If I were asked what my favorite thing about this blog is, and why (after 8 long months) I would choose to return to it, my answer would be short and to the point.
I love the conversations.
Of all the things seminary has instilled in me, an abiding love for theological musings and challenging dialogue easily rises to the fore. I am enthralled by the keen theologians in my blogging midst, whose perspectives expand and challenge my own, and whose (sometimes divergent) viewpoints force me to examine with greater depth those things which I have simply assimilated. Likewise, the occasional visit from those beyond the ring of Christian orthodoxy provide me with questions which may otherwise go unasked, leading to a deeper and more fully developed Christianity.
The other day, I encountered such a visit on a guest article I wrote in response to the recent tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The responder was articulate and polite, dutifully employing his rhetorical scalpel, and asking the questions which cut with surgical precision through to some of the serious challenges underlying the hope we have for a new heaven and new earth finally devoid of evil.
This was a portion of one of his comments:
To me, part of your reaction to this was a reminder that Christ showed that the pain and suffering in this world is not permanent and that a newly restored world will someday come about where none will suffer.
If I have read this correctly then let me now ask, who enters into heaven and do any become condemned to hell?
I ask because if this applies only to Christians then it still seems that there is a problem that is deeper than the one of why a good, moral, omniscient, omnipotent God allows evil in this world.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It’s a good question. If a world will come about where evil is abolished, then what is hell? If the only ones who will experience the encumbent reality of an existence devoid of pain are Christians – slightly more than a third of the global population at present – then what hope do we have for the vast majority of humanity? Even worse, what does this say of a God who is willing to surrender two-thirds of the human race to perpetual torment, when many of them are so condemned merely for being born in a time and place where they never have the opportunity to respond to the Gospel? Oh yes… and how does this, in any way, provide hope in the midst of human suffering?
I don’t want to devote this article to unpacking my theology on judgment and eternity – I already did this in my article on hell. I do, however, want to take a moment and look at the lingering 66% of the population, and offer some thoughts on how we wrestle with their fate.
Jesus is fairly clear in the gospels. In John 14:6, he says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Many Christians read this and see in it a proof text for exclusivism. That is, the gates of heaven open for Christians, and Christians exclusively. But is this what it actually says?
I am reminded of a story shared with me by my Professor Emeritus of evangelism, reflecting an one of his many, many missionary journeys through China. During one such expedition, their car broke down and they had to make a call. Going to a nearby house to ask for the phone, they were greeted warmly by a little old lady and welcomed inside. Following the call, they sat waiting for whoever was to come pick them up, gathered around a table and sharing a bowl of soup with that dear woman. In the process, they began to chat, and the conversation naturally led to Jesus. The two missionaries shared with her the person and work of Jesus Christ and, when they were finished, the lady uttered a single sentence which stunned them both.
“So that’s who He is.”
If salvation is rooted in Christ – and I believe it is – then surely God is capable of allowing all people to respond to the person, even if not the name, of Jesus.
There is a difference between following Jesus and following theology. That is, redemption is rooted in the person and work of Christ, regardless of how accurately we understand who He is and what He did. What if instead of following Jesus, I submit to the lordship of Yeshua (Jesus’ name in Hebrew)? What if I yield to the lordship of Iesu (Jesus’ name in Greek)? How about Yssa (Jesus’ name in Arabic – the way it appears in the Quran)?
What if, like the lady in China, I don’t know His name at all, but somehow have been given the opportunity to respond to the grace of one whose work is not dependent on who we are, but rather who He is? Can God reach beyond the veil of orthodoxy to draw people to Him, even if their theology is grievously flawed?
I think He can. In fact, I think He must. If salvation is rooted in Christ – and I believe it is – then surely God is capable of allowing all people to respond to the person, even if not the name, of Jesus.
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that good theology brings freedom, and freedom carries with it joy, and peace, and patience, and spiritual growth. I also believe that bad theology can be incredibly harmful. However, I think the gospels paint the picture of a God who reaches out to the lost, to the broken, to the imperfect. He does not wait for us to “get it.” Rather, He steps out of heaven and puts on flesh, walks among us, is even betrayed and crucified by the very humanity He came to rescue, and still cries out for mercy for us all from the cross. If God can do that, then surely God can breach the veil of orthodoxy to lead His children home.
What do you think? Where falls the boundaries of a saving faith?
Image Credit: Paul Bica