The gospel can be cut so many ways. “Good news” for a woman begging is different than for a rich Westerner, or trafficked boy. But concepts like unconditional love and freedom keep me busy.
I’ve heard many Christians stress about people needing to “convert” or “be saved” to avoid hell. Was it similar thinking that sparked the convert-or-die theology of the Crusades?
If God is Love and that Love pours through our lives, then our thinking, respect for and interaction with others starts to change…
And wouldn’t God-Sized Love stretch us a bit?
There’s a classic verse (below) that claims nothing can separate us from God’s Love, so does that include hell? I could be wrong, but the definition below seems to cover things, space, and time pretty intensely.
There’s also Psalm 139 which claims God is with us wherever we go– and this one expressly says hell (verse 8). Maybe the passage is metaphorical, but part of the heart of these verses is to comfort us, that wherever we are, whatever we’re going through, we’re not alone.
(*Small aside: When I checked the Hebrew, it seems verse 8 doesn’t close but instead goes through verse 10, thus reading: “If I ascend to Heaven, You are there, if I make my bed in hell, if I take the wings of the morning, if I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Your Hand lead me, and Your Right Hand shall hold me.” —Many Christians associate the “right hand” of God with Jesus.)
If God is even there (Jehovah Shammah), then Love must be there too…
But if this is true, then Jesus didn’t have to die??!
Absolutely not! Neither we, nor God could be satisfied with all the injustice in this world if Someone didn’t pay the ultimate price. A scapegoat was needed and predestined before even the beginning of Time (Revelation 13:8).
But if this is true, do we get a free pass to do whatever we want in life??!
Yes, we’ve been given absolute Freedom to–sadly– hurt and destroy one another and creation all around us. Freedom is a crucial element of Real Love. But when God/Love is our source, some things we do, or ways we may behave can start to unsettle us. On the flip side, love compels us to do and be good to others.
Here are more verses that stretch us:
- God promised eternal life (not in the context of eternal badness) (Titus 1:2)
- Before the foundation of the world we were chosen to be holy and blameless before God in Love. (Ephesians 1:4)
- How many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times? Response by Jesus: Seventy times Seven (aka Infinitely). (What humans cannot manage, God can–and beyond that, God would never ask us to do something *He didn’t already do *Himself (Matthew 18:22)
- Jesus lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:15)–(so even from the grave–or worse– we might hope we’re not forgotten).
- Mercy and Justice often go hand in hand and apparently Mercy triumphs (Psalm 89:14, James 2:!3) (*but if so, might we get the ‘older brother syndrome’ from the Prodigal Son story?).
- Forgive them Father, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34)
(This last one challenges me to keep mercy even for those whose age and actions indicate they know damn well what they’re doing, but just don’t care.)
But Jasmine, those verses don’t unlock until someone “accepts” Jesus?
I could be wrong, but as long as anyone can point to a single church or Christian and say ‘I want nothing to do with God or Jesus if *that’s* what He’s like!’, then I hope not.
There is a song in my kids’s school, in Dutch: “Ja is Ja, Nee is Nee, beloofd is beloofd. Jezus zal je helpen, als jij in hem gelooft” (Translation: Yes is Yes, No is No, a promise is a promise. Jesus will help you, if you believe in him.” I had to teach my littles something different:
Do you think God’s Love, help and care for you are conditional? Listen kiddos, I’ll help, protect and feed you, whether you believe I’m your mom or not. And I’ll continue even if you never want to talk to me, or curse me out, and even if you never thank me for anything. Why? Because I love you and my Love isn’t based on what you say or do or think. I love you and will go to hell and back for You–so help me God– because you’re mine.
Call me crazy, but I believe God’s promises and love are not for me just because I read about them. I believe they are for all of us because God is our Real Parent. Are we not all human?
When I was little, my mom used to turn my writing mistakes into flowers or something else cool. I was always amazed because I never even imagined a fix like that.
Here’s another one. When I’d get bad splinters, my mom would burn a needle until it glowed, purifying it before she used it on my skin. (those needles always ended up with a rainbow sheen).
Look, I’m not saying hell doesn’t exist, and I hope to God no one would be there, and I know verses warn about eternal damnation. But God-forbid, after a horrific “infinity”, Who has the last word? And where are the people who continue to plead with God for the good of others?
*I use “He” and “His” as simple pronouns for God but fully recognize God with both male and female ‘identity’ (for lack of a better word), as demonstrated throughout the Bible, but most fully through humanity itself. More on this in a post: “Transgender God” here. Or check Glennon Doyle’s, “Love Letter to a Transgender Teen on Spirit Day” here.
Cover image: ‘Is Hell Bigger than Love’ , by me, for Heart in Formation
Bible creative journaling page on Psalm 139, sourced here.
Photo of “Subversive Jesus” book (Craig Greenfield), my own copy.