I was sitting at the WH yesterday morning talking with some of the regular customers. I told them how my family and I are leaving next week to spend over two weeks in Europe. One man told me to be careful, you see on the news all the time of the terrorist attacks. The discussion at the bar then turned to ISIS, Islam and Muslims. The conviction, passion and joy with which these Christians talked about God damning Muslims to burn in hell troubled me. I countered back biblically and theologically, but I was out numbered, and the heated debate I found myself in was not one I was going to win, or change any hearts of those with whom I was engaging. Huntsville with Redstone arsenal and all the military contractors and suppliers is a city over the top with American patriotism. I walked out thinking, there still is allot of work left to be done for the kingdom of God!
It reminded me of the way I felt over a year and a half ago when I saw the bumper sticker on one side of the vehicle in front of me which stated, 'Obama is a Muslim. He will burn in hell" :) (John 14:6). Complete with smiley face and all! On the other side of the car was an ICTHUS fish! It compelled me when I got home to sit for several hours and write out my retort to the bumpersticker and person driving the vehicle. (ya, I am passionate and wierd that way!) Attached is that post again, as it applies exactly to this situation this morning.
“Obama is a Muslim. He will burn in hell J (John 14:6)” bumper sticker
Through prayer and a set of circumstances only God could arrange, I got to meet one of my neighbors who is a Muslim. We are beginning to form a relationship that I hope will grow. I have also become friends with Bayram, who converted to Christianity from Islam. Maybe this is why what I saw today affected me so much that I had to sit down, waste a couple hours, and theologically vent in writing to get it out of my system.
On my way to Teri’s to get my haircut, there was a car in front of me that had a several bumper stickers on it. One said, “ I’d rather be waterboarding terrorists” Another said, “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.” The one that saddened me the most was this one, “Obama is a Muslim, He will burn in hell! (John 14:6) . (smiley face and all). This verse John 14:6, is the one most quoted by those who enjoy the thought of their enemies (typically the Muslims and the Democrats) burning in hell, in which Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If I may, I would like to clear the air on this issue, but not by removing from it the stench of hell, as trend would have it. I actually believe that hell is real. I don’t claim to understand it or God’s motivations for it, but I can’t say that I have a problem with it having read the Gospels. I myself have two children, beautiful daughters, and my passion for them has the capacity for fury. If one of them were murdered, I couldn’t imagine containing that fury. That is why I can understand a literal hell more than I can understand limitless grace. So I’m thankful that God is not like me. But say, by some miracle, I chose to offer my one of my daughter’s death as pardon to her executors in exchange for their gratitude, and they persisted to mock my treasure as garbage, proclaiming, “To hell with her! To hell with forgiveness! To hell with you!” In that case, I would, with all the wrath within me, unflinchingly press them into a white-hot furnace and restlessly spend all eternity feeding it coals. Again, I am not like God, nor he like me, but I can at least say that I would be rather suspect of some god so needy and sheepish that he would welcome everyone at an infinitely wide gate to his kingdom, even those who spit on him as they entered. So it’s not that I think hell isn’t real, like some. On the contrary, I think that there are as many creative ways as there are creative truths that will take you there. In fact, I think the gate to hell is wide enough to accommodate the Christian with even the biggest ego. Those who refuse his way are just as far from receiving his life as those who refuse his truth. Those Christians, who like a husband who understands the truth that he is married, but lives out his marriage in a way that is adulterous and has multiple affairs and lusts after multiple women. Christians that understand the truth of the Gospel, but live out their salvation in an adulterous way having lusting and having multiple affairs with greed, materialism, pride, consumerism, and comfort.
Christians who quote John 14:6 out of context almost invariably do so in order to indicate who is going to hell, and almost just as invariably do so with delight. But Christians who delight in the damnation of the lost are in the same boat as Christians who reject the damnation of the lost. It is a lost boat. The life of Christ is indeed unavailable apart from the truth of Christ, but so too is his life unavailable apart from his way. Those who claim his truth are bound to his way, just as those who claim his way are bound to his truth. God did not write the truth in the clouds. He proclaimed it along an unwavering path on this earth until he was red in the face, red in the hands, red in the back, red all the way down from his crown to the dribbling drops from his toes. So those who proclaim it to try to paint others red are rendering themselves twice the sons of hell as the damned.
All are damned. Jesus died for all. Not all will be saved. Salvation comes in a human sized package, not a globe sized blanket. God did not cuddle the world into his loving arms. His arms revealed a much more violent, passionate, particular love. It is a love whose truth must be received and whose way reflected by its recipients, who proclaim its particularity by loving the world in the same particular way, a dramatically persuasive way. The truth without the way is hypocrisy. Just one smirk over even one for whom those arms were nailed reveals a heart that is liable to be thrust into the pit. If you see a wandering sheep struggling to find its way, then it's time to get into character: climb up to the highest hill and hang yourself as a signpost, like a dead snake on a stick, until that sheep sees God’s way in you and believes it to be the only way. That is cross bearing. But don't for a second think that the Gospel was a silent film, as do those who fight against orthodoxy in the name of orthopraxy. The Good News is not good unless it points to something better than you. The so-called "incarnational gospel" proves to be both deaf and dumb if it thinks that incarnated things should stop speaking. It was, after all, the Word, not the way, that was made flesh. It proves also to be arrogant, because it assumes that its love is as holy as Christ and as humble as his cross, as though there is nothing higher to point to. So the one who proclaims a voiceless, referentless Gospel needs to make sure he or she is powerful enough to save those who hear it. The way with out the truth is humanism. If you let that sheep wander up to your demonstration and never confess it as mere parody, if you act as though any old shepherd will do, as though all shepherds have loved the same, saved the same, bled the same, as though there is nothing unique, nothing worthy of any special praise, as though God loves with other shepherds' arms, then you better hope that those other shepherds can save you as well.
Christian heartlessness and Christian spinelessness are two symptoms of the same problem. It is the problem of pride, which either tries to raise itself up or bring God down, so that we are either as good as God and therefore God accepts us, or as bad as a devil that God is too indifferent to damn. Whichever god pride creates, they both end up looking like the devil. Why is it the tendency for us to assume, despite our view of ourselves, that we have an inherent attractive force on God; that he is near to us in our self-righteousness and near to us in our unrighteousness? We concede a measure of oppositeness, but in the way magnets are opposite, so if God is high and lofty, we are pulled near; if God is low and humble, he is helplessessly pulled to our side, an incarnated pat on the back.
God is holy and humble, lofty and low, and we are not attracted to that. God forced contact with his creation and the only attraction that was revealed was the attraction of some iron nails that had his hands in the their crosshairs from before he hit the ground (Mt. 2). God revealed his attraction to us and we revealed our repulsion to him. We are opposite in the way magnets are not. The image of God hated God because he would not let it be more than mere image. A mirror that reveals a different face has to be fixed. God stared his image in the eye to reveal how distorted it had become. So to fix the distortion, the mirror was shattered. Better to gouge out God’s eye than let him cast you into hell. Besides, the reflection of the Son was too hard to look at, something like the reflection of the sun. His image had to darken him up. So it scribbled feverishly with the broken glass. With swords and spears it panted and prodded and gritted its teeth until finally some reprieve from the glare—overcast (Mt. 27; Mk. 15; Lk. 23). The light came into the world, but it was darkness that the world sought (Jn. 3:19). So God became dark, dark red so the world could behold his glory without being consumed by it. With the final touches and his final breath, the masterpiece was complete. They stepped back to behold their divine portrait only to discover a mosaic of human effort. The picture they painted of God turned out to be a picture of human condemnation.
God didn’t save you in Christ because he loved you, as though God’s love can be located outside of his saving act. “God has demonstrated his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God’s love is not unsubstantial and hollow like human love. Love is as concrete as red is a color. Love has limitations and not all colors are red. But the limitation of God’s love is the source, not the amount. It is a ray come down to the world, not a line running through the world. Its point of origin is the Son. Those who turn away from the Son will forever live in their own shadow. Many choose the shadow way by denying the truth of Christ. He will not force their hand to accept him. But many choose the shadow way by denying the way of Christ. And they will not force his hand to accept them.
I don’t pretend to know anything concrete about the referent to that word “hell”so carelessly tossed around by some Christians and so carelessly tossed out by others. But I do know that it has a referent. And there is enough description surrounding it to indicate that whatever hell is, it is a big problem. I also know that I am not God, so how I may handle this problem is irrelevant. God handled it by sending his Son to be killed by and for the world. He only requires the gratitude due, which, if genuine, will produce a commitment to the truth and a commitment to the way. Only to the grateful will the life be granted. As one old preacher once said, “This is God’s universe and God does things his way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.” So the next time you proclaim John 14:6, make sure your mouth and your body; the truth you profess and the way you live are in sync with your bumper sticker. And if they are not, sit down and shut up until you become grateful. Do the world a favor and just be still until you know that you are not God.
Please share your reflections and comments below.