I’ve been a Christian for 35 years and have worked in churches for the past 20 years. I love Christians. I am a Christian. And as a Christian, I think that there are some topics that we should be more honest about.
We know very little about hell, but talking about hell honestly in many Christian circles is the fastest way to lose friends and be labeled a heretic. Just ask Rob Bell. Throughout the literature in the Bible, hell is used in various ways. It’s used to describe where everyone goes when they die (Sheol/Grave) in the old testament, and metaphorically by Jesus alluding to Gehenna which was a valley where trash was burned and before that where children were sacrificed by fire to a pagan god named Molech. Beyond that, a “lake of fire” is mentioned by John in his epic book of Revelation which is an imagery-rich commentary on politics. Scholars debate exactly what John was saying in his book in much the same way we drew deep meaning out of the “This Is America” video without talking to Childish Gambino about what every detail was really saying.
If we’re being honest, most Christians don’t know why they believe what they do about hell. Most would likely say they get their beliefs about hell straight from the Bible, and they aren’t lying. They truly believe that, but most of what we have believed about hell isn’t directly from scripture. It’s from an era well after the original texts were written. We have the Medieval Period to thank for much of our modern beliefs about the afterlife. I would argue that what we read from scripture about the afterlife is left to our own imagination. The idea that those who reject God will live forever in a burning torture chamber is highly debated by Bible scholars, and not as cut and dry for people who read what is actually written in scripture on this subject. Being wrong about hell is scary, and I understand why for so many Christians believing in the Evangelical tradition about hell is safer than not. I guess it never hurts to have fire insurance.
There is little debate in Christian circles that marriage is a commitment between two people to love and care for each other exclusively, and “traditional marriage” is between a man and a woman. We teach marriage principles learned from the psychological community as though they were strictly Biblical. “Biblical marriage” crosses a broad spectrum. Old Testament men married multiple wives. Paul suggested people not get married at all, and Jesus never married.
He did talk about divorce, however. Jesus said that the only grounds for divorce were in the case of adultery. Which means that other reasons deemed perfectly understandable by most today like… abuse, addiction, indifference or general unhappiness, all fall short of Biblical grounds for divorce.
If we’re being honest, Christians have for some time made concessions for divorced people out of a desire to be compassionate. Most of us wouldn’t dare tell an abused partner to go back home and “stick it out” because Jesus didn’t give them permission to leave.
I wonder if it’s not time to extend the same compassion to our LBGTQ brothers and sisters. I personally know people who considered divorcing their spouses because they were unhappy who also believe that homosexual marriage is an abomination. How can Christians extend grace to people who have done something God hates (Malachi 2:16), yet remain staunch in their resistance of same-sex partners entering into a commitment to love and care for each other exclusively?
The Bible is viewed by most Christians as the inspired word of God. It’s as if God himself hand wrote it and dropped this leather-bound book with that mysterious silk paper out of heaven and onto the earth. Over the years we’ve made silly arguments about what it is, what it says and what it means. Being Biblically literate has become a badge of honor above loving our neighbors for some Evangelicals, but how much do we really know the Bible for real?
If we’re being honest, the Bible is puzzling. It’s mysterious. Its “facts” don’t always line up, and some of its ideas are underdeveloped. If you’re thinking to yourself, “that sounds human” you’d be correct. It does. That’s the point. As much as there have been arguments made about the perfection of scripture, it’s long past time we admit that it’s not perfect. Too many human hands have been on it for it to be perfect. The writers, editors, and translators were all human beings, and we the interpreters are also human beings. Our faith to believe that God inspired the writers of the Bible has to come from outside the Bible itself. Trusting its words in our modern context is also trusting that the human beings who canonized it totally nailed it.
You see, Christianity as are all world religions, is about faith. Faith isn’t knowing. Faith is faith. We believe some things. We don’t know why sometimes, we just do. Life often presents us with pieces of a puzzle, but not the whole thing. We piece it together as best we can, but sometimes there are large parts of the picture missing. That part we fill in is faith. It’s foolish to try and convince ourselves or others not to look at the pieces that are missing or worse, to try and act like there aren’t pieces missing at all. There are lots of things from the Bible that we as Christians don’t know, but we believe. That’s beautiful! That makes us fully alive and fully human because we aren’t using our energy trying to do God’s job of knowing everything. There are many things we don’t know, but we believe them. Believing and knowing are not always mutually exclusive, but they can be. (SELAH)
We have tried to make the Bible the authority on science, history, politics, and religion, but outside of religion, the Bible isn’t the most accurate accounting of those categories. Trying to make it authoritative on the subject matter it’s not intended to be the authority on diminishes its beauty and lessens its effectiveness in the world. The same can be said of us Christians. Maybe it’s time we just are honest about who we are and what we truly believe.
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