace as one can feel when the issue at hand is hellfire ;)) that I hope will encourage someone else.

I don’t know what hell looks like. I do believe it is real. I believe it is separation from God, which we can freely choose. I believe that it is terrible. Some theologians and Christians might argue even those points and biblical references to hell are difficult to understand. Scripture has inspired many well-researched theories about the nature of hell and there are so many cultural and historical factors that color our perception. Just one example might be the compelling translation studies about our present understanding of the word “eternal” versus the way it was used in the Bible.

I think the hardest thing for me about these kinds of theories is separating what I WANT to be true from what IS true. Objectivity is never easy in spiritual matters, but it is especially difficult for this overly emotional bleeding heart. :). Bottom line, I think there are things we can know about hell (and to study it is fascinating), but there are things we are simply not given.

I have lots of questions and will continue to study the issue, because I’ve found that prayerful persistence can bring clarity. That being said, I’ve felt less confusion and doubt about hell lately. Because God’s goodness has been made so very apparent to me in other areas of my life, I’m able to have some trust. I know not everyone is in that place; however, if you are someone who is seeking God and feeling a pull in his direction but the hell issue trips you up – maybe set it aside for a while. I’m not saying you shouldn’t wrestle with it and even come to some conclusions about it, but see if you can trust Christ with the small stuff first and you might find yourself more able to trust him with the rest.

Ecclesiastes 12:7: “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

Spirituality

Is God’s Love Warm and Fuzzy?

I’m reading slowly, but I have started the first chapter of Four Views on Salvation in a  Pluralistic World. The first essayist (John Hick) believes that salvation can be achieved through religions other than Christianity. Hick’s background is in conservative Christianity. He went to seminary and preached for many years before embracing his current, more liberal views. Some of his sentiments echo those I encountered while reading about Universalism; the belief that all people will eventually (before death or after) be saved. Hick raises a few good questions, but it seems to me that the primary problem that traditional Christianity fails to address for so many people is the problem of evil. How could a good and loving God allow good and moral people who perhaps simply didn’t understand the Christian perspective to suffer eternally?

That’s a problem for me, too. I do not buy the explanation that God offers all the opportunity to come to Jesus… at least not in the narrow way that some Christians seem to define it. If I am to accept traditional Christianity, I have to believe that God reveals Jesus in different ways to different people. I am lucky, though. My experiences of God have led me to trust in his goodness and I don’t feel at all called to worry about the eternal souls of my fellow-humans. I can only share my experience, pray, and try to live in a way that reflects my faith… after that, it isn’t up to me.

That said, I still don’t feel at peace with my understanding of hell. As I’ve mulled this question over for the last few months, a few different verses having nothing at all to do with one another keep coming to mind. And perhaps they support the liberal views about which I’m reading.

The verses are listed below, but here’s my question: Could God’s love actually be the instrument of our torment? If in fact we cannot be separated from the love of God, even in hell (Psalms 139:7-8), then perhaps feeling God’s eternal love for us when we are not reconciled to him is incredibly painful. I would compare it to the concept in Romans 12:20; if we show our enemies kindness, perhaps the pain it causes them will result in their repentance. We don’t cause them pain to effect revenge, but to show our love. But this begs the question: Can we be made right with God from hell? Psalms 86:13 could be interpreted differently, but I think it speaks to the possibility.

What do you think? Am I way off base?

Psalm 139: 7-8: Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Romans 12:20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Ps. 86:13: For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

Romans 8:38-39: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Spirituality

Specifically Vague

Two blogs in one day!! I think this is a first.

I just finished the introduction to a book that a fellow-blogger recommended (her blog is excellent: http://lightenough.wordpress.com/) and I am really very excited about it! I anticipate lots of blog-fodder from this one. 🙂 It is called Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Four essayists present their theologies, the others respond, and then the original essayists get to respond to the responses. Got all that? It sounds like the views presented range from strict and literal adherence to scripture (salvation is through Christ and only Christ and Christians must evangelize) to broad and inclusive theology where everyone gets a golden ticket.

It’s got me thinking about where I stand (again) and I’ve decided to make this a small blog project. Below is my current and extremely brief stance on salvation insofar as I actually know what I believe. After I’ve finished reading the book, I will re-post it and let you know if my opinion has changed.

I believe in the divinity of Jesus. I believe that he removed the obstacles between us and God; that because he came, we can hope for ultimate peace. HOWEVER, I also believe that loving “…the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”, and loving”…your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31) is entirely possible without knowing Jesus and God the same way I do. Even the more specific verses that indicate that Jesus is the only way to God don’t specify every single way in which someone can come to Jesus. Although I have more research to do, I also am leaning toward the view that Jesus’ death on the cross was retroactive. In other words, those that died before Christ could still come to God through him.

There are lots of blanks there, I know. Hell, for example, is a topic I can’t even begin to touch right now. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

Spirituality

Eternity and Identity

The fact that I am, that we all are, eternal beings struck me in a new way recently. For some reason it suddenly seemed strange; another one of those taken-for-granted Christian concepts. It seems like a pretty huge thing to take for granted, but I don’t know… you hear John 3:16 rattled off enough times and its electrifying, supernatural promise can get a little bit lost.  I don’t act as though I’ll be alive in some capacity forever. Generally, I think about my life in mortal terms. The decisions I make, while they might impact my post-death experiences, are usually made for my immediate, or at least foreseeable future. Certainly my conscience makes its argument and I take my moral and religious obligations into consideration. And perhaps that’s all we can do, since most of us don’t have foresight that extends beyond the grave in a literal way.

Even if this awareness doesn’t perceptibly change the way I behave, thinking of people as eternal subtly changes my view of humans. Hehehe. I’m currently envisioning a room full of eternal souls instead of just bodies… how odd!

Could the ways I contribute to the development of my daughter’s heart and mind have eternal ramifications? I’m not trying to make parents feel even greater burden than they already do, here… just following a train of thought. 🙂

I have a very hard time understanding who I am apart from my body. For example, I might feel strongly, passionately moved by something and attribute it to my unique personality and spiritual self but how much of that is in fact attributable to the chemicals and hormones at work in my body, shaping my emotions? I don’t know what the soul is without the body. I don’t know what kind of existence we will lead after death, what kind of individuality we will retain. I spent some time reading verses about life after death yesterday and this morning. While the Bible gives us plenty of references, there is also still plenty of mystery as far as I’m concerned.

So, I’m curious: In your interactions with people, are you ever conscious of their immortality?

Happy Sunday!

Spirituality

Way Over My Head – Please lend me some perspective!

Yesterday, I told you that I would refer to good and evil in the simplest terms. Today, not so much, but I’ll still do my best to be clear. My question is this: What do we mean when we call God “good?” And is it really possible to be objective?

One of the people whom I love and respect most in this world (you know who you are!) forced me to consider a truly frightening question a few years ago and it’s bothered me ever since. We were having a conversation about the existence of God, Heaven and Hell. I can’t quote her exactly, but the gist was this:

         Even if Heaven does exist, I’m not sure it’s a place I want to go. I can’t imagine a               parent who, having the power to stop it, would allow a beloved child to suffer for              eternity in Hell, just for refusing to acknowledge him.

Well, to be honest, I can’t quite reconcile that, either. I know the free-will argument; that God allows His children to make a choice, that He doesn’t force our commitment. But drawing the only parallel I can, which is the earthly parent/child relationship, it just doesn’t make sense to me.  I can understand it a little better from the standpoint that we all have God within us and to actively choose to Deny that is to submit to a self-imposed suffering.

The other problem I have with the free will argument is that God created all things, including our concept of good and evil. So, can there be any objectivity about the goodness of God? If He had created a world where the rules were different, where stealing and lying were considered “right” we would, presumably, still follow Him.  I’m not stating this very well. I know it sounds blasphemous, but it really is an honest question. Let me put it another way.

If God created this world and everything in it, including our concepts of good and evil, does it actually matter if He is “good” or not? Should we accept him simply by virtue of His being The Creator? I know that scripture says that God is love and reveals a number of other attributes of God, but again, He could have created the world to understand love in a completely different way.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I know this is one of those irritating questions that might simply be something I have to take on faith, but I really do feel compelled to ask it. Let me close by saying that regardless of my questions, when I look at the world around me – the human capacity for thought and feeling,the incredible variety and color, the beauty of nature, our bodies, the incomprehensible enormity of time and space – I feel God and I feel that God is good, as I understand goodness. I’m incredibly grateful for the life I’ve been given. Thanks again,