“Behold, I give unto you power…” I often mull over Luke 10:19 and wonder if Christians truly understand how much power we wield in the world– specifically of the psychological and sociological variety.
I’ve been particularly attentive to how Christianity understands its power as I’ve watched the debate surrounding Rob Bell’s book unfold. One side consists of Christians who are desperate to be rescued from the stigma attached to the traditional doctrine of hell. On the other side are those who wish to cling unyieldingly to Christianity’s traditional understandings of the afterlife. Any deviation, for them, is heresy and therefore not worthy of exploration.
Lost in the debate are millions of ordinary people. We don’t ask them how they interpret our depictions of God on Sunday mornings, so we don’t learn that some of them have been abused by a father in this life, and cannot bear the thought of worshiping a parent-figure who might someday torture them again… We don’t know that some are people who have escaped demanding, abusive spouses and can’t fathom “loving” a cosmic “bridegroom” who will hurt them if they don’t get their religion just right.
We don’t consider that some are parents who haven’t had abusive relationships, but after learning what it means to protect their own kids at all costs, are mortified at the thought of an “all-loving God” who would destroy his own children. Many Christians are unaware that others look at our depiction of God and see a sadomasochist with an unquenchable temper… a cosmic taskmaster who demands that we believe and behave perfectly… a hothead lacking foresight who plans to destroy the majority of his own unwitting creation. We can’t fathom that some people are so repulsed by the theology we’ve built around a bloodthirsty sadist named Yahweh that they’d rather have no god at all.
We don’t understand their positions, or have compassion for them. We simply tell them that they must convert or bear the consequences of their “disobedience.” None of that “grace” stuff we like to give lipservice to. No thought for what it has meant to live the lives they’ve lived, or survive the experiences they’ve survived. Just our application of a one-dimensional theology.
And this, for me, is where we lose touch with the importance of this debate. We forget that this issue is not just about buildings, programs, and televangelists. It’s not even about the theologians who shaped our understanding of God so long ago. It’s about how we still fail to understand the power of religion in the lives of people, the power religion has over the way we view the world, and how religion informs the picture of justice we paint for our own children. This is about a faith that has lost touch with what it means to be the empowered Church… a body of capable believers, theologians, mystics, and practitioners with the resources to really research the history of the afterlife and the underworld and its implications for Christianity… We forget that we are a people empowered to draw new conclusions as the Spirit so enlightens us.
I sincerely hope Rob Bell’s book will offer a radically different interpretation of what the Bible says to us about God, and hell, and the Gospel. We need an influential voice to call us to accountability on this issue. And more than that, we need to think about what it means to be the empowered faithful.
More From The “One Hell of a Lie” Series
Prologue: Seven Reasons Why I Don’t Believe In Hell
Part 1: God Didn’t Invent Hell. We Did.
Part 2: Jesus & Hades: What Did He Mean?
Part 3: “Where The Worm Doesn’t Die…”: (Where the hell is Gehenna?)
Part 4: “Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth…”: What Those Verses Mean
Part 5: Divine Torture: Why Our Society Won’t Stop Believing in Hell
Part 6: Pastors, Hell and the Naked Truth
Part 7: What Do We Do Without Hell?
Part 8: About Satan & Evil: Why The Devil Didn’t Make Us Do It
More About Hell:
1. A Few Thoughts On Hell & Religious Power
2. Eternal Life: What if Jesus Wasn’t Talking About Heaven or Hell?
3. Lazarus and the Rich Man: Why It Isn’t About Hell
4. Carlton Pearson: “We should think about why we believe it…”
5. Answering A Concerned Mother’s Questions About Hell