Does Jesus Care Who You Vote For in November?

Now that Mitt Romney has secured, more or less, the Republican nomination for president we can begin to look ahead to the general election.  Obama vs Romney!

As with previous elections, we will see prominent evangelical Christian pastors and leaders giving out endorsements.  Personally, I am increasingly skeptical of Christian leaders endorsing candidates.  What’s the point?  What do they hope to accomplish?

Do they think Jesus will be happier with one candidate then the other?

I don’t think Jesus cares who you vote for.

(I don’t think Jesus cares if you say Merry Christmas either)

Here’s why I think that.  One of the primary goals of living as a Christian is to become more like Jesus.  I like to say as we grow in our faith we become more the person we were created to be.  The two minutes you spend in a voting booth this November are basically irrelevant in terms of reaching this goal.

This begs the question: so what does Jesus care about?

I bet he would agree with the prophet Isaiah, for he did quote Isaiah quite a lot, in saying that you should care the those in need and seek justice: 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight;  stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Jesus would like us to be generous, as Deuteronomy 15:7-8 states:  7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.

Or as Proverbs 29:7 says, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Then there is another prophet, Micah, talking about justice, mercy and humility: “8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

One of Jesus’ earliest followers knew what Jesus cared about, speaking of the fruits of the Spirit: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:22-26).

Jesus’ own brother, James, has a short book stuffed full of the kinds of things Jesus does care about.  Here is one example about watching what you say and caring for those in need: “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27).

Another of Jesus’ early followers, Peter, simply says do lots of good deeds: ” 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

I could spend the rest of my week listing things Jesus cares about.  I haven’t even gotten to things Jesus himself said!

My point is simply this: what you do in the ballot box in November is minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

 What do you think Jesus is more likely to ask you, were you to meet him:

Did you care for the fatherless, the widow and the poor?

Did you work for justice for the oppressed?

Were you generous with all that you had?

Were you loving to your enemies?

Were you performing good deeds?

Who did you vote for?

Baking Cookies with Junia

52 Thursdays ago I planned to bake cookies for the students graduating or transferring.  It is something I do every year to honor the members of Christian Student Fellowship who are moving on from Penn State Berks.

I like to joke that it would not be appropriate to give them a literal “Hershey” kiss so I give them “Hershey kiss” cookies.  Yes, I am that witty.

But the students who moved on at the end of last year did not get cookies.  Because 52 Thursdays ago Emily woke up and after a trip to the bathroom declared that it was time to go to the hospital.

The baby was coming!  

It would take her the rest of the day to arrive.  Looking back, it is hard to remember that as we progressed through that day we did not know she was a “her” yet.

At 8:04 PM she arrived – Junia Elizabeth.

Awesome.

Needless to say, I did not make it to CSF that night.  The students moved on to their new ventures without their Hershey kiss cookies.

Today, 52 weeks later, I spent the morning baking cookies.  But this time I had help…sort of.

Junia spent the morning crawling around the kitchen, climbing up my leg, standing anywhere she had something to hang on to and thinking about taking those first precarious steps into a new world of walking.

It has been an exciting 52 weeks.  

I think I better go taste-test those Hershey kiss cookies and then give Junia a real Hershey kiss!

Is Legalized Prostitution Safer?

This is the debate going on in the New York Times “Room for Debate

It is easy to assume that legalizing prostitution, with the regulation that would then go with it, would make it safer for some of the women.  This is the case argued by a few of the participants.

Yet I have difficulty seeing how legalizing a crime all of a sudden makes criminals (pimps) legitimate businessmen?

More then that, if you are the kind of man who would pay a woman to have sex, do you really see her as another human being?  If you are forking over money for sex, she is just a tool for your own enjoyment.  Many prostitutes are abused by the men who buy them and men who abuse women do not become honest consumers just because prostitution is made legal.

Enough of my words, I’ll let the experts speak.

Rachel Loyd says that legalizing prostitution has been shown, in countries that do it, to lead to an increase in human trafficking:

The argument that legalizing prostitution makes it safer for women just hasn’t been borne out in countries implementing full legalization. In fact, legalization has spurred traffickers to recruit children and marginalized women to meet demand. Amsterdam, long touted as the model, recently started recognizing rates of trafficking into the country have increased and is beginning to address the enormous hub of trafficking and exploitation that it’s created.

Max Waltman argues that criminalizing the buying of prostitutes, as Sweden has done, is the way to successfully begin to end human trafficking:

Not to be bought and sold for sex should be a human right. Sweden effectively recognized this in 1999, criminalizing buying sex and decriminalizing being in prostitution. This law has been adopted in full by Norway and Iceland, partly in Korea, Finland, Israel and the United Kingdom. France may enact it.

The Swedish model recognizes that prostitution is an institution of inequality. Most people in prostitution enter as children after being sexually abused. Lacking education and resources to survive, often destitute and homeless, they are easy prey to pimps and johns. Sexism and racism lock them in, as in the United States, where African-American women and girls are overrepresented in prostitution, as are native Canadian women in Canada.

Stella Marr argues that legal brothels are coercive too.

Norma Ramos argues that the oppression inherent in prostitution can never be safe.

Check out all the articles in the debate.

Spiritual Gluttony – Listening to the Saints (St. John of the Cross)

John of the Cross was a Spanish mystic who lived in the 1500s.  He worked with Teresa of Avila in reforming the communities of monks known as the Carmelites.  One of his best known works, Dark Night of the Soul, is a commentary on a poem, of the same name, that he wrote.  The poem is about the soul’s journey to God.  This is my second post on his work, you can read the first here.

I hate going to the gym.

Emily works from 8-4 as a Cyber School Teacher and after she gets off work I head over to campus.  So if I want to get in a workout, I need to get to the gym very early in the morning, around 5:30.  This way I am home and showered in time to take care of beautiful Junia.

But getting up to go to the gym that early is difficult.  I know I should. But I would rather sleep.

I love going to Shady Maple.

This past Saturday my students and I went to Shady Maple for breakfast, the most delicious breakfast buffet you’ll ever eat.  I had to get up at 6:30 (okay, not 5:30, but still early for a Saturday) to walk the dog.  I had no problem getting up that early.

How come things that are good for us, like going to the gym, are so difficult to do?  Yet things bad for us, like eating a tremendous breakfast, are so easy?

Why is getting in shape, physically or spiritually, seem so hard?

John of the Cross reminds me of this when he discusses what he calls “spiritual gluttony”.  I see this among the students on campus at times.   After some sort of great and moving spiritual experience – be it a mission trip or a retreat or a worship service – there is an emptiness. The student concludes that this emptiness is an indication of some problem she has. The goal then becomes to pursue God so that this great spiritual feeling can be achieved again.

Of course, after that goal is reached the emptiness will return and the cycle begins.

John knew similar people:

when their delight and pleasure in spiritual things come to an end, they naturally become embittered, and bear that lack of sweetness which they have to suffer with a bad grace, which affects all that they do; and they very easily become irritated over the smallest matter–sometimes, indeed, none can tolerate them. This frequently happens after they have been very pleasantly recollected in prayer according to sense; when their pleasure and delight therein come to an end, their nature is naturally vexed and disappointed, just as is the child when they take it from the breast of which it was enjoying the sweetness. There is no sin in this natural vexation, when it is not permitted to indulge itself, but only imperfection, which must be purged by the aridity and severity of the dark night” (5.1).

John considers this spiritual experience as akin to the sweetness of a delightful treat. Like a child with little self-control, the goal becomes indulgence in this sweetness.

John says this temptation to spiritual sweetness tends to plague beginners. In the same way, a child may seek the sweet and salty food but as we mature into adulthood we need to learn to eat the foods that bring health, even if they do not taste quite as good. I have a soft spot for Shady Maple, or the sweet and salty snacks available at the coffee shop on campus where I spend my afternoons.  When I was younger I would indulge daily in chips, candy and soda.  Now that I am over thirty, I have needed to learn self-control (though the occasional snack still defeats my self-control now and then).

This is the difference between sweetness and purity, sickness and health: “For many of these, lured by the sweetness and pleasure which they find in such exercises, strive more after spiritual sweetness than after spiritual purity and discretion, which is that which God regards and accepts throughout the spiritual journey” (6.1).

Part of the problem John identifies is that those who pursue such spiritual sweetness and fail to get it think they have accomplished nothing at all when in fact, through humbly serving and loving God, may actually be progressing in faith. This is kind of what the whole idea of a “dark night of the soul” is all about: “God oftentimes withholds from them these other consolations and sweetnesses of sense” (6.5).

Just as true healthy growth does not come from feasting on candy and salt, so true spiritual growth does not come without hardship. Nor are you automatically growing spiritually when you have emotional, spiritual experiences on a regular basis.  Instead, true spiritual growth comes in the times you do not feel close to God but you practice the way of Jesus Christ anyway.  Again, John:

These persons who are thus inclined to such pleasures have another very great imperfection, which is that they are very weak and remiss in journeying upon the hard road of the Cross; for the soul that is given to sweetness naturally has its face set against all self-denial, which is devoid of sweetness” (6.7).

This is, like getting into physical shape, quite challenging.  It cannot happen without the help of God.  John of the Cross consistently focuses on the fact, as all mystics (and all Christians, really) do which is: we cannot do it on our own. Any labor we go about, any success we have, comes by the help, the grace, of God our Father, Jesus Christ our Savior and the Holy Spirit our redeemer:

However greatly the soul itself labours, it cannot actively purify itself so as to be in the least degree prepared for the Divine union of perfection of love, if God takes not its hand and purges it not in that dark fire, in the way and manner that we have to describe” (3.3)

God brings us into the dark night and God will lead us through it: “For, however assiduously the beginner practises the mortification in himself of all these actions and passions of his, he can never completely succeed–very far from it–until God shall work it in him passively by means of the purgation of the said night” (7.5).

In other words, with God’s help we can and will grow spiritually.  But this does not necessarily mean we’ll have more frequent spiritual experiences.  Instead we’ll be people more like Jesus, people of love and joy and peace and justice.

Maybe even with God’s help I’ll acquire some motivation to wake up and go to the gym early in the mornings!

The Secret Service Scandal and Sex Tourism

The story of the Secret Service advance team, preparing for President Obama’s visit to Colombia, continues to be headline news.  Eleven members have had their security clearance revoked following the allegations that they brought prostitutes into their hotel in Colombia.

What is scary is that this sort of thing happens every day in country after country throughout the world.  It is called sex tourism: travel for the purpose of engaging in sex with prostitutes.

There have been a variety of articles linking the Secret Service Scandal to Sex Tourism.  Kristen Powers writes that “Colombia Scandal Exposes Sex Trafficking Growth“:

When the news first broke, the headlines seemed shocking: U.S. Secret Service agentsbuy prostitutes while in Cartagena, Colombia, advancing a trip for President Obama.  But this is no aberration. Men working abroad on behalf of our government engage in this kind of behavior so frequently that the Pentagon was forced in 2004 to draft an anti-prostitution rule aimed at preventing the U.S. military from being complicit in fueling sex trafficking.

Apparently sex trafficking is a regular part of United States military presence overseas:

Serving in the United States military is about honor, dignity, and strength. So it makes sense that the U.S. military would make visiting brothels and having sex with women and kids forced into a prostitution a big no-no for American soldiers, right? On paper, establishments that sell sex are off-limits for men (and women) in uniform. But in practice, sex traffickingflourishes near U.S. military bases. Should U.S. soldiers be abusing people in another country while protecting people in this one?

Do not read this post as simply a sort of ant-military rant.  Sex tourism swirls around all of Latin America, especially around large events such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil.  It is a clear indicator of the brokenness of our society.  People travel to other countries to do things they would not do here – to buy prostitutes, use women for sex, basically to rape and abuse another human being.

If you feel tempted to brush this off as something that happens overseas only, know that it increasingly happens here: see the article “Not Quite a Teen, yet Sold for Sex.”

Injustice is all around us.  It would be easy to shake our heads in yet another clear example of this.  The question I ask is: what can we do to change things?

 

Assumptions, Biases and Evidence…Oh My! (Recent Reads)

What assumptions and biases do you bring with you as you approach evidence?

I got to thinking about that question as I read a few articles recently by Stanley Fish.  These articles were on the place of evidence and trust in our belief systems. First was “Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture is the Right One?”  In the past most people put their trust in religion and religious pronouncements.  How is this different then putting trust in scientific pronouncements, since most people have not taken the time to do the research themselves?  Richard Dawkins’ response, during a recent forum, was that the difference is that with science you can cite a study, in other words (his words), you can cite “chapter and verse”.

With this proverbial phrase, Dawkins unwittingly (I assume) attached himself to the centuries-old practice of citing biblical verses in support of a position on any number of matters, including, but not limited to, diet, animal husbandry, agricultural policy, family governance, political governance, commercial activities and the conduct of war. Intellectual responsibility for such matters has passed in the modern era from the Bible to academic departments bearing the names of my enumerated topics. We still cite chapter and verse — we still operate on trust — but the scripture has changed (at least in this country) and is now identified with the most up-to-date research conducted by credentialed and secular investigators.

The question is, what makes one chapter and verse more authoritative for citing than the other? The question did not arise in the discussion, but had it arisen, Dawkins and Pinker would no doubt have responded by extending the point they had alreadymade: The chapter and verse of scriptural citation is based on nothing but subjective faith; the chapter and verse of scientific citation is based on facts and evidence.

The argument is circular and amounts to saying that the chapter and verse we find authoritative is the chapter and verse of the scripture we believe in because we believe in its first principle, in this case the adequacy and superiority of a materialist inquiry into questions religion answers by mere dogma

Fish goes on to argue that all people look at the world with a set of assumptions.  We all have presuppositions – “original authority” or “basic orthodoxy” that we begin with.  These assumptions are the lens through which we look at evidence.  If the evidence fits in with our belief we accept it and if it contradicts our belief we ignore it.

The second article was a follow-up, “Evidence in Science and Religion, Part 2“.  In this he replies to some of the responses garnered from the first article.  He is not saying science and religion are similar in every way, simply that they are mediated.  They both “work” in different areas.  While the certainty religion gives us can change, so too can the certainty science gives us as its claims have changed over the years.

Yes, the apostle of science will reply: that just shows that science is progressive and can correct its mistakes, while religion lacks a mechanism for detecting and purging error. This argument (made by many posters) assumes that when science “changes its mind,” it is because more precise and powerful techniques have given it a better purchase on the world it had previously perceived only dimly (“Now we see through a glass darkly”). The world has stayed still; only the devices of perception have changed and brought us closer to it.

But this Baconian model of scientific progress in which data sits waiting to be revealed by superior instruments is now, the Princeton philosopher Thomas Kelly tells us, “universally rejected by philosophers” (“Evidence,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). “It is now appreciated,” Kelly continues, “that at any given time, which theories are accepted … typically plays a crucial role in guiding the subsequent search for evidence which bears on these theories.”

Shortly after this he makes what is the clearest and vital point: theories determine what will count as evidence.  The idea that we sift evidence with an open-mind and believe where it leads is simply false.  We all bring theories (assumptions, biases) to the evidence.

The very act of looking around is always and already performed within a set of fully elaborate assumptions complete with categories, definitions and rules that tell you in advance what kinds of things might be “discovered” and what relationships of cause and effect, contiguity, sameness and difference, etc., might obtain between them.

We all look at the world through a lens.  Some of us approach the world with the belief that a Creator is behind it all, others approach the world with the belief that it all came about through time and chance.  Whichever approach you take will influence what you count as evidence in any discussion.

This is why people can make statements like:

“I have never seen any evidence God exists”

“I see evidence God exists everyday”

One couple in financial trouble can talk about how God blessed them and they made it through.  The believe in an active God which influences how they interpret the evidence.  Another couple in financial trouble can talk about how they got lucky, had help from some kind people, and made it through.  They don’t allow God into the equation.

So often in discussions and debates we talk past each other because we do not focus in on the assumptions people have.  Everyone brings their assumptions into a discussion.  No position is bias neutral.

I have a lot of thoughts swirling in my head about this.  The one thing I will write is that this is why you can’t just throw “evidence” at people and expect them to change their minds.  Or, to think of some very popular evangelical books, the evidence may demand a verdict but depending who you are, certain verdicts are ruled out before even approaching that evidence.

Back to Fish.  I love how Fish closes the second article, in response to those who say religion is a sort of debate-ender:

Finally, I cannot forbear noting the picture of religion assumed by some of the most caustic commentators who say that religious experts “don’t engage in … debate” (chuckwagon), that when a religious truth is announced “no further inquiry is permitted” (Kevin Brady), that “religious dogma brooks no debate” (Prakash Nadkarni), that the only argument believers have is “The bible says so” (Kevin Grierson) and that “Faith requires a belief system by fiat”(drdave). It is hard to know what to say in the face of such pronouncements, except to recommend a course of reading to those who make them. They might begin with The Book of Job, Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

Arrogant vs. Humble Spirituality: Listening to the Saints – St. John of the Cross

John of the Cross was a Spanish mystic who lived in the 1500s.  He worked with Teresa of Avila in reforming the communities of monks known as the Carmelites.  One of his best known works, Dark Night of the Soul, is a commentary on a poem, of the same name, that he wrote.  The poem is about the soul’s journey to God.

When you first discover you are going to be a parent, you begin to more closely observe other parents (at least I did).  I wanted to see how they parented, what I could learn.  Along with this, there are a lot of parenting books available for new parents.  As soon-to-be parents make decisions on how they will raise kids, the danger of arrogance, of looking down on older parents who made different decisions, is apparent.

We who have read a book or two begin to act as if we know more then those experienced parents.  But if we are honest and a bit humble, maybe those experienced parents who have raised three or four kids have a little wisdom that cannot be found in a book.

In the same way, older, mature Christians who have lived a long life with Jesus, filled with ups and downs, have something to teach us. The young Christian who thinks he has it all figured out has a lot to learn.

This is one of the primary lessons I gathered from reading John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul: the vital importance of humility. He speaks of beginners in the spiritual life, which may just refer to new members of the monastery, but for our purpose can be taken to mean any new, young Christian. John warns that these beginners may be so “fervent and diligent in spiritual things and devout exercises” that they begin to experience a pride where they come to have some degree of satisfaction with their works and with themselves” (2.1). He goes on to say they are more eager to teach then to learn.  They think having a warm and fuzzy spiritual experience or two makes them holier than older, less passionate believers.

Being a campus minister and spending a large amount of my time then with smart young people disconnects me from reality. Students in college tend to be thoughtful and introspective. They like to discuss theology and the Bible. I recall having discussions when I was in college and seminary about free will and predestination, the validity of other religions and much else.  I recall having the freedom that allowed me to be at some sort of church activity more than half the nights in a week.

That is simply not real life for most Christians.

The fact is, Christians in their thirties and forties balancing raising kids with jobs and bills and all the craziness of life just do not have the time for all that. Rather then spending most waking hours discussing spiritual things, they are changing diapers or taking their kids to practice or helping with homework.

It does not make them less spiritual.

Maybe it makes them more spiritual.

John of the Cross gives the remedy for the arrogance of youth:

But those who at this time are going on to perfection…progress by means of humility and are greatly edified, not only thinking naught of their own affairs, but having very little satisfaction with themselves; they consider all others as far better, and usually have a holy envy of them, and an eagerness to serve God as they do…So much would they gladly do from charity and love for Him, that all they do seems to them naught; and so greatly are they importuned, occupied and absorbed by this loving anxiety that they never notice what others do or do not; or if they do notice it, they always believe, as I say, that all others are far better than they themselves. (2.6)

My hope for the students at Penn State Berks and young Christians in general is that they would exhibit humility, not arrogance.  It is so easy, and tempting, to think that where a previous generation of Christians messed things up, we finally have it all figured out.  I have read many books, articles and blog posts that seem to say as much: those old, traditional, close-minded Christians screwed things up but we have it figured out.

I imagine our kids will say the same thing about us one day.

May we replace arrogance with humility.  Along with that, may we have the good kind of envy that John talks about: “if charity has any envy, it is a holy envy, comprising grief at not having the virtues of others, yet also joy because others have them, and delight when others outstrip us in the service of God, wherein we ourselves are so remiss” (7.1).

May we be  people who take joy in the spiritual success of others.

Thoughts on Baseball Season

Baseball season began last week.  The Philadelphia Phillies will be seeking their sixth consecutive division title, pretty good for a team with the most losses in baseball history.

As I listen to the local sports-talk station it seems to me people are worried.  There is a feeling that the Phillies run of success is about to end.  Each year over the past five they have ended their season sooner: World Series victory (2008), World Series loss (2009), NLCS loss (2010), NLDS loss (2011).  The downward slide may continue as some of the long-time Philly stalwars (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley) are beginning the season injured and look on the downside of their careers.

The Phils enter the season with a lot of average looking players filling the lineup.  Rather than players good enough to play everyday, they may use lots of platoons.  This past weekend as the season began they looked rather inept, scoring six total runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Perhaps people have cause to be worried.

But here’s the thing: the best and most talented team rarely wins, at least recently, in pro sports (college sports is a whole different matter, see NCAA basketabll champions Kentucky).

The New York Giants barely made the playoffs in football.  Yet they got hot at the right time and rolled to a victory.  The best teams during the season (Packers, Saints) lost early in the playoffs.

Last year in baseball the Phillies had the best record.  They lost to a team, the St. Louis Cardinals, who slipped into the playoffs on the last day of the season.

Baseball season is LONG!  162 games.  Being the best team over 162 games is not that important.  Being the best team in October is really all that matters.

Of course, you have to be in the position to play in October.  The Cardinals and Giants had to be in a position to go on those win streaks.  You cannot stink the whole year.  My point is, being the best of the best the whole year is over-rated.

Just look at the Phillies.  I imagine most fans would say that last year’s team was the most talented team over the recent run of success.  Yet 2008 was the year they won, with perhaps their least talented team.  Cole Hamels was their best starter that year (he was 3rd or 4th best the last two seasons).  Their pitching after him was a bunch of forgetful guys.

So perhaps in October it will be a no name who gets the big hit for the Phils just as it was Cody Ross for the Giants in 2010 and Allen Craig for the Cardinals last year.  Or, for that matter, Matt Stairs for the Phillies in 2008.

I rarely write about sports, this blog’s purpose is more spiritual matters.  But I feel like it would be a stretch to draw something out of this just for the sake of sounding spiritual.  At any rate, what comes to mind is Ecclesiastes 9:11:

11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

There you go, something spiritual.

Fear, Love and Truth

If you are a Christian and you believe in hell as eternal (it lasts forever), conscious (people there continue to feel and experience it) torment (it is horrible), then I have a question:

If you stopped believing in that view of hell, would you continue to be a Christian?

This is a question I ponder quite often.  I thought it in light of the Love Wins controversy last year.  I asked it as I read Ken Daniels’ deconversion narrative.  And it came to mind again as I wrote my recent post about Thomas Aquinas.

To make the question harder: if hell is removed and you say you would not be a Christian, then you are only following Jesus out of fear.  Can such a fear-based faith be genuine?  If I only love my wife out of constant fear she will divorce me, do we really have a loving relationship?

I am often challenged when I read the stories in Acts of how Peter, Paul and the early Christians would call on people to believe in Jesus.  They rarely (dare I say, never) used fear of hell as a reason to believe.  They pretty much simply said: it is true that Jesus rose from the dead so you should believe it.

It is true. So believe it.

Makes sense.

If it really is true –  if God really is the Creator and really did become human in the person of Jesus in order to restore relationship between us, the creation, and God, the creator – then should we not just believe it?  I don’t believe in gravity out of fear I might float away if I stop believing, I believe in gravity because it is truly how the world works.  Shouldn’t truth be enough of a reason to believe?

This is why I enjoy talking with atheists and agnostics and skeptics online.  Many such people have a passion and desire to know the truth.  They do not believe, or are not sure what they believe, because they do not yet think it is true.  (I recognize not all atheists and agnostics are this noble, some are just as biased and mean as the worst of Christians.  The fact is both groups have decent people and jerks as part of their communities.)

I believe Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life.  When I meet someone who is not a Christian but through discussion I come to see is clearly seeking truth, then we can talk.  I feel liberated of pressure to convince them as if I am a used-car salesman.  We can discuss and debate as we pursue truth, even if we disagree on what that truth is.

Rather then trying to sell them something they do not really want, I can introduce them to my good friend, the most interesting person who every lived, and who just so happens to want a friendship with them too.

All I am saying is that:

if people are looking for truth…

and Jesus Christ is the truth…

and Jesus Christ wants to be found (i.e., he is not intentionally hiding)…

then what is there to worry about?

To come back to where I started, I want to believe, like Paul in the Bible, because it is true.  I want to experience love of God that is not constantly fear-driven.  I don’t want to feel like if I step out of line or have the wrong series of beliefs in my head that God might send me to hell.  I want to experience the unconditional, life-changing love of Jesus Christ.

I’ll end where I started: Hell.  What is there to worry about?  Well, if Jesus really is truth and a person rejects Jesus, which in doing so is rejecting God, then separation from God, which is hell, is a real possibility.  So please don’t read this post as me rejecting hell.  What I am questioning is the place hell plays in our belief system.  I am wondering if we doubt the truth of Jesus so we fall back on an easier to argue, fear-based sort of faith.  I am not sure people go to hell for all eternity simply because…well, simply because their beliefs do not pass my own personal belief test.

Finally, I have confidence that God is sovereign and loves us enough to go through death and hell to save us, which must mean that all who truly want to find life and love and grace will find it one day.