In some ways, looking at things from this new perspective is very freeing for me. Things make more sense to me. I actually feel as if God is a God of Love, rather than paying lip service to the concept while justifying a doctrine of hell which damns the large majority of people who have ever existed to eternal torment.
Besides the tactic of not thinking about it much, most conservative Christians harmonize the God of Love and the God of Wrath by explaining that we all deserve Hell, therefore God is loving towards us by providing Jesus as a way for some of us to be saved and avoid damnation. It's our own damn fault and we should be grateful for the meager scraps God throws our way...or so such an attitude appears to express.
My mind conjures an image of an exasperated Father, irritated with His children, not really liking them, wanting to simply show them the door, but then Child Protective Services might show up....so He guesses rather than hassle with all that, He might as well try to do something about them.
That picture of God, while definitely not consciously being drawn by Christians, is at the heart of many people's relationship with God. God is our Father, but it's not a trusting relationship. It's an uneasy one in which we're never quite sure where we stand. Is He going to open His arms to draw us in, or raise his voice and shout at us, maybe even slap us if we get too far out of line?
My intention is not to downplay God's right to judgment, or to minimize evil. Surely evil is all around us. We see it everyday in the news. We experience it in our lives.
However, the window with which I view God has changed angles. Instead of looking through it and seeing a brick wall, I see an endless blue ocean and vast white sand. Instead of a sterile lobby, I see a cultivated courtyard.
Specifically, I have found focusing on eternal life as being physical resurrection and perfection, and condemnation as being true death/annihilation, to be life-affirming. God loves His creation. He is not interested in its destruction, but in its redemption. He is not interested in making us less human, but more human--perfectly human. He is not interested in making us austere, stoic people, unaffected and unimpressed by life.
He has placed a value on us that we cannot fully appreciate or understand. It's useless to try and understand. Love is the only word for it; caring for us because He chooses to, because we are important to Him.
When you know that you are truly loved by somebody, your relationship with that person matures and becomes secure. You don't worry that they are constantly evaluating you, looking for your weaknesses, and mentally counting up your insufficiencies. You become relaxed in their presence and are able to be open and share what you're thinking and feeling without fear of reprisal.
It's what John expresses in 1 John 4:13-18
13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Fear of God's judgment never moves us forward in our spiritual lives. We don't overcome temptation and evil through fear. In contrast, we mature by apprehending God's love and grace.
There is a paradox in life that certain things can only be overcome by caring about them less, not more. We become more confident in ourselves when we stop caring about what other people think of us, not when we constantly try to make sure that we measure up. We learn to dance by enjoying the music, rather than slavishly trying to follow dance steps. We lose weight when we stop obsessing on food and simply eat when we're hungry. We overcome addictions when we realize they don't really give us what we want and have no real power over us anyway.
In the same way, we overcome our failings and the fear of judgment by seeing them as nothing in the face of God's love for us. We can only truly share God's love and grace once we begin to comprehend and accept it. We give from what has been given to us.
Reflecting on God's love lifts mankind from the depths of a pit and sets him on solid ground. It realigns us with God's original intent for us. It fights against the view of mankind as pitiful vermin, worthy of destruction.
You must, in some ways, have a high view of yourself to enter into relationship with God in such a way. Yet, it is not regarding yourself as perfect because you're better than others, but because you have found your purpose as a child of God, valued by Him, because He has declared you valuable....not only you...but all who choose to follow Him.
In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas travel throughout Israel spreading the message about Jesus. At one point they worship at a synagogue and are asked to share a message of encouragement. Paul relates the history of Israel and Jesus' role as Savior. People flock to hear their message and many believe. The Jewish leaders became jealous of the attention and following Paul and Barnabas obtain and begin to persecute them, stirring up trouble for them. What is interesting, is Paul and Barnabas' response to them. Out of exasperation, acknowledging that they have shared the message with the Jewish community there, they say:
Acts 13:46-47aThen Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us...
It's a compelling way to put things; they are rejecting the gospel because they do not consider themselves worthy of eternal life. Granted, Paul may be responding sarcastically, yet even so, there's a nugget of truth in there.
It takes faith to trust in that love, to rely on it in the face of failure, to see it as steadfast, unconquerable by fear, to judge oneself worthy of the love of God and eternal life.