I just finished reading a book called The Faith Club, a book which I fully intend to review on some future post. The book is a collaboration written by a Muslim woman, a Christian woman, and a Jewish woman who met together for years following the September 11th tragedy, for interfaith discussions. The great thing about the book is that it, along with some other things I’ve recently read, has helped me to piece together more of my personal theology.
The Bible says that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Just what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, is like so much of the Bible, up for debate. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of the authority of God, the failure to deny Him His rightful place in your life as your Lord. Many might say that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of God’s existence, and that would qualify as well. However, that’s a very limited definition, since even the devil worshippers believe in the existence of God, and yet I think that all believers can agree on the fact that Satanists will not qualify for acceptance into heaven.
Speaking of Satan, that brings us to the question of original sin. The story of the fall of Satan and the fall of man have in common one thing: the failure to relinquish control and authority to God, the pride that prevents both man and Satan from allowing the Lord to have dominion over our lives.
Let’s look at the story of Satan. Satan was the highest of all the angels in heaven. He wasn’t satisfied with this position and craved to be God himself, instead. Because of this sin of pride, God cast Satan and the angels who followed him out of heaven. The angels who followed him became demons.
Then God created man. And man lived naked and without shame in paradise until he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man’s sin was not only disobedience but pride. For before Eve ever takes a bite and then tempts her husband, she is tempted by the serpent with the promise that eating the fruit will make her like God, will give her the knowledge of God.
She tempts her husband Adam to eat also by repeating the serpent’s false promise. The fruit did indeed impart knowledge, but it did not impart the wisdom of God. No longer was man an innocent. He was now able to distinguish between light and dark; he was given a conscience, but he was not given the intellect of God. So, while people might now know the difference between good and bad, we do not have the knowledge to discern why the bad must happen.
The greatest hindrance to submission to God, beyond the pride that makes us want to control our own lives, is the question of why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. It’s a subject of endless debate that harkens back to the time of the book of Job but has also been wrestled with by the likes of modern theologians like Rabbi Harold Kushner and Reverend Leslie Weatherhead, amongst others. And it’s a debate that often hinders human beings from belief in and submission to God, because they say that the ways of the world defy a belief in an ominiscient and omnipotent God who is also benevolent. And one can see their argument.
At the same time as I’ve been defining my concept of the one unforgivable sin, I’ve been thinking about just what that means for Christians and the Christian concept that belief in Jesus as the Son of God is required for admission into heaven. It’s a pretty big tenet of the faith for a lot of Christians, and Christians often justify this belief based on one Bible verse alone. That Bible verse is John 14:6, and it reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
Most Christians interpret this to mean that anyone who isn’t a Christian isn’t getting a ticket to Heaven. Not all Christians do, of course, anymore than all Catholics believe the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church that they are the one and only true church, and only members of the true church are going to Heaven. (To be fair, the Roman Catholics aren’t even close to being the only denomination that believes they are the only ones who are going to Heaven; they’re just the largest group of believers with that official theology.)
There is the Unitarian Universalist tradition of inclusiveness, but they always seemed so wishy washy to me, as if they didn’t really know exactly what they believed. From the outside, it seemed like they were all over the map. The Unitarians I knew seemed to apply just as much significance to New Age philosophy as to belief in Jesus. And yet, there is something appealing to me in the concept of the kind God that I know God to be, allowing admission to Heaven by people of different faiths.
It does seem cruel for a loving God to assign people to Hell for all eternity just because they’re not Christians. What about people who aren’t exposed to the Gospel? Evangelicals, of course, always point to The Great Commission [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%2028:16-28:20&version=NIV] as proof of God’s benevolence. They say that all Christians are charged with the duty of making disciples for Christ because it is literally a matter of life and death.
Failure to proselytize and convert the masses means many untouched souls writhing in Hell for all eternity. They fervently believe this, and this explains the urgency of their attempts to witness to non-believers. As offensive, insulting and poorly rendered as their attempts to convert are, they are sincerely well intentioned. However, their arrogance achieves the opposite of their goals. The lack of respect that they show towards the recipients of their evangelism is evidence of a lack of love for their fellow man.
Of course, as I’ve previously mentioned, I faithfully read the blog of John Shore. One day I came across a great post about this very issue. You can read it here:
John overheard a conversation between an atheist and an evangelical Christian who was attempting to witness to the atheist. There was a subsequent blog post in which an atheist questioned the assertion that John 14:6 means that all non-Christians are destined to go to Hell. His interpretation of the scripture was that Jesus gets to decide who gets admission to Heaven. And I thought, well, why not? It doesn’t actually say that you have to be a Christian to get admission to Heaven. It just says that no one gets to go to Heaven who doesn’t go through Jesus.
Now don’t get me wrong; I still believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that He died to save us from our sins. But I don’t believe that Christianity is the only path to God. I just can’t believe that God would condemn those who never heard the Gospel to an eternity in Hell. I can’t believe that God would condemn those of us who are too young or too mentally feeble to grasp the concept of salvation to an eternity in Hell. And let’s not forget that Jesus wasn’t a Christian himself; he was a Jew.
All human beings are created with a natural curiosity to explore our origins and our purpose in the universe, and this natural curiosity is our yearning to be in communion with God. I believe that there are many paths by which this communion might be accomplished. God wishes for us to acknowledge his authority and his presence in our lives. There are many paths through which that goal might be accomplished. The only judge who can ascertain whether or not a human being has the quality of relationship with God that is required is Jesus. I’m okay with that.
So, to summarize:
- I believe that there is only one unpardonable sin. That is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
- I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the failure to respond to the call of a loving God to be in relationship with us and to submit to his will for our lives. It is not just the denial of God but the active rejection of God.
- I believe that the Original Sin is pride. The pride that keeps atheists and agnostics from being open to God’s message is the very same pride that keeps some Christians believing that they have the only pipeline to God or that they can determine who will be saved on the day of judgement.
- I believe that Jesus is the only person qualified to judge who is being received into the kingdom of God. That is not for me to determine or decide.
- I believe that it is important for me to spread the message of the Gospel so that others might be saved, but I do not believe that their salvation is dependent upon me. The most effective witness that I can bear for Christ is to live The Great Commandment. [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A36-40&version=NIV] That means showing respect for all human beings, even the ones whose beliefs conflict with mine. After all, we all have our own personal beliefs regarding God, but none of us knows with absolute intellectual certainty what will greet us at our death. To assert differently is akin to saying that we have the wisdom and knowlege of God Himself, which we most certainly do not.
- I believe that there are many paths to God, including some that aren’t organized and have no name. God sees into the human heart and desires to be in relationship with any human heart that is open to His call.