Dec 14, 2013

Question



I received a beautiful and honest email that took me a while to respond to, probably because of its scope and my feelings of inadequacy in responding well...  in that I ask the same question often.  I read something this morning that reminded me of the email and that provided a small hand hold for my clamber up the cliff of "What does this all mean?"  Here is the question and my response:

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Could you fully explain your understanding of the Christian doctrine that the salvation of man (meaning entering heaven) is based on accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Without this, man will go to hell after life on earth. Take your time in your response. I know this is a tough question. But, this is a conversation I had wanted all my life with someone as thoughtful as you. All other Christian could only give me black and white answers. For me, black and white answers, if true, = Cruel God. 

A bit of my background, I was raised in a very religious Christian family (Lutherans). My crisis of faith really took hold at the age of 14 born out of a sense of social injustice.  At 13 or so, I learned about Anne Frank and her early death. I became obsessed to know if Anne Frank went to heaven or not. According to all the Christian rules I was taught, she went to Hell. I asked my Pastor, Sunday school teacher, parents.....no one could give me a satisfying answer. But no one outright told me that she is not in hell. They only reinforced the idea that only through Jesus can one enter the gates of heaven. I realized that if the Christian doctrine was taken literally, then Anne Frank is in hell. And if true, then the God I was taught to love and blindly obey was a very cruel God.  For Anne Frank was no different than me. Just a young girl obeying the religion of her parent. Now she is in hell because she just so happen to be born in a Jewish family and not a Christian family.

What also complicates things is that I am adopted from Korea. I came here at the age of 5. I came to realize that this also means that all my ancestors, before the arrival of Western missionaries, went to hell. None of those ancestors even had a chance at heaven.

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I was reading from C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain this morning, and I came across a passage that might speak to your question far more eloquently than I could.  Here's what Lewis wrote:

Some will not be redeemed.  There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of Scripture, and, specially, Our Lord's own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.  If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it.  If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make the surrender but himself (though many can help him to make it) and he may refuse.  I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, "All will be saved." But my reason retorts, "Without their will, or with it?"  If I say, "Without their will," I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary?  If I say, "With their will," my reason replies, "How if they will not give in?"

So there's the logical answer, laid out in a beautiful Lewis style.

I think a deeper question underlying what you wrote about is, is God truly good?  I had a spiritual director who taught me that we come to God by way of three of his attributes: his beauty, his truth, and his goodness.  Ideally, we believe all are at 100%, and we are drawn to all at 100%.  But we don't live in an ideal world.  For me, I'm ~40% beauty, ~90% truth, and ~10% goodness.  In this season in my life, in particular, I really wrestle with God's goodness.  A good God would have a way for kindness and mercy to prevail.  If Anne Frank never had the opportunity to reject him or choose him, a good God would provide a way.  Now, do I believe that he's truly Good?  I guess I do 10% of the time :).  But I think the question to wrestle with is whether you believe God is good.  If you do, then the eternal fate of souls becomes a matter of trusting in his goodness...  and his beauty and his truth, as well.

Yours is a question that people far wiser than we have struggled with for millenia.  I think this means there's not a simple answer.  

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Do you struggle with this question?  What are your answers?