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Tangents – Part 2

Another phase or tangent I see emerging quite often amongst grace believers is that of Universalism or Ultimate Reconciliation. I can see why this concept emerges amongst grace believers, as they struggle to come to terms with how a loving God could punish people for eternity - just because they didn't say a "sinner's prayer". I would say that it has a lot to do with the psychological condition known as Cognitive Dissonance: where a discomfort is caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g. ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously.

Personally, I stand with the hosts of the God Journey and Into the Wild podcasts on the subject of hell: basically, I don't really know. There seem to be compelling arguments either side of the hell argument. In the Bible, Jesus talks about the Second Death and Gehenna. But there are verses in the Bible that say that everyone will be saved. There is also a website called tentmaker which gives a very compelling argument against the concept of eternal damnation.

The Universalism versus hell argument is typical of Christians who often get carried away with other-worldly, future-based concepts - instead of focusing on the present. It is in the present, the here-and-now, which we find ourselves. This is where life is happening, right here, and right now. Yet Christians prefer to discuss matters that no-one can really know for certain, things that science cannot prove. I do believe in spiritual things and I'm open-minded about miracles and such like. But the more people tend to veer away from present-day reality - the more insecure and just plain whacky they tend to become.

For me, the Bible points me towards Jesus as my Saviour. I'm loved by God because He first loved me and sent Jesus to die that I might have life. That's a spiritual concept that science cannot really prove; a concept that not everybody believes - but I do. But we have to come to terms with the fact that this message of Good News, this grace, is so we can live our God-given and God-ordained lives - right here, right now. I like what the hosts of The God Journey podcasts often say, "We should love the people that are in front of us now." The bottom line in life really comes down to living our normal, everyday life, loving others and being content with what we have. It can be hard to let go of fantasies - but it is essential if we are to be normal people who are able to get on with others and get on with life.

Eternal life is to be lived now! In the New Testament, the Greek word Zoë is often translated as life and eternal life: it is the life-giving presence of God; it is joy and a source of a vibrant personality that other people are attracted to. The Bible talks about the light of life: this speaks to me of having the expression of the presence of God; the expression of fullness of joy. Instead of focusing on heaven, hell, end-times and other such concepts - we should really focus on having the life of God in us now. Wrong beliefs and attitudes, more that what we see as sin, is what diminishes that light of life in us.

A really good book that I would recommend on this subject of tangents is Phil Baker’s hilarious, but relevant and honest book, Weird Christians I Have Met. It amazes me that this book was actually written at the peak of the charismatic movement; it deals with all the excesses and pitfalls that charismatic Christians often get caught-up in. It uses fictional characters, like End-Time Ed, that epitomise that particular tangent.

Tangents – Part 1

What I’ve noticed on this spiritual journey is that people often get caught-up in tangents. I‘ve already discussed in previous blog entries how Christians go through phases and stages on their Christian journey. But they also tend to get stuck on particular phases for rather too long. They can also tend to get carried away with certain concepts – hence the term “tangent”. I wouldn’t mind if these tangents were beneficial but, most of the time, they tend to be anything but beneficial.

There are various tangents that Christians get caught-up in once they come into the grace message. One such tangent is that phase of being angry with the institutional church for the perceived abuse that they have had to endure at the hands of that entity. I think it is natural, even necessary, to go through a phase of being angry at the religious system that most of us believers have been through at some point. But there is a definite need to let it all go and to get on with your life.

I, personally, dislike "scare-monger" preachers such as John Bevere - someone well known for frightening his followers into obedience. But Bevere does have a point, I believe, when it comes to the assertion that holding onto a bad attitude can cause problems in your life. This bad attitude could be unforgiveness towards a person or bitterness towards an institution, event, and concept and so on.

I do honestly believe that in order for people to be free - they should be allowed to sin. The notion that people will not sin once they know they're right with God is akin, in my opinion, to the ideal that once Christians discard tithing - they will end-up giving more to the church. There is a need to have the freedom to be where you are right now in life - to live in that space and to progress in your own time and in a way that is right for you. The analogy of being God's children is an accurate one - this should serve to help us to see that God loves us as we are - even when we make mistakes.

There are natural shocks in life which have the effect of shaking free the wrong beliefs, attitudes, ideas and behaviours that we often cling on to. There is a natural correctative mechanism which does put pressure on people when they are not walking in God's perfect will for their lives. This mechanism can be anything from a vague sense of uneasiness about something or a mild sense of discontentedness - all the way up to a significant level of depression and anxiety about something.

In order to get on with our lives, and to get on with God, we need to throw out the antiquated way in which we have viewed sin and punishment and our relationship with God. No longer is God judging us and punishing us for our sins. Now, it is more a case of living the life that God has already predestined for us to live. It goes without saying that God has a perfect will for our lives, and that the closer we adhere to that life-plan - the better our lives will go for us and the more contented we will be. Conversely, the more we veer away from God's perfect will - the more frustrated we will become. Once again, this all comes down to the analogy that the Bible gives us of a father-child relationship.

God does not punish us for our sins, neither are we cursed: Jesus bore the curse of the law and the punishment for sin at the cross on our behalf. But it must be said that having a bad attitude in life will make trouble for you in one way or another - so will poor decision making and destructive habits. No-one can say they're being punished for their sins by God, because they contract lung cancer from heavy smoking, for instance.

For me, having established the foundation of righteousness in Christ by faith - I am left wondering, "Where do I go from here?" It is for this reason that I find myself in a new phase of letting-go: of wrong beliefs and attitudes that do not serve me. I no longer rail against the institutional church - I've gone through that phase.

Now, I see taking the fastest path to peace, as the most important thing for me right now. I cannot see any benefit to my life, by constantly reminding myself of past abuses by religious organisations. Some people are not going to like this, but neither can I see the benefit of constantly studying what the Bible says about my righteousness in Christ. For me at this moment in time, my struggle is with finding contentment and lasting peace.

If continuous Bible study could bring me that peace - that would be great. But I find that the "joy-stealers" in my life are not caused by a lack of Bible knowledge or even the devil - it has a lot to do with my own ideals and taboos. I find that the primary cause of anxiety tends to be what we believe we ought to be, do and have; this naturally extends to other people and things, such as the government, weather, job title, etc. Find freedom from these ideals and taboos, and you'll find lasting peace and joy. Knowing that you're right with God through Christ is very important - but haven't you already come to that conclusion yet? Therefore, it would seem that intensive Bible study itself, can become a Christian tangent.

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