So, in a moment of frustration- or two, really, since I posted the first question and then added the second at a later time- I posted some questions that frustrate me.
The first one I have trouble understanding is how people can spew bile and hate out of their mouths towards others, and still claim to be proclaiming the Gospel - the Good
The second was why people are afraid of or threatened by the idea that God's love and mercy and grace are big enough for EVERYONE.
I believe that the answer to the first branches off from the answer to the second. I'll try my best to articulate the thoughts that I've been thinking about these questions, perhaps provide some insight, but I do not claim to know the answer to these questions.
I just finished reading The Great Divorce
by CS Lewis. It's a great, short read which illustrates an idea about what the afterlife could look like. Hell is a dull, dreary, lifeless city stuck in perpetual dusk. Heaven is a lush, vibrant, beautiful land dwelling in the constant promise of sunrise. Those living in Hell are allowed to take field trips to Heaven, where they are greeted by people whom they knew when they were alive and who are now living in Heaven. The residents of Heaven try their best to convince the residents of Hell to stay in Heaven, but the residents of Hell are often too strongly attached to their earthly ways and are unable to really see the grace and mercy and love that is being offered to them, and they almost all decide to take the return trip to Hell.
Many of the residents of Hell were inidgnant that certain people were allowed in Heaven and they weren't. They list all of the good things that they had done, and then condemn the life the other had lived. The can't imagine how someone "like that" was able to get into Heaven while they were sent to Hell.
And I think that's a big part of it. We try to stuff God's grace and love and mercy into a human sized box. We try to make God think and look and act like us. God thinks what we think. God loves only those who we love. God doesn't like anything that we don't like. We try to make God something that we are comfortable with, that upholds what we believe to be important. People who claim to know or believe in a God that is different than what we think God should be can be threatening. It's the slippery slope idea. If what that person says is true, we think, and God isn't necessarily in the image of a human male like I believe God to be... then what other things that I hold dear might be false? If I could be wrong in that instance, what else am I wrong about? And we, as humans, don't like to be wrong. We like to think we have all the answers. So, we'll fight tooth and nail to prove that the God we believe in is right. We'll pull out all the little bits and pieces of the Bible that support our arguments. "See!" we'll shout. "Right here Jesus says to address God as Father! Therefore God MUST be masculine!" or, "See! Right here, in these two verses, it says that what you are doing is an abomination. Therefore, it must be true!" To think that God might love and care for, and hope to bring unto Godself, even those people that we don't understand (or are afraid of) makes us uncomfortable. We, in our human minds, cannot fathom to think that people we don't like and don't agree with could find a place in Heaven, alongside the people we like and consider to be wholesome and worthy. It doesn't mesh with what we believe to be right and true and just.
Therefore, if someone believes in something that doesn't mesh with OUR beliefs, then it follows that their beliefs don't mesh with God's beliefs, too. Or if they behave in a way that we don't consider appropriate and moral, then they must be behaving in a way that God considers inappropriate and immoral, as well. Therefore they must be wrong. And if they're wrong, then they must be going to Hell. And because we've tried our damndest to stuff God into this box, and this small box is all we'll allow ourselves to see, we are able to believe that God is okay with it. God only saves those who act the way I act and believe what I believe. Of course "those people" will go to Hell. And they pull out their bits and pieces of Scripture and yell them outloud and believe that they are preaching what God wants them to preach. They think God wants them condemning people to Hell, calling people abominations and shunning others because they are different. They really think that what they're doing is out of love for the other, not out of hate or ignorance or misunderstanding or fear. They really think that they are proclaiming Good News.
In The Great Divorce
, if the residents of Hell are able to let go of the beliefs and ideas, that are most likely the reasons they ended up in Hell in the first place, they are given new bodies and are able to remain in Heaven. It is then that they see that everything that happened during their life on earth was actually a part of their time in Heaven and are able to see the joy and glory in everything that happened to them during that time. They also realize that the time they spent in Hell was not actually Hell, but more like purgatory. However, if they choose to go back and remain in Hell they keep their ghostly bodies and they see that everything in their life on earth was actually a part of their time in Hell, and they lose sight of the joy and love they experienced on earth and it is overshadowed by the sin and evil that they experienced.
Now, I am definitely not claiming what side of the bus trip I'll end up on. I deliberately used "we" in the above paragraphs as a way to remind myself of the ways that I put God in a box, as well, and try to make God into something I'm comfortable with. I know that it is not just the conservative evangelicals or any one type of Christian that is culpable of doing that. We all are at one time or another. But, I do see some correlation between what some people profess and believe and the distinction between Heaven and Hell in The Great Divorce
If we believe that God is a God of grace and mercy and love, then we can focus on the joy and love in every person and experience here on earth. But if we believe that God is a God of anger and judgment, constantly focusing on our sins, then it would be hard to focus on the joy and love in every person and experience because we would be focused on the sin and transgressions.
I believe that God is a God of love and grace and mercy and compassion that transcends all human hoping. I believe that God's greatest desire is that all of God's children be reconciled to one another and to God. I believe that God will not rest until all of God's children are gathered together, and I don't believe that God subscribes to the same exceptions of which we, as humans, are guilty.
So those are my thoughts and ideas concerning the questions. Feel free to add your own!
p.s. Happy Independence Day (to my USAmerican readers), Happy normal 4th of July to everyone else!