Why it matters...Part 1

:::Image by Christie Knubel Holmes. Cover art from Sixpence None the Richer's Album Beautiful Mess.

I've written a bit about grappling with my theology lately. I had someone ask me why it matters.

Other than I feel a driving need in my soul to understand, I think the bigger issue is that how you view God impacts how you view the world and how you view your part in it. For example, while an atheist can pretty much set his or her own morality, a Hindu fears what will happen in the next life. And though it may not seem like a big deal on the surface, the impact of a person's theology is that it affects those he interacts with.

For example, when I was fourteen, I went to a Baptist encampment where an evangelist delivered a scathing sermon. I was moved. I walked an aisle. I feared for my salvation. We all did. Never mind that the reason I was at the camp in the first place was because I already had a deep love for Jesus.

Years later at my Baptist college, that same evangelist was invited to speak at chapel. He was introduced as having saved tens of thousands of young people. However I knew from my previous experience that the reason his "hit count" was so high is because he used a great deal of emotional manipulation. (I wonder how much the hit count would decrease if all the "re-saves" were subtracted?)

If you believe a person is going to hell to be tortured for eternity, then I suppose manipulation is okay. In fact, the Crusades, the Inquisition, bait/switch tactics and a host of other things committed in the name of God are passible because you are "saving" people from eternal damnation.

Except that they are not okay.

Jesus didn't model that.

He healed people. He served people. He said things like "blessed are the meek." He loved people others wouldn't touch. People who couldn't give Him anything in return. He asked us to forgive way more than I can even multiply in my head, and my guess is if He expects me to do that He can probably do that times infinity.

My mental construct to resolve the disconnect has always been to "disbelieve in hell." If you believe that all men are being saved by a beautiful plan that God orchestrated to restore us to who we were supposed to be, then you treat them as if they are worthy of it.

Recently, Calvinism has sparked a ton of debate among some of my friends. A core tenet of Calvinism is that God only chose only "some" to become saved. (The Presbyterian denomination of which I am a member has Calvinist roots.) As I talked this over with John the other night he made a very compelling statement:

I refuse to worship a god who created some men only to be tortured for eternity.

I agree.

Nothing in Christ's life models that. You don't leave Heaven and live on Earth for 33 years if you don't care passionately for those you are leaving Heaven for.

Not only that, but the economics of scale are overwhelming. Almost one billion Muslims. Over one billion Chinese. If we believe in our hearts that all men are equal, we simply can't believe that some were created to be "not elect". Isn't that the type of doctrine that produced Apartheid? That produced Auschwitz? The idea of the inequality of men?

What we believe really does matter. It isn't just random doctrine. It makes a difference in what we do. In our actions.

That is why I've been wrestling so much lately with the doctrine of hell.

Much to my relief I had a friend influence my thinking on that this week. Still more for me to process, but I think I'm finally winding up in a place where the New Testament scriptures and my deep belief in the love of God for absolutely every man can balance.

But it would also be a long post. Thus the reason this is only "part 1."


D Herrod said...

I'm actually very turned off by the Calvinist-Arminian debate. It got old very fast during my days at SWBTS. There were some who were so caught up in the debate that they failed to notice the drive-bys, drug houses, gang-bangers and other hurting people literally down the street.

One of my processors once said that Calvin was as Calvinist as some of his followers claim to be.

While I believe that hell is real I am in no hurry to see anyone sent there. There is some speculation if hell is a place of literally burning flames. However one thing I read many years ago that hell meant total separation from God and that alone is a horrible thing.

As I for predestination, I believe that the Bible is clear that Christ died for all not just the elect. While the gift of salvation is open to all not all will accept it.

Just a little note the earliest Baptist mission societies were from Particular (Calvinist) Baptist.

Cathy Hutchison said...

Dee, I keep forgetting you went to seminary. (smile).

D Herrod said...


That's ok. Sorry for the long rambling comment earlier.

Saad Zafar said...

Cathy, you have written a very interesting post. I wouldn't compare the concept of Heaven and Hell to Apartheid or Auschwitz though.

I'm not a Christian. I'm a Muslim. According to my belief, God created all of us to worship Him. So the people that will be punished in the Hereafter will be those that rebelled and refused to worship Him. T

he Jews did not rebel during the Holocaust; they were persecuted for something they couldn't change. And the Blacks in South Africa were also persecuted for who they were rather than what they did.

The Christian concept of salvation is somewhat similar to the Muslim concept of salvation; but we view Jesus as an important Messenger of God rather than His son.

Cathy Hutchison said...

D....Not rambling. I like it when people share.

Saad...thank you for clarifying the Muslim perspective. I know little of Islam except that my neighbor Syeda loved God with all her heart. (She moved and we lost touch. I miss her.)

Again, thank you both for sharing.

Ben Jumper said...

Great post Cathy. Excellent perspective. But I think you're missing one important element, as D Herrod alluded to: choice.

While I agree that God created all of man to worship Him and that he doesn't want anyone to be tortured for all of eternity, we humans have the choice to worship Him or not. We have the choice to believe what we want to believe. And I believe that it is that choice - along with some predestination, but mostly choice - that determines our fate.

Our choice to rebel against God or to not worship Him or to ignore Him and His creation leads us to be tortured for all of eternity, as you say. It is the punishment for our crime, so to speak. But the opposite choice is filled with Heavenly perfection, the likes of which we cannot imagine with our puny human minds.

D Herrod said...

I think it would be good to clarify that by worship you mean bring glory to God. Sometimes it is easy to forget that worship is not that service on Sunday morning but rather how we live our lives.

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