Tag Archives: hell

Is the universe benevolent?

What kind of world are we living in?

Are we living in a universe that is against us?

Is God on the edge of a throne somewhere just waiting for us to mess up so that God can smight us?

For some, God is someone to be feared.  God is a righteous and holy being who cannot stand to be around us when we mess up. This view of our world, God, and the universe affects people in very real ways.

angry-god

I have been in several conversations  where it has become clear to me that some people see God, the world, and the universe in a very different light than I do.

Now, before I even get to far into this, let me say that this view of God can be and is often defended using the Bible. But then again, so many hurtful and destructive things have been defending using the Bible so it really shouldn’t surprise us all that much. The Bible, like religion, can be helpful or hurtful. It can be used to speak life or death. The Bible, like religion, can be used to feed the ego and enhance our sense of being right or superior – it can create more boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out”.

Often, people who see God as an angry tyrant ready to destroy the “wicked” are fairly uptight themselves – after all if you have this view then you are constantly walking on egg shells – how exhausting!

I know this to be true because I lived much of my life here and can speak from experience. Everything needs to be defended and seen as a threat. The world is a terrible place and “Satan” is out to get you if you let your guard down for even a moment. This can take many forms; the Muslims are trying to take over the world, the liberals are out to get you, atheists are evil, evolution is deceiving our children etc etc.

When I am in conversations with people who see things differently – this can be concerning the LGBTQ community, evolution, science, hell, judgement, holiness, the Bible, righteousness, what salvation means, if the Christian truth is exclusive,  etc – what I have become aware of is that

beneath all of this is our view of God.

Is God benevolent or is God an angry tyrant? Does God’s holiness mean God cannot stand to be around us “sinners” – what an awful picture of God that paints – no wonder people are rejecting that god, I do to!

As I mentioned above, this is an exhausting way to live. The good news however, is that you don’t have to live this way. God, Reality, the Universe (however you define the Divine) is wholly and completely benevolent. God’s dream is for the world to flourish and God understands that you and I will make mistakes and occasionally mess up in the process.

So, it’s going to be ok. You can breath easy and don’t need to be anxious or fearful but can trust that God is working through your life, your decisions, and yes, even your mistakes.

I think God is best defined as love. Fear or anxiety do not exist in the domain of love. Where there is love, perfect and complete love, there is no fear.

Another way to say this is when one becomes fully conscious and awaken to God, they will no longer live in fear. Instead of seeing the world as a threat, one actually walks through it with eyes wide open in wonder and awe. God doesn’t need to be feared, but rather can be trusted because of God’s benevolence.

God is on your side and wants the best for you – how great is that!

Evangelism – the dirty “e” word

“The word evangelism still sends shivers down the spines of many people” says N.T. Wright.

I would say it does that to me.

I was taught to evangelize using the four spiritual laws which was a way of proselytizing or trying to convert the other. Often we would do this with complete strangers or sometimes at church as we tried to convince others that if they would just mentally check off the right box, then God wouldn’t send them to hell.

evangelism

Is there another way to think of evangelism?

I think there is, though in all honesty I don’t think I would use the word in my personal vocab because it has to many negative connotations.

I am doing some research for a paper and I dusted off a classic book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright – probably the single most influential book in my life…next to the Bible of course.

N.T. Wright suggests that there is a different, more accurate way of evangelizing than the traditional framework of heaven and hell. In my own mindset, I struggle with the idea of a loving God punishing humans for eternity because they did not accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. I think the good news is much better and more inclusive than this.

Drawing from Wright, I would paraphrase evangelism as saying

God’s new world is breaking in right here and right now and we are invited to be a part.

Yes, it’s that simple, and yet so inspiring for several reasons.

First, it states that God has a vision, a direction, a hope, a dream for the world. It’s not random or accidental.

Second, it states that this world matters. It matters to God and it should matter to us. In fact, while many misinterpret the Scriptures to give Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE), or to give us an evacuation plan, the story told in the Bible is ironically the exact opposite. The story is about this world, how God cares for this world, and how God is working to bring a just and peaceful world. Yes, global warming matters (shout out to Pope Francis for making sure this is on the forefront of our minds!), the global economy matters, the life of plants and animals matter, equality for all matters.

Third, we are invited to be a part. We can hinder the hope or the dream of God, or we can be a part of seeing God’s hope and dream come to fruition! As N.T. Wright puts it, “saying no to the things that diminish human flourishing…saying yes to the things that enhance them.”

I suspect that there are whole swaths of people who would not call themselves a Christian or would never set foot in a church that are actually doing a better job at working toward God’s hope and dream than some of us Christians are.

N.T. Wright concludes this section by writing, “And, of course, evangelism  will flourish best if the church is giving itself to works of justice (putting things to rights in the community) and works of beauty (highlighting the glory of creation and the glory yet to be revealed).”

Justice and beauty!

What a great way to see evangelism!

And the greatest part is that this can be done in numerous, creative ways. Through health care, education, politics, religion, business, photography, art, design, science, study, writing, building, law, teaching…the list is endless.

Is evangelism a dirty word? Perhaps, but I think there is a different, and I would argue, more accurate way of understanding this in light of the Biblical story.

May we sense the invitation to work for a more just, more peaceful, and more sustainable world and may we be able to see the ways that we are already doing this and to continue find creative ways to continue to do this into the future.