Right now my mind is disturbed. A young apologetics student, writing in our parish magazine, has published an article in each of the last two issues that portrays Christianity in ways that bother me deeply. The point of one her columns is, "It's not enough to be a good person. You won't go to heaven when you die unless you believe in God."
The second column is titled "Why are other faiths wrong." It cites that verse from John that Mark Sandlin, one of my favorite bloggers calls a 2" x 4" often used for whomping people of other faiths. You know the one... John 14:6-- “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
|Acrylic painting The Edge of Night by Sandra Hodder, 2002|
I've dreamed up all sorts of protests in response -- self-immolation, quitting the local church, sending copies of Rob Bell's new book (What we Talk about when we Talk About God) to the offending persons, or making an appointment with the priest in charge of our benefice to complain about spiritual bullying, for example.
The Anglican church proclaims itself to be a broad church, with room for Christians of many different specific leanings. But the priest in charge of our benefice wrote in an e-mail to me:
"the article on page 25 came from a student at an Anglican theological college, and represents THE traditional, orthodox, Christian viewpoint. I asked Carolyn to include it... The policy of the Roundabout has been that it is not a debating ground, and I don’t propose changing that in the short term..." [emphasis is mine]
I would like to hope that the young person who wrote the articles will eventually come to see that, taken as a whole, Jesus's life and the body of his preaching speaks of a God who loves everyone, whether they deserve it or not. He takes his meals with the dregs of society. He deems the Samaritan--a person of another faith/tribe--to be a more loving neighbor than people of own-faith/tribe.
When talking about who will enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says it is extremely difficult for a rich person to get there -- but He immediately turns around and says that with God all things are possible.
This is key. It's in God's hands. Remember the three "Lost" parables -- the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son? No matter how perversely we're lost, God finds us! He sees each of us as inherently valuable, even if we completely mess up.
Maybe this is why Jesus doesn't spend a lot of time administering faith tests. He just gets on with the business of healing, loving, and teaching others how to to do the same. He says we should follow suit: feed his sheep --care for the least, lost, and last. What we do for or to them, we do for or to Him. Bash them over the head with your 2" x 4" and you bash our Lord. I just can't see Jesus using time or column inches --as I'm doing here, admittedly--showing that our spiritual bona fides are better than someone else's.
In that same (14th) chapter of John, Jesus goes on to say to his poor confused disciples, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing" and, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching." The commandments he gives them are to wash each other's feet -- love one another as Jesus loved them.
The emphasis throughout is on doing love and justice, not proclamations of belief. I could be wrong, but it seems to me like the truest way to do the "through-me-to-the-Father" bit is by trying to do what Jesus did. It's risible that a God who loves us so much would give a rat's ass whether the way, the truth, and the life of compassion comes from a card-carrying Christian, a saintly agnostic, or a mercy-loving Muslim. By my lights, anyone who does the work of love is by definition on His team. He told his disciples they were wrong to censure a competitor doing good deeds (casting out demons) -- "for whoever is not against us is for us."
I am not sure about life after death -- what it really means to inherit eternal life or to make one's home in the many-roomed house of God. I think Rob Bell is probably right that "Love Wins," rather than hell, after we die. Whatever that imponderable, Jesus makes a very compelling case that following His ways of compassion will nudge the world of here and now toward a more heavenly state -- "kingdom" or "shalom."
And conversely, NOT loving our neighbor -- bullying and devaluing others (and worse) -- nudges the world toward hell.
So my Easter message would be: Forget what they said. Ignore it if they kick your group out of their God club in the next issue of the parish magazine. Everyone belongs, so welcome back! The God that Jesus proclaimed loves us all. That includes homosexuals, atheists, non-Christians, and bad Christians. As angry as I am at the people who (I humbly suggest) have misapprehended the meaning of Christ's life, I know God loves them, too. And asks me to do the same.
So have a hug.