Friday, May 24, 2013

I Never Want to Believe in "Deserved Tragedy"

Image source.
Everything in me hopes that Rachel Held Evans is right.

Her post, The abusive theology of "deserved" tragedy, looks at the consequences of the belief that God has so much wrath, and all people deserve hell- and she speaks out strongly against this theology. First of all, she connects it to some pastors' insensitive responses to tragedy; when there is violence or some terrible natural disaster, inevitably some famous pastor will come out and say this is God's judgment and we're getting what we deserve.

Because really, we deserve hell, right? Infinite eternal torture. Oh, your kid died? Well WHATEVER, that's NOTHING compared to the hell you really deserve.

And Evans says no, this is wrong, this is horrible. And all my emotions want to believe her. Because... because how can you look at a grieving parent and... and... imagine that they deserve this?

[trigger warning for the next 2 paragraphs: sexual abuse]

And Evans goes on to relate this to the case against Sovereign Grace Ministries, in which many many people have come forward and told about how, as children, they were sexually abused by ministry leaders, and the organization covered it up, even forcing the children to "forgive" their abusers, who were still free to victimize others.

Many bloggers have linked this horrific child abuse cover-up to the theology preached by Sovereign Grace Ministries. We are all sinners who deserve hell. So if you got abused, I mean, really you deserve worse. So seriously just get over it. You sin, your abuser sins, what's the difference?

Image source.
But it is the end of Evans's post which is the most powerful. Again and again, with many examples, she says no one deserves these tragedies. And then this:
You are not worthless. You are not disposable. You are not merely the object of God’s wrath.  You do not deserve to be abused.
Let me say that again: 

You do not deserve to be abused.

You do not deserve to be threatened. You do not deserve to suffer. You do not deserve to be hated.
You are profoundly, infinitely, and intimately known and loved. You are valuable. You are precious. You matter.
God doesn’t hate this world. God loves this world—enough to become a part of it, enough to suffer along with it, enough to weep with it, enough to work through it until one day every tear will be wiped from every eye.
And I read this and cheered and amened. Yes! Yes!

This is what I want to preach and shout from the rooftops. And indeed, on my own blog, I've been writing similar things, with posts like Good News?, The End of My Gnostic Faith, You Are Not Gum, and probably others that aren't coming to mind at the moment.

And it makes so much sense to me, it resonates with my heart, it means I should just go love people instead of twisting "love" into some convoluted thing about telling people why they're wrong.

This. This is what I want to be true. This is what I want Christianity to be about. If this is who God is, then I want to run to him as fast as I can and sign my name- oh Lord Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.

But... is it true?

All the posts I've written along these lines, I wrote because it just makes so much SENSE. But still I doubt...

Because it just makes so much sense, and feels so right, supported with every emotion I have- so it can't be right, can it? Because, as I was told, the gospel is offensive. And people are always trying to water down the gospel into some feel-good message.

So we should be highly suspicious of anyone who presents the Christianity in a way that truly sounds like good news.


A few weeks ago, I posted a link on my Facebook, to a blog post written by a gay Christian. And one of my Facebook friends commented something to the effect of, "What this person is saying, about Christians coming alongside gay people to help them and listen and not judge them, it sounds all good and nice, but don't forget our God is a God of wrath."

A God of wrath? Is it true? Is that God?

And I think of all the Old Testament prophets that Christians seem to very rarely read. Prophesying destruction and war and things so horrible that whenever I'm trying to sum up one of these passages, I can't help but censor it... And it's all punishment for sin.

But what is sin? Is it me breaking one of God's rules, which is bad because God said so, for more or less arbitrary reasons, or is it me hurting someone, which is bad because I'm hurting a person that God loves?

Maybe "God's wrath" doesn't mean "hey you sin sometimes so God thinks you're worthless and deserving of eternal torture- and yes this applies to everyone." Maybe it means God sees the destruction in our world, he sees the evil that people do to each other, and he loves us so much that he weeps and gets angry at those who perpetuate the violence and injustice- angry that anyone would hurt a person so valuable, so loved by God.

And even as I write this, I'm astonished at this picture of God I've been slowly working towards and hinting at, which is becoming clearer and clearer, especially because of Rachel Held Evans's post. A God who loves like that- seriously, where do I sign up to commit my life to him?

But can it be true? What about hell? Well, if this is true, then hell CANNOT be what I always thought it was. Because if this is true, people do not deserve hell. People are GOOD, created in the image of God, and deserve love and respect and dignity and equality. And people are BAD, with a sinful nature, deserving of punishment but no, not eternal punishment. Not torture. Not hell. Nothing like that.

Does the bible support this view of God? Well, I'll have to see. Because ya know, I never thought it did. Because I'd always read the bible through this lens containing God's enormous love against a backdrop of hell and sin and the punishment we all supposedly deserve. But I'll keep reading, and see if I can find a different God in there.

It sounds too good to be true. But all my life, as a Christian, I've claimed to believe in a God who is loving and just. And what else could that mean, besides this conclusion I have reached: That people do not deserve hell. People do not deserve tragedy and suffering and abuse. And that God suffers with us- he understands, he's not so far away. He came to earth and lived as a human being and suffered and died- and then lived again. And he will renew this whole world and bring the justice and freedom and healing that we long for.

If it's true, if this is God, then I will lay down my life and follow him to the ends of the earth.

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