Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Seasoned with salt: grace-filled conversations II

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.     - Colossians 4.6.
Last month I started a new series to explore how to participate in genuine conversations. My last question generated many thoughtful responses.

Situation: Here's an old chestnut - in an email exchange with a believing friend you've known for some time, she admits to doubts. "I struggle to believe that God would send many (most?) people to Hell for not believing in him. After all, apart from personal epiphanies, he chooses only to reveal himself in the form of a book which was written, collated and interpreted by fallible humans."

How might you respond with grace, seasoned with salt?

Remember, since these posts are based on actual situations (sometimes with some key details changed), it's possible that the interlocutor might be a reader of this blog and follow the discussion. If not, others in a similar position might be reading.


Benjamin Ady said...

Well of *course* you struggle to believe such a horrible painful yucky untrue thing.

Why are you wanting/trying to believe it?

Would you find it comforting to know that lots of Christians, honest, sincere, Christians who were totally committed to Christ, totally lovers and studiers of the Bible, over the years, have come to the conclusion that the situation you describe simply isn't the case? Including George Macdonald, the Scottish pastor and writer who was the spiritual mentor/father of C.S. Lewis.

I could recommend a great book for you on this subject, if you're interested. =)

byron smith said...

Which book do you have in mind?

Anonymous said...
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Benjamin Ady said...

I'm thinking the comment just above from fenrisar might be spam.


This is a bit pathetic. I had a recommendation on a book along these lines from someone I really respect, and I can't find it right now. =( (I'm too disorganized.)

But I'm referring to the doctrine of universalism, and I rather enormously like the sermons of George Macdonald, himself a universalist, many of which you find compiled in a couple compilations of his writing by Michael Phillips called Knowing the Heart of God and Understanding the Character of God.

I would also recommend all the books of Brian Mclaren, who leans that direction.

And I also found this one on Amazon, which looks to be reasonably well written, Although I've not read it.

Or you could start with this wiki article as well.

michael jensen said...

Well, in a sensitive way, I would ask how the person knew how many people would be in hell. I certainly don't know. What I am trying to do is turn the conversation away from the speculation about God's judgement.

And also: is it faith or lack of it that we are judged by? I would argue that no one is sent to hell for not having faith...

h. goldsmith said...

Charles Williams would say that the only people in hell are the ones that chose to be there - see his novel Descent Into Hell. There are, furthermore, numerous passages in Scripture which make it clear that Christ died to reconcile all of creation to the Father (2 Cor 5:19 is the only one I can pull off the top of my head) - and if all of creation is reconciled, all anyone has to do to enter the kingdom is accept God's ridiculously generous offer of salvation.
God doesn't want to send anyone to hell - if He did, we'd all be screwed. He loves you, so stop worrying.

Anonymous said...

"Why are you wanting/trying to believe it?"

I don't think any individual wants to believe in hell but there are very many vocal preachers out there who do threaten unbelievers and sinners (as in anyone who disagrees with their view) with the torments of hell. Evangelist Ray Comfort for example, argues that a Christian is guilty of idolatry if he/she does not believe in a God who will cast them into hell should they live a wicked live. The idolatry is committed through the Christian [according to Ray] creating a personal,cuddly God, one they are more comfortable in believing, rather than the God of the bible.

"...he choses only to reveal himself in the form of a book which was written, collated and interpreted by fallible humans."
For me, this is the more interesting question. Does anyone have an answer?

Unknown said...

I wonder if this e-mailer has misunderstood something. God doesn't reveal himself in the form of a book. He reveals himself in Jesus Christ.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

BTW. Seasoned with salt and full of grace doesn't mean softening the word of God - does it?

Either hiding the reality of God's wrath or wishing it away - is downright dangerous to us and the people we speak with.

byron smith said...

AB - Seasoned with salt and full of grace doesn't mean softening the word of God - does it?
I take it that Paul's phrase from Colossians can serve as something of a test of all our language. Is it filled with grace in its content and mode? Grace must not, of course, be simply confused with what our interlocutor desires. Our grasp of what is gracious can only be received (as a gracious gift!) from God's care for us in Christ.

And this applies to our language (and understanding and behaviour) concerning divine judgement. Whatever we say, I believe wrath must be understood and presented in the light of Christ as gracious from beginning to end. If Christ is presented as simply the "solution" to a pre-existing divine wrath, then we have not yet had our thinking Christianised. God's unwavering opposition to all that diminishes and pollutes his good creation and the sharing of his life is itself a function of his love. Anger (of a particular kind) is the good response to a threatening of the beloved.

There's much more to say here, but I might stop there and post more on this later (including part of my attempted response).

Anonymous said...

I posted my own response to this kind of thing here.