Continuing a series from the last few posts…
Jenn: When I read Cam’s post, a rapid fire of similar statements ran through my mind; things I heard that impacted me, along with things I am embarrassed to admit I would later say.
In college I attended a gathering where a guest speaker posed a scenario –
Imagine yourself. You are in line to go through the gates of Heaven. You’re excited. This is what you have been waiting for, you can’t wait to see Jesus. As you are standing you look over and notice another line, a long line of less than trilled people. You ask the person next to you, “Hey, what is that line for? They look so sad and scared.” They respond, “Oh, that’s the line for Hell.” Startled, your heart breaks as you scan the line of distraught faces. Suddenly you recognize someone, it’s your friend from high school, you guys were so close. You lock eyes and from across the clouds you can barely hear them, but you are fully aware of what they are saying, “Why didn’t you tell me!?! Why did you not tell me where I would be going!?!”
My brand new 20 year old Christian self was immediately overcome with guilt. I could think of at least a dozen people that, in my immaturity, I envisioned in the “other line.” So naturally I set up lunches, coffee dates, or time at Waffle House to ensure I would have at least done my part to share with them their options for eternity. To state again, I made appointments with friends to tell them they were going to hell.
Cam: Luckily, it seems that this brand of fire-and-brimstone evangelism is slightly less en vogue than it was when I was in youth group, but it certainly did a lot of damage to a lot of people. It makes sense though. If you’re conversion experience was the dreaded “If you died tonight” altar call that we will be looking at next, setting up meetings with your friends is the natural next step. You are just passing along what seemed to work for you.
Jenn: There are so many layers in this. 1. Heaven/Hell. 2. Salvation 3. Evangelism. 4. Efficacy and that’s just to start.
I know you’re asking yourself, “How did Jenn’s friends respond?” I probably had about 5-ish conversations that summer. I don’t remember everyone’s response, but two I remember clearly. They responded with a question. One was, “If you can explain to me where dinosaurs came from in relation to the Bible I’ll believe you.” and the other was, “Who was Mary Magdalene?” I responded to that one confidently, “A prostitute that Jesus encountered.”
(I had seen all the Jesus movies.) “Nope. Wrong. Come back to me when you know what you’re talking about.”
Thinking back, what was I actually trying to accomplish with these appointments? Save them? Make myself feel better, or check something off my Christian to-do list?
Cam: Fear is an unfortunate starting point for a lot of people — especially if they’ve been exposed to the “line to hell/firing squad” brand of Christianity — but we have to work to progress beyond that. There are hundreds of verses in the Bible telling us not to be afraid, but actually applying that is extremely difficult. I think it is imperative that we allow ourselves to be transformed, to stop moving from a place of fear, and there is no better way to do that than reminding ourselves to focus on love and compassion.
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18, NLT)
Jenn: How do we reconcile that with the idea, also found in scripture, of “fear of the Lord?”
Cam: I can’t help but think we just have a difficult time differentiating reverence from actual fear. The first is more of a deferential awe in the face of mystery, while the latter is how we act in the face of a real or perceived threat. For me, God as a two-for-flinching tyrant doesn’t really line up with all of the calls for us not to be afraid, let alone mercy and compassion.
Jenn: For some, challenging this style of outreach will seem non-pastoral. I get that. I believe in the transformative process of salvation. I believe God gives us a choice, lots of choices, and often. I remind myself I am not the judge. I believe we should share our faith. But as an extension of growing more and more aware of God’s deep love and calling in our own life, an overflow of how God is working out our own salvation. I also believe that I am not the light of the world/the Messiah, and I thank God I am not God. Jesus extends an invitation; and I am forever grateful that I accepted, but I have decided to leave the logistics, party planning and guest list to Him. I am accountable for how I treat people. I am not accountable for how they decide to treat God.
There is a parable (thought to originate from Tanzania):
A typhoon stranded a monkey on an island. In a protected place on the shore, while waiting for the waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed to the monkey that the fish was struggling and needed assistance. Being kind, the monkey decided to help the fish.
At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved out on a limb, reached down, and snatched the fish from the waters. He carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments, the fish showed excitement. “It must have be so thankful for being rescued.” thought the monkey. Soon, the fish seemed to settle into a peaceful rest. The monkey stood by, satisfied by his work.
For me, this story reflects a genuine heart to help from the monkey, and at the same time, an equally genuine ignorance. The monkey forgot to ask, “Do you need water or air to breathe?”
That’s what part of what I was missing in my “appoints” that summer; forgetting to ask, “Do they need water or air to breathe?” all in the midst of decent intentions.
In reference to the tweet that started this conversations how might this fit?
What if all this time it wasn’t a matter of abandoning your friend to the gates of hell. But instead it was discovering your friend’s needs here and now and doing what love requires of you in each moment?