Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why Doesn't God Save Everyone?

Why doesn't God save everyone? If God is so loving - indeed, if God is Love itself as 1 John teaches - why does he send anyone to hell at all?

This question is something that gets asked by atheists and Christians alike, and it's definitely an important one. The answer - whatever it is - will tell us something important about who God is, and who we are, and what it means to "be in heaven" or "be in hell."

It's that last bit in particular that I think is pretty important, and it's an aspect of the question that I think so many people overlook and take for granted. We know what "heaven" means: It's paradise! It's a place where everyone is happy! And we know what "hell" means: It's a place where everyone is miserable.

But I don't think it's that simple. In fact, I think it's precisely that assumption that gets us into trouble. If we think of heaven simply as a place where everyone is happy all the time, it makes sense for us to wonder why God doesn't simply allow everyone in. that what heaven actually is? No. When we talk about Christians "going to heaven", we don't just mean "going to a very pleasant location." We have to think about what makes heaven pleasant, what makes it paradise. And I think every Christian would agree that the thing that makes heaven paradise is primarily the felt presence of God. In heaven, we will experience God constantly. And as we worship him and submit ourselves to him, we experience that presence as pure joy and life.

That is what it means to "go to heaven." 

And when we come at the question with this in mind, the question changes to something more like this:

Is it possible for God to make his felt presence pleasurable for an unrepentant sinner? 

In my mind, that's the real question when we're discussing why people go to hell. Because I don't think that it is possible. If placed "in heaven" - that is, in unending and incredibly intimate proximity to God - those who love darkness will be blinded by the most intense Light imaginable. Those who hate will be seared by Love itself. And those who choose to be dead will be forever forced to look Life full in the face. 

That is what would happen to an unrepentant sinner who "goes to heaven". And I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything else to call that except for hell. In fact, this is the Eastern Orthodox view of hell (or if not THE view, at least a very popular view). In this view, God doesn't send anyone to Hell, and in fact, "Hell" isn't a separate place at all. Everyone simply experiences God: Some in humble surrender, others in painful defiance.

Now, I'm not positive this is the 100% correct understanding of Hell. But I think it's a distinct possibility. And I think that if it's wrong, then CS Lewis is correct when he calls hell a "painful refuge": Rather than force unrepentant sinners to remain in his presence - in agony - for eternity, God mercifully allows them to instead go into the "outer darkness", where they are cut off from their creator and left to stew in their own wickedness.

In either case, I think the problem of God sending people to hell loses its bite. There is nothing God can do to make his presence pleasurable to someone who rejects him: the only question is whether they suffer because he's there or because he's absent. The only people in hell will be those who choose it over heaven, who reject God and choose their own pride and selfishness as eternal companions. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why I Still Care About Calvinism

About four years ago, I wrote on why I care about Calvinism. A lot has changed in those four years, but there's one thing that hasn't: I still think that Calvinism is absolutely poisonous to the body of Christ and to individual believers.

The other night, I talked for nearly 3 hours with a friend who's been struggling with Calvinism for years, and it left me shaken. It left me angry. It left me incredibly sad. And it left me wanting to write.

I still care about Calvinism because my friend, who's worked with youth for years, struggled to answer whether God loves and wants to save each one of the kids they work with, and that struggle tears my friend apart sometimes.

I still care about Calvinism because my friend confessed, in tears, that they wonder whether they love the kids they work with more than God loves those kids: Because if any of them are unelect, that means that while my friend is actively working towards their salvation and earnestly desires for them to be saved, God does not desire their salvation and has in fact already irresistibly and irrevocably damned them to hell.

I still care about Calvinism because it makes good, godly Christians wonder whether God's goodness is really what we would consider goodness at all, whether his love bears any similarity to our love, and whether God really means it when he commands us not to sin (after all, he orchestrates the sins he commands us not to commit!).

I still care. It's still personal. Calvinism still poisons people.

One thing I want to end on. My friend said that they wished they could just be Arminian (or at least non-Calvinist), that they could just easily say "YES! God loves each one of the kids I work with and actively works towards their salvation every single day!" But he can't do that, and a big reason is that would mean at the end of the day, God doesn't ultimately get his way, and that's too big of a sacrifice.

That honestly boggles my mind. Because to me, that's an incredibly tiny sacrifice compared to the enormous, world-ending sacrifice of saying that each and every time I sin, that IS God "getting his way." That when I pass up an opportunity to witness to someone, that's God getting his way. That when someone experiences pain and hypocrisy that pushes them to reject God, that's God getting his way. 

THAT is too big a sacrifice. I can't take a God who limits his love for the sake of his power. I can't reconcile that with the God who gave up his power so that he could be wrapped in swaddling clothes, sweat blood, be nailed to a cross, so that he could love the world and draw all people to himself. I can't reconcile that with Jesus.