With all of the discussing and debating that goes on between myself and advocates of Christianity, I thought it would help to narrow it down to one primary issue. This is when I realized that all along there had only been one reason important enough to disagree out loud. And it was the one reason that had been unwittingly driving me.
So, what is it? It’s not a wrong doctrine or theology. It doesn’t concern a law being broken. It isn’t about the exclusivity or the heartless division that might characterize Christianity… Well, it might concern some of those things but none of those things can sum it up.
It’s about the value of the human soul.
This is the one thing that ticks me off enough to speak out against a religion that may have plenty of other redeeming qualities. I believe this one issue, however, is at the heart of human suffering. And while I think pain is part of life, I would still like to see it end in this manner for as many individuals as possible.
Because I think it affects our entire eternal lives, and our lives affect the entire world.
As a church-going evangelical Christian, I didn’t learn that the human soul is worth a big, fat zero. It was much worse than that. Thanks to original sin, humanity’s worth resides somewhere in the negative multiple digits. We don’t just deserve to be ignored. We deserve to be punished – forever. And somehow we were all just born this way.
This is why we need to work so hard to appease some holy God. We need to make our religious sacrifices, whether it’s with the blood of a goat or another dressed up Sunday morning at church. We need to somehow get on God’s good side because he controls the weather and the success of our crops. Or he controls disease, and whether or not our spouse is going to be healed of cancer.
If we want our prayers to be answered and to one day receive our glorious reward of heaven, then we’d better repent, or show evidence of our salvation if us sinners want to have “a relationship” with a righteous God. Our human nature is so bad that a perfect, sinless man, a son of God, had to be brutally tortured and killed just to save some of us. And if we don’t deny ourselves and pick up our own cross, then our souls are still only good enough for eternal torture.
You know, I’ve got quite a few Christian friends who value human life and I really don’t think Christians want to believe half the stuff they’re taught every week. But if I had a heart attack or I got into a car accident, or if something happened to one of my kids, I’ve got other friends who would probably think I deserved it. It would be the “just reward” for my heresy. Or it might strike fear in them as my consequence for speaking out against the traditional church institution, the representative of God’s infallible truth.
This thought makes me nauseous, and not just for me but for them. I vividly remember thinking along similar lines when I was a Christian. The sad part is that it kept me from enjoying any deep or intimate relationships with people who might have God’s curse upon them. Why get close to someone who is only going to be rejected and tormented in the end? It is much too painful to watch a friend suffer, so I will just detach.
This detachment carried over even onto my kids when they were first born. I didn’t want to get too close to any human being. What if my own kids became apostate? Sure, I would do everything I could to make sure they believed in the proper gospel. I would enforce it in fact. But there were so many rebellious Christian teens….
I really regret this detachment which permeated my whole life. Serving with church ministries in the community was so unfulfilling because I think these charities thrive on detachment. They only go so far. They only solve so many social issues. They only get so intimate to the impoverished soul which brought his own curse upon himself. And there was always a sales pitch to join our church.
If you haven’t read Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins, I highly recommend it. It floored me. It humbled me. Bitter. Sweet. Humbling. Which is more powerful? Man’s wicked heart or God’s expansive love? Rob does an amazing job of portraying just how expansive that love might be, and that powerful and patient love makes a lot of other things seem really insignificant – like sin.
But even Rob Bell mentioned a twinge of that human unworthiness. He talks about things like abandoning our ego-driven way and submitting to God’s way. Or returning to God. Or no longer rejecting God.
Nooooo…. Why? Why is the natural human being such an enemy of its creator? Where did this thought originate? And why is it continually being perpetuated from pulpits across the globe? Why?
If God is that expansive and that omnipresent, how is it possible to leave or turn away from God? Wasn’t that Adam and Eve’s mistake when they tried to hide from the All-Knowing? Did God really create a world that got out of control and now things are not the way they are supposed to be? Because God created something good, but we are bad? Is God really that much of a wise creator and at the same time, that much of an idiot?
The Bible, as well as everyday life, speaks of sin, and suffering… and death. I can’t deny this. There are even consequences for our wrongs. But it’s not the end of the story. This is only one potent but meager episode. There is so much more – far more.
I think that everything points to restoration. The whole world and everything in it will one day be “reconciled” to God. After forty years in the desert, the promised land was symbolic of the peace and joy that comes after suffering for a while. The old covenant prophets spoke many words and used many metaphors to show this new covenant between humankind and God. The life, death and resurrection of Christ was another sign of this reconciliation. The new city of Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, which has gates that “never shut” is just one more picture of God’s intended restoration for the entire universe.
The human soul isn’t the disease. If there is a disease, I think it would involve rejecting the human soul. I do not believe that God, whoever or whatever God might be, does such a thing. Instead, God (or whoever is in charge of this joint) seems to value the human soul enough to allow us to go through a severe refining process in order for us to turn out as pure gold.
Nothing in our world ever disappears. It only changes. Everything is being transformed.
Sin isn’t a problem. It was part of the world that God created. Suffering doesn’t mean that things have gone bad. It is through struggles that life grows. Death isn’t some sort of victory of Satan. Death is the doorway to new life.
Evil, wrongs, poverty, hatred, misunderstandings, murders, mistakes, rapes, betrayal, ignorance, regrets, horrible and awful stories in the news…. It’s all going according to God’s good, loving, wise plan. Can we believe it? I admit that it would take a tremendous amount of faith, and one that the Christian religion does not generally support.
Without evil, good could not exist. There would be no meaning to life. There would be no value. Sin doesn’t take away value. It’s a fundamental part of our worth. Without it, we would not exist.
Our human frailty actually gives us a precious veneration. Weakness gives us something to conquer, something to get past, get over and get through. But more than that, it gives us depth. Sin and suffering painfully carves deep within our soul something unique and significant. Where there was previously no compassion, now we can truly relate to another human being who is hurting. We know what it feels like. And that is true character. It makes up an intimate relationship. That is really living life.
Within Christianity, self-esteem is often taught as psychobabble. “The ego is selfish and it resists submission to God. It doesn’t want to go to church. It doesn’t want to tithe. It doesn’t want to do what is right and good.” This teaching keeps many people from leaving the inner religion that bounds our soul. It also keeps many of us cowering in the dark. It keeps the spirit which was meant to soar… subdued. It keeps us lurking in failure, when our lives could be so much more intelligent, attractive and successful.
But as always, this deceiving idea that God wants you to reject and sacrifice your precious soul to him has its benefits too. Even the most atrocious religious evil can lead to our strength. That which controls us for its own gain is only biding time as our deepest self plans and prepares for its escape. And when we escape, we find that the confinement only served to empower us.
Like a butterfly before it breaks free from its cocoon, our treasure within is hidden. But it is growing. It is in a constant state of refinement. The outside can look pretty ugly at times, especially if we’re putting on a fake outward appearance. But it’s no matter. The ugliness is only another integral aspect of our beauty. It’s all part of the plan. It’s all part of life – deep, fulfilling life. Can we believe it?