Friday, February 10, 2012

Another Post on Hell: The God of Our Preference

"To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation  as is cooperation with good. Throw us in Jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory." -Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Martin Luther King Jr. said some crazy stuff, didn't he? The above quote has got to be among my favorites... no wonder that when he died, 75% of Americans were against him, even 55% of Black people were against him. Because, as Cornel West has said, "...he was too loving. When you love poor people that much... that makes you the freest man in the country, or the freest woman in the country, but you're also the biggest threat..."

So some have argued that the more open, Christian Universalist perspective, which embraces the hope that God wants to save all that God has created and will one day be victorious in this endeavor, i.e. the idea for which Rob Bell allows room in his book Love Wins, the idea that a gospel void of an eternal Hell is still the gospel, is a distortion of God's character into the image of our preference. In other words, we're describing the god we want and not the God revealed in scripture. But, for a moment, let's turn the tables on this... have we demonstrated in our practice a preference for the radically loving and ridiculously forgiving? Do we really want a God who loves rapists and racists? Do we really want a God who's willing to let us off the hook for our sin? No! We usually demand a god of fury and violence. Just as the Jewish people of Jesus' day had expected a warrior on a white horse (but got a peace-loving carpenter on a donkey), so we too expect Christ to return with fire in his eyes and a sword in his hand (instead, according to Revelation, we're gonna get a sacrificed lamb and a dude with a sword in his mouth). A God of love, a God who refuses to give up on us, a God who refuses to stop loving us, a God who will not let death have the last word... even for people who reject him... is hardly a God of our choosing.

And so what if God said this...
"To my most bitter opponents I say: I shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with my capacity to endure it. I shall meet your physical force with a steadfast love. Do to me what you will, I will keep on loving you. I cannot, with any degree of authenticity conform to what you want me to be. I can't react the way you react because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw me in Jail, and I shall still love you. Reject me and mock me with your actions. Bomb my people and molest my children, and I shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into my church at the midnight hour, torture me and leave us half dead, crucify me and put my body in a tomb and I shall still love you. But be assured that I will wear you down by my capacity to suffer for you. One day I shall win freedom, but not only for me and my own people. I shall so appeal to your heart--you evil sinner, you person who has rejected the gift of eternal life--that I shall win you in the process, and my victory will be a double victory."

What if we took seriously the phrase, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us... while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him...", as a demonstration of God's character?

I don't think we'd choose that God. We certainly didn't choose Martin Luther King, Jr. But, on the flip side, we have chosen violence, we have chosen retribution. Time and time again we have demonstrated our preference for a God who'll send folks to Hell, whose justice would trump God's love, whose victory would come through the death of others rather than from his own death. Whatever we do with this, I think it requires that we stop accusing people of casting God in their own image whenever they express a hope that God's love might just be that big!

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