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Who We Are Is Who We Will Be

Hell, No!

Who We Are Is Who We Will Be
Friday, September 17, 2021

My colleague Brian McLaren has long explored what it might mean to be a “new kind of Christian.” Brian once wrote a fictionalized story about a pastor asking questions at the edges of his faith. Dan, the book’s main character, strikes up a friendship with an older, former pastor who mentors him into a larger, more generous, and loving Christianity. This pastor leads Dan through a thought experiment:

Imagine that you have just died and passed through the doorway of death. And you enter heaven. And it is a place of intense brightness, a place fragrant with goodness, a place alive with love. The presence of God seems to pervade everyone and every thing. . . . In this place, people are humble and genuinely interested in others. . . . It is a place of true freedom, trust, and intimacy. And even though it is a place of great diversity, with people of all cultures and languages and times retaining all their uniqueness, it is a place where no one argues, no one fights, no one hates, and no one complains—not because they aren’t allowed to but because they don’t want to, because they accept and love one another completely. They are fully alive. . . . Think about how you would feel entering that place.

OK. Now I want you to imagine that someone has walked beside you through that doorway of death. And that person has lived his life cramped in hatred and fear, tight in guilt and greed, ingrown in lust and selfishness. He has spent every day of his life complaining and being bitter and blaming others and being ungrateful. He has been suspicious of those different from himself, and he has become an expert at lying and cheating and using others. He is proud, arrogant, unwilling to admit he is wrong. . . . Now, how would that person feel?

Could it be that the very light that seems beautiful to you would seem blinding to him? Could the very warmth of the love of that place that to you is so perfect seem to him horrible? Could the acceptance and love and trust and openness that welcome you seem to him disgusting, weak, terrifying, insipid, or repulsive? . . . Maybe it’s not that there are two places beyond the door of death, heaven and hell. Sometimes I wonder if hell is just what heaven feels like for those who haven’t learned in this life what this life is intended to teach. I believe with all my heart that God is not willing for even one person to miss out on the joy and glories of heaven. . . . We are becoming on this side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side.

Richard here: In the Gospels, Matthew’s especially, Jesus teaches that we will face consequences for the choices we make in our lifetimes, but they are never for the sake of punishment. Instead, they are a manifestation of God’s redemptive and healing love, which will ultimately prevail.  

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Jossey-Bass: 2001), 90–91.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in the Catholic Church of the 1950s, which Richard Rohr describes so well—a judgmental God with rules that could lead me to heaven or hell. I left the Catholic Church and found a Christian community that encourages me to think for myself about my religious beliefs and values. Then several years ago, a friend introduced me to the teachings of Richard Rohr and I will forever be grateful for his wisdom, which has changed my life as well as my faith. —Ted W.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.
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