A Person Here AND A Person There

I know you all probably think I’m a bit crazy with all this talk that trends along the lines of heaven or hell, in or out, included or excluded. If that is the case, so be it. This is a point that I am stuck on, and I know of no other way to get unstuck than to get it out of me. I think I slowly am feeling the wall crumble beneath me though so I’ll keep yaking away.

I’ve been reading Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. It’s the story of Pat Tillman. Great book and just the kind of thing Krakauer is best at writing about in my opinion. I like Krakauer, and now I love Pat Tillman. I’ll be at Arizona State University in 3 weeks for my next race, and I’m going to walk around the campus and ponder what I know about Pat Tillman. Think about the man that he was. Think about the sacrifice that he made. And I’m going to buy a Tillman jersey at the bookstore. I find myself significantly impacted by the book and who he was as a person.

I’ve been thinking about two people. One is Pat Tillman. The other is “Joe Christian.” Over here on the right is Tillman. Tough yet sensitive. Strong yet emotional. Confident yet humble. He drank some alcohol on occasion. He used some less than choice words on occasion. He passionately defended the weak and downtrodden. He was passionate about honestly and truthfulness. He was passionate about loyalty. He was well read. He asked questions, lots of questions. He journaled. He was a devoted husband. He met his wife when they were children and stayed loyal to her the entire time. He was a devoted friend. He loved relationships. Pat Tillman was a loving, and largely moral man who defended the weak and less fortunate. He was willing to risk his life and eventually gave it up tragically because of the principles on which he based his life. And he was not religious, at all.

Then over here on the left is “Joe Christian.” Joe Christian is strong and sensitive. He is humble. He’s not afraid of emotion. Christian gives of himself to the weak, the downtrodden. He believes in loyalty and honesty and truthfulness. He reads a great deal too and is not afraid to ask honest questions. Christian is a devoted family man and a solid friend. But Joe doesn’t drink any alcohol, never touched a cigar, can’t remember a time when he used a “cuss word.” Joe also goes to church 3 times a week and teaches Sunday School (man I don’t like that term). Joe has said the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

So here we have two guys, and I mean to present their qualities as just about equal. They both love. They both are moral. They both live a life that is defined by love for humanity. Yet many Christians that I know, including myself a mere 3 years ago, would say that Pat Tillman lost out, that he is going to eternally suffer while “Joe” will be fine with an eternal loving God. And now, at this point, that just seems utterly ridiculous to me. Am I really supposed to believe that Pat Tillman who lived as fine a life as anyone else I can name is damned because he drank a bit, cussed a bit, and never said that he loves Jesus? Really? He lived a life that is the very definition of love, supposedly the most important commandment according to Christ, the very thing that God is about if I am to believe many who surround me these days, and he is going to suffer because he didn’t define himself by the things he didn’t do and failed to say a few critical words? Really? Is that what Christianity wants me to believe? I just don’t think I can buy it any longer. I may be at the cracking point where I throw that piece of me out to the goats. If that’s really what God is about, what I don’t do and a few choice words, do I even want any piece of that God? I’m not sure that I do.

Some of you seem amazed that this is an issue for me. And the reverse is that I’m amazed that it’s not an issue for you. I’m not sure where this came from for me other than to say that is was a part of the culture in which I existed for the first 35 years of my life. That culture defined itself, maybe not in words but certainly in its behavior, but what it didn’t do, and it was those things it didn’t do that supposedly made it pure. And of course you had to say a few little words. And I innocently believed it and did my best to live it. And now it feels in my core somewhere that there is a little voice telling me that I was deceived. Like that was the wrong message. And when I read about Pat Tillman, I think that little voice inside may be right.

Man is this a hard idea to get out of my heart and head.


29 responses to “A Person Here AND A Person There

  1. “So here we have two guys, and I mean to present their qualities as just about equal. They both love. They both are moral. They both live a life that is defined by love for humanity. Yet many Christians that I know, including myself a mere 3 years ago, would say that Pat Tillman lost out, that he is going to eternally suffer while “Joe” will be fine with an eternal loving God. And now, at this point, that just seems utterly ridiculous to me.”

    I agree, it is ridiculous. And false.

  2. We are at the same place.

  3. I remember hitting that point as well. An explanation given to me by Christians was that even apart from the going to heaven or going to hell part, there was a matter of what that person was before God. And if he believed in Jesus that was everything before God, and if he didn’t since all else is filthy rags, his life meant nothing, even all those honorable qualities.

    I think that theory works on paper perhaps, but I never could make it work in my own mind when applying it to real people, as you do in this post. I think most Christians really can’t and chalk it up to the mystery of God and try not to think about it too much. I can’t understand people that can make sense of it on paper and in real life.

  4. “Is that what Christianity wants me to believe?”

    i sure hope not! it isn’t part of my tradition… but it was in the tradition i grew up in. it’s not that Pat was bad or even that he wasn’t openly confessing Christ.. it was that he wasn’t Catholic, so both Joe and Pat are burning but for different reasons than those present in your tradition you were in.

    either one makes no logical sense.

    again, reading the scriptures and the emphasis on grace is what got me to the point i’m at now, the Universalist stance. i’ll have to pick up that book and check it out! also hit up Fat Tuesdays for some good drinks while at ASU. fantastic town, i love Phoenix! have a great run and thanks for the post, D.


  5. You are rejecting a position held by many who call themselves Christians. I think the truth in this position is compromised by legalism. To think that we get “in” with God because of the things we do (or don’t do), or by reciting the “sinner’s prayer,” is a legalistic error. But I can say it’s an error because I believe there is a truth — or, more to the point, that there is a Truth, and a Way, and a Life. Many teach that a person can be saved apart from Jesus, but this cannot be the teaching of Christianity. I can’t say whether Pat Tillman will be/is in heaven — that’s not for me to judge. But while I hope that God will extend grace to “good” people who did not endorse Jesus as Savior and Lord, I think presuming on some undisclosed additional path to salvation is dangerous indeed. One shouldn’t throw out Christ and His teaching along with the misunderstandings of some of His followers.

  6. Often, I have questioned the concept and existence of Hell. Questioning the concept of Hell leads me to look into the nature of love. The central premise of Christianity is not so much the dichotomy of Heaven and Hell, but the truth of love. Perhaps, our broken world leads us to the idea of eternal punishment and damnation, but I don’t think that idea was born out of love.

    Prior to stating my thoughts, I must first clarify that I did not spend hours searching scripture. I cannot Biblically back up what I say. I am not a theologian, just a human with a heart.

    God is Love. Love cannot create a place for the purpose of torture because that place would be the antithesis of the nature of Love. Could Love even imagine such a place? I don’t think so. So, why did Jesus come if not to save us from that place? Maybe he came not to save us from Hell but to save us from ourselves. Humanity has a lot with which to cope.

    Is freedom praying the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and then spending a lifetime trying to get closer to God? In the Sinner’s Prayer, a person confesses their worthlessness before God, accepts forgiveness, and thanks God for saving them from Hell. But is humanity worthless? Can Love really want us to see ourselves, the joy and beauty of Love’s creation, as worthless? Would you want your child to see himself that way? Or is freedom finding out that Love envelopes all of our pain, our moments of desperation, our shame, and our guilt while also taking joy in our triumphs and happiness? Yes, Christianity is about relationship, but a relationship in which one accepts the other on the premise of salvation from eternal torture is not relationship, it is survival. Relationships are built on trust and respect. I do not trust someone who would create a place of eternal torture. Why? Don’t the ‘really bad people’ deserve it? I agree – there are people in this world who make and have made horendous choices that I cannot even fathom. However, each of those individuals was once a four year-old child. What atrocities happened to them to create the monsters they became? Who is at fault? Who is to blame? (There is a part of ‘The Shack’ that has a discussion on the woven intertwinement of humanity that I like.) I hope that Love can heal the brokenness that is a ‘really bad person’ just as I hope that Love can heal the brokenness that I feel….because if Love is really Love then Love would be the same no matter how broken a person is…and Love’s power is power to heal the big and the small. If healing only occurs in the ‘not so bad’, then Love’s power is not so large. Does that mean there is no justice, no consequences to evil? No, but I don’t think justice comes the way we would request it in our angriest moments, and I think we will someday be grateful for that. When we have been harmed, I think we often think justice would make the person who harmed us hurt like we do…but the fufillment of the type of justice would not be justice at all; it would simply make us the cause of the same injustice that caused us pain in the first place. I think Love saves us from ourselves.

    If not the Sinner’s Prayers, then what would I ask of God… of Love? Please show me the nature of Love…it is my heart’s cry today, tomorrow, and forever. I believe in true Love, and I hope Love believes in me too…no strings attached.

  7. Whoa, Wanderer. Love that!

  8. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    2Reasons…So tell me. What are you following? Is it Christ or is it Christianity? Because those 2 things are very often not at all the same thing. Much of what Christians hold as bedrock truth originated in the last 150 years with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and The Enlightenment where everything became based on reason and logic including how we read and interpret scripture. That interpretation for some reason has focussed more significance on what a person says about God and who God is than it has on the manner in which person lives that out. I haven’t said anything about Christ not being redemption for the world. I haven’t, as you say, thrown out Christ, but Christ being the source of that redemption for the world does not automatically mean that someone has to even know about Christ specifically to be part of that redemption any more than someone has to know the mechanism of action of a particular medication for it to be effective for them. Christ is the medicine that a broken world needs, and anytime someone lives a life of love they are joining in that redemptive healing whether they know Christ or not. I believe like you that there is absolute truth. However, none of us has a clear handle on all of it which means that we ought to be careful when we think we have “salvation” all wrapped up in a neat little systematic box.

    How are you so sure that your particular understanding of Christ’s teachings is so full of truth? And if yours is the truth, what about all the people who didn’t have the access to scripture that you have? The printing press and wide access to the bible wasn’t possible until the last few hundred years. So what of those who didn’t even have a chance to have your particular understanding of truth, which by the way includes most of humanity since it began? Or is that just not for you to decide?

  9. Lower your arms, Doug, we’re on the same side. We’re both looking for the truth. I’m no more — and no less — sure of my own convictions than I suppose you are. I’ve been wrong before, and no doubt I’m still wrong about some things.

    It seems to me that we are only disagreeing on one point: whether the blood of Christ applies to “good” people who have not consciously surrendered to Him. You apparently think so. I would like to think so — I don’t relish the idea of anyone going to Hell — but I don’t think that’s what the Bible says. (People who have a lot more theological training than either of us have been debating this point for a long time.) We are journeying to the truth from different starting places (you from an ultraconservative-legalistic church background, and I from a liberal church background), but I hope we’ll meet eventually somewhere in the middle.

  10. whether the blood of Christ applies to “good” people who have not consciously surrendered to Him.(2reasons)

    Here’s something else to think about. You as a Christian needed blood to get Love. Wow, talk about a dilemma.

  11. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    Brian. I love meeting in the middle. There is room for everyone at that table. I understand that I wrote strongly yesterday, but I also knew that you could handle it. I considered putting in a bunch of disclaimers and apologies for speaking so boldly, but I decided to just let it stand as is. Thanks for taking it in the appropriate fashion. It felt like you were going down the “God of the gaps” type road where we just assign gaps in our understanding to God’s higher wisdom. That is an excuse to not go deeper it seems to me.

    I wonder if the fact that so many “theologians” have been debating this issue for years is a clue that it doesn’t matter as much as it seems it might. Don’t you think that if something was so critical that we needed to very clearly understand it to avoid an eternal hell that God might have gone to greater lengths to let us in on the secret and to include all of humanity in the secret instead just those of us in the last 200 years or so?

    Sent from my iPhone

  12. I disagree with 2 reasons for some pretty obvious reasons:

    (a) He assumes the actions of the cross are limited in scope – only those under some confession are going to receive such grace from God – which to me seems like a very limited plan presented by God…so when Jesus is quoted saying ‘it is finished’ – I would have to ask ‘for whom’?

    (b) He does not take into account one’s actions – seeing this as some legalistic mode that is troublesome. Here’s the kicker – James did not have a problem with one’s faith being defined by their actions – and neither did Paul so much.

    It makes no sense to me to believe in a God that offers a plan of ‘salvation’ that is only good for a portion of society…I mean is God so limited in scope that even His plans fail to reach everyone?

    Then I have to admit the obvious – Christian or non-Christian – one’s actions are what define the person and whether any of us would call someone ‘good or evil’.

    Jim Jones is really a prime example of this whole dilemma. This is a man that by all means was someone ‘saved’ for the early parts of his life and indulged in the idea. Later on he became a social outcast of normative church of it’s time and gathered socialist political leanings with his faith as time went on. In many ways none of this was troubling.

    However, as we go a little further into his life he was also someone with a need for control – and absolute control at that. He began to break his own moral code for that of running a commune and to likely self justify his moral ambiguities. The dude ended up becoming a very dark and controlling figure who liked the name ‘father’ and an ego that had to be fed.

    How we would determine if Jim Jones was a good and decent man or someone we would have to label ‘evil’ (undesirable to follow)?

    When the totality of the man’s actions came to light it was not confessional statement I was concerned with – but his actions towards himself and others he supposedly cared for. He was someone I look at as primarily evil for the actions of control, hatred, and murder within the people whom were entrusted to him.

    I am not worried about the cross at this point – whatever Jesus accomplished was ‘done’ at that point in time. We have to deal with the ‘now’ and what that faith means to us and how we will use it. We have choice to follow the teachings of God or to willfully break them – and this is not about one’s confessions – but one’s actions in staying true to the teachings.

    I could never know if someone was a Christian or not by what they say – since words carry little weight and can also be lies (a trick of the tongue we all know how to use). What’s important in our judgment of others is what we see them doing and this is usually the defintion we go with. To take one’s actions out of the equation is to seriously handicap one’s ability to judge any situation as ‘good or bad’.

  13. I’ve come to believe that God is about saving, redeeming, and reconciling to himself everyone he possibly can. He seeks and calls to them in love in a thousand ways. Rejection is a human choice, not divine.

    I believe God looks at hearts, not outward appearance. None of us has ever seen a motive, so we don’t know the real truth about people.

    Whatever hell is like, it isn’t because God tortures anyone. It’s a miserable place because it is where evil resides. In the end, evil will be confined there.

    When something is done religiously, that just means it is done faithfully. It can be legalistic and compulsive. But it can also be out of devotion, love, and purpose.

  14. dougandkarmen

    I agree that the God who created all this is about redeeming his entire creation. Because the physics of this universe necessitates opposites, there probably is also a hell. However because of this love and redemptive stance which God takes towards creation, I’m not sure that there is anyone there.

    Sent from my iPhone

  15. . Because the physics of this universe necessitates opposites, there probably is also a hell(D&K)

    If you are going to use science, shouldnt you first be able to prove a “Heaven” before assuming a Hell?

  16. Does physics apply to the spiritual realm?

  17. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    Julia. It might. No way to say for sure. All I can do is go by my observation that there are definitely opposites in the dimensions of which we are aware.

    John. Toche. Point well taken.

  18. Are there really opposites…or are there lots of situations in which there are continuums and one extreme is ‘something’ and the other extreme is the absence of ‘something’? For example, light and darkness…darkness is not the opposite of light but the absence of it.

  19. It should be clear to all here that our inability to reconcile these obviously mutually exclusive dischotomies by using the intellect that “God” has supposedsly given us is the major reason for many of us to have “fallen away” from belief in the first place. If the concept of a Deity as proposed by the Abrahamic traditions made sense, none of these issues of observance, salvation, heaven and/or hell, etc. would have traction with us, as they have had and continue to have since the beginning. The Bible, both Torah and New Testament, as well as the Koran, simply does not meet the tests of coherency, logic and/or intellectual agreement with observed facts that most Humans require of every other experience in lif. If, as some Deists suggest, we must deal with all of this through “faith” ( meaning to dispel the usual logical requirements for belief in any other situation), then the absolutist position taken by fundamentalism makes perfect sense. They say that true belief demands that we behave differently than we do in any other part of life. If so, none of these “soul searchings” regarding what may occur to us after this life has ended can possibly bear fruit or ever satisfy those of us who cannot dispel our reason and logic (which, ironically, God is supposed to have given us “in His own image”).

  20. Wanderer. Point again well taken. I need to be sharper on my end. Of course, I have meant to get across the idea that you have stated with greater clarity. Opposite ends of the continuum is a much better way to say it.

  21. Harvey. I like much of what you have said here and really don’t have a problem with any of it. I would only add that I do think it reasonable to still look at scriptures to understand what truth lies there. For me, the problem comes when try to read scripture like a science text when it obviously is meant to be read as a narrative. We don’t read other great narratives and apply logic and reason in order to glean truth and turn those works into more than they are. We shouldn’t do that with scripture either.

  22. Since I have not posted here before, I should point out that I was raised and remain a Jew (albeit non-believing). Due to intensive Hebrew School training until the age of eighteen, I can read Hebrew and Aramaic, and have studied the Torah, Talmud, Tanach, etc. I have also read the New Testament many times, as well as the Koran at least 3 times. None of this qualifies me as any kind of Biblical scholar, but it does suggest that I have at least tried to find the “truths” that exist in all of these Abrahamic texts. And, to be sure, there are many! Unfortunately for most believers, all of the truly valuable gems to be found relate to Man’s relationships and behavior toward his fellow man in this life. From my vantage point, all of the rest (and most of that very confusing, if not actually contradictory), mostly dealing with Man’s relationship with the version of God in question and any promised after life, simply makes it difficult to find the wise and useful parts. It seems to me that our modern understandings of science and the realities of existance do not require us to “turn off” our ability to reason when considering those parts of Scripture that deal with human relationships.

  23. Douglas and Karmen Lewis

    I agree with you. We shouldn’t have to turn off the intellect that God supposedly gave us. To say that we just have to take this or that on faith or on “God’s wisdom is not our wisdom” which I like to refer to as a “God of the gaps” type process, that shuts down even any further pursuit on our part and relegates us to couch potatoing. Part of the mystery and beauty of scripture is that it is so challenging. That keeps us working on it and mulling it around and rereading it. There won’t and probably shouldn’t be a time where we say we have it figured out and here it is, the way it is supposed to be understood. Instead we ought to be really listening to each other and our various interpretations and understandings, including everyone at the table, and always be attempting to learn something new. And when we do that, it seems to me that we find ourselves doing the very thing that much scripture eventually points to at some point, caring for humanity.

  24. “From my vantage point, all of the rest (and most of that very confusing, if not actually contradictory), mostly dealing with Man’s relationship with the version of God in question and any promised after life, simply makes it difficult to find the wise and useful parts.” (Harvey)

    I like this guy!

  25. God, by definition, would be beyond our comprehension. Although we can gain much knowledge of him and know him personally, there will always be mystery. And since God is not proveable, he always is known in faith.

  26. P.S. And if God is love, as Scripture says, knowing him doesn’t really change us until we exprience him in his love for us. That’s the way it seems to me.

  27. Wow, I remember think just like you many years ago just before transitioning out of Christianity. The transition took years but it is ironic that empathy and compassion where what started the transition.
    Best wishes.

  28. Doug, sorry I am so late in seeing your gracious reply to my comment.
    I agree with Larry (11/12 at 15:02) concerning the “God of the gaps” approach. There will always be gaps, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try to fill them in as much as we can. Sure, some people use “gaps” as an excuse for intellectual laziness, but I think that part of loving God with all of your mind is using your mind to try to understand God’s ways. On the other hand, some people use “gaps” as an excuse for unbelief, or as an opportunity to make God over into whatever image they like. I don’t think that approach is any better.
    I have periodically wrestled with my belief in the existence of God as described by the Bible. I very much want to know for sure, proof positive, that He is or He isn’t. But the evidence I find sometimes points one way and sometimes the other. I find flaws in the arguments of both sides. I discovered that I could not live a coherent life or make any intellectual progress while I was maintaining a strict skepticism on such a fundamental issue. I have chosen to believe so that I can move on. I do not see this as an intellectual sin: all people, even those who protest so strongly to the contrary, do this. One needs to have a “working theory” about primary things although I agree that one should be willing to modify or discard that theory if evidence and reason call it into question.
    As for the importance of theological correctness on the issue of atonement, I think it matters and it doesn’t matter. I don’t think God saves us on the basis of our intellectual convictions. However, what a person thinks informs his actions. And, as some of the others here have said, actions do seem to matter. My position is that God does not save us on the basis of our actions, but that our actions are a demonstration of the change in our attitude and thinking that results from that salvation.

  29. “And now it feels in my core somewhere that there is a little voice telling me that I was deceived. Like that was the wrong message. And when I read about Pat Tillman, I think that little voice inside may be right.”

    I agree! Listen to that voice!

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