Belief in Jesus brings her mainly self-condemnation and stress

partyon

Dear John!

I’ve been reading some of your texts, searching for information and help, but I still can’t find the peace I need.

I think it’s safe to say I have always been a Christian. But I never really feel good enough to be one. It’s almost as if I—and also a great many Christians online, for sure—have turned the love of Jesus into a Big Rule Book of what to do and not do. Who’s right and who’s not. And searching for answers to my main question, “How can I feel free, and still be perfect enough for God?” has almost made me want to turn into an atheist. Or, if not an atheist, the sort of Christian who believes that God’s love is not something I simply have, but rather something that I must constantly earn.

I know in theory that God loves me. But is that love really mine, no matter what? Because it seems to come with so many rules. Don’t be gay, don’t get drunk, don’t lust for someone (whatever that means), etc., etc. There is this feeling of guilt that I always have, that comes from thinking I basically hurt God whenever I want to do something crazy, like get drunk, party, lust for someone, curse, and so on.

Because of God I lack that feeling of freedom that seems so … human.

It’s getting so that I feel like believing in Jesus is mostly for me an exercise in pain, agony, and stress. It’s starting to feel as if the whole idea behind Christianity is that I don’t have a free will anymore—or, rather, that I do, but that I better use it carefully, and not do anything that I actually want to do: that I better do only what God wants me to—or at least what I think God wants me to. Nothing else. Nothing that I might want to do.

So my question for you, John is this: Do you have any tips or ideas on how to change my view of Jesus and “The Rules”? Is believing, in and of itself, enough? Or does believing come with all these stipulations that must be obeyed? How can I be free? I really appreciate it if you have time to answer. Best regards.

Best regards. I love that. (And also the exclamation point of the salutation. The best.)

Dear Letter Writer!

You’ve put your finger directly upon the primary problem of being not just a Christian, but a human. Everyone—Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, agnostic, New Ager—is forever being torn between what they want to do, and what they know they should do.

Life would be sooooo awesome if the only things we ever wanted to do were things we know we should do.

Raw broccoli would be so delicious! Alcohol would be a health tonic! Braining our boss with a stapler would get us a raise!

But, alas, that’s not the system we’re in.

Pffft. God. You think he’d make us a system we could actually enjoy.

Here’s my short answer: Do what you want. God, I promise you, will continue to fully and in every last way love you, no matter what you do. God’s love is one hundred percent unconditional; it does not depend upon anything you do or don’t do. Okay? You’re in. You’re safe. God’s not tracking your behavior or thoughts to discern whether or not you’re worthy of his love. It’s already been decided: You are.

But you know who is tracking your behavior? You know who, on a moment-by-moment basis, is deciding if you’re good enough—worthy enough, honorable enough, decent enough, smart enough … everything enough?

You, that’s who. You, you, you.

And we’re all exactly the same way. Every single person in the world is constantly internally monitoring and evaluating their own moral worth.

We’re all just … stuck doing that. It comes with having a conscience.

Having a conscience is, in a word, a bitch. It just … hurts, all the time. Because we’re always doing stuff that we know we shouldn’t: we’re forever lusting, and being selfish, and greedy, and small-minded, and intolerant, and rude, and just … acting like a petulant, spoiled child, basically. At best.

But that’s … the game. That we must forever suffer a conscience made freshly guilty from something we’ve done, said, or thought is one of the Big Rules of being human. And it’s one that no one escapes. Plebeian, pastor, prophet, Pope: everybody is automatically strapped into their seat on that lifelong roller-coaster.

You’re just human. And that means you’re destined to constantly do things that leave you feeling unworthy of not just the love of God, but of love generally.

And when you do feel that way, it’s a terrific time to be a Christian. It’s the time to be a Christian. Because then you can just take your guilty conscience to the cross of Jesus, get down on your knees, and beg for the forgiveness that Christ died to make sure you’d never forget was always there for the asking.

And boom—you’re back on your feet again: all cleaned up, and ready for your next fall in the dirt.

 

See also: Born into sin” just means “born,” period; and The entire human experience in 900 words.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Michelle P.

    Dear Letter Writer,

    This is such a great letter, and I love your honesty. Not all of us are able to be so open and honest. You wrote this: “Because it seems to come with so many rules. Don’t be gay, don’t get drunk, don’t lust for someone (whatever that means), etc., etc. ” that I really felt that I should respond to.

    I don’t think that there really is a list of “don’ts” in God’s love. I was taught by a wonderful pastor that the 10 Commandments can be categorized in two parts. One part is ‘relationship with God’ and the other is ‘relationship with others.’ Jesus really addressed this when asked what the greatest, most important commandment is. He said, “Love God and love your neighbor.” That is the ESSENCE of all God’s “rules.” Love. Period. If you act in love, you can’t go wrong. Sounds simple, I know. And in our messy, imperfect world, it isn’t always simple, but it really has freed me up about my relationship with God to remember that it all comes down to love. I can swear and love at the same time. Gay people certainly can love and be loved. Lusting for someone? As long as you continue to think about them as a human being, and not an object, and treat them as such, that only seems like admiring the person God created (even if that is just about the physical beauty).

    I don’t know, I could be full of crap. But, in the end, even this post has been written in a spirit of love, so I don’t feel like I’m going wrong. :)

  • Scott Amundsen

    There’s a great book that deals with, among other things, exactly what this writer is wrestling with. It’s called SAVING JESUS FROM THE CHURCH: HOW TO STOP WORSHIPING CHRIST AND START FOLLOWING JESUS, by Robin R Meyers. It’s awesome, full of insights and eye-openers, and best of all, unlike a lot of scholarly works, it’s an easy read, accessible even to people for whom reading is a chore (like my husband).

  • Jonathan Vitale

    This response is a bit troubling, “God, I promise you, will continue to fully and in every last way love you, no matter what you do.”

    God will love you, and that’s it? Stop there, don’t worry about God, he’s okay with whatever you do, as long as you are good with it? Forgetting God for a moment, this implies that our morality is completely subjective. If I felt good about braining my boss with a stapler (and presumably I could get away with it), God would be good with it?

    Now you may say that we have some built-in capacity for knowing what is objectively right or wrong, but I’m not so sure. There are many things that I feel wrong about, which others do not – and vice-versa.

    So getting back to God. God may love indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is indifferent. Our pain, including that which we cause to others, is God’s pain (Jesus’ death illustrates this) – regardless of whether we are okay with our own actions or not.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Stopped reading at “as long as you’re good with it.” Cuz I never said that. No fair putting words in my mouth and then complaining about those words.

      • Jonathan Vitale

        I’m not paraphrasing you, I’m asking you to address the role of objective moral truth. Also, I’m not convinced that the original writer’s inclination that he is in fact “hurting God” by doing immoral things doesn’t hold some validity. As I said, that’s my interpretation of Jesus’ death. I’m sorry if you feel like I’m bitching at you.

        • Jonathan Vitale

          *complaining* about your words, I mean, of course.

        • Lymis

          God does love you no matter what. As John said, how you feel about yourself is a different issue, and not one worth ignoring.

          There’s a big distinction between “feeling good about braining your boss with a stapler” and “feeling that braining your boss with a stapler would feel good.”

          How God deals with actual sociopaths is a topic for another day.

          • Jill

            I wish I knew how you do it, Lymis. You answer the questions my mind has yet to cohesively form.

            Because I do think about that stapler-meeting-boss’-head thing from time to time. But only for a little while. Then I go make some tea and forget all about it. I feel much better now.

          • Jonathan Vitale

            Of course living with our own conscience is important, I get that.

            But the question of how God responds to our actions is what I’m asking about. A father or mother might love his or her child unconditionally, that doesn’t mean that the child is never punished.

            I’m not a hellfire and damnation person, but I think that our actions must count for something deeper than our own conscience. Otherwise, what’s the point of this life?

          • charles

            the core issue here is that when Jesus went to the Cross- he paid for all of humanities sin. We also know that no one can “earn” their salvation- that is something only done via grace.

            the acknowledgement of those things is what provides the “true north” that informs all of our decisions after recognition of salvation. It is only through Gods grace that we can allow the good to come through us-

            Galatians 5/1 – “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness”

            Of course, thats not to say one needs to be saved, or even know about God to do good things- except that as John said- it doesnt really matter what we do, because our salvation can never be earned. And we also cannot lose sight that we are not perfected here in this life… we still suffer temptation and succumb to it on a minute by minute basis… yet still God keeps his promises.

          • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

            Charles gets it by referring to grace. It is *ALL* because of grace. (Or as I said earlier, all because God loved us — in the beginning.)

            In Jeremiah 31:3 “”I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

            So, Jonathan, there is the unconditional love that John talked about. But yes, of course we have a conscience. And I believe our Father does correct us when the Holy Spirit convicts us of something we’ve said or done that wasn’t good for us, or wasn’t loving towards another.

          • Jonathan Vitale

            I’m sorry, I just don’t get this whole grace thing. What does it mean to “fall away from Grace” in the Galatians paragraph? I’m more of a saved by Good Works sort of Christian – i.e., a Catholic. It just seems to me that our actions mean something in a greater scheme.

          • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

            The portion of the Galatians passage you are talking about is this:

            “I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

            What Paul means about “have fallen away from grace.” is that those who believed in circumcision believed that it was necessary for their salvation. Paul says that circumcision is part of the Law, and that if they rely on circumcision they are then required to obey the entire Law. But the Law cannot save us. Because nobody can keep the Law, except Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the Law FOR US. Grace is interpreted by many Christians as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”

            In Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)

            8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

            9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

            We cannot be saved by works. We are saved by grace. It is a gift of God, and it is only received by faith. I believe that our works will show that we are His.

            Lymis said it this way: “And when you love someone wonderful, you naturally want to live up to their image of you, to please them, to live up to the standards that they set, and that love inevitably results in the process of coming to behave and think in ways that they do – we naturally change to reflect those we love back to them.”

          • Jonathan Vitale

            So it seems that from this perspective we should either believe:

            1) Calvinism – God chooses who is and who is not saved, our works are just a reflection of God’s pre-ordained choice.

            2) Everyone is saved. If this is so, it seems like there is no point to life. Also, I feel like a lot of passages would contradict this view.

            Just because salvation is God’s gift, doesn’t necessarily mean it is given unconditionally.

          • Scott Amundsen

            “Everyone is saved. If this is so, it seems like there is no point to life.”

            Really? The concept that no one is ultimately going to spend an eternity in the agonies of hellfire (someone ELSE of course) renders your life meaningless?

            You have illustrated something I have been saying for decades: some “Christians” use their faith as a tool to feel morally superior to others and will tell you at nauseating length how GOOD they are and how BAD you are.

            Nice.

          • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

            Easy there, Scott. He told us in the message just before the one you quote from, that he’s a Catholic. Your conclusion isn’t necessarily the foregone conclusion of his comment. It may be, that he has gotten the message that works do, in fact, bring about one’s salvation. He needs to be shown the truth with mercy and compassion. The very comment you quoted was not even faintly suggested by anything I or anyone else said, so he may have just become exasperated and not known what else to think at the moment.

          • http://notjustablondemomwith3boys.blogspot.com Not Just A Blonde

            Scott, I think that’s because he may feel so deeply unworthy and can’t believe that we can get into Heaven just by accepting an invitation! I believe it’s his fear of not being worthy that caused him to “out-worthy” others to secure his spot. Or… it’s just a theory that helps me forgive. ;)

          • Scott Amundsen

            “I believe it’s his fear of not being worthy that caused him to “out-worthy” others to secure his spot.”

            A common affliction in the Church these days.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            I have no problem with everyone being saved. To me it is consistent with God loving us so much that condemning us was never part of the plan.

          • Jill

            Absolutely. Works, whether faithful or not, are about how we treat one another. Does my behavior cause pain or create hope? Do we see the brilliance of God’s handiwork in every human?

            But those works, whether faithful or not, have no bearing on whether God loves us. And I am not of a mind to believe that works have bearing on salvation.

          • Lissy

            I also thought that, Scott. Like the only point to live is “getting saved” before everyone else does and then “outdo” everyone else’s good works? Really?

          • Scott Amundsen
          • Matt

            Of course our actions mean something, to our fellow human beings and ourselves.

            But grace (as I understand it) doesn’t work like that. By grace, you appear before God already good enough. You can’t earn it.

            In the Galatians paragraph, I think to “fall away from grace” means to get caught up in the details and forget God’s bigger picture. Humans do this so much it’s almost amusing (and I am definitely human). We focus on “how to follow the rules the best” and not “how to be of ultimate help to our fellow human being/organism.”

          • charles

            Jonathan, I can only speak from own understanding- so please dont think this a terribly learned, but as far as Salvation is concerned- the precondition is really accepting that Jesus did die on the Cross to pay for the sin of all of humanity- Even the most detestable among us- God is the only one who knows the timeline of each persons life, and is allowed to do whatever he pleases- so even someone like Richard Dawkins, who has spent considerable time dismissing the “fairy tale” of God and salvation might at some point later in his life change his mind. We can only see backward in what people do (at least in public) we cannot forecast the way God may speak to them in the future. This is sort of why I have embraced a very simplistic (and perhaps ignorant, which I do hope God will help me with) view of the Scriptures in that I do only concern myself with the two greatest Commandments, and have faith that every other aspect of my life will fall into conformity if I just try to fulfill them. I should add that I fail in keeping just those two commandments on a daily basis- but indeed, I cleve to the hope that his Grace will overcome all of my failings and self hatred. That being said- the rest of the book is not invalidated, but simply is supported by those two core pillars of Gods power and love for His creation.

          • Jonathan Vitale

            Charles, is then, the majority of humanity damned?

            God isn’t concerned with our works he’s concerned with our loyalty?

          • Lymis

            Charles, even if a precondition for salvation is some form of accepting the sacrifice of Jesus, it doesn’t automatically follow that the form that acceptance takes is an intellectual assent to the doctrines of Christianity, a recognition in any form of the human life of Jesus, or even that it must happen during our time on earth while we live in human bodies.

            I think it is always a mistake to start by limiting God to human options, and a larger one to limit God to specific sectarian human interpretations.

            Reread the story of Mary and Martha with a wider view – people can interact with the Christ in different ways, and it’s not our place to condemn what someone else has chosen.

          • http://notjustablondemomwith3boys.blogspot.com Not Just A Blonde

            Years ago I read a book called The Grace Awakening… it’s a fantastic book that helped me understand that God does not save me by what I do, but by His Grace alone. Freedom is His blessing!

            http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0849911885

          • charles

            Jonathan- quite to the contrary- no one is inherently damned. All can accept the work of Christ on the Cross. I would be interested in the logic that lead you to think that all of humanity was inherently damned actually. When Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, he didnt damand anything from them. When he said the robber who was with him at Calvary that he would be saved due to his belief that Jesus was the Lord, he didnt condemn him for his life of crime either. Jesus was also condemned by the Pharisees for spending time with prostitutes, tax collectors and others seen as unholy- I am not exactly sure how you would square his passion for the lost vs the attitude of the “righteous”. I also think of the parable of the wise young ruler when considering what Salvation means and how we are to engage it. I am sure there are better responses that address the topic more eloquently.

          • Karl

            Any good works, any law that we attach ourselves too that causes us to think that what we are doing pleases God is “filthy rags” as God puts it. Remember Cain and Abel? Abel offered up a lamb that he didn’t not labour and his offering was acceptable, but Cain’s offering of vegetables that he had laboured to plow, seed and grow was rejected. The simple fact is, “No flesh shall glory in His presence.” Christ was the only one that could obey the dreadful law of Moses.. It was dreadful because if anyone were to break one iota, the law demanded retribution. Some poor animal had to die each and every time someone transgressed the law. It was a bloody scene on the Temple mount. But the animal sacrifice was enough because the animal had no will of it’s own to obey. Christ came and obeyed the law in it’s entirety. “For what the law could not do through the flesh, God sending His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemn sin in the flesh”. He overcame through obedience, something which was impossible for us to do. I find it incredible that people today want to be obey the law to which was impossible to live by. If we could successfully live by it, there was no reason for Christ death. The law was no removed, it was fulfilled. Man has no obligation to keeping it because the One Christ Jesus obeyed it for us and because the law demanded Justice for mankind to die because of multiple transgressions, Christ in our stead, died and paid the full price for our redemption so that we who believe should not be condemned with the world. “For by grace are we saved through faith, not of works lest any man should boast.”

          • Jonathan Vitale

            Jesus flaunted the law repeatedly. As far as I can see Jesus came to simplify the law: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself. What’s the point of the latter commandment if there is no accountability for your action here on Earth (save “accepting Jesus as your personal savior”)?

          • Lymis

            “But the question of how God responds to our actions is what I’m asking about. ”

            Surely, the only options God has for consequences (assuming it’s even part of God’s agenda for us) are not limited solely to some sort of hands-off choice between eternal damnation and eternal reward. That seems a bit, well, lacking in nuance, if nothing else.

            Add in the idea that we’re supposed to be basing all this on, that we don’t stop being people just because our bodies are dead, and it opens up a huge number of other options beyond just what happens within our human lifetimes.

            Yes, parents punish children. But very often, parents also sit down with their children and say, “Here’s a towel. Here’s a bandage. Let’s talk about just why you thought doing that was such a bright idea in the first place.”

            The healthiest adults are people who were taught by their parents to think things through, have a sense of the consequences of their actions, and are supported in making decisions that work for them in the context of a life lived with integrity.

            The most damaged and insecure and unhealthy adults are often the people who were constantly threatened, physically abused, and trained to feel that anything other than utter perfection has dire, possibly deadly, consequences, especially if the standards by which they were to be judged were humanly unattainable.

            Why do so many people insist that God is only capable of the behaviors we associate with criminally bad human parenting?

            Eternal damnation seems a bit of an overreaction to some of the things people seem to think God gets worked up about, and yet, that seems to be the only option in many people’s minds.

          • usingmyvoicewell

            “Why do so many people insist that God is only capable of the behaviors we associate with criminally bad human parenting?”

            Lymis, I believe it’s because so many people are the products of criminally bad human parenting. Remember that sexual and/or physical abuse constitute criminal acts. (Emotional and mental abuse is just as bad, if not worse, and harder to prove.) So unfortunately, the phrase “God the Father” presents a major obstacle for many of us, at least initially.

            How do you wrap your brain around a concept of Father (especially the Highest of the High) as good, kind, loving, let alone unconditionally loving, if you’ve never experienced that, and instead experienced much the opposite for at least the first eighteen YEARS of your life? That takes a HUGE amount of very difficult work; I can attest to it. (It’s worse when you believe, even subconsciously, as do most victims of childhood abuse, that you somehow *deserved it*.)

            So in those cases, the concept of God as judgmental, wrathful, and terrifying ‘fits’ the person’s experience. And if you don’t put a lot of personal work into rethinking what you have been taught and lived with, you’ll stay with the notion that God IS that way and you are NOT worthy. Ever.

            Plus, we in America come from Puritannical roots. During the days of my early childhood in the Nazarene Church, the rules were: Don’t dance; don’t wear makeup; don’t wear shorts; don’t watch movies, etc. (I always shortened it to: “Don’t Have Fun.” :) That denomination has now eliminated most of those self-imposed “rules”, BUT for me and the hundreds of thousands like me who trusted *the Church* to give us ultimate directions and understanding, it’s been a mind game. I believe it was a power game and a game of control, as well, but that’s another topic altogether.

            I now believe in keeping it SIMPLE, and I usually walk (sometimes RUN) away from theological arguments. I’m not God. I don’t know what God thinks. I only know my own experience(s) and my own relationship with what I call: God/Christ/Higher Power.

          • Lymis

            “I’m not a hellfire and damnation person, but I think that our actions must count for something deeper than our own conscience. Otherwise, what’s the point of this life?”

            Well, one guy got asked that once, and his answer was something along the lines of “to love God with your whole heart and soul, and, oh by the way, while you’re at it, love your neighbor as yourself.”

            What’s the point of any of the wonderful things in human life? Being punished if you get them wrong?

            Learning to cook a wonderful meal to share with your friends and loved ones? Dancing with your beloved? Holding your child? Overlooking a beautiful garden, especially one you’ve nurtured and cultivated? Singing wonderfully to the glory of God or just for the joy of singing? Being a friend to someone through your mutual ups and downs and knowing that you are there for those you love and that those you love are there for you?

            Would you say that the point of any of those, or a million other things like them is that you will be brutally and mercilessly punished if you don’t do them perfectly? Wouldn’t we, even as humans, say that such a punishment hanging over any one of those things would suck even the possibility of genuine joy or love out of them?

            Why, then, can’t we even imagine that God could have reasons other than eternal damnation hanging over us for wanting us to live a live of joy, love, integrity, and compassion?

            How come everyone is so absolutely committed to the idea that God is such a jerk?

          • Jonathan Vitale

            >How come everyone is so absolutely committed to the idea >that God is such a jerk?

            Maintaining justice is not being a jerk. I actually don’t believe in the heaven/hell dichotomy (the Catholic notion of purgatory makes more sense to me as a model) – but that’s besides the point. If those who did tremendous evil on this Earth aren’t meant to pay for their crimes (e.g. Hitler) in comparison to your run of the mill atheist who happens to be a really good person, that would make God a jerk. That’s why works matter.

          • Lymis

            Again with the “only eternal damnation with no possible reprieve can be a valid punishment” idea.

            That’s like taking a shotgun to a child who didn’t make his bed one morning. A bit extreme, don’t you think. Eternity is, well, eternity.

            That’s not excusing the awful things people do, especially the really awful people. But remember, all the people who were the victims of even the worst possible imaginable tragedies are eternal and eternally beloved of God as well.

            Seen from God’s perspective, nothing eternal was harmed – Hitler’s victims are right there with God, too, and God is certainly capable of soothing anything that some schmuck like Hitler can do.

            Human justice is critically important for human crimes. But Divine justice needs to apply to Divine crimes, and any eternal punishment for a temporary hurt, no matter how severe, seems inexcusable.

            That doesn’t in any way mean that God would leave such things unaddressed. But that’s back to fundamental fairness and justice. We need to police our corner of things and leave to God what is God’s.

          • Jonathan Vitale

            Wait, huh, you’re certainly not quoting me with the “again with the ‘only eternal damnation with no possible reprieve can be a valid punishment’ idea.” Talk about putting words in ones mouth. I just said I don’t believe in the whole hell/heaven dichotomy.

            But as far as the rest of what you wrote (which I DID read, even though you seem to put words in my mouth), I think that’s a fair point about the distinction between human and divine crimes. At least its a valid interpretation. I just don’t happen to hold it. I believe all our crimes (and our works) are connected to the divine. God feels our pain, God felt a lot of pain from Hitler’s actions, Hitler should feel a lot of pain from Hitler’s actions – that’s justice. Perhaps this is moving away from a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, but I’m okay with that.

          • Lymis

            I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the idea that human action can “hurt” God.

            Using it in a construction of how divine justice should work doesn’t work for me, either. That just makes God vindictive, even if you buy the idea that our actions hurt God.

            Jesus himself said that “an eye for an eye” isn’t God’s plan. This idea that we have to suffer for the harm we did God seems no different.

            Doesn’t work for me. That’s not the God I know.

          • Lymis

            Jonathan, you’re right, you did specifically say that you didn’t believe in the heaven/hell dichotomy. I really wasn’t trying to misquote you as much as express that I think what you are saying still reflects the same idea – maybe not literal eternal punishment, but still punishment that doesn’t match either the offense or the character of the God I believe in.

            One variation on the consequences of this life that I’ve heard proposed from some people – usually more of the New Age sort of traditions than anyone specifically Christian is the proposal that we re-experience our human lives from the point of view of everyone we impacted, and everyone that they impacted as a result, and so on. That we truly and personally deeply experience the effects our actions had on others. That’s actually not too far out of line with the parable of the sheep and goats – and if anything like that were to happen, someone like Hitler would have a thoroughly unpleasant experience – and literally, one that is exactly equal to the pain he caused to others, and that pain that their suffering and deaths caused to those who lost them, and so on.

            Not because it “hurt God” so much as because understanding exactly what impact you had and how you hurt or loved others is the baseline for understanding your own life.

            I have no idea if such at thing is at all a meaningful understanding of what goes on after life, but it certainly strikes me as in line with how the God I know would operate, and with the messages that Jesus is recorded as sharing.

            I can get behind burning off karma by re-experiencing our actions far more than I can picture a vindictive God hurting people because the didn’t live up to God’s standards and He’s ticked about it. But I freely admit that I’m unaware of anything in traditional Christian teaching (outside of the recurring deep conviction that God is a loving and compassionate God) that supports it.

            I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I suspect that all of these kinds of ideas are similar to what happens when you talk to 5 year-olds about what being a grownup and having a career is like.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do on this blog without you, Lymis.

          • Lymis

            Thank you! Wow.

          • charles

            Lymis, I think that the only precondition for Salvation mentioned in the new Testament is the acceptance of Jesus as Son of God, who takes away the sins of the world. I dont think there is any mention of salvation without that salient point- It directly squares with the notion of humans having free choice, and that the choice to believe is deliberate. Of course this allows us to wander into the realm of how Salvation might work for those unable to verbalize that choice- but that is something that is not clearly stated in the Scriptures. This also brings to mind the connundrum of “every ear will hear, and ever tongue will confess”, but that is something I will accept as an issue for God to work out. The thing that is worthy of discussion is the the notion of all being saved due to being a part of creation- which doesnt square so nicely with the text in Genesis about the original sin. Perhaps that is the real point of conflict.

          • Lymis

            I’ve never understood why the single acts of two human beings would eternally cut people off from salvation, but the act of God himself can’t reconnect us to it?

            My parents were both baptized and both accepted Jesus as their savior. Why does Adam’s sin trump my parents’ (or grandparents’) reconciliation?

            I see fetishizing human unworthiness as getting in the way of a genuine relationship to God.

            I also don’t see the Bible as the only source of connection to God. The Holy Spirit is not constrained by human words, no matter how inspired they are.

            We’re not “saved due to being a part of creation.” We’re connected to God, each individually created and beloved of God, with the Spirit of God indwelling within us, and the promise of God that not a sparrow or flower goes without the loving attention of God. We aren’t saved because we’re a part of creation. We are a part of creation because we are beloved of the eternal God.

            In any seeming conflict between God and the Bible, I pick God. You are free to make your own choices.

          • charles

            The cross was the result of that original separation. If the original temptation had never occurred, the Bible probably would be a very, very short book.

          • Lymis

            I’m honestly not sure why you feel that is some sort of meaningful response to what I said.

          • charles

            it is again the issue of free will- God does indeed offer that (Salvation) to everyone- its a matter of whether we are interested in receiving it. If Salvation was a fait accompli, or in essence pre-destined, as I am interpreting your comments there would be no need for a Savior, or the Resurrection- as far as not knowing God, and perhaps dismissing the Bible in lieu of a relationship with God- I would say that is a very vague sort of notion isnt it? It seems that if God did indeed know all would be saved, one would have to questions his motive for making this world the cruel and unreasonable place it is… that, to me, would seem capricious and not in His character.

          • Lymis

            I never said to dismiss the Bible. I said it is neither the only source of connection to God, nor is it the highest such source.

            The idea of having an actual relationship with God isn’t a “vague sort of notion” to everyone.

            God doesn’t make the world cruel and unreasonable. We do. God made us, and God made the world. How we play together in the sandbox is on us far more than it is on Him.

            I have come to more and more deeply understand that we don’t understand just what is going on or what the world is “for” and that we don’t need to – what we may become has not yet come to light. All we can do is the best we know how as we are, and trust that God knows more than we do.

            Whether or not “salvation is pre-destined,” God’s love is real. That’s where I put my focus.

          • Jill

            I mean it Lymis, if I didn’t have you taking a hundred of my disarrayed thoughts and connecting them with such clear insight, I think my brain would implode.

            Your words change me. Sincerest compliment I can give.

          • Lymis

            Thank you.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            “I see fetishizing human unworthiness as getting in the way of a genuine relationship to God.”

            YES!!! Lymis YESS!!

            I’ve never understood why the single acts of two human beings would eternally cut people off from salvation, but the act of God himself can’t reconnect us to it?

            “My parents were both baptized and both accepted Jesus as their savior. Why does Adam’s sin trump my parents’ (or grandparents’) reconciliation?”

            Makes no sense to me either!

            We get so hung up on who deserves and who doesn’t deserve God’s love, who deserves salvation who doesn’t, who is or isn’t going to spend where in our imagined versions of the afterlife…when isn’t ours to decide in the first place.

            I believe Jesus when he said God loves us, I believe he meant it when he told his disciples and us to love one another, not to look down on them as inferior, condemn them, not decide their eternal fate for them, not decide whether they are inside God’s will or not, not write them off if they don’t conform to our ideals of what proper religious practices should be…but to simply love them…and we should because we’ve come to the realization how much God loves us.

            God’s love for me and for everyone, no matter how horrible we think they are is expansive beyond our ability to comprehend…A love that we can spend several hundred lifetimes trying to measure, define, or describe and only begin to scratch the surface

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            crap, editing the quotation marks around Lymis’s excellent statements not allowed.

          • Lymis

            I’m cunning like that.

          • Karl

            I just want to get a handle on what your saying. The word ‘God’ gets loosely termed around here to all loving, all merciful, all wonderful, in all that He is and thank God that that is what His Person is, I can’t help but wonder does anyone else here believe that just as much as He is a God of love that He is also a God of Judgment? King David referred to them as good trusted in them when he said, Psalms 119:43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.

            I wish to ask, is the God that your writing about the same as the gods of the Hindu’s, the god of the Muslims, the Bhudda, or are you strictly referring to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost? Many talk about God, but which one is being referred? Thanks

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Watch yourself, Karl. You’re sliding back into total dickishness.

          • DR

            You are reading us and what we write through your own filters of who God needs to be in order to justify the decisions you are making in your life. God of Love and God of Judgment are not mutually exclusive. You don’t have a God who sends His only son to die for us who tosses people into hell for a sexuality they can’t ever hope to change. You have structured what and who God is in order to stay fearful. Fear is a gift, don’t get me wrong, we were created with the ability to sense it, to sense things that can harm us. But that’s the only purpose of fear.

          • Lymis

            A perfect judge would have to know absolutely everything about someone, their history, their deepest thoughts, their conscious and unconscious motivations, the things that happened to them to mold their character, their fears and hopes and failings and dreams, as well as having a perfect understanding of exactly what they thought they were doing and how they envisioned the rules and principles and considerations that were involved. A perfect judge would need to know exactly what the consequences of their deeds and misdeeds actually were, not only in the moment, but as those consequences rippled outward and affected others, and would need to be able to place all those things in perspective with everything else, as seen through eyes capable of seeing Eternity.

            Perfect justice wouldn’t have to be some sweeping set of rules that applies “fairly” to everyone in some sort of objective manner, but would be carefully and individually crafted both to the individual and to the circumstances, and would need to be created and administered with a care and compassion that could only be possible of one who was also capable of perfect love.

            Human justice has to strike a compromise between fairness and love, between compassion and effectiveness. A human judge has to compromise between love and justice.

            God doesn’t have to do that. In God, there is absolutely no tension or compromise between love and justice, because God is capable of both, perfectly.

            I believe that human being are completely incapable of fully understanding God in all God’s glory and complexity. Any human understanding of God is limited by our limited human minds, hearts, understanding, and our limited senses and limited perspective.

            That being the case, it’s entirely possible to have the deepest possible human connection with the Divine, and come up short in a full experience and understanding of it.

            There is no different Christian God, or Muslim God, or Hindu gods, or any other god or gods. There are only imperfect human beings sensing imperfectly that which we are called by our very nature to connect to, strive towards, and be in communion with. It’s not surprising that different groups have found common ways of expressing that connection that appear to be different, and describe Who and What they are reaching toward using different cultural metaphors.

            We all get it wrong. We all get it right. We’re all human, and no image or understanding of God can be “accurate” in the sense that you are reaching for. They can, however, all be true, when seen in the appropriate context of what they actually are.

            God speaks to all of us in different ways and using different symbols and metaphors. We can come together in fellowship to share our own individual experiences of God, but we can never lose sight of the fact that God is greater than any human understanding.

            How could it possibly be otherwise?

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            Here’s my problem whenever anyone pulls out the “God of judgement” card. I see it almost without exception to suggest that this supposed merciful and gracious judge sets all that aside to heap condemnation and sentencing…in fact that seems to be the entire purpose of this supposed labeling of God.

            It is used by people to say “God judges the wicked” meaning “light the bonfires Bubba we gonna have a sinner bbq.”

            or

            “God casts judgement” meaning “Ooo boy I’m sure glad God don’t look at me that way, you future charcoal briquette.” I have never heard such a use of the words God and judge linked in anyway that is remotely positive, or loving or uplifting, or hopeful, or kind.

            Therefore I have a quite impossible time reconciling such a concept to what I perceive God to be.

          • Scott Amundsen

            What sdharris said.

          • DR

            You are remarkable.

          • Nicole

            Lymis rocks. :) He’s so steady.

          • Matt

            Indeed. He is absolutely spot-on.

            Lymis, thank you for articulating something that I have tried to put into words for so long, and in such a beautiful way.

    • DR

      Your experience of God’s love being something that leads people to subjective morality makes me wonder what you’ve really experienced of God’s Love.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    Letter Writer,

    I can so relate. I used to have such similar concerns, trying to please God according the parameters I’d been given by my church. I felt inadequate and frustrated. Somewhere along the way came the slow dawning realization that trying to please a God who was already quite pleased with me was not going to get God to like me any more. I was already in a highly favored status.

    it was then that I realized that rules are important, and that some need more than others to navigate through life. Apparently I don’t need as many as some, and may need a few more than I adhere to. The one important rule is to love God…well because I got life, and love, and butterflies, and children and grandkids, and can read, and have cats, and a job,and clean water etc etc etc….I am so grateful! And that other rule (ok its two rules) I need to love my neighbor. That means I have to think of everyone as living next door…hard but worth every minute even when its hard, even when I don’t want to.

    God has yet to discourage me or chastize me. People might, but I learned that people’s opinions have to fall behind two others. God’s and mine. If God thinks I’m pretty cool, and God should know, then I have to remember that I’m not half bad.

    Those that want to discourage, hate, belittle, judge, condemn, conform me? Well there is that line over there. Think DMV on a friday, in Los Angeles, with one clerk. She’s going on break in ten minutes.

    • Jill

      Oh yes, this.

    • Matt

      “Think DMV on a friday, in Los Angeles, with one clerk. She’s going on break in ten minutes.”

      LMFAO! Seriously, sd, imagining that scenario just made my day.

    • Lissy

      You always make so much sense!!

      “God has yet to discourage me or chastize me.” He doesn’t do that to me, either. I always feel so sad when people talk about God “punishing” people. Most of God’s interaction with me is Him telling ME to be easier on myself!

      • Matt

        Lissy,

        Thanks for your awesomely thorough encouragement of everyone here. Truly, this has been one of the best discussions, and you’ve just made it even better.

        • Lissy

          Thank you! I love deep discussions like these!

  • Jill Lillis

    A friend of mine was having the same struggles as this letter writer. One day he felt that God “said” to him: “I am not a rule. I am a life-giving Spirit.” I really love that!

    • http://notjustablondemomwith3boys.blogspot.com Not Just A Blonde

      I love it too! :)

    • Lymis

      When I had the same experience, God said to me, “Good, you finished? Can we talk now?” It really is a transformative experience.

  • Melanie D.

    Way back when I was in confirmation in an amazingly open and affirming ELCA congregation, our pastor was explaining about the ten commandments. He said that they weren’t at all about salvation, because it didn’t work that way–Christ bought our ticket to heaven and that’s a done deal. But the laws were there to help us be happy. If you go down the list, the commandments, if broken, will make you unhappy. Lusting after someone else’s spouse or their stuff? Will make you miserable. Not taking a day per week (or a moment, or an hour, just something) to recharge your spiritual batteries? Will make you unhappy. Killing, lying, stealing, cheating? These are things that have real consequences that will make you unhappy. Of course no one is perfect but God, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do our best, so that we can be happy. And God’s love is there for us regardless of where we are on our journey.

    Also some of the things the letter writer mentioned as “rules” are not really sins…everybody drank alcohol in the bible, and John and others have written a plethora of information why being gay is not a sin. And saying “fuck” is not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Holding up a sign that says “God hates fill-in-the-blank” is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Though God, in her infinite love and wisdom, loves those guys, too. They seem rather unhappy, though. :)

    • Lissy

      Great! I have always seen the Ten Commandments not as rules, but more like guidelines to be happy, as you said. They just make so much SENSE!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

    Dear Letter Writer:

    An excellent letter, and a fundamental problem or question that almost all of us, if not every last one  of us, face at times — some of us moreso than others.

    There have already been some good responses, and I find agreement with all of them, though I maybe see certain points slightly differently.

    First, when John says, “It’s already been decided. You are [deserving of God's love], my basic thought is, “Gosh no. In NO way am I deserving of God’s love on my own merits. That’s why Jesus shed His blood for me: because NO HUMAN is capable of keeping every jot and tittle of the Law.” Jesus said, “I came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill the Law.” And during His ministry, He explained what another commenter said, that all of the Law can be boiled down to, “Love God, and love your neighbor.” And He gave us many fine examples of how to do that: 

    (1) the woman taken in adultery: when the religious dogmatists who accused her insisted that she be stoned, Jesus called on the one who was without sin, to cast the first stone. Her accusers all backed off like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Jesus, when no one else was left to accuse her, said He did not either. My question is, why was the man with whom she was caught not brought also? Certainly if she truly was caught in adultery, there had to be an adulterer also! Could it be that, as we have seen recently in certain other societies that are based on religious law today, that one of them took advantage of her, merely to have reason to accuse her, and to test Jesus? We don’t know, but the lesson here is clear: Jesus looks on the heart. The accusers’ actions did not exemplify love for the woman, and that is what mattered. Jesus loved her and showed grace and mercy to her.

    (2) The Prodigal Son:  after the younger son took what he had coming from his father and left, do you think the father just wrote him off, since the son had already demanded and been given what was his? I don’t. I believe the father waited, and hoped, and wished that someday his son would come back. When the son finally did, well he got a grand and warm reception. Even though he had already received what was “owed” to him, his father still had plenty more to bless him on his return. And he did. The older son was angry. He had never left, and had always been obedient. But his heart was wrong. For he did not love his brother as he ought.

    (3) Peter: Jesus, on the night of the crucifixion, told Peter that before dawn, Peter would deny Christ 3 times. Peter couldn’t believe it. But he did. When Jesus arose, what did He do about Peter who had thrice denied Him? He loved him. And He restored him. And He commissioned Peter for the Lord’s work. See? Even when Peter failed, as we ALL do, Jesus could still use Peter. 

    And He can still use John Shore, and the others who responded to you, and me, and YOU.

    Jesus FULFILLED the Law, and then He laid down His life to pay the price for ALL our sins. Mine, John’s, yours. Right before He exhaled His last breath, He uttered the three most important words in His entire ministry. What were they?

    IT

    IS

    FINISHED

    The Bible says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We humans exist in a 3-dimensional creation, and we are bound by it. Jesus exists in a 4-dimensional reality. He is not bound by place. And He is not bound by time. He is the Alpha and the Omega; the Beginning and the End. He is from Everlasting to Everlasting.

    What does this mean? Do you grasp how important this eternal existence of God is? My personal understanding is this:

    When Jesus said those 3 words, every sin, past, present, or future, that you, or I, or anybody else EVER commits was PAID FOR IN FULL. And at the MOMENT that I BELIEVED in JESUS, EVERY SIN that I had ever committed, or ever WOULD commit, was IN THAT INSTANT  – FORGIVEN. I was made clean. I AM clean. I will ever BE clean. 

    You asked how to be free? Your BELIEF on Jesus’s sacrifice for your sins MADE you free. You ARE free. You ever WILL BE free.

    So, we don’t deserve His love. He GAVE us his love. And just like the Prodigal, ONCE A SON. ALWAYS A SON.  We need not live in bondage to the Law, for Jesus has set us free. Yes, we all miss the ideal at times. But I know, when I’ve erred in some way, the MOMENT my heart even thinks to LOOK in my Father’s direction (that SPLIT-SECOND), all is right; all is forgiven. Because it already WAS.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

      After I had written the above response, when I was driving home from work, I kept thinking “chicken or egg?” As in, which came first. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was itching me. The whole issue of “deserving” somehow seemed to me to be such a question.

      Then I got home, and I read Lymis’s response. And I got it. Which came first? God’s Love? or My Worthiness? Did God love me because I was worthy? As I stated in my previous reply, no.

      The point of the Gospel is that God Loved us. Period. End of story? No, because we were fallen in sin. So He died for us. To make us worthy. Once we believe in Jesus and the work He did on the cross, we BECOME WORTHY.

      Romans 10:10 tells us that, “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (KJV). The NIV says, “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified”. So, another word for Righteous is Just. In our discussion, we could say, “With the heart we believe and become worthy (because of what Jesus already did).”

      The line that Lymis used was, “You are worthy, because God loves you. If you feel otherwise, your feelings are mistaken.”

      Your feelings can’t (always) be trusted, because the Word tells us, “The JUST (Righteous, or Worthy) shall live by FAITH.” So when you don’t feel like you deserve God’s love, stand on the fact that the Bible says that if we believe, we ARE WORTHY.

    • usingmyvoicewell

      As Lymis reiterated above, Christ *did* boil down the commandments to two:

      (1) Love God; (2) Love your neighbor.

      As I was reading all the preceding posts just now, I thought: If you love God, that’s ‘faith’. If you love your neighbor, that’s ‘works’.

      Am loving this discussion.

      • Jill

        really well said

      • Lissy

        Wow! Never thought of it that way!

      • charles

        masterfully elegant…. huge cheers!

      • Lymis

        What a great way to think of it – and so true!

      • vj

        “If you love God, that’s ‘faith’. If you love your neighbor, that’s ‘works’.”

        Just brilliant!

  • charles

    so much win in that response John….

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thank you, Charles. Love to you.

  • Lymis

    I think John nails the answer beautifully, because it addresses both sides of the question.

    We don’t need to do anything to be beloved of God. We are God’s creations and God’s children, and nothing we can do can take that love away from us. At the same time, despite the apparent beliefs of many of his followers, nothing we can do can make God love us more – there isn’t a special love reserved for Teacher’s Pets in all of this.

    The shift from rules to relationship is actually a part of the Great Commandment – when asked what was important, Jesus said to “love God” – not to obey God, or obey God’s rules, or to worry about pleasing God, or even to pay attention to whether we feel particularly worthy. And when you love someone wonderful, you naturally want to live up to their image of you, to please them, to live up to the standards that they set, and that love inevitably results in the process of coming to behave and think in ways that they do – we naturally change to reflect those we love back to them.

    So, again, in accordance with what we were taught by Jesus, the question isn’t “does this follow the rules?” The question is “Is this loving?” And since there are often many ways to be loving, and how we love may often be uniquely reflected in our behavior as distinct from the way someone else loves, two people may validly come up with different answers in similar situations, and life being what it is, may resolve apparent conflicts or priorities slightly differently.

    So, rather than “don’t be drunk” as a standard, (much less, “never touch alcohol” the question is, on a case by case basis, whether you are acting lovingly – some people have to choose never to drink, others choose to drink only in moderation or only under some circumstances, and other people can party hearty and never do an unloving thing as a result. (Personally, I get bitchy if I drink too much.)

    And so on. The more you let yourself focus on this as a relationship and as a choice of what it takes for you to be the best person you can be (including being someone who lets yourself be human and flawed), then you’ll track toward better and better behaviors.

    Don’t focus on “feeling” worthy. Since that isn’t the goal, it’s not a useful measure of anything in particular. It’s also a question you’re doomed to fail at – “Do I feel worthy enough?” You are worthy, because God loves you. If you feel otherwise, your feelings are mistaken.

    • Marlene Lund

      So beautifully put, Lymis! I think you hit the nail on the head. In any love relationship, we find ourselves changing to reflect the person we love, especially those characteristics that draw us to them in the first place. Being in relationship with God will naturally change us. We also learn the confidence of knowing that we are loved, no matter what, and can therefore not be so caught up in the “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots.”

  • Karl

    Every one goes through that sense of unworthiness. It’s a fact of being a Christian. There is not a damn thing that you and I can ever do to please God EXCEPT exhibit faith in Jesus Christ. He did it all for you and I at the cross. Paul tells us to give thanks in all things for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us. Do you want to please God? Simply start thanking Him for everything that comes your way both good and the bad. When you sin, give it to Him, thanking that He forgave you etc..and continue on. Thank Him for your lack, thank Him for your store, thank Him for your children, your wife, this list is long and don’t make your thanks a religion or a must do, do it out of heart that is grateful. He’ll test you though to see if you’ll thank Him through a dark hour. Go from there and and your relationship with God will blossom. You’ll love thanking Him so much that you’ll look for things to thank Him for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

    Jonathan, you got to the farthest depth (in number of messages) that the website would allow our train of messages to go. So I’m going to bring your comment here and try to speak to it.

    Jonathan Vitale April 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    So it seems that from this perspective we should either believe:

    1) Calvinism – God chooses who is and who is not saved, our works are just a reflection of God’s pre-ordained choice.

    2) Everyone is saved. If this is so, it seems like there is no point to life. Also, I feel like a lot of passages would contradict this view.

    Just because salvation is God’s gift, doesn’t necessarily mean it is given unconditionally.

    ———–

    I won’t presume to know how the saved ones “happen to fall into” the category of people who eventually end up saved. I do believe that God knows and has known from before He even created the Universe, who are His and who are not.

    Romans 8:29 we see: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

    So there is something to pre-destiny. But I believe it’s simply that God has that foreknowledge. Some others do believe that God picks and chooses. I do not.

    And the Bible is very clear that there are those who are saved, and there are those who are not.

    However, the Bible makes it equally as clear, that it is NOT by anything that WE do, except for believing that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins, rose again, and will receive us to Himself after this life. All of the “WORK” that provides FOR our salvation, was done when Jesus went to the cross and bore our sins. When He said those 3 most important words of His earthly ministry: IT IS FINISHED. There is nothing needed beyond that point, except for a person to BELIEVE. Works come as a result of faith, and in gratitude FOR our salvation. Works, or lack thereof, do not EARN our salvation. Jesus already earned it. We are the free recipients of salvation simply by faith.

    • Jonathan Vitale

      Sonny (and other guests of this blog), thank you for taking up my questions seriously.

      I’ll probably stop here because I think we’re not making any progress. This view of Jesus just does not connect with me. The whole fulfilling the law, ultimate scapegoat, making us worthy thing just rings hollow to me. My view has, and continues to be, that Jesus came to give us a new, simplified law: Love God, Love your neighbor. You have a duty to work on this Earth to fulfill that law. When you hurt your neighbor you pain God, when you do well by your neighbor you please God.

      I don’t know anything about salvation, about Heaven and Hell, but I believe that God is fair and God is just. Pre-determination is unfair, damnation to billions of good people who don’t believe in Jesus is unjust, as is the converse. I’m not impressed with specific verses of the Bible any more than I am with verses that condemn homosexuality (or lobster-eating, for that matter). The spirit of the Bible tells me to do as Jesus: do good.

      That’s all.

      jv

      • Jonathan Vitale

        Sorry, to be completely hypocritical I need to at least drop one biblical ref:

        James 2:

        14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

        … and so on. And I’ll take James over Paul any day of the week.

        • Melanie D.

          Can’t it be both? In my mind, works are great, and God takes great joy in our good works, but we can’t earn our way into heaven, because we’ll always fall short. Jesus makes up the difference when we ask, regardless of whether it’s a large difference or a huge difference. I was raised by a recovering Catholic and a protestant, so I’m aware of your frustration with what my mom would call “cheap grace”, i.e. “God forgives me anyway so I’m going to just keep on sinning on purpose.” My thought is, “do your best, when you inevitably fail, ask for help.” If we didn’t try to do good works, our lives would be pointless. Jesus simplified the law so that we could get away from the relentless legalism of the Pharisees, and know better how to do better. But he still knew we would fail from time to time, on a daily basis. Does that make sense?

        • Lymis

          I’ve always seen the “faith vs. works” thing not as making a point about which is the important one, but a reflection that they have to go together. Which side of a pair of scissors is important? Which wheel of the car is critical? Which leg of the stool holds you up?

          Faith without works is dead, because nothing meaningful gets done. Works without faith is just as dead, because nothing that gets done has meaning. Either way, you’re disconnected from God and neighbor.

      • Jill

        Hi Jonathan, for what it’s worth, I think I’m picking up what you’re putting down here. Correct me if I’ve gone astray.

        For me, I’ve pretty much been a ‘faith without works is dead’ kind of person for one big reason: growing up around arrogant, know-it-all, superior Christians that knocked on your door to tell you how to find God. Families in great need were told to pray harder and attend church more often. No real help, support was given.

        I may not have a whole lot to give others, but when I give of myself in ways I am capable, I feel my cobbled-together faith works. I work. I function better. It’s when I’m fearful, then I get avoidant and lazy, that I’m also not terribly faith-driven. I just get broody and cynical, and I get pissy with God for not making life easier.

        It feels right for me to say that ‘works without faith is dead’ as well, because the hollowness of a grandiose spiritual performance doesn’t touch the heart, doesn’t feed the soul. Like Melanie D. said, I too think it’s both.

        Ultimately I also agree with you that I think we are soft-wired for justice, because the Creator of us is just. I hope it’s as simple as that. When I choose to view all the people around me having just their own unique experience of the Divine, each of us one facet of the whole, I see that our personal understanding of all this has a natural limitation. I am limited in my scope and even Calvin was limited in his.

        Perhaps maybe the ‘answer’ for now is that the less we fight to make it all fit and make sense that we dial it back to the basics, that your admonition of ‘doing good’, is enough. All the other stuff will fall into place as it needs to.

        Anyway, that’s my take. Peace.

    • Lymis

      Goodness, using Romans 8:29 as some sort of scriptural basis for the idea that some are saved and some are predestined for damnation seems to be a particularly egregious interpretation, if you read it in context. It seems to me to be far more straightforwardly interpreted as some people having extra gifts of the spirit and both support and responsibility toward everyone else – predestined to be servants and prophets, not predestined as uniquely saved.

      The call to be salt to the earth isn’t a statement that only salt is saved or that nobody else will be – just that those who experience such a call have the option of accepting additional responsibilities to the body of Christ. I see this idea of predestination to be conformed to the image of Christ similarly. The very statement that someone will be “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” seems to explicitly state that there will be other brothers and sisters.

  • Don Rappe

    Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (This is not an original thought of mine.)

  • Don Rappe

    “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Ben Franklin seems to agree.

  • textjunkie

    Because then you can just take your guilty conscience to the cross of Jesus, get down on your knees, and beg for the forgiveness that Christ died to make sure you’d never forget was always there for the asking.

    Made me tear up there, John. Great answer. I have to bookmark this one!

  • Budd

    Deserve God’s love? I’ll try for simplicity here. You (and I) DO NOT deserve God’s love! We never have, never can and never will. God’s love is a gift to the undeserving, which everyone is. Our job is to love and strive to love better, and to continuously thank God for the love – and to pray we don’t get what we really deserve.

    • Scott Amundsen

      “Deserve God’s love? I’ll try for simplicity here. You (and I) DO NOT deserve God’s love! We never have, never can and never will. God’s love is a gift to the undeserving, which everyone is. ”

      I realize that is the common view of humanity promoted by the Church, but it makes for an uneasy fit with the description of human beings as being “created in God’s image” and being made “a little lower than the angels.”

      And “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” does not apply here. We’re talking about God’s love, which on earth has possibly its best reflection in the love of a parent for a child. It is a love that is unconditional, and generally speaking that parent is going to love that child whatever (s)he might do, but that hardly makes the child intrinsically undeserving of his parents’ love.

      • Budd

        Being “created in God’s image” and “a little lower than the angels” has little to do with deserving God’s love. Neither us nor the angels were created to be God. “In the image of” doesn’t cover us for our less than godly actions & being less than deserving.

        I understand your attempt to compare God’s love to a parent’s love for their children, but such a comparison is not universal nor does it grasp the totality of God’s love for creation. Given human history, and my own failings as a Christian, it would be difficult to ever accept that I could be deserving of God’s love. But then I (or anyone else) don’t have to deserve it. It’s a gift from God. All we have to do is accept it.

        • Scott Amundsen

          I have my own ideas about God’s love, His mercy, His forgiveness. And to be brutally frank, I have grown weary of the sort of Christians who seem unable to go through life unless SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, is headed for hell (needless to say it is never themselves).

          • Jill

            what Scott said.

    • Lymis

      This is one of those things where the normal way of phrasing it is what strikes me as the problem in the first place, because it puts human language above Divine reality.

      No, we don’t earn God’s love. We don’t “deserve” it in the sense that there is something we can do to become deserving or anything we can do to cease being deserving. It just is, and it is tied into our very existence. We exist because God loves us and that connection to the God who is Love is what creates and sustains us moment to moment throughout all of eternity. If, at any point, we became cut off from God’s love, we would not only cease to exist, but because God is not bound by time, we would cease to have ever existed.

      The mere fact that we exist is sufficient demonstration that we have God’s love, and pretty much any worry about deserving it, or losing it, or damaging it is misguided. When a gift is given, it’s up to the giver to decide whether they choose to give it, not up to the receiver to determine whether they are worthy. If you see God’s love as a gift, then you have to relax and let God be the one who gets to decide. And in this case, the fact that you even exist proves you’ve got it.

      I don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over whether I deserve gravity, oxygen, or the atomic cohesion that holds my body together, either, and those are all just temporary local conditions compared to God’s love.

      • Lissy

        Beautifully put, as always!

      • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

        “When a gift is given, it’s up to the giver to decide whether they choose to give it, not up to the receiver to determine whether they are worthy.”

        True, the recipient is not charged with determining whether they are worthy to receive it, but they are charged with receiving it. You have to accept the gift, open it up and in this case, see and know the gift by beginning your journey to get to know Christ. Its a change of course and a lifelong journey.

        Certainly, you don’t just leave the gift in God’s hands, turn around and walk away, and continue to operate as if the gift is in your possession now and that you know what it is all about. It’s a gift, the gift of the ages…open it!

        • Lymis

          Lynne, it sounds like you’re trying to express some sort of disagreement, but i think you may have missed the context. The letter writer clearly expressed that they didn’t feel worthy of the gift in the first place.

          That sort of feeling is exactly what keeps someone from accepting a gift, or doing exactly what you point out needs to be done – taking the gift, opening it, and making use of it in all it’s manifest ways.

          A big part of faith has to include having faith that God knows what God is doing – and that the concern of whether or not we are worthy isn’t our problem to focus on.

          I completely agree that, as in the parable, we have to make the choice whether to use those gifts in the world or to bury them out of fear and never invest them in anything – but to do that, we have to set aside the question of whether we should even be getting them in the first place.

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            “I completely agree that, as in the parable, we have to make the choice whether to use those gifts in the world….”

            The gift is salvation through Christ, the gift is Christ, not ‘gifts’ that we ourselves acquire to use in the world. That is my understanding. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) that you refer to, the ‘talent’ is a unit of money, not a human gift or innate skill of some sort.

            As to our worthlessness, the bible makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 2:23, and “There is no one righteous, not even one” Romans 3:10.

  • usingmyvoicewell

    Dear Letter Writer,

    Just read this elsewhere on FB and thought of you: “’The first will be last and the last will be first’ (Luke 13:30). Luke uses every story he can to show that what impresses people does not impress God, that people who think they are at the top are often, in God’s eyes, at the bottom; and that people who think they are at the bottom are, in God’s eyes, often at the top.”

    For a long, long time, I felt the way it seems you do. I had faith, tremendous faith that God would come through for others, but not so much for me and my needs and desires. I was a terrific intercessory pray-er, but I literally stumbled over the words when I tried to pray for my own needs and desires.

    Then one day I thought, ‘Okay, enough! If this is REAL, how does it REALLY work?’ And without knowing what was coming, I began a kind of journey to discover how the heck to do this – how to be a Christian – in a way that actually worked for me in my life. For so many years, I had felt as if most everybody else knew a secret – they knew how it really worked – but I could not grab hold of whatever it was that made it Go.

    First – and this was not ‘a plan’ by any means; it’s just the way it happened – I decided to do this one particular Bible study. (It was a Beth Moore study; I’m not Baptist; that’s just what it happened to be.) And little by little, the Bible began to open up for me. I devoted myself to doing that study (and then others), and I began to understand things that I had not been able to ‘get’ before that time.

    Then I did a spiritual formation weekend. I began to really be honest, to speak honestly about my fears and concerns with how my own “Christian” life was going. But I chose trustworthy, loving, and kind people to share with. And, at one point, I became able and chose to ‘forgive’ someone for an unforgivable sin they had committed a long time ago. (Note: I had done TONS of work on this issue before that time; it just finally came down to the forgiveness part. And I was able to actually forgive the person. That’s another process in itself, though, and it doesn’t come with a timeline. At least it didn’t for me.)

    Then I began to experience some phrases I’d always heard, but never quite understood on the inside. I felt “led” to begin a prayer card ministry – I would write a prayer on an unsigned card for each individual (on my church’s Chronic Care list) and whatever scripture I was led to at the time. This was a most amazing journey. I learned SO MUCH. But it was happening inside me, and my experience was coming from writing those cards and letting God/Holy Spirit guide me. And I kept talking to spiritual friends that I trusted, and sharing the good stuff AND the stumbling blocks that remain(ed). I continue that to this day.

    And then my life fell completely apart. Yep, it did. Devastatingly, suddenly and in a series of crises that spanned over 3 years. I was mostly in shock, I think, for the first few months – and then I got ANGRY. I got so angry at God, that one night I raised my fist at the ceiling and yelled, “If you are so almighty powerful, then YOU get your butt down here and FIX THIS.” And then it was very quiet. I was horrified at what I’d just done, and I thought – really – that this *might* be the end of me. That maybe the proverbial lightning strike was about to hit. But nothing happened. Except that I felt dizzy because I’d yelled so hard. Once that passed, all was well. I was fine. And – I had just discovered that God can handle my anger. In fact, God handles my anger much better than I do.

    So here’s my suggestion, dear letter writer: Commit to it. Commit to finding out how this really works, for you, in your own life. (Hint: It won’t be exactly how it works for anybody else, but those who have discovered how it works for them, should be able to share some of their steps with you. It won’t just be religious gobbledyguck talk; they will have real, legitimate experiences to share, and they will share them. Just ask.)

    Most important for me was to commit to a real one-on-one relationship with God/Higher Power/Jesus Christ. There’s a certain amount of trust you have to put out there, just like in any other relationship. And *that’s* the area I struggle(d) most with.

    #2, ask God to make it real for you. To *help you* do this. It won’t happen all at once – unless, of course, it does! – but the goal is to have REAL experience(s) of it. I now have experience after experience – real experience – that God actually loves ME. That God protects ME. That God wants good for ME.

    The protection factor was/is very important in my life; it was one of the things that eroded my trust in God when I was a child. So it was VERY important for me to get the following understanding in order to be able to trust, that is: God does NOT make bad things happen to good people – most often, PEOPLE make choices that hurt other people, including children. But – God can make good come from anything. If you don’t believe this, ask God to SHOW YOU how it works.

    So anyway, the “If this is real, then how does it REALLY work” became my theme song. And through everything – EVERYTHING – I began to want – and ASK for – a REAL one-on-one relationship with God, with Christ.

    I hope something in here helps you, and I hope you have most blessed day today and in the weeks to come. :)

    • Lymis

      “Then one day I thought, ‘Okay, enough! If this is REAL, how does it REALLY work?’ And without knowing what was coming, I began a kind of journey to discover how the heck to do this – how to be a Christian – in a way that actually worked for me in my life.”

      Isn’t it amazing how that works? Thank you for sharing this!

      • usingmyvoicewell

        You’re welcome, Lymis!

  • Aggie

    I think the issue is difficult in part because in most conceptions God is the one who is both stern (usually thought of as the Father) and kind and merciful (usually thought of as the Son/Jesus). He is meek and merciful– but He also gathers where He does not scatter, He hardens hearts, He separates the sheep from the goats, He sends plague and famine, He chastens everyone He accepts as children.

    The Atonement at times seems like God sacrificing God to appease God because He is mad at people for being the way He made them. I think these difficult tensions are representative of why people are intuitively mistrustful of the idea of God having a consistently gracious character.

    Although I’m skeptical of dogmas these days (even the dogma of God’s existence– especially in the ways it has traditionally been conceived), I find that all of these ideas are so part of my brain that it’s hard to get past them. So I’m hoping that if there is a God (or god, or whatever), She’s much different than Christians have traditionally perceived Him to be.

    • Jill

      “The Atonement at times seems like God sacrificing God to appease God because He is mad at people for being the way He made them.”

      Aggie, I think that’s one of the best statements I’ve ever read. And now I don’t feel so alone either. So thanks! :)

    • Karl

      You know, God was only angry at the wicked. The wicked were people that knew who God was but chose to live against His ways. The rest of the populous were ignorant which were called sinners. When He was born into this world, the wicked knew who He was and tried to extinguish Him even as a baby. When He was ministering the wicked again tried to plot against Him, and finally they succeeded. Jesus tells them to their face through a parable how they were going to carry out His execution. It was the wicked that God had the beef with not regular ordinary sinners that have no shepherd to lead them. He even told them that they knew the way into the kingdom of God but prohibited anyone from entering by standing in the door way. We have them today, they are the same ones that know the way but bar anyone from entering by not preaching the full message of the gospel of grace, they instead lace it with all kinds of works based foolishness.

  • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

    I love this post and the comments people have been making. It really seems to get to the heart of what it means to have faith and that faith isn’t so much about changing to please God (who loves us despite what we do to ourselves and others) but about changing to make ourselves acceptable to ourselves. People who truly esteem themselves don’t need to abuse other people.

    Thanks letter-writer and thanks John.

  • Jennifer

    OK, I have not read all of the responses. So take my comments or leave them. This is my experience….

    I sat for 6 or 7 years in an Evangelical, non-denom charismatic church, started by a group of disgruntled Baptists. (I was not a part of the church when it started.) Anyway, I found myself realizing that I would NEVER be the kind of Christian that that particular church “called” me to be. My parents, who did not attend church, began going to a Catholic church. I started going to Mass with them on Saturday night, then going to my church on Sunday. After a while, I started noticing that I felt elated after Mass. I WAS good enough! I AM good enough! I WILL ALWAYS be good enough for God! I didn’t have to do, or be anything other than myself. But by noon on Sunday, I was completely depleted. Never good enough. Never holy enough. Ever.

    I finally worked up the nerve to leave that church. I cut off all of my friendships from there, as I knew that I needed a totally new perspective. It was hard, but I did it and have been tremendously blessed! Now, I know people have problems with the Catholic Church. I do too. (For God’s sake, I realized that I am a lesbian after years of denial after I became a Catholic!!! Talk about a rock and a hard place!!!) Anyway, I digress…..

    It was at the Catholic church that I was taught that God made creation, looked at it and said it is all GOOD!!! We ARE fallen, but we are all still good! Quite a different teaching from the “nothing but filthy rags” teaching I had been hearing for years. This has made a HUGE difference in my life. It gives me the courage to remain Catholic, and openly gay…the heirarchy may have problems with me, but God doesn’t!!!

    Anyway, the point I am trying to make for the letter writer is this….you are, indeed loved. And you are, indeed worthy of love. I started seeing a spiritual director shortly after my conversion, and that has been a great help. You may want to try that. I see a Benedictine nun, but they can be found in almost every denomination. Just make sure you interview more than one before picking. They won’t counsel you, or tell you what to believe. Their job is to help you see how God is working in your life. I promise, it will make a huge difference.

    God bless you, and good luck!!!

    • Jill

      This is an awesome message, wow. It was helpful for me as well. Thanks Jennifer.

    • Jonathan Vitale

      Much Love Jennifer, I’m glad you’ve found a spiritual home. Your lucky, in contrast to many folks opinions there is a lot of diversity within the Catholic Church. I used to attend one in NYC where the pastor included a phrase of inclusion, regarding gay people, during every sermon, “God doesn’t care whether…”. He also said something else that stuck with me, to be a Catholic you need to do two things: go to Church, work for social justice. I also like my church here in Oakland, so I’m lucky too. Guess I need to remain in big cities.

    • usingmyvoicewell

      “the hierarchy may have problems with me, but God doesn’t!!!”

      BIG smile here. Love it!

    • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

      Jennifer and Jonathan,

      Please understand that this comment is not meant to challenge your self-love in anyway. I undeniably affirm that.

      The “filthy rags” teaching that Jennifer spoke of (and which seems to be some of what Jonathan is struggling with also) was a teaching of Isaiah 64:6. It means that the *absolute best* we can “do” (our “good” works) do not make us righteous. Jesus came to make us righteous. It can be referred to as “imputed righteousness”.

      Go and read this blog page: http://theresurgence.com/2012/05/23/from-filthy-rags-to-robes-of-righteousness

      That page explains that we cannot “earn” righteousness or salvation or acceptance of God. Jesus’s work on the cross BOUGHT our salvation. That is the only way to “be saved”. In New Testament theology, good works come as a RESULT of belief in Christ and being made righteous by Him, and are NOT the means of becoming righteous. James said “faith without works is dead”, because we have to first believe, but just as Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another” (John 13:35), our belief, and our love for one another, are proven by the good works that come from the RESULT of faith in Christ.

      We must not get these two matters backwards. Without faith in Christ, our works are of no effect, because we cannot be good enough, or work hard enough, to wipe our sin away and make us righteous in the eyes of God. Only faith in Christ can give us the righteousness that is necessary to be approved of God, and works come FROM that faith.

      • usingmyvoicewell

        So here comes the $50,000 question: what about all those folks who lived and died before Jesus ever set foot on the earth? (They *only* had God and the Holy Spirit.. or don’t those two count?)

        • Jill

          I’d say that’s always going to be a challenge of the belief system that is exclusive to a particular conviction. Christianity and the bible doesn’t speak to everyone, doesn’t speak for everyone. We’re not all going to believe in the same God, or view the same God the same way.

          My faith in God must give room, first, for me to be wrong, and second, for other faiths to have just as valid points as I think I do. I don’t want to spend any more time worried about my afterlife if this the life I’ve got in front of me now.

          • Brenda in La.

            Jill, yes!

            I feel that even though the $50,000 question will be here forever, it’s not for us to know the answer. We have to allow that what we don’t know or understand, our God does. He’s got it covered.

            Belief is supposed to be a sweet mystery. For me part of that mystery is in our not knowing. As humans, we tend to box our God in, but he can’t be fenced in that way by the limits of what we think or don’t. That’s beautiful to me – His creativity is glorious and beautiful and allows His love for us to be given in boundless ways to all of us and also to those who may in this life even know Him.

            Lymis said some things yesterday that were similar to what I mean. People who are not Christian may meet Christ after this life. How can we know? We don’t need to worry about it, but we can realize that God is in control of our futures now and later, and He, as a loving God, would want to bring those outside of Christianity into his love and peace. If not, He wouldn’t be the God we know. How will that be accomplished? Don’t know. That’s part of the sweet mystery.

            About the grace discussion, I have to agree with those of you who say we can’t deserve grace. Not possible. It is given to us without our deserving it. Has to be that way to be grace. Jesus was the last sacrifice. Like all the other sacrifices in the OT, He came to be the last and perfect sacrifice, hence the “lamb of God” reference. After His death there were to be no more sacrifices. No need. None could be as perfect. He was innocent of sin as the slaughtered animals over the centuries had been innocent when sacrificed.

            I do believe in doing good for people. Don’t we all? Personally, as an adult when I more fully understood about God and Jesus (still studying and learning new things), knowing that I had this wonderful grace made me want to do good for other people. I didn’t feel forced or that God expected it. I do know He expects me to love my neighbor, and that’s everyone, not just those easy to love. If we love one another, we will be kind naturally. Right? I enjoy being happy and sharing happiness with others. If that means a meal or a ride or a coat or time to listen to them, then that’s what I do. A better day is sometimes when I don’t feel like loving my neighbor, would rather ignore the need I see, but then end up helping anyway. It’s a God thing. Love is contagious, too. If we share God’s love with others, they may turn around and help someone else. Can’t hurt!

        • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

          The story of Abraham shows us that Abraham believed God, he had faith in God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 Abraham’s story faith is so significant his story is retold to future generations and is found at least seven more times in the bible – once in Psalms and the other six in the New Testament.

          http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=credited+to+him&qs_version=NIV

        • Karl

          “So here comes the $50,000 question: what about all those folks who lived and died before Jesus ever set foot on the earth? (They *only* had God and the Holy Spirit.. or don’t those two count?)”

          I shall attempt to answer your question. The Holy Spirit would come upon certain individuals at bi-times in the Old Testament, it was never in them, they were never born again. Under that old regime the law never made anyone perfect only the bringing in of a better covenant did, namely the gospel. Under the law, those who died in faith were believing in the One that would come, in Christ. That was the only thing they had to hope for and when they died they went to a place called Abraham’s bosom which was a separate section in Hades. Those that lived unto themselves and found no hope in the One that should come died and went into the other part of Hades. When Christ died, He went to Abraham’s bosom and told them that they would have to remain there until the end of the age which was around 70A.D. But the wonderful part about this going down to Hades is that Jesus also visited the ones that did not have rest but were in torment and preached the gospel to them that they should be saved. This is why in the book of Revelation it says that there would be a multitude of people that no man could number.

      • David S

        Sonny,

        I respectfully disagree. God’s grace is unconditional. Period. There is nothing we can do to earn it – it is freely given. Grace is not dependent on a profession of faith in Christ or even a belief in God Himself. If grace is conditional, it is not truly grace. Grace has no element of reciprocity.

        • charles

          David, I dont think there is an argument as to God’s grace being unconditional- the point is that humans have the choice of accepting it. If there was no choice, and everyone was automatically accepted, there would be no reason for Jesus to come and further, die on the Cross to pay the price of all humanities sin.

          • David S

            Hi Charles –

            To paraphrase Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum…

            I don’t believe in a God who cares if I believe in Him. The God I believe in isn’t that petty.

            What is the human choice to which you refer? How does the entirety of humanity hear about God’s grace and understand that they are supposed to accept it? I know this is not orthodox, but I don’t believe that non-Christians are locked out of the kingdom.

            Obviously none of us knows how salvation truly works, and we shouldn’t be wasting too much time trying to figure it out – it’s unknowable. But, in my experience, the notion that you have to believe in a specific way to be saved has caused more harm than good in this world. It has done more to tear down than build the kingdom. That’s a pretty strong indicator that the belief is errant.

            Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I believe that. Not even disbelief.

            My unorthodox belief does absolutely nothing to negate Christ, His death on the cross, or His resurrection. To the contrary, to believe that His death and resurrection has redeemed all of humankind – not just people who believe a certain way – gives Christ’s life greater meaning and wholly affirms God’s grace – which, I should mention, is unconditional.

          • charles

            David, as our views differ, I can only really go by what Jesus himself said- if we are to believe him to be the Son of God, I would think that if he meant that all were to be saved, no matter what their belief (or lack therin) I think he would have clearly enunciated it- I do absolutely accept that we are ignorant of God’s larger plans and intentions- but that leaves us also withe conundrum of not accepting Jesus as God himself. If He said that, while meaning something entirely different we are left with little more than speculation as to what his intentions might be. But in the end, if his intention was that all were to be saved no matter what their dispostion in the matter, it would seem un-necessary for him to go to the Cross Himself to accomplish something which was superflous.

          • Lymis

            Jesus would only have needed to clearly enunciate such an idea if it were the answer to a valid and accurate question – in other words, if the understanding of the Fall and salvation that only developed centuries after Jesus died is the only possible understanding of things.

            But Jesus didn’t do such a thing. Maybe that’s an indication that our historical human understanding of what was going on is as flawed as any other human belief.

            Maybe the Resurrection is more important than the Crucifixion.

          • charles

            however the Resurrection is impossible without the Crucifixion.

            and how would the notion resolve with 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (KJV) For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ? or perhaps John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

            unless we categorical consider Jesus a liar, we are left with a relatively definitive path to Salvation- arent we?

            do you know of any words attributed to Jesus that would contradict these statements?

          • Lymis

            That’s just silly. The Resurrection only “requires” that Jesus’s human body died, and that death didn’t hold him. He could have risen from a death in bed at a ripe old age surrounded by his family and friends.

            It’s true that the Crucifixion is *how* he died, and it’s certainly possible that there was a particular reason for that form of death – if nothing else, it made for a dramatic event that resonates in human consciousness.

            “Impossible” however, is entirely too strong a word when applied to God and God’s options.

            Please, please, not the “If you don’t believe what the writers of the Epistles wrote, you’re calling Jesus a liar” trope. Because that’s so wrong in so many ways that it’s barely worth responding to.

            However, “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” can mean so many different things, many of which don’t even have to involve his human life at all. It certainly doesn’t inherently involve assenting to theologies that didn’t come into being until centuries after his human death, or allegiance to a church that his followers created. That might be one path to such a thing, but it doesn’t make sense that it’s “what it has to mean.”

            Jesus said he was the way, not that the Bible was the way, or the church was the way, or specific theological views were the way, or any particular rituals were the way. If you are going to use the “if he meant that wouldn’t he have said that” logic, surely it applies to something as important as this.

          • charles

            trope? is that a bit judgemental? your last comment ventures into very shaky ground, as the New Testament accounts of Jesus life and words is really the only record we have of that set of events, At least the ones supporting his claim of being the Son of God- What other non-Biblical validation can you cite that would be supporting it? As to the notion of the Crucifixion being a symbol vs say, dying of old age- I think the whole point in that exercise was his wrongful death at the hands of man- dying of natural causes, is, well- natural. There is nothing particularly sacrificial about it, and since Jesus used the language of being a temple sacrifice in describing the Crucifixion and Resurrection, one can only conclude that it was very intentional.

            As well, your comment “However, “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” can mean so many different things, many of which don’t even have to involve his human life at all. It certainly doesn’t inherently involve assenting to theologies that didn’t come into being until centuries after his human death, or allegiance to a church that his followers created. That might be one path to such a thing, but it doesn’t make sense that it’s “what it has to mean.” – seems to sound like absolute opinion as well, so lets be sure we recognize it as such. The question though, is if there are more than that path- why did Jesus himself say there wasnt? Is there any Biblical reference to support such a notion?

            Again- we sadly end in the spot of either accepting the words attributed about to Jesus regarding salvation, or we must conclude that he was either crazy or a liar. Call it trope if you prefer, but its all we as far as physical evidence to go on.

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            Oh my goodness, Lymis, do you identify as Christian? Are you host in your soul to the Holy Spirit? The same gift Jesus promised his followers would receive after His ascension?

            Your theology is so far ‘out there’ my head is spinning. Do you love the written word of God as we know it and as it is contained in the old and new testaments? Do you study and embrace it for all its worth?

          • Lymis

            Lynne, my answer to all of those questions is very confident yes, but I also have enough experience with conservative Christians that I can also say confidently that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you felt that the answer to all of them was no.

            I most definitely have accepted Christ, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that in me, all those promises are fulfilled.

            And you wouldn’t be the first person to declare that you neither understand nor accept where my journey of following Christ through the Spirit has taken me.

            Which is fine with me.

            Yes, I identify as Christian, but I don’t identify with a lot of other people who call themselves the same thing.

            If it helps you to think of me as some sort of non-Christian, feel free. You won’t be alone.

            And one thing I can categorically state is that no, I don’t treat the Bible the way a lot of the Christians I don’t identify with seem to, as some sort of magical fetish item. It is the words of men (and possibly a few women) who had a very real experience of a very real interaction with a very real God, and did the best they could to write it down in ways that made sense to them.

            Jesus didn’t write the Bible. God didn’t write the Bible. It is not “the word of God” in the sense that God gave dictation and each and every word is inerrant and eternal, throughout all the translations and interpretations throughout the millennia. It’s certainly not the only source of God speaking to humanity. And it certainly doesn’t trump the very real experience of being in a relationship with the Living God.

            Who I am works for me.

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            Oh my goodness, Lymis, do you identify as Christian? I’m coming in a bit late to this conversation, but I’m amazed at the distortions of God’s truth contained here. Are you indwelt by the Holy Spirit? The same gift Jesus promised his followers would receive after His ascension?

            Your theology is so far ‘out there’ my head is spinning. Do you love the written word of God as we know it and as it is contained in the old and new testaments? Do you study and embrace it for all its worth?

            This ‘universal salvation’ concept is relatively new and sweeping some scripturally un-grounded groups at alarming rates. Rather, consider the incredible freedom that grace offers in ‘New Covenant’ living without abandoning the truth of God. Author and pastor, Andrew Farley for example, provides simple, concise direction in New Covenant theology. He is author of ‘God Without Religion’, ‘The Naked Gospel’, and ‘Operation Screwtape’.

            http://www.churchwithoutreligion.com/home

            Sometimes Amazon will run his books at a special low price on Kindle:

            http://www.amazon.com/God-without-Religion-Really-Simple/dp/0801014875

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            Oops, sorry about the double-post…I didn’t see that my first one took!

          • Lymis

            “Rather, consider the incredible freedom that grace offers in ‘New Covenant’ living without abandoning the truth of God.”

            “Consider?”

            I’m going to assume that you really don’t understand how seriously offensive that comment is, as though somehow it’s slipped my mind to consider these questions. Or that the answers that a lifetime of constant and committed openness to the working of God in my life and the call to serve my brothers and sisters in love and through my own life constitutes “abandoning the truth of God.”

            Just because someone else has reached different answers doesn’t mean they haven’t considered the questions. Believe me, I have. And I took them seriously. And I’ve come to some serious answers, and made deeply serious commitments to God based on those answers. And I’ve also had to deal with more than my share of people who are quite unpleasant about making it clear that no answer I could possibly reach will work for them, because of who and how I love.

            You haven’t said so, and I wouldn’t presume to assume it of you personally, but much of what you say sounds very much like what the sort of people who think that there is only One Right Answer and that God is only allowed to everyone in exactly the same way and must condemn anyone who doesn’t come to exactly the same answer have been saying to me for pretty much all of my life.

            Thanks, but I already have a relationship with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit, and quite honestly, a lot of what a large number of well-meaning people insist I ought to be doing instead would constitute a deep and fundamental betrayal of what I have found God’s presence in my life and my call to God’s service to mean.

            I don’t need “simple and concise” directions to something I already have a deep, lasting, complex, rich and vibrant experience of.

            Frankly, I find what a significant percentage of people who claim to be Christians espouse to be incomprehensibly shallow, sterile, and often, morally childish – usually coming from the very people who insist that they have all the right answers. It’s often like standing at a four-star restaurant’s buffet, stocked by the world’s best chefs and having people tell me I don’t understand the fine points of potato chips.

            Or, perhaps, more to the point, like having a deep and personal lifelong relationship with a wonderfully talented and popular celebrity, sharing my home with him, intertwining our lives, and knowing each other intimately, and constantly having to explain to someone that, no, I haven’t read the latest authorized biography, no, I’m not a paid up member of the Official Fan Club, and sorry, but no, that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about the star.

            First, because yes, I have read the Bible, in more than a little depth, and a great deal of other spiritual writing besides, and gotten a huge amount out of it. I think it’s a wonderful book and that parts of it are a powerful guide to a relationship with God, and parts of it are a history of other people’s relationships to God, and parts of it are horribly outdated and misguided attempts to answer questions we now have better answers to.

            It doesn’t, however take the place of an actual relationship with God, and once I found I had one, the need for what often feels to me to be slavish worship of a book pretty much lost any attraction it might have had.

          • http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen?sk=wall Soulmentor

            Lymis, you are so incredibly thoughtful…..I relate to your thinking completely and learn much from you. What a pleasure I think it would be to walk and talk or sit and talk with you by the fire with a glass of wine and God’s creation for a cathedral around us.

            I am struck by Jesus saying “I am the way” and how the fundies pounce on that to suggest it means that Jesus, the human individual, it THE WAY. I suggest Jesus meant that metaphorically; that his teaching, his style, his way of relating to others, his LOVE for everyone, even the unlikable…..THAT was the way, and if that is so, then there are many non-”christians” in this world who people that Jesus would very much approve of. Who could deny, for instance the salvation of the Dali Lama? Or the Muslim who is helping orphans or the Atheist ministering to AIDS patients?

            THEY, WE, all who LOVE are the true church. For “God” is Love.

          • http://www.notjustablonde.com Not Just A Blonde

            Thank you, Lymis. It’s interesting when some quote the Bible as Truth then are surprised (offended?) when confronted with the fact that their interpretation is just that… An interpretation! It’s scary for fundamentalists to acknowledge there may be another way to understand Him. I think when we confidently think we’ve got God “figured out” we are further from the Truth than we realize…

          • David S

            Charles – RE: Salvation through Christ. Is it possible that salvation is contingent on the FACT of Jesus’ death and resurrection and not on the BELIEF of it? Could it be that when He fulfilled the prophesies, He reconciled us to God?

          • charles

            in my Biblical recollection, Jesus said specifically that wh ever believed in him would have eternal life. and that Him going to the Cross was the atonement for the sin of the world. So, in that matter I would say that it would be quite difficult to say- as the context of the words were that they were spoken to the living, not the dead- and they were a promise of eternal life.

          • Lymis

            You keep doing that.

            Just because one thing is true, it doesn’t follow that everything else is not. If people who believe in Jesus are guaranteed eternal life, it simply does not follow that everyone else is condemned.

            And of course, that involves believing that there was a stenographer running around Galilee taking dictation – in English – in the first place.

            You seem to have God in a teeny, tiny little box.

          • charles

            Lymis, what evidence are you basing your conclusion on? I have no issue with your ridicule of my small thinking, but I am left unsatisfied of the evidence behind your conclusion.

          • charles

            one last thing- please cite where I mentioned condemnation in anything I have written in this thread- the only condemnation I have seen is yours…

          • Lymis

            And on that note, I’m not interested in continuing this discussion.

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            Lymis,

            “And one thing I can categorically state is that no, I don’t treat the Bible the way a lot of the Christians I don’t identify with seem to, as some sort of magical fetish item. It is the words of men (and possibly a few women) who had a very real experience of a very real interaction with a very real God, and did the best they could to write it down in ways that made sense to them.”

            And I will assume that you do indeed know how seriously offensive your statement is, Lymis – even your choice of words is crude and filled with mockery and bitterness.

            That statement along with “Who I am works for me” is all I really need to know.

            Glad it works for you. I believe everything you said about yourself being a Christian and having a relationship with Jesus. It’s a journey. Nothing in my former post was intended as an insult to you.

            p.s. I’m partial to Pringles and I hear caviar can be rather tasty atop one.

          • Matt

            Bitterness can leak through when a single book is used to cause so much suffering.

          • Jill

            Hello, I suppose I’m wondering why this is becoming, to my eyes as I read, an absolute yes/no discussion, Lynne.

            Your comments here come across as if you view the Bible as a literal interpretation of God’s voice and there is no other legitimate viewpoint. I simply do not understand an all/nothing perspective when it is clear that God has built into His children uniqueness and a personal identity.

            I, for one, do not have what could be viewed as a great love for the entire bible, and yet I find myself inexplicably drawn to Christ. Do you feel that someone like me could find resolution of this?

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            Hello Jill,

            I do believe the bible is the inspired word of God and is the gold standard to compare our intimate experience with the Holy Spirit in order to seek agreement between the two.

            I do not necessarily trust as reliable the experiences of individuals who pick and chose what they accept in the bible and use those to construct their own concept of God. Ours is a ‘revealed faith’, revealed to us by God through a people at the beginning of time.

            The more time and energy you devote into knowing, loving, meditating on the whole word of God, reading it ‘for all its worth’, the deeper your surrendered relationship with god will become.

            A lot of people are leery of the bible because they don’t really understand it, thinking it is an archaic book of laws etc. It’s so much more, but you will never really know if you don’t take the first step – after being drawn to Christ – then change your mind and believe God. Believe what he says about Himself.

            As you read the bible, instead of rejecting the precepts contained there, seek wisdom, talk to God, ask for understanding. Stuff starts coming together. It’s a journey. I’m at a much different place than I was 24 years ago when I decided for God.

          • Lymis

            Lynne, I agree with everything you say here, except what seems to be the implication that the only two ways to see the Bible are to embrace it as entirely literally true or to “reject the precepts contained there.”

            Some people really do read the Bible, seek wisdom, talk to God, ask for understanding, and find that their journey takes them somewhere other than your understanding of what the Bible is.

            I revere the Bible. It is not just an archaic book of laws. It very definitely documents the journey of a people who had a relationship with the same God that I have a relationship with – and because of that, it has very real significance and application to my life today. But I can believe that without feeling that it is something that God wrote.

            Everyone picks and chooses what they accept in the Bible. I’ve never met a single person who didn’t, just people who are more or less conscious of the fact that it’s what they do.

          • Karl

            Lymis said, “If people who believe in Jesus are guaranteed eternal life, it simply does not follow that everyone else is condemned.”

            He who is believing in Him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:18

            As long as there is breath in a person, the mercy and grace of God is there to save anyone from condemnation. Being saved by His life and being in Him we have passed from judgment unto life.

          • Lymis

            Sorry, but I don’t buy that.

          • Karl

            Ah, I think I am beginning to understand how you view the bible Lymis. If God didn’t commission men to write the bible and the bible was written by men, and because it’s not holy writ, the book is up for anyone to guess it’s interpretation. Therefore when anything that is quoted from the bible that is contrary to one’s thinking, it’s rejected because the bible, written by imperfect men, have errors and is subject to whatever and however men interpret it. So in saying that you don’t “buy” the verse that I cut and pasted from the bible means that you don’t receive that that verse is of God. Why? Because God is love, He accepts everyone and Love is incapable of condemning anyone.

            I question your relationship with Jesus Christ, only because of this one thing.(By the way, if anyone questions a brothers faith, that should be welcomed because it gives the opportunity to do what Paul says, “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith”.)

            If the bible was not written by dictation from God, how did you ever come to know the name of Jesus Christ?

            There is absolutely no secular writings to prove that Jesus ever existed.

            There is only the bible and a few scribblings from the Annals of Josephus but does not mention a name.

            Paul says that it’s through the foolishness of preaching that men believe the gospel, but in order for you to believe the gospel, you have to believe that what was written was written as Holy Writ.

            When we believe, we believe because we believe that the record that was written about Christ is true. If the record is true and we obtained salvation by that truth, then we have to conclude that what we heard about the record cannot be from imperfect men but dictated by the Holy Spirit. For salvation is from God, not men.

            Our faith is not in the bible, it’s in the person of Jesus Christ. Our relationship is not in the bible, it’s in God through Christ. The bible is the testimonies of God. His Love, His Mercies that endureth for ever, His Judgments, His Law (which is the Holy Spirit written in our hearts, Jer 31:33).

          • Lissy

            Karl, you said, “(by the way, if anyone questions a brothers faith, that SHOULD (caps are mine) be welcomed because it gives the opportunity to do what Paul says, “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith”.)”

            Do you consider yourself an Evangelical Christian?

          • Karl

            Hi Lissy. Every Christian believer that holds to the name of Jesus is an evangelical. Every believer has the gift to be an oracle of God at anytime. If eternal life abides in us, than at some opportune time we can also open our mouths to spread the good news to other hurting souls. Examining ourselves is something that we should do when we find ourselves always at odds with other believers. If I am always the problem, I SHOULD take an inventory of my own life to see if I am filled with pride, or some other wicked behaviour. To do that requires humility and most times it`s brought about by falling into sin or doing something humiliating.

          • Lymis

            Karl, I can see that you are honestly trying to understand the way I see things, but you’re pretty solidly mischaracterizing it.

            You’re falling into the all or nothing trap – the idea that if I don’t see it all as literally true, I’m rejecting the value of any of it, and that’s not the way I see it.

            But I don’t particularly need to justify my relationship with either Jesus or the Holy Spirit to you. Feel free to question it all you want. You really don’t get a vote.

            I can see you’re really uninterested in any possible view of the Bible other than your own. If you feel the need to dismiss the way I see it, again, not something I feel the need to justify, and again, you don’t get a vote. If your way of seeing the Bible works for you, then that’s fine, as long as you don’t weaponize it as a way to hurt your neighbor, which, frankly, I feel is entirely too common.

            You certainly aren’t the first person to claim that anyone who doesn’t see things your way hasn’t asked the tough questions or done searching inventories of themselves and their spirituality. You don’t know me, and the idea that I haven’t done so is laughable, but you have no particular way of knowing that, and clearly, you aren’t prepared to believe it might be true unless I agree with you on all points.

            If it helps you to see me as a non-Christian, or some sort of heathen, feel free. Whatever gets you through the day.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            And I’m gonna give you the final say on that, Lymis. You’ve certainly and long earned it. Thanks for all you do here.

          • Lissy

            Yes, Karl, we should examine OURSELVES. I examine MYSELF. You examine YOURSELF. Why should I be “happy” if some guy I don’t know and has never met questions my faith? Why should it be “welcome?” If I don’t know that person at all, have never met him, he has never invested any time or energy in me at all, I will NOT “welcome” his questioning. I would think not many people would. In my opinion, any questioning should be done by people who have EARNED that right through love and time spent with me. In this world, there are few people outside my family that I feel have earned that right. For sure, one is my boyfriend of over a year, one is my friend of over 25 years, and the other is my best friend over over 30 years. They have earned it.

            We don’t know you, Karl. so I would not “welcome” your questioning of my faith and I imagine Lymis doesn’t either. I examine myself and my faith every day. I have an illness that doesn’t allow me the energy for much else. And if I sound angry, yes, I am because I have known many “friends” who feel as you do. That people should welcome their questions and their opinions, wanted or not. To me, that is the height of arrogance. Just because you throw Jesus’ name in there, doesn’t make it any less so.

            “If I want someone to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, I’m not going to go to that person and start by insulting his culture, insulting his practices, insulting his views of God. On the contrary, you EARN the right to share your faith in building genuine friendships first. And you maintain those friendships even if beliefs remain unchanged.” ~ Rev. Bob Roberts Jr.

          • DR

            I love all of you for trying with Karl because it brings a lot of your insight and wisdom to the table! I think i t’s clear that Karl is going to take the approach if you don’t see things his way, it means you aren’t a Christian. He has some pretty huge needs of control that I sense have far more to do with how he’s trying to manage his own pain and fear. But it’s been so great seeing those of you respond to him, I’ve learned a lot from these comments about my own faith! :D

          • DR

            Wow. This is such a creepy response.

          • David S

            Hi Charles –

            Your belief is, of course, traditional and orthodox. So I certainly understand what you believe and why you believe it.

            What I don’t understand is why you think that if God chooses to save all of humanity, that the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection is somehow less awesome or consequential. Is it because Christians (and Christianity), then, are somehow less special? Our faith in Christ, then, is for nothing?

            In the Jewish tradition, only the Jews’ names are written in the book of life. They are the chosen people, special to God. Jesus was the answer to this exclusion. He came to redeem everyone – both the Jew and the Gentile; both “the first” and “the last”; both the male and the female. Jesus’ resurrection creates inclusion of all of humankind in the kingdom.

            Far from superfluous, that is nothing short of astonishing.

            This vision of a perfectly inclusive eternity is something I believe in whole-heartedly. This vision is aligned perfectly with the gospel. This vision informs both the great commandment and the great commission. This vision resonates with me on an essential level.

            That is why I believe as I do.

            All my best t0 you.

          • charles

            David, thanks for your best wishes, and I offer them back to you as well- I think the dialog has been pretty stimulating for certain….

            as to the core issues of your comments- first, I would say that most people on John’s blog are not exactly “orthodox” Christian, or otherwise- however we all certainly bring our baggage with us in our viewpoints….

            your comment – “What I don’t understand is why you think that if God chooses to save all of humanity, that the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection is somehow less awesome or consequential. Is it because Christians (and Christianity), then, are somehow less special? Our faith in Christ, then, is for nothing?” I think is the key one of the discussion though….

            in my opinion, I do believe that God offers salvation as a free gift to all of humanity. With no strings attached. What I also believe is that all of humanity has the choice in partaking it- at least while we are alive. We can however choose to ignore, or even condemn that gift or consider it insanity as much of the atheist community does. Does that mean that all of humanity will be saved after they die?… to be honest, I have no idea. However, what doesnt make sense is why we would have a historic figure named Jesus who has caused much of the grief for humanity since he came. If God automatically made it so all are saved, and we all think he is a good and loving Creator- why would we have such a lightning rod figure such as Jesus?, Why would we need a resurrection? If we are already guaranteed eternal life, what value comes from it? So with that, we have a Jesus who loved those the “holy” hated, who cleared the temple of moneychangers, and who healed and raised the dead without demand. If we consider this from a purely logic viewpoint, it would seem that if God sent Jesus not to save humanity, but to divide it, we could rightly conclude him to not be loving and caring for all of humanity-

            How God works the salvation of those outside the scope of knowing Jesus is His matter- but we have a fairly detailed narrative in the New Testament as to the hows ands whys Jesus came and lived, and died, and rose again in triumph over death. If we choose to throw that narrative under the bus, I think we should have more cause than speculation to support it.

          • David S

            Thanks Charles –

            First, I don’t think I’ve thrown out the narrative of Jesus; I’ve embraced it. With that said…

            You say: “…what doesn’t make sense is why we would have a historic figure named Jesus who has caused much of the grief for humanity since he came.”

            Is it really Jesus who has caused so much grief for humanity? I don’t think so. I think that when we insist that others believe in Jesus the same way that we do, Christians (not Christ) cause grief (which is an understatement to be sure).

            Why can’t we just have faith in God and recognize that Jesus is already present in those who believe differently than we do? Isn’t that really a harder task than pretending we have it all figured out based on scripture? Doesn’t our dogmatic insistence that we’re right and everyone else is going to hell betray a serious lack of faith in God and a certain pride in our own understandings?

            I don’t see Jesus’ ministry as divisive, I see it as unifying. In the story of the rich young man, He says that the faithful will be rewarded and that “the last will be first”, but he also says that “the first will be last”. He doesn’t say that there’s no place in the kingdom for the likes of the moneychangers or the Pharisees. If that’s so, I’ve got to believe that there’s room for Ghandi too.

            I’ve been very challenged lately to take seriously the command to love those with whom I have strong disagreement. I’m really trying to understand what this type of Christian love looks like in practice. How can I be in kinship with people who I think are doing horrible things…that are often harmful to others…that are often done in the name of Christ? It’s a tough question for sure. But I think it’s germane to this conversation about the inclusiveness of Christ.

            Ultimately, it seems that your answer to the question is “yes – if God saves everyone, then our faith is pointless”. To a certain degree, I agree and I’m OK with that. That’s not to say that my faith in Christ doesn’t influence my actions and my personal journey. But it’s fair to say that our human understanding of the Divine is folly; and if holding to our religion-based convictions causes harm to others, then we need to believe differently.

            Paul got it right when he said that we can’t pretend to know the whole truth while were here on earth.

          • charles

            David, I loved your comments- they are quite considerate…. Bringing up the point of knowing the Divine is folly is very true. Regarding the divisive nature of Jesus- that is another quite fascinating onion indeed- we have Jesus saying that Loving God and your neighbors is the foundation of all of God’s will, and its certainly something I emphatically embrace. That being said…. the “but”….

            we also have a Jesus who said – Matthew 10:34. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.

            35 “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’;

            36 “and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’

            how do we respond to this? I would think this an obvious allegory.

            on this passage, I am thinking it might be more than allegory though-

            Luke 14:25

            Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple….. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

            I Know I fall far short of these calls… and I would think most Christians do as well- Which to me makes me very thankful of God’s grace….

            best regards-

          • David S

            Hi Charles.

            I think it’s wrong to view these verses as a “Jesus as warrior” allegory. His victory was over death, not a conquest of His enemies. The fulfillment of the prophecy was that Jesus was despised. The example of his life was a radical love for all people – especially the outcasts. The fully divine Jesus, a Jew himself, stood up to the religious establishment and said “your understanding of God – handed down through holy texts, tradition, and scholarship – is contrary to what God is. You’ve got it all wrong!”

            Do we imagine that all Jews were ill intentioned, insincere, and not seeking God’s will? Were they all hypocrites? Of course not.

            The reason Jesus was despised was because he challenged sincerely held, traditional beliefs and revealed the fraud of a faith that is cemented with certitude. God, as Jesus literally shows, cannot be contained by sacred texts.

            So when we look at the world through that lens of Jesus, what are we to make of the Church’s role in the debates about healthcare, same-sex marriage, or the ground zero mosque? Just like the Jews in Jesus’ world, the modern day church has traded compassion and love for rigid ideology and prideful moral certainty. Instead of doing the hard work of radical love – a heavy cross to bear indeed- we have turned scripture into an idol and we try to impose our beliefs on others; in doing so we are causing demonstrable harm. The actions and attitudes of the Church are not aligned with the gospel.

            I hate that “take up your cross and follow me” has been so terribly distorted into a legalistic quest for holiness involving destructive and pointless self-sacrifice. I believe that this self-flagellation paradigm is doing immense harm to flesh and blood people. John Shore has been doing amazing work shining a light on the emotional and often physical abuse that flows from this type of rigid dogma. I’d encourage you to look at some of the posts he’s written. They’re really important.

            So to recap: the church is doing real, objective, observable harm to those outside of the faith, and self-harm to the body of Christ. And we stubbornly say “we’re right and will be rewarded, you’re wrong and will be condemned”.

            It’s pretty obvious to me that we got it wrong. It’s time to believe differently. Our faith cannot be so shallow or fragile that any challenge to it causes a crisis. And we need to stop imposing our beliefs on others.

          • Jill

            I am riveted to everything you say, David. Transfixed. xoxo

          • charles

            David I do believe you missed my point about those scriptures- which was, why did Jesus say that families would be divided over him? Again, following the notion that All are forgiven, if that was the case, why would Jesus say that he would turn families against each other due to his name?- I certainly dont have an answer for this.

            I have been one of John’s supporters for a while as well- and I feel this has little to do with the over-arching principal “Love Always” of UFC.

          • David S

            Hi Charles.

            You’re right… I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that you were relating the cost of discipleship back to the concept of salvation: that some people who follow Christ will be eternally favored while others will not. I’m not sure these passages imply anything about salvation or eternity at all. I see these passages relating to the life we live on earth.

            I think we’ve all had times when we were compelled as Christians to stand up for love and compassion; and by doing so we’ve jeopardized our relationships within our tribes. For example, when John refused to sign the anti-gay pledge at his church, his relationships with his church family were sacrificed. For me right now, I’m very concerned that my LGBT tribe will mistreat the anti-gay-marriage moral minority as we continue to become more accepted in society. But advocating restraint is sometimes putting me at odds with the gay community (which is understandably pissed off by the moral minority).

            Following Jesus’ example of radical love will cause some people to despise us. Being the salt of the earth just sucks sometimes.

            If one were to challenge the idea of universal salvation, I think the bigger scriptural problem is the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. However, that story is also the biggest challenge to the idea of salvation through grace and not by works.

            …don’t you just love it when some people say the bible is perfectly clear?

          • David S

            Jill – Thanks so much! That’s very sweet. But shhhh….your other gay boyfriend will hear you ;)

          • Jill

            Speaking of which, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of that little troublemaker out here in a while. I should put out a bat signal.

            “Paging Mr. Moore…”

          • charles

            Hi David, I loved your comments- for me, since the point I embraced a sort of Albert Schweitzer inspired take on the Christian experience, I am fully focused on the two greatest commandments, and the notion that anything which brings, or sustains life is good, and anything that that brings death and suffering is evil- . As to whether there is a place in the kingdom for those money changers, or even Pilate or Judas, I dont really know- And I dont really think much about it frankly, because that is God’s portfolio, not mine. I might also say though, that I am sure if we informed Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins that they were saved, no matter what, they might be highly offended.

          • Lissy

            “If God automatically made it so all are saved, and we all think he is a good and loving Creator- why would we have such a lightning rod figure such as Jesus? Why would we need a resurrection? If we are already guaranteed eternal life, what value comes from it?”

            Good questions. I would say Jesus’ life was about much more than he death and resurrection. He, I believe, is the love of God personified. He taught us how to love and that the Jewish belief of “following the rules” was not how we get to heaven anymore.

            As for the necessary belief in Jesus to go to heaven, I just CANNOT believe God would keep millions of people out of heaven if they never heard of Jesus. Take Native Americans, for example. Do ALL the NAs who never even heard of Jesus not go to heaven just because they had the bad luck to be born before missionaries got to America? I just can’t believe that.

          • charles

            hi Lizzy, your comments have been lovely!

            as to the matter of those who havent had access to the knowledge of Jesus- I think we could go way beyond what you mentioned- we had centuries of humanity that lived prior to Jesus that would also be included… as to their disposition- I have no idea, but I am sure God had some sort of plan in place for them.That could be the foundation of the “Grace save’s all argument” but it would throw us into metaphysics- I cant imagine that God would make people from Moses’ time wait around for Jesus to show up to be saved….

          • Lissy

            Thank you, Charles! I agree with that! I specified Native Americans because I am part NA (from Central America) and various NA practices really intrigue me.

            I’m sure we could get all metaphysical, and if my brain was still working, I would certainly enjoy it! :)

          • Karl

            Okay,this question is for anyone. I’ve been reading many responses here. And the thing that keeps popping out in front of me is this, besides Jesus Christ, is there other ways to God?

          • Matt

            Karl,

            I’d say yes. People have been doing it for millenia. Maybe not in the Judeo-Christian way that we understand, but in some way. That is, if by “way” you mean having a relationship and/or spiritual experience with God, or gods, or the Divine.

          • Lymis

            Of course there are.

            In a number of ways, though, it depends on what you mean. If you are talking about the co-eternal third person of the Holy Trinity, present from all eternity, through whom all things were made, and which serves as the intersection between eternity and time, creating a link between the eternal and the human, and if you are open to the idea that asserting to specific beliefs about a particular tradition that sprung up around the human life of Jesus of Nazareth is not the only way to interact with the Christ – that Jesus is, in fact still alive, still present, still interacting with humanity, and is not constrained by the traditions that the Christian Church chose to set up to guide people to him, then it’s entirely possible that every human being has to “go through” Christ to be able to experience an interaction with God, but that doing so means being present to God in that way rather than meaning becoming Christian.

            Christ isn’t Christian, and isn’t limited to interacting with people through the church that people set up, no matter how wonderful, or even ideal, that church might or might not be. If God needs to use another way to reach someone, then God is free to do so. Even Jesus said that he had other sheep who were not of the flock that was before him at the time.

          • charles

            in my opinion, I would say I dont know…. though legalistically, Jesus said that he was the only path to the God- but lets leave that off the table for the time being…. For me the bigger question is this- does it matter?. How would it change things? The only place it matters is in making a relationship with God into a contact sport- and love doesnt have anything to do with contact sports.

          • Brenda in La.

            David S, yes – that’s how I see it, too. Jesus died for all people. Period.

          • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

            David, I would caution you against falling into the trap that is being promulgated in recent years by people who are distorting God’s truth by eliminating our need to respond to his gift by accepting it. What rubbish.

            The bible itself tell us the “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Hebrews 11:6

            For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8,9

        • Jill

          Grace is not something I was taught in my fundy unbringing. It’s still, after all these years, a concept I struggle to full grasp. The many and varied conditions on God’s love for me was the epitome of just how life was. I was born a burdensome sinner, and that’s how I’ll die.

          So the fact that I have found people that are more loving, more loyal, and more compassionate than God ever was in my youthful estimation, it is only lately that I believe in grace.

          • Lissy

            “So the fact that I have found people that are more loving, more loyal, and more compassionate than God ever was in my youthful estimation, it is only lately that I believe in grace.”

            Wow. What a powerful statement. Good motivation for me to be my most loving and compassionate self!

          • Jill

            Thank you Lissy. I struggled to know how to reply to your comment, if at all. I know I express myself pretty forcefully at times, and I didn’t want to seem too adamant with my point.

            I guess this is really part of my current path—trying to sort out God’s grace among all the non-gracious things people do to each other, not to mention all the things outside anyone’s control. Let alone God’s (capital J) Justice.

            I mean, what’s just or gracious about the greedy jerks that downsize a company for shareholder profits and earn bonuses that are 20x the wages of the laborer that’s now standing in bread lines or the family that finds out a daughter has maximum 6 months to live and cousins that flipped their vehicle due to mechanical failure all in the course of one weekend. Lissy, you too have kindly shared your physical struggles with us, and it is hard to understand it all.

            But I’m trying to grasp that God’s grace is in the moment that a food bank is given a donation of food or money, that grace is in the Change.org petitions, where people come together to support a worthy cause, that grace is in the care and compassion of a person, a stranger, that doesn’t know you but doesn’t need to in order to help you, or give you encouragement. Grace is in a church that announces to a conservative community that it is Open and Affirming to everyone.

            These are the only places I can find out for myself if God actually gives a damn about us. Because sitting down, reading the bible, even with its beautiful message, doesn’t make me know that God is good. To me, grace has legs or it’s not grace. (But I’ve been known to be wrong…)

          • charles

            I dont mean to butt in, but yours is such a great comment…

            I think all people, but especially those who are trying to figure out how God works in their lives, could use an extra dollop of humility just about always….

          • Lissy

            Beautiful said. There are so many people and situations that seem cruel. (Trust me that I’ve spent many hours crying out and yelling at God about WHY ME?!) So I agree that where I mostly find grace is love, wherever true love is. I find it here, where people are so supportive, and even on a Livestream page that shows foster kittens 24 hrs a day!

            Looking at where we’ve found grace gives me a boost to remind me why I try so hard to be loving- and it can be really hard!

          • Lissy

            And I think I had a point in that comment… I’m just not sure it came through! My brain hasn’t been working too well today!

          • Matt

            There was a point! I saw it!

            And it was awesome, trust me.

          • Jill

            I got your message! Yeah, I agree. I had to give up fighting with God and learn how to be a channel of that love to others as best I can.

            And charles, the more the merrier! :)

        • Karl

          “Grace is not dependent on a profession of faith in Christ or even a belief in God Himself.”

          With this verse of scripture, please explain further by what you mean?

          Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

          • charles

            grace is independent of an individuals faith.

            and as the verse says, by grace are you saved through faith in God- if you dont have faith in God, one would gather that you are ignoring that grace. If salvation is a fait accompli, then we really need to revisit what free will might be becuase I would think many atheists would be quite upset if they were going to be saved by something they had no faith in….

  • http://www.facebook.com/brlasonny913 Sonny Bellotte

    John, I just got a notification on FB that you had just now posted a link in this discussion, but I cannot find any new comment by you with that link. Can you tell me about it?

  • David Sinclair

    I retired my cat-o-nine-tails years ago. And,oh, how conservative Christians excoriated me for doing so! I just don’t understand a belief system where misery is synonymous with holiness.

    Some people have absolutely distorted the “pick up your cross and follow me” into “if you find joy in religion, you’re not doing it right”. To those people, I say: the God I believe in wants us to have a fullness of life that includes joy and peace and love and hope.

  • charles

    self condemnation and hatred have nothing to do with Jesus….. at least in my experience.

    • Lissy

      Totally agree! Took me a long time to understand it, though!

  • https://www.facebook.com/lynne.k.everest Lynne

    Dear Letter Writer,

    You are relating a very common experience in the Christian journey! Take heart in these words:

    “I used to think that in order to show Christ off to the world, I had to exhibit Christ-like perfection. Well, I’ve learned instead that I’m far from perfect, but I have a Savior who is perfect.” ~~ Daniel Mann

    http://www.equip.org/articles/how-the-gospel-frees-us-from-psychological-oppression/

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen?sk=wall Soulmentor

    Do what I want and God will still love me? Well, ok, but what if I enjoyed killing people or molesting children or exploiting people with sadistic, harmful tortures. Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as being very lovable, even to God. While I believe there is a God, I do not believe it is a sentient being watching over me and monitoring my behavior because, you see, I am gay and I’ve enjoyed BEING gay a LOT!! Let me explain why I think that’s significant to my belief about God.

    When I was married, I struggled mightily with who and what I was and could not resolve it thru my Lutheran religious up bringing and indoctrination. Indeed, it was the struggle that led me AWAY from Religion to a new Spirituality; to finding God IN ME.

    Long story of course. Took years of pain and anguish. But I finally got to the place where I looked up in anguished tears and gave up the fight. I just said, “God, I’m dying here and can’t be anything else and the fight is killing me. So I’m just gonna go be who and what I am and if it’s wrong, you will stop me. You will find ways to stop me because I don’t know how.”

    I was sitting on a tree stump behind my home and when I got up, I felt free for the first time in my life. And I’ve been totally gay ever since without a moments regret, even thru the divorce and chaotic change to another life. I lost everything except the love of my sons. Even my ex and I get along fine ever since, when we have occasion to be together.

    “God”, whatever he/she/it is, didn’t stop me. Never even hinted at a reprimand and I have known loves (yes plural) like I could not have imagined during my first 40 years of life. Indeed, two of then told me that my love saved them from suicide. Now I’m on the fourth one (32) who is also struggling with alcohol, anger issues, prison and jail and suicide attempts in his life. married with a beautiful little boy, currently living separately, trying to put it back together with my love and friendship supporting him in every way I can, knowing I might lose him if he succeeds. (They all had dinner together at my home just last nite. She doesn’t know the gay part of course) But for now, “Matthew” and I have become each other’s best friends……and yes, with occasional benefits. What really IS Love after all if you can’t use touch, even sexual to express it. For me it is shallow without that. Not all the time, of course, not the ONLY expression,(I’ve given him a lot of money in material support) but there when it’s needed. They’ve all been like that. Needing my love, getting it and moving on. It seems to be my purpose to be here like that for those in need. I genuinely love everyone I’m attracted to and if it goes to sexual expression, so be it. I do not deny loving touch. Thus, I have known much love in my life. I never run out of enuf to give. I am most alive when I am giving. I get lonely sometimes and I know that I may die “alone”, but I never give up on Love and it seems to keep coming to me however serially.

    Do anything I want? Of course not. Do LOVE? YES!!!!

    • Karl

      Soulmentor nice words and I do understand where your at through your words.

      I too have had to “give up” trying to live this Christian life and I understood that it’s not mine to live, but as Paul said, “the life that I know live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loveth and careth for me”. I had to, like you, give up the notion to change and the fear of God keeps me from sexually acting out with other men. I know that to many to talk about “change” is offensive. I can’t help if others are offended. I personally want to change, but not by my hand. I would like to have a wife and many daughters. We were created in the image of God not the image of homosexuality. Homosexuality is a condition of man’s fallen nature, again, that too is offensive to many. I, like you accept the fact that I cannot change my nature, as Jesus pointed out that we can’t, but Jesus also said that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Even though I do not accept my SSA as God given, I do believe that God loves me just the way I am and He knows all about us and our surrenderings. It’s not like He is ignorant about our situations and simply does not care, I think He waits for moments to work. When I demand Him to work, nothing gets done, but when I wait patiently things change. I have prayed for change many times and almost every other prayer that I have prayed about has materialized accept this one and I can hear people saying to themselves, “Maybe God wants you to love yourself and accept homosexuality”. Just because God doesn’t answer a prayer doesn’t mean He wants us to embrace our condition. I know EXACTLY what He wants me to do, press on. Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find”. Keep seeking, keep knocking, for he that seeketh finds, he that keeps knocking the door will open to him. Your story Soulmentor is heartwarming and I hope that more love comes your way and that you do not die alone.

  • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

    Treat people the way you want to be treated.

    Love God. The most direct way of doing that is caring for the people whom God loves (i.e., the poor, the weak, the sick, the orphaned, the imprisoned, etc.)

    Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

    Love one another the way Christ loves us (i.e., non-judgmental & forgiving).

    That’s pretty much the sum of the Gospel.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      I see it the same way.

    • Karl

      “Love one another the way Christ loves us (i.e., non-judgmental & forgiving).”

      Judgments are good it’s the condemning that is not. We should judge righteously, not pointing the finger as if we have arrived. Judging righteously is listening to both parties and having a balanced outcome. In the case of the man that had his fathers wife, Paul said that he had already judged the situation and told the Church that he if didn’t repent to throw him out. Judgment has been given to the Church, what we are never to do is condemn, that is God’s business. Our part is as you said, “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”

  • Mike Haas

    @Sonny Bellotte:

    You said above, “He told us in the message just before the one you quote from, that he’s a Catholic…He needs to be shown the truth with mercy and compassion…”

    Before I comment I guess I should clarify first that I’m a Jew, so I couldn’t care less about Catholic doctrine or dogma. There are as many Christian doctrines as there are people who call themselves Christian. When you put 100 learned people in a room to agree and sign-off on 100 points of doctrine, this is necessarily an act of compromise. You may get 100 signatures, but only 75% buy-in on the total 100. And – here’s the rub: No two people in that room will agree on the same 75! This applies to the other Abrahamic faiths equally as well.

    May I ask who you are to point out the “truth” to a Catholic happy in their faith, and with such certainty? There are something like 80 Million Catholics in the United States alone. You seem to be suggesting that if someone is Catholic, the mere belief in “good works” being a requisite for attaining salvation is, what? Heresy? If he doesn’t accept your “truth” that what – his salvation might be at stake?

    Please tell me that you don’t actually mean that someone who professes to be Christian might not “get in the door” because of some doctrine they believe or don’t believe in, rather than the way they live their lives, the way their “light shines” before men and women, or that they’ve loved God with all their heart, mind and soul and tried their best to be faithful and above all, set the Christ-like example of, “what is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the whole of the Law, the rest is commentary”. Please tell me I’m reading you wrong. Please tell me you don’t think God condemns Christians for belief in “false doctrines” regardless if their lives are stunning examples of what believing Christians might attain in their journey to become “Christ-like”.

    Forgive me for being so direct, but I recently left a board in which wonderful discussion ensued – it was lively and instructive and my participation even as a Jew seemed to be appreciated until I made the fatal error of defending a woman who’d been subjected to spiritual abuse at the hands of churchmen, their congregation and even family members (the board in question purports to offer a “save haven” for people who have suffered this sort of abuse and who have even participated in it), because she reported that while she’d been afraid to go back to any sort of church because her experience was so bad, she’d found solace and healing at a Catholic Church. She even asked in her post that no one “Catholic Bash” her because she wasn’t strong enough to deal with it. She’d earlier found solace in some book she felt was beautiful and her pastor reprimanded her because it was written by some Catholic theologian. She felt she knew there were aspects of Catholicism she wasn’t sold on – but she was finding very real, spiritual peace and comfort and welcoming on the part of the congregation and the clergy.

    I made the mistake of telling her that Catholic Bashing was nothing more than religious bigotry dressed up in piety, practiced by the very ignorant and that she had to do what was right for her, follow her heart and that God loved her all the same regardless of what church she happened to be sitting in or what Christian denomination she came to choose and that her only mistake would be going back to the same abusive environment she’d finally had the courage to leave.

    The board’s owner basically told her in a post that in so many words, she was making a mistake but that God would “show her the way” and since she hadn’t gone to the “right” church, God would meet her at the “wrong” one because of His great love or some such nonsense. Then she point blank told me that her’s was a “biblical” board, it wasn’t a “free for all” and that she could not “condone Catholicism” and that while she appreciated my talking points, she wanted these suffering, hurting people to find the “right” God – the “Christian kind” – her words. My bad – I didn’t realize God was a Christian and no where on her site was a list of “approved denominations”. I suppose her preference is that she’d rather have one of these tortured souls take the chance of landing right back in an abusive environment that other wise taught “approved” doctrine (she never has clarified what precisely that might be) rather than find love and comfort in a nasty old Catholic church.

    I have my issues with the Catholic Church but it has very little to do with their doctrine and more to do with human frailty and internal politics failing to prevent what ought to be prevented and I’d honestly prefer that Catholic institutions in the US, along with a bunch of other right-wing religious windbags *not* force their religious beliefs down my throat by legislation. My problem with board such as hers is that everyone is a lawyer and it constantly comes down to “my doctrine is better than your doctrine because *mine* is the “truth”” and we’re all so very upset that the Pope claims infallibility (in Church matters) when personally, I’ve yet to hear a preacher, priest or rabbi who didn’t think they were infallible up on the lectern.

    Also to clarify – I’m a huge fan of John Shore and I find a great deal of solace and encouragement in his writing. I’m also a huge fan of the wisdom of Jesus. I’m just not big on things “supernatural” and my very belief in God is something of a leap of faith.

    I’m not a huge fan of Peter Kreeft having listened to him a few times. He’s an ultra-conservative Catholic who oddly, came from a Calvinist background. I find him actually kind of creepy. In any event, he wrote something here about Catholicism and Justification by Faith that you might find interesting reading:

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0027.html

    • Jonathan Vitale

      Thank you.

      I think Jews and Catholics understand each other better than Catholics and Protestants.

      • Mike Haas

        We share the fact that we call our respective worship services, a “liturgy” and have “responsorial” prayer. We have nothing else in common beyond that. Except perhaps, being subject to intense religious bigotry. That, and being incredibly slow in accepting change…

        • Jonathan Vitale

          I really meant culturally more than anything, but perhaps that’s because I’m from a place where you are either Catholic or Jewish.

          • Mike Haas

            Hmmm. Culturally? I don’t see what we’d share from a cultural perspective other than a history of Catholic-lead Antisemitism from the time of Frederick I of Germany through the 17th century. I just think its silly for people who call themselves Christian to point the finger at one another over doctrine when Jesus himself never once, save for a few references to the Law, ever argued over or about doctrine. He seemed to make pretty clear to his followers what he expected. So what’s all the fuss about? People will lawyer themselves into a coma over their Scripture and in doing so – rather miss the entire point of all of it.

          • Mike Haas

            Which by the way, is pretty much what buzz said below on April 7.

  • http://earthbound-spirit.blogspot.com Earthbound Spirit

    OK, I was just skimming through the comments – and I read this: “This ‘universal salvation’ concept is relatively new and sweeping some scripturally un-grounded groups at alarming rates.” from someone named Lynne(?)

    The concept of universal salvation is not that new. It goes all the way back to the 2nd and 3rd Centuries CE, with the early Church Fathers Clement & Origen. Clement believed that all creation would eventually be restored to harmony with God. It surfaced again in the 16th/17th Century in Europe, as a response to strict Calvinism, traveled from England to what we now call the USA in the 18th Century. The Rev. Hosea Ballou wrote a book, “A Treatise on Atonement,” in 1805 which argued for what came to be known as ‘death and glory’ universal salvation (as opposed to the restorationists, who argued that people might, possibly, need to do some repenting after death before entering heaven). So… not so new.

    It’s challenging to be a Universalist. My faith is challenged every time I remember that I share a common source, and a common destiny, with Newt Gingrich. But there it is. I believe that if grace is true, and if heaven exists, it will be mighty crowded with all the souls who have ever lived. Should be a great party. See you there!

    Blessings on your work, John.

    • Jill

      Seriously, SO many awesome comments, I can barely keep up!

    • Michael

      Yes to this. “And I saw a great multitude who could not be numbered before the throne of God and of the Lamb”.

      • Toliniega Szebora Dobrowieść

        Then how about Matthew 7:13-14? It seems to me like most of the people won’t make it to heaven. At least to me. What do you think about that?

  • AdifferentMattfromtheonewhopostshere

    I can relate to this. I’ve also been a Christian. The thing of the matter is that God’s not afraid of us questioning his parameters, but I certainly was/am and the Church definitely can be. When I got outside the mindset of following rules and being afraid of taking the wrong stance on a doctrinal issue, I really started to feel the freedom of Christ (Remember, there’s nothing in the Bible that says, “Always and only believe the truth.” It’s just kind of assumed that we’ll believe some false things, and this is in part scientific, because we have to take beliefs for a “test drive” before we can see if they work). After a while, I’ve come to realize that I’ve stopped feeling so guilty about “falling short”. Instead, I look at my life and think about how much my productivity and positive impact would increase if I improved my behavior in a few areas. This part is very humanistic, but what isn’t humanistic is the acceptance that I’ve felt from God and the greater love for others that was born out of the freedom I feel he has just given me.

    In short, God’s not a dick, and we all feel more freedom when we worship God, rather than doctrine, Christianity, or the Church. When we worship those things, we feel unnatural and get caught up in control issues. When we worship God, we feel free, and we want others to experience the same freedom, as opposed to feeling controlled and coerced.

  • Jill

    I just want to say that I love Lymis. End of message.

    • Lissy

      I love Lymis, too!!!

      • http://www.notjustablonde.com Not Just A Blonde

        Me three. Just sayin’! ;)

  • Michael

    I don’t remember Jesus ever having a problem with drinking wine. He changed 180 gallons of water into wine, for heaven’s sake, and ate and drank with prostitutes, tax collectors and other marginalized people.

    Paul said, “For freedom Christ has set you free. Do not allow yourself to be put under another yoke of burden” (Galatians 5:1-2).

    Jesus gives us freedom to love, and to live. The institutional churches, however, often see it as their business to legislate human rules. Bad on them.

    • Lissy

      YES! Thank you!! Christ came to tell us, “Hey dudes! You don’t have to follow those hundreds of rules in the Torah to make it into heaven anymore. Follow ME!” How wonderful is that?!? We have to remember what the Jews had to “do” to get into heaven and Jesus brought freedom from that. No longer do we “earn” our way. Yet, as Christians, when we add we must do this or do that to get to heaven, we put ourselves right back into the prison of rules the Jews were in! It breaks my heart.

      It seems as humans, we like to FEEL in control. Rules are a way to feel “in control”, so we add more and more rules that we and others must follow to “get in good” with God. The freedom Jesus brings is too much freedom sometimes! I often have wondered why people seem to quote the OT and Paul so much instead of quoting Jesus. I think it is because people find comfort in “the rules.”

      I also think rules make us feel better about ourselves. So we unconsciously think, “Hey, *I* keep that rule! That dude over there DOESN’T! His walk, his faith (add anything you like) must not be as strong as MINE…” It’s very sad.

    • Lymis

      I was informed by a Lutheran pastor once, with an apparently straight face, that while the Bible clearly said Jesus changed water into wine, it never says he drank it.

      Of course, this is the same man who, again, with apparent sincerity, on finding out I was Catholic, said, “Oh, then I suppose you believe in life on other planets.” I told him I was pretty clear that the Vatican hadn’t made an official statement on that subject. He was skeptical.

      • Jill

        I suppose the pastor was making that assumption based on the fact that archeologists have yet to unearth Jesus’ wine journal. It’s not widely known that he knew how to delicately pair reds with seafood quite well. Really, a rare art.

    • AdifferentMattfromtheonewhopostshere

      The tax-collector example is probably more of a message for liberal people, like us. They were more like loop-hole finding, greedy people who invested well. (How else could Zachias have paid everyone back and then some?). I think the modern-day equivalent would be our showing love to people like Romney, Gingrich, Cheney, Murdoch, and so on. A little mockery isn’t bad, but loving rich, powerful people is important–it’s equally important to oppose harmful ideas and actions, though.

      We all need to be forgiven, and we all need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. Hopefully, we’ll all continue to see positive change in our hearts and in our effects in this world, and that these things will happen with the people I mentioned earlier.


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