Saturday, January 31, 2009

Going to Hell?

Yesterday, I finished up with the Urban Forum in Cleveland. It was a terrific experience. People from Europe and North America, who are concerned for and work with the poor attended. It was a great time of networking, fellowship, worship (thanks to my man Matt Frye, my dear friend Sandra Ryan and that kickin' group Progeny) and thought-provoking discussion. God was there.

I made new friends and renewed old friendships. One of those with whom I renewed friendship was the speaker for the last two sessions of the forum. He shared his spiritual journey and some of the questions he is walking through with the concept of grace and Hell. He is very much in the universalist camp. Although, he does contend that Hell is real. (I believe Hell is real.) He believes God created that place so that He could fulfill the justice part of His character. My friend contends that people will go there if the consciously continue to reject God. I tend, in my thinking, to lean that way.

I do not believe that Jesus led anyone in the "Sinners' Prayer." Even though James and John speak of confession, they were essentially writing to people who had already made a commitment to follow Jesus as their pattern for life. No doubt, these were people who carried their flaws, just as you and I do. They probably never said the "Sinners' Prayer." They probably were baptized as their initiation into the church.

My friend was very open that he believes that people whose lives are not miraculously changed, who suffer due to no fault of their own, or find themselves in addictions they can't lick, even good Hindus (Gandhi) and Muslims will go to heaven. I tend to agree.

This is not to say that miracles can't happen. They do. they just don't happen that often. That is why they are called miracles.

It is also not to say that we should stop telling people of Jesus and His way. I want people to know Jesus so that they can at least find some escape from hell here on earth.

A novel thought came out of the second session of his talks. That there may be a chance for people to be saved out of hell. The idea was put forward that the God of justice would send those who reject Him consciously to Hell. Yet, at the same time, we who believe in the "immortality of the soul" would still have opportunity to cry out for forgiveness. I am not sure where that leaves us in the story of Lazarus the beggar found in the gospels.

As we were discussing these things, a man who was going through one of our programs, who had accepted Jesus, was seriously trying to change his life, relapsed. That night he died. I wonder, did he go to Hell? I am not so sure that this man did.

He could be like Mephibosheth, the cripple who ate at David's table. He deserved to die. He would never be healed. He found the King's favor and mercy even though, he should have died and did nothing to ask forgiveness.

I think all too often our modern, utilitarian mind-set that one size fits all, causes us to become judgemental and hold people to standards, God does not set at all. We set our interpretation of Scripture up as the only valid one. Our statement of faith is often less theological, than it is core value in nature.

So as I journey through this latest thought process I need some help. Is Hell real? Will mercy overcome at the end? Revelation and other scripture seems to indicate that it is so. Should we lose hope since we don't always see miracles?

I have a ton of other questions to ask. I would be happy to hear from you with well-thought out questions and comments. Don't be defensive but engage cordially.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In God we trust?

Yesterday was a day of incredible historical proportion in the history of the United States. As one of my Canadian friends put it "you Americans were busy with your coronation." I am glad that our country came to the point where we could elect a president who is African-American. I am hopeful that our new president can bring about some positive change. He is proving to be quite the uniter.

However, I am worried about the strange language that we speak in political realms. I have been reading "Jesus for President" by Shane Claiborne. Shane rightly points out that we as Americans tend to put our trust in our state more than we do our God.

President George W. Bush spoke in his 2003 State of the Union address that "There is power, wonder-working power" in the American Ideal. Our current president stated on a late night talk show that "America is the last best hope of the world."

We have on our money, "In God We Trust." It is interesting that the Romans had that on their money as well. Although the God they talked about was their emperor.

If you listen to the rhetoric of the political types the best hope of the world, is this ideal of democracy or the American dream. Don't get me wrong. I love living in America. It is a land of comfort for most of us. I do see that dream dying on a regular basis for many in my community though. Maybe they trusted what our politicians have told us to trust. They have asked us to trust a system, a dream or an ideal.

One of my favorite verses in scripture is Psalm 20:7, "Some trust in chariots and horses, but we trust in the LORD our God." In other words, we can trust in our 450 billion dollar defense budget (which by the way is more than the next 19 countries in the world combined). We can trust in a system, or as Christians we can put our trust where it belongs.

Often I believe we have set our god up and it is our country. Patriotic fervor is often greater than our evangelical fervor. We too often have wrapped our faith in a flag and see our system of life as a religion.

Maybe I am over-reacting. But I wonder what we really trust.

As with all my posts I wonder;

What do you think?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Those of you who follow my blog will know that Janet and I just returned from the Middle East. The tensions are high there. You would have to be living in a cave not to realize that there has been a major incursion into Gaza by the Israelis, in response to rocket attacks.

I need to be honest here. I am not sure what I would do to keep my friends and family safe if someone was lobing rockets into my back yard. I would want to keep them safe. That is for sure.

No one is condoning the actions taken by Hamas. I have had discussion with several of my friends regarding the depth of response by Israel to the attacks. It does seem to be extreme. Of course, I am not there and I am not sure how I would respond.

When I got to Egypt, my son presented me with a scarf, which is representative of the Palestinian people. Many people recognized my scarf as I would walk through the market place or where it around in Egypt. As I wore it one day, the manager at one of the hotels we stayed in asked me if I was making a political statement. He wanted to know if I supported the Palestinians. My response, "Mohamed, I support peace."

I believe much of the resistance in Gaza is not only driven by extreme religious and political positions, but also by poverty. The conditions in Gaza are terrible by any standard. Very few jobs are available. Supplies and services are in short supply.

Many of the Egyptians to whom I spoke regarding this situation, are skeptical of both the Palestinians and Israelis. Although they stand in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, Egypt will not open their border with Gaza, because of atrocities committed by extremists toward Egyptians who crossed over from Gaza.

The Israelis will not talk with the elected government of Gaza because of the extreme position taken by Hamas. Although it could be said that the total lock down by Israel has also contributed to the confrontation.

The situation is complicated. The analysis is difficult even for the so-called experts.

All I know is that there are many souls in Gaza who are paying the price as civilians for a fight they did not start or want. They are caught between two extreme political positions. Many of these people are Christians. No matter what their religious affiliation, they are people.

There have been so many conflicts started in the name of religion. The Crusades, 9/11 attacks and many wars in Europe between Christian factions have all started over religious disagreement. It is interesting how all of these religions advocate peace.

So, this begs to question, "Why are we still fighting?" Many will say that we have the "just war" option. I am not sure any war or taking of life is just. As much as we as Christians say we advocate for peace, we also say that life is sacred. I wonder how sacred life really is.

War, abortion and the death penalty just add to the violence brought about by our fallen nature. It is interesting how we have Christians who advocate war and the death penalty, but oppose abortion. If life is sacred, is it not sacred all of the time?

Even if we are "saved" however you define it, I am not sure we are really people of peace. Peace outside of community and submission to God is an illusion. I wonder if our lack of peace and bent toward violence is a result of our having ruptured relationships, even though we think we are really saved.

Is peace an illusion? Why are we such violent people not following the lead of our Saviour? Is there ever a just war? Where do we draw the line between be pacifists who are pushed around and people of war?

I wonder, what do you think?