A few weeks ago, while catching up with an old friend, I was introduced to a curious thought process that I think many in spiritual circles internalize unintentionally.
Rob Bell's recent publication came up in conversation, and I mentioned that I had read, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Her response, while respectfully her opinion, bothered me;
"Yeah, but he's so liberal..."
Mind you, I'm about as conservative as they come...but I took issue with this.
Actually, if I'm honest, I still don't even quite understand the statement.
Many mainstream, prominent Christian theologians had a field day with the release of "Love Wins", because it, allegedly, contradicts the 'orthodox Christian doctrine' of Hell, as being a place of eternal torment and separation from God.
Rob Bell was branded a heretic.
A wolf in sheep's clothing.
A false prophet.
Most good men are.
What is most disappointing to me is that I have overheard several close friends of mine say things about the book, without even taking the time to read it.
And what does that even mean, that Rob Bell is too liberal?
Does it mean that he is affiliated with the DNC?
Is he pro-choice?
Is he all about social justice?
Does it mean that when it comes to his spirituality that he doesn't present God as wrathful enough to be considered orthodox?
In my personal view, spirituality is not a product of politics.
We aren't restored to relationship with God because of our political backgrounds or affiliations.
Jesus himself was not a politician. He did not come to set up a political or religious system, which is clearly where most of his disciples missed the proverbial boat. They all thought that he was going to overthrow the oppressive Roman Empire.
But that wasn't the point...
What disturbs me most about the claim that Rob Bell is too liberal, is the fact that the story of Christianity itself is a liberal story.
I don't mean liberal as in political.
I mean liberal in the sense of generosity.
The whole premise of grace is a liberal concept. It is unmerited favor. It is an undeserved gift, given freely. God didn't have to bestow it upon us. He didn't have to bring reconciliation to humankind because of their rebellion, yet he chose to.
Well, in my view, it is because God is a god of liberation.
God is love.
So if this is the case, then why all the debate about Hell being essential?
Is the concept of 'Hell' necessary to appreciate what Jesus did for humankind?
Some would say yes, and they are certainly entitled to that view.
I would probably disagree, because in saying that, it casts light upon a way of thinking that is prominent in Christianity today.
It is that Jesus is our "Get out of Hell free" card. This mentality can subtly bring us to believe that the reason behind loving God, and believing in Christ's sacrifice, is to prevent us from burning forever in a place of sulfur and gnashing teeth. Fire and flame. It isn't really love. It's self-preservation.
Personally, growing up in the church, I was never in love with that God.
Jesus is so much more.
I don't love Jesus because he can "get" me things such as an eternity in heaven. Nor do I love Jesus because of what he can "prevent" like, for instance, an eternity of separation from God.
I love Jesus Christ because he has saved me from myself. He took me from the lowest place I could imagine being in life, and feeling that I couldn't do it one more day, and he brought me to life. I'm not alone in this either...
Thousands upon thousands of people on this planet have experience this incredible phenomenon, the power of this man's love, and live anew because of it today.
His sacrifice was the single-most beautiful act of God that humanity has ever experienced.
It points to a God who isn't bent on destruction, but a God who wants and pursues his creation. To have relationship with them. To make a way home. He loves me and you that much.
When this realization strikes an individual, when they know it deeply to the core of themselves, I don't believe it is possible to stay the same. Hell is irrelevant, because the love for God and others will begin to spill out of that individual's life.
Jesus came to change our hearts.
To bring us back in line with the way of God.
A God who loves and pursues us.
A God who wants what is best for us.
Love doesn't, by nature, coerce. It doesn't threaten. If those who have 'faith' are using these types of methods to advance the 'kingdom of God' then, I believe, we are sadly missing what the actual purpose of Jesus was, and are inadvertently cheapening his message.
His message being simply: I love you, let me bring you back to me.
That is the beauty of Jesus. It brings a freedom and peace with God that we would have no other way.
One more thing that this fierce doctrine battle of Hell reveals is this; faith in America doesn't allow room for honest questions anymore. It is a formula.
This concerns me.
I think, in the end, it all boils down to control. Even the most "spiritual", or religious amongst us want it. I think that Christianity in America has actually become eerily reminiscent of the Jewish religious culture in Jesus' day. It is an establishment. It has lost sight of it's true love.
This does make some sense to me, because within humanity's rebellion we have an ingrained desire to control life. To create our own destinies. The reality is that we have no control, but since that isn't a view we want to embrace we set up systems that tell us otherwise.
This switch from Christ to the Christian establishment also makes sense in the context of American culture, which is a 'results-driven' society. It is natural to somehow take God and put him into a box. To create a checklist of what it means to be a Christian. To have God in your life. To be 'spiritual.'
It's actually called religion, and I don't believe in it.
When did the Christians in America decide that the church as we know it, (doctrines, theology, rituals, etc.) have discovered the right way to 'do life.' Over the years the church has been evolving constantly. Each new generation faces its challenges and changes. Life is progressive.
Thankfully, God is liberal in his love and blessings. He overlooks our pettiness. Our desire for control. Our sins against our brothers and sisters.
God hasn't given up on us.
I can't give the final word on heaven or hell. I'm not God.
And if there is, in fact, a standard to getting to God, or a Christian checklist that I must complete I'm sure that there are plenty of places that I have fallen short or not made the cut.
There are plenty of boxes left to be checked...
All I can do is speak from personal conviction, and what I know of the Jewish carpenter to whom I owe my life, and I can tell you this; He loves you more than you could possibly know.
He wants you back, and he was willing to lay down his life for that very reason.
He is the reason I'm here today, and can say confidently to you that love, above all else, wins.