I am an external processor. I think best when I'm talking, which means that more often than is probably acceptable to admit, I end up talking to myself. I can make better sense of my thoughts when I say them out loud. Sometimes that makes journaling or blogging hard, because I can't organize my thoughts as well if I don't talk it out, but once I talk it out, I don't feel the need to write things down as much. Tonight I had a great conversation with a friend, and I wanted to write down some of the thoughts that came out.
I'm not sure it would be entirely accurate to call me a skeptic. I think it would be more fair to say that while I do have some firm beliefs, I also have a lot of questions. I used to feel really frustrated and sometimes guilty that I had all these questions but no satisfactory answers. Lately I've come to a place of being at peace even when I don't have the concrete answers I'd like.
Tonight I went with a few friends to a showing of a documentary called "Hellbound?" It was basically a look at some of the different schools of thought on hell. Three main schools of thought were shared: eternal torment, annihilation, and universalism, although annihilation was touched upon only briefly. I found it fascinating to watch people talk about their different views, the different ways the Church has viewed hell throughout history, and the different cultural and political aspects of power. It was a well-filmed documentary, and I think it's a great conversation starter. Here are some of my thoughts after watching the documentary and a Q & A with the director (Kevin Miller) and one of the interviewees (Greg Boyd).
I kept thinking about how my pastor quotes a verse from Romans 2 about how it is kindness that leads to repentance. People don't change their lives because someone tells them how horrible they are. I know that some people will pray for salvation out of fear, but I don't think true transformation occurs when people are just looking for fire insurance (a safeguard against hell).
There are so many things I don't know. When I was younger, it really freaked me out when my black and white world started to crumble. In college my experience of the world didn't line up with some of the things I'd always believed, and it created great cognitive dissonance. I didn't know how to believe that God loved me and had a plan for me when life was so hard, so painful. I had so many questions and no answers, and I felt guilty that I even had questions.
Over the last year, and particularly the last six months, my faith has matured and deepened, and I think that is in large part due to a shift in how I view the questions I have. I feel free to ask questions and admit that maybe I'm wrong. I used to think that if a non-Christian friend asked me a tough question and I didn't have a definitive answer, it would turn them away from God and it would be my fault if they went to hell. I used to get genuinely panicked at the thought of trying to save all my friends and family from hell, because if it was real and it was awful, I had to save them, and of course it was my job to save them. All I knew how to do was argue that I was right about heaven and Jesus. But arguments don't save people. Judging people doesn't save them. Why would they want to enter into a religion that is largely known for judging and condemning people?
Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything you have and to love your neighbor. If I think about that in the big picture, I feel so free. All I have to do is love Jesus the best way I know how, to learn and grow and seek him, and then love the people around me. Treat them kindly; offer them help and support. Really, if all Christians stopped fighting about the details and just started loving people, don't you think the world would be a different place? When I think about the hot-button sin topics of today, I wonder if those are really the things that matter. If we stopped looking at certain sins like we're looking through a telescope and instead took a step back and looked for ways to love each other, wouldn't that be an amazing place to live? I'm not perfect. Far from it. And even though I've grown a lot, I'm never going to achieve perfection. So why do I expect other people to achieve something that I can't? Why is there an expectation of instant perfection instead of valuing the process and journey? Maybe it's enough if someone loves Jesus and tries their best to follow Him. We're never going to agree on the perfect list of things you have to do and say or not do or say in order to get to heaven, because that's not how grace works. If we're all works in progress, why don't we stop nitpicking the journey some people end up taking as long as they're walking towards Jesus? Maybe if we walked with them for a bit, we'd see how hard their walk is and appreciate that they're doing their best.
I have discovered that I love reading Rachel Held Evans' blog (www.rachelheldevans.com). Some of the things she writes or links to are uncomfortable. I don't agree with everything. But she's not afraid to ask tough questions, to ask that we read the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be. Even when her views seem controversial against the mostly conservative views with which I'm accustomed, she treats people with dignity and respect. The comments from her readers spark discussion and thought, and I've learned that I do not have to agree with every point of a person's theology in order to respect them as a human being. I don't have to be definitively right about everything. When I enter into a conversation and I'm not put on the defensive right away, there is room for me to truly listen and reflect. Reading opinions that differ from mine has helped me to explore if my beliefs are based on things I've been told to believe or things I've read and discerned for myself. I actually found myself feeling more respected and elevated as a woman and as a person after I allowed myself to discard some beliefs I'd had simply because that's all I knew growing up.
I hope that I continue to ponder some of the questions and issues that have popped up lately. I want to be open to the possibility that other people might have insight where I do not, and I want to continue to learn to love people whether they agree with me or not. If I really trust God, then I want to trust that He is in control and doesn't need me to run the world for Him.