I Choose Love

I didn't spend a lot of time on the discipleship thing this week. I was on maintenance, which is way more work than chore boying, because there's always another job that can be done. Harry Potter took up all my free time. This next week, by the way, I'll be counseling a teen camp. Prayers are appreciated.

So here's something that struck me recently. For some reason I got thinking about an episode of Adventures in Odyssey (a childrens' audio drama by Focus on the Family, which I listened to constantly as a kid). There's this one where a young guy's about to make the very great mistake of marrying a non-Christian, and the gravity of the situation is driven home by the sad story of his wise and elderly friend, who, it is revealed, had a non-Christian wife in his youth.

I think I'd always been told that Christians shouldn't marry non-Christians because their differing beliefs will be a barrier to intimacy and unity, strain the relationship, and cause disagreements about how the kids should be raised. Intriguingly, none of these concerns were addressed by the Odyssey episode. Instead, it emphasized the intense pain that Jack experienced on behalf of his dearly loved, deceased, and (as far as he knew) unsaved wife, who in all probability was already burning in hell.

It struck me that the implicit message here is, don't love non-Christians too much. Don't care too much about them. Don't feel for them too much of what God feels. Don't understand too deeply their immeasurable, inherent value, because if you do, and they die unsaved, you will see too clearly the incomparable tragedy and horror of hell, and it will break you.

This brings to light a very serious problem with (a certain kind of) Christianity: it both demands that we believe the majority of humanity will suffer eternally, and exhorts us to love others to the greatest degree of which we are capable. If we do both these things well, we are setting ourselves up for unparalleled and (I suspect) utterly crippling, destructive sorrow.

Immediately I can see two (and only two) solutions to this problem. Either we must refuse to believe in hell, or we must moderate our love. I choose not to believe in hell. (This is a more popular solution than you might think - many Christians claim to believe in hell but in reality do not, because they do not permit themselves to think about what they "believe", or allow it to affect their actions.) Focus on the Family (implicitly) recommends the other solution - that we not allow ourselves to care too deeply for those whom we believe will suffer eternally.

I choose to love, therefore I cannot believe in hell. I don't mean to say that I love greatly - if you are underwhelmed with my love, I assure you I am as well - but I love enough that I recoil from the idea of hell. I cannot accept it. Others may have stronger hearts, which can love more deeply before hell crushes them, but I don't believe any heart could survive loving to its utmost ability and believing in hell.

You can call me weak, or cowardly, or naive. I suppose I'm all of those things. But whatever my failings I want, more than anything, to love. I will pursue this zealously. And if my religion hinders me, I know what must be done. I will not be moderate. I will not make compromises.

I choose love, and for this I will not apologize.


Filth- Man said...

I wonder how God feels about all those non-Christians...

raskolnikov said...

Interesting comments Joel... I deeply resonate with what your saying... the passage that came to my mind is "faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love." I think that I believe in hell (some kind of seperation from God) but I also believe in loving people like crazy. I think that we should strive to love people so much that it hurts, that its soul-crushing. I don't mean to use empty phrases, but we should be stiving for a deeper love that hurts. What's the passage about loving so much that we ask God to trade our place for theirs?

Jacob said...

FM: A good question. Of course, God may not experience quite the same problem, since He's God, and presumably better able to deal with heartbreak. But none of us really know anything about God, so it's not something I'm putting a lot of thought into.

R: I do feel a little bit like I'm using empty phrases, or talking about things I don't understand (what do I know about heartbreak?) but the kind of heartbreak I'm thinking of is the kind that, among other things, burns you out and makes you unable to continue loving people. Do you think we're meant to experience this?

You may be thinking of the bit in Romans 9 where Paul says "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel." I didn't remember it when I wrote this, but it's quite applicable. Man, what a thing to say. Paul was hardcore.

Tim said...

I find the concept of hell as a place where 'unbelievers' burn in an eternal fire incompatible with a God of love.

I think that it is plain from the scriptures that for those who choose not to believe in him he puts them out of thier misery (Rom 6:23, Rev 20:15) but I guess that dependson how you interpret the text.

Judgement is simply that moment when the sinner realises that God is real, Jesus is real and that they Got it all wrong. In that moment they are consumed by the purity of Christ, overwhelmed by his power and majesty and simply cast out into a darkeness and cease to exsist.
And yes I think God greives for the wasted life half lived chasing petty fancies or causing all kinds of grief and sorrow in the pursuit of personal wealth, power and prestige.
The stupid thing is that many Christians live like that too; I think I might be one of them. I wonder what God thinks of that?
I know what I think of it.

Filth- Man said...

Tim, you are wise.

Given the shortage of verses in the Bible declaring hell to be "eternal"and "torture" (there are about 4 of each, and are often debatable) and the preponderance of verses suggesting hell is "destruction", "the wicked will be no more" etc etc etc...

It really shocks me how violently resistant evangelicals are to theories of annihilation (which changes nothing about theology except the duration of suffering in hell) or eventual reconciliaton. Perhaps it's nothing more than the usual outcry against "heresy", however, I think I depict a sadistic tone in the arguments of some evangelicals, as if they WANT everyone else to burn for ever. This troubles me.

After all, if another theology is compatible BOTH with the majority of scripture, and the essential goodness of God, why should we reject it out of hand?

Je Dois said...

My friend said something to me that was very good the other day. He said that it doesn't matter exactly what we believe, but that we do. Now I know this comment can be polarizing- and it did start a debate on my own blog. I also realize that this is a paraphrase of Selma Hayek's words in Dogma but the concept is still great. I get caught up in the details all the time and what he was trying to tell me was that the details- whether this exists or that does not- isn't what matter in the bigger picture.
Now, that's all well and good but I"m still trying to figure out all the answers. At least it gave me a bit of peace for a little while.
I found your blog off rlp...keep up the good work.

Jacob said...

Welcome Clare. I strongly believe that what we do is more important than what we believe. But I also believe that our beliefs should and do influence our actions, and if they don't, I don't think we really believe them. But I suppose this applies more to our core beliefs than the details. I don't worry too much about details.

Je Dois said...

Thank you Jacob,
I don't know if you have read much Ayn Rand ( i don't recommend reading a lot if you haven't) but she believes that if two beliefs or realities appear to disagree that you should go back and check your premises.
I am one of those christians you mentioned that probably doesn't think too much about the ugly questions - like does Hell exist- because I am still trying to wrap my mind around all the simple lessons I learned in Sunday School.

All that said, I think there is a time when we will understand it all. I believe this time will be in heaven and all our questions will be answered.
That statement is trite and helps to push all the inconsistencies under the rug but I do believe- to an extent- that we cannot comprehend all the mysteries of God. I do think, however, that we should work ourselves trying to figure it out.

Jacob said...

I haven't read Ayn Rand. I think what I'm concerned about here is not so much knowledge of the afterlife or intellectual honesty as the problem of true belief in hell preventing people from loving others. If you avoid this problem by not thinking about hell you may be being somewhat dishonest, but I don't think it's a huge deal. We don't have time to think about everything, and you're not likely to ever have a well thought out, completely consistent and all-encompassing worldview anyway.

Maybe we'll get to heaven someday, and maybe then all our questions will be answered. But in the mean time there are more important things than believing all the right stuff.

Filth- Man said...

The problem- if the fundemantalists are correct- is that if you don't believe the right stuff you don't get to heaven.