Now before I start, I feel I should warn you...this blog is not my trying to rewrite peoples understanding of scripture. I am not trying to invent a new religion, and I am certainly not saying that what I am writing is the ultimate and complete answer to my understanding of 'the things I am writing about in this blog'. I am simply sharing with you one of my 'spiritual' hang-ups, and some thoughts I have had in relation to that hang-up after much discussion, reading and pondering.
So, for quite some time...actually in fact since Liz mentioned it to me...my biggest issue in relation to God has been the thought of other cultures. I teach in a school which is 99 percent Muslim, staff included. And lately I simply struggle with the thought of having to believe that God, as is preached in the Christian doctrine that I grew up with, would condemn all these people to hell because they are not Christians, and the 'only way to the father is through me', (Jesus in the bible). My precious Year 3 and 4 children, who will likely continue to believe in Allah once they get past their child years will also find themselves in hell. This to me is not in the slightest way fair or just. And I do believe that God is just and fair. Why is this not fair? Well, I am born into a Christian family, I am therefore brought up believing in Jesus. I have this knowledge all through my life. For me getting to 'the father', (heaven, as it has been interpreted by the Christian church for as long as I have been alive), is easy. My colleagues and students are not this privileged. In fact they are sorely disadvantaged due to the fact that they are brought up in a culture which is extremely devoted and full of religious conviction in a religion which is, according to my church background, condemned to hell. How could an all loving God possibly send people to hell, (which is what this verse supposedly refers to), when they were simply born into the wrong culture, and therefore wrong religion.
For those of you confused about the verse to which I am referring, I have included a link below...(plus the before and after verses).
I got to thinking about these verses and this whole topic...the fact that a book on this topic is about to be released by Rob Bell did kind of inspire some of this thought and discussion, I have to admit, (not that I think that Rob Bell will have the same thoughts or ideas as me)...and I began to wonder; could it possibly be that these verses are referring to knowing who God is and his love for us? Is he actually being literal in his words, 'the only way to get to the father is through me'...we actually can't really know Him, His character, His love, without knowing Jesus?
I saw a documentary called 'Oh my God' which discussed the issue of who God is for people around the world. This led me, and the guy making the documentary, to an interesting conclusion. No matter your race or religion, all people had the same core beliefs about who God is. It is then no wonder all fall short of truly knowing the character of God, because we are all basically human. We all have the same basic needs, desires, struggles. We all seem to create an image of God based on those needs, desires and struggles. And because God has become our interpretation of someone who can fulfil those needs and desires, we set criteria with which to follow, so that we can assure we will get those needs met. We like to be in control, and check-lists are always the best way to ensure that. So the documentary pointed out 4 common beliefs amongst all cultures world-wide:
People can dismiss horrendous outcomes as Gods will, and so therefore God is a scapegoat.
God is the creator – we cannot explain how we got here and so therefore he is our explanation.
God is a policeman – good deeds can buy us a place in heaven, bad deeds ensure our punishment and his discipline of us...which leads to number 4...
God is the giver of eternal life – The only thing we know for certain is that when we die our bodies rot in the ground, the rest is speculation, so therefore God gives us a reason to do good deeds and makes his being a policeman worth while.
I was completely fascinated when I watched this documentary, and utterly surprised. I know for myself being bought up in a Christian background I had pretty much come to these conclusions of God myself...Jesus was the loving one...but to realise that people who have never left their own country, who, even before the world-wide web, had come to the same conclusions of who God is? God isn't stupid...I am quite sure he realised we would reach these conclusions and so he recognised our absolute need for Jesus...a walking living example of himself, so that we might be able to grasp his actual character. Yet still we have messed it up. Because even with Jesus, and his pointing out to us that the only way to truly 'get to the father', to have relationship with him, to know him, to know his character, we still misinterpret his words through our predetermined view of God, and view them as an excuse to add another item to our list of criteria to reach heaven. We as humans, by nature need structure, we need someone to tell us what to do and how to do it. We like to invest in a safe future. And to ensure that our investment is protected, we create a ladder which we must all climb to achieve that. Because of our human need to create check-lists for life, God sent Jesus. He is the only way we can possibly understand who God is and how he loves us. We have already proven that without Jesus (and sadly with, is no exception either), we get it well wrong. And the funny thing about Jesus example was that there were no rules. He related to each person individually. He cut of ears, he rubbed dirt in eyes, he spoke straight to some, and had conversation with others, he asked one to get him a drink, he drew in the sand for another...he didn't have a structure...because love doesn't have a structure. The only consistent thing was his love for us. Have we been mistaken in our understanding of God, believing that he has the same rules for us as he does for a completely different culture? Have I judged the world according to the rulebook I grew up being taught? And in doing so condemned whole cultures to hell because they do not reach the standard of 'Christian' I claim they should, to 'get to the Father'? Can we even judge who will and won't go to heaven when we are so far from attaining even the rules we have set for ourselves; pray daily, read the bible daily, go to church weekly, have said 'the sinners prayer', have asked for forgiveness for my sins, be attempting to not live in sin according to Church doctrine...just to name a few. Because to simply 'love' is not rule enough on its own for us? Because love keeps us all equal, because we all screw it up daily, because we all need it constantly. Because we all know that if this were the only criteria we would all be doomed to hell, because we all fall far short of perfect love, and we fear most not being in control of our destiny's.
So then could it not be that Jesus is actually not setting a list of criteria in these verses for us to get to heaven, but rather pointing out who God is and the best example of him that we could ever understand, in the hopes that maybe...just maybe, we might follow this He who simply 'loved? Because after all...Grace is actually not really grace at all if we still have to work for it? Now I am not saying this is the answer, but I know that I simply cannot believe that my whole school is condemned to hell simply because they were born into the wrong culture and religion, so therefore I find this interpretation a closer fit with my belief of who God is according to who I have seen Jesus to be. Maybe all God asks of us is to do the best we can to really love others? Did Jesus not say that the 10 commandments can be summed up in loving God and loving others? Because lets face it...that is actually the biggest challenge.
(Sorry I can't figure out how to create it as a link...but if you copy and paste it will work too :-) Spot 'Miss Uncomputer-savvy!)