So What do I believe?

Having done my best to show you how I demolished my belief in both heaven and hell, what am I left with? What do I actually believe?

Well, in some ways it’s complicated. And in other ways it’s dead simple.

First and foremost, I believe that God is love… Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. (1 John, 4:8 - and other places) That is not just His primary attribute, but the very essence of who He is; the root of His being; it’s His nature; it’s what makes God God. Everything else about Him is derived from that.

Everything I believe about God, and humanity’s relationship with God has to be seen through that ‘love-tinted’ lens.

What is God like?

God is just like Jesus, as he told us himself:

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.John 14:9

If we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then we are designed to reflect God’s likeness: that likeness is summed up in the loving nature of Jesus.

Jesus said:

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

How do we love God? I believe we love God, not by obeying some arcane book of rules (see my previous post, and particularly the part about having a ‘moralised anthropology’), but by following Jesus’ example, and loving our neighbour (i.e. everyone we meet). I believe that since the advent of the New Covenant, sin, rather than being a failure to follow exactly the strictures of a law code, is a straightforward failure to love.

Ultimately, if there’s no hell, and we don't go to heaven, but heaven comes to earth, earth is renewed/remade, and all people are raised to life, we all end up in the presence of God. For those who love God, this will be bliss; for those who neither know nor love God, I suspect it won’t be pleasant (hell?) to begin with… But the white-hot fire of God’s purifying love will, I’m sure, prove hard to resist - it’ll burn away all the ‘dross’ from our lives, leaving us free to see God and ourselves clearly, perhaps for the first time. That’s what all the lakes of fire, and all those other ‘purificatory’ (but often interpreted as destructive) things are about.

At that point, I feel sure that, perfectly willingly, with no coercion:

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

And:

…we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”(1 Corinthians 15:51-55, quoting Hosea 13:14)

There are those who say that all of this ‘good news’ applies only to those who have ‘accepted Jesus as their Lord and saviour’ and, that, consequently, everyone else gets consigned to hell to be tortured for all eternity. My main response to that is to point to scripture. God’s stated aim is that all men be saved:

…God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.1 Timothy 2:4-6

Are we to suppose, as many Christians seem to believe, that God won’t succeed, fully, in realising this aim? In that case, what sort of God is He? If God really is God, then, surely, He will find, or make, a way for this to come about - and all without ‘violating’ humanity’s much-trumpeted ‘free will’…

Though, it has to be said, if I was a loving God, and I saw any (or all) of my creatures doing the cosmic equivalent of a toddler wandering into a busy road, I would say ‘to heck with his/her free will’ and grab them, tout de suite. In fact, I think the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus form God’s surefire way of rescuing His creation from the mess it’s gotten itself into - as Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome:

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Romans 3:23-24

There are those who say frequently to me that if everyone is saved in the end, Jesus’ death on the cross was pointless and unnecessary. Instead, I think that, if everyone is saved, Jesus’ death on the cross was 100% effective in fulfilling God’s stated aim of saving everyone!

Of course, there are also those who would say that to be rescued requires us to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ… And that is one interpretation of scripture (though I would dispute the belief, espoused by many, that we only have this short life in which to gain that faith - a topic for another time!). Having 'faith in Christ’ implies that we can’t be ‘saved’ without at least some effort, however small, on our part. That seems to me to be bordering on ‘salvation by works’. However, as we shall see, there is another, at least equally valid, way to read the relevant scriptures. The alternative reading implies that salvation does not require any ‘effort’ on our part - it is, in effect, ‘pure grace'. An explanation of how this alternative reading of scripture arises, and its effect, will follow in the next post.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022