Hell is the deepest thing most of Christian America can imagine. (And, yes, with a couple of caveats, I do believe in hell. Though even saying that phrase is weird: "I believe in hell." Like it's a creed or prayer or something.) But, either way, hell isn't the deepest thing. It's terrible, but it's actually not the underlying theology for the Christ-follower, even if it has turned into the underlying theology for the American Christian.
I'm not trying to be disrespectful. I'm just asking you to consider that our religious systems have been designed to save us, to keep us safe; within the boundary lines. They are good reasons why we've done this. I mean, there's genuine hell to pay if one gets out of line. For some of us to get outside the lines leads us to a type of hell. It's true. I agree. So, I think the reasoning behind our boundary lines have been understandable and even appropriate at times.
But, it's also just amazing to consider that religion creates its own hell as well. For it's a hell of a place to find a church pre-judging, or condemning, or highlighting some sins over others, or operating out of fear which is really what it’s all about. So, it's not a stretch to say that a well-run religious system (e.g., church, denomination, dioceses, Christian sub-culture, etc…) attempts to pull people out of one type of hell, but in doing so unwittingly exposes those people (and themselves) to another type of hell.
This brings a whole new take on, "out of the frying pan and into the fire."
And I want to say again, and again… what if love motivated us more than hell? What if, as John 4:18 indicates, that the fear of hell was evidence that we haven't really had an authentic encounter with love? It is impossible for any of us to exclude anyone else in the name of love. I mean, how does that even work?
There's a paragraph in "Questions About Sexuality that Got Me Uninvited from My Denomination" that I spent hours and hours on… maybe a couple of days on. I wanted to say it right. And yes, I'm saying it in the context of LGTBQ+ stuff, but it applies to everything, which is true of the whole book, btw. Anyhow, I don't really know if I said it right, but I finally structured it this way…
"Religion has long been obsessed with categorizing sins. I don't deny there have been valid reasons behind this obsession. The sins of the world have hurt us and introduced unquantifiable pain and death. It's understandable we are conservative and hesitant to unwind former limits and definitions. I think we've been well-intentioned in our reluctance, but ultimately the powers inherent within systems of categorizing get the better of us. While we gather to codify the sins of the world (plural) on the floor of our assemblies, the sin of the world (singular) sneaks in through our ventilation system."
And what is that sin? Well, in a word: scapegoating. It’s where we offload all our anxieties onto that marginalized person or group of people. We declare them wrong to keep us right.
It is the fundamental sin of the world. And It is the fundamental sin of the church.
Look, there are only two ways to look at this: Either we are all loved, living in the grace of God, and it's going to be okay… or we are all sinners and equally in need of the grace of God… and it's going to be okay. Did you see it? Either way, all of us humans are in the same boat. The key thing is God's disposition toward us. And his disposition is love. His disposition is not hell.
I know why some people are so mad at me for saying all these things. And I know it has nothing to do with me. This helps me forgive them ("BTW, Lord, help me forgive them.") No, it doesn't have anything to do with me. It has everything to do with their hell-bent theology. They think hell is the deepest thing.
Sigh… it's not. Love is the deepest thing.