9. I wouldn't consider myself very religious but I do believe in God and Heaven, but I believe that there are many ways to get there. I find it hard to imagine that a loving God would condemn an entire group of good people for believing the wrong thingSomeone outside of the Christian faith would describe me as an Evangelical Born-Again Christian. I chafe at that description because of all the unpleasant connotations that accompany it. But I am one, and I'd like to explain what we mean when we talk about God, Heaven, Jesus & Hell.
I, too, find it hard to imagine a loving God condemning good people to an eternity in Hell for believing the wrong things. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine condemning the worst of the worst to an eternity of damnation. I think that Hitler, for example, deserves a couple of centuries of suffering. But eternity? Really? It’s something I can’t get my head around. When I think about things like that, it is so horrible that I have to think about something else… even for Hitler. Frankly, it’s more comfortable to me to think about the condemned just ceasing to exist, than to think about an eternity spent in torment - a torment that is worse than the worst thing I can imagine.
So, it comforts me that God doesn’t do this. That’s right, God does not condemn us to eternal damnation. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that God is doing everything in his power to prevent that. He knows, better than me or any of us, what it means. And he has pulled out every possible stop to prevent it from happening. Jesus described it like a shepherd who stops at nothing to find his lost sheep. But I think of him more like a distraught parent whose child has gone missing.
A couple of years ago, I got a call from my wife. She was at the local amusement / water park with our 4 children. She called me, and it was clear that she was trying hard to control her emotions, and close to failing. Child #3 was missing. She’d looked everywhere she’d been with him. She’d communicated with the park officials. But she couldn’t find him. And neither could they. And she was, second by second, going crazy with fear for our child. But this didn’t stop her from continuing to look for him. And eventually, she found him, at the top of a ride for which he was too small. He was crying - not because he was lost, but because they wouldn’t let him on the ride.
When she got to him, it was such an unbelievable relief! He wasn’t taken. He hadn’t fallen into the wave pool. He was safe. The level of joy that my wife experienced was overwhelming and powerful. It brought her (and me when she finally called me back) to tears.
This is, I think, what it’s like for God and us. God doesn’t condemn us to Hell. We do. We all, at some point in our lives, reject God’s love for us. We reject his wisdom for the best way to live our lives. We reject it. We reject Him. In doing so, we let go of God’s hand, and walk away from Him. Where we end up is in a place without God, a place where we replace God with ourselves. God calls that place Hell. And all of the suffering and torment that exists there, doesn’t exist because God puts it there. It exists because we think *we* can be God. We can’t. When we try, we suffer.
On the other hand, God knows this. And He is driving himself crazy trying to get us to turn back to him. He’s trying to prevent the suffering that we will create for ourselves. He loves us. The fear that my wife felt when she lost just one of our children, is *nothing* compared to what God feels with the prospect of losing countless numbers of us.
So, he did something. He became a man. Because we’ve heard that phrase so many times, it’s really easy to gloss over the impact of this. It would be like me suddenly deciding that in order to save a colony of slugs around my house, I had to become one. This, of course, would have some advantages. Not least of all, I could communicate to the slugs in their own language. Basically what God did was to stop the course of human history and get in. God himself came to earth, in the form of a man named Jesus.
He then embarked on a three part mission: First to give us an example of how to live, second to give us a way out of our self-created Hell, and third, to build his church so that the mission of Christ could be carried to every end of the earth. Jesus Christ came here on a last ditch rescue mission, as a throw out all of the stops, do anything possible to keep us, his beloved children, safe. To save us from ourselves and our foolish behavior.
Because the thought of losing any one of us is horrifying to God.
When we turn back to God and ask him to help us cross the bridge he built through Christ, the Bible describes it as rejoicing in Heaven. God himself is overcome with joy that we’ve been found and returned to him. This is a joy that is like what my wife felt when she found our child, but immeasurably more powerful.
God doesn’t condemn us. We condemn ourselves. But it is the last thing in the universe that He wants. And he is actively looking to save us from that.