It is my personal belief that we humans spend a lot of time trying to be in control of things we have no legitimate control over. I’ve had to realize this the hard way a number of times in my life. I spent many years with a belief that it was my job to save the world — to convince people that my understanding of Jesus and the Bible and the Gospel were absolute truth, and their understanding was incorrect—whether they be of a different religion all together or even just a different Christian denomination. (There we go with our “us vs them”s again.)
Frankly, that life can be exhausting. It’s definitely not, in my opinion, the “abundant life” Jesus came to give us. I think that very distraction of making ourselves Christian superwoman or superman keeps many of us from reaching our god-given potentials and getting to the core of the creativity and diversity our Creator had when that Creator designed us. How many of us can say we are completely fulfilled and living an abundant life, free of fear and worry, high on God, tapping into all of our inner talents and creativity and gifts?
At the end of the day, we have to decide — and I believe we all make this decision, consciously or subconsciously — what is more important to us: Is it more important that I love unconditionally and serve sacrificially (Jesus’ proclamation of the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving neighbor as we love ourselves), thus actually carrying out His Gospel; or is it more important that I make my doctrinal beliefs known, and try to get people to believe what I believe, the way I believe it?
As a rule, I hate either/or scenarios. I’m very cautious to put them out there; I think the majority of the times we try to make thingseither/or we’re creating a false dichotomy and they can actually be both/and. I think this particular situation, though, has the potential to be a true dichotomy in a pragmatic way for many Christians, because I’ve seen a lot of my brothers and sisters decide that the latter is more important.
I grew up in fundamentalist Christian churches where it was of utmost importance to get a person converted to our version of the Gospel and Christianity in order to save them from an eternity of torture-by-burning (in a lake of fire). Our churches (we moved around a lot, but always seemed to find similar churches) would go to great lengths in our “soul-winning” endeavors. Groups would go door-to-door; we’d order “gospel tracts” by the hundreds and leave them everywhere we went, from restaurant and coffee shop tables, to information desks, to the backs of public toilets (ew).
When we engage in relationship where our primary purpose is to win someone over to our own way of thinking (even if we completely believe that it is for their own good), we cannot engage in true relationship, true community, true love. It’s impossible—and I don’t use that world lightly—for me to truly love a person holistically when I have an agenda, or an ulterior motive to convert them to my understanding of my faith. And yes, I understand that my belief that that person is heading straight to an eternal lake of fire is what is compelling me to do this. That’s why I’ve come to believe it’s impossible (for me at least) to hold these two beliefs simultaneously—the belief that I am to love people unconditionally, and the belief that if they don’t believe the same things I do, that they’re going to spend an eternity in a lake of fire because this is what the justice of God looks like.
What happens is this (and I’ll put this in terms of myself since this is the predicament I was in not so many years ago): say that person hears my presentation of my understanding of the Gospel, and I invite them to accept Jesus as their savior or pray the sinner’s prayer or something like that, and they decline. What then?
Do I feel a little sad for them, but also a little relief, because I’ve done my duty and it’s not my fault they’re going to hell? Could that maybe be because I’m not completely comfortable with what I say I believe about God’s wrath and the eternity of hell?
Or perhaps, on the other end, it tears me apart. I become so upset and melancholy because my friend has decided not to accept Jesus, and now will burn forever in a lake of fire. How preoccupied will I be now, for the rest of our relationship? Even if it doesn’t totally consume me (as it should, if I were to truly, vigorously hold to this belief), it will be in the back of my mind.
Can I still love them? Can I love them unconditionally, without judgment? Can I have a relationship with them without being condescending and believing they’re lost and thus broken, in need of fixing? And if I believe that’s true, am I truly able to fully love them without belittling their existence because I perceive that they are on a different plane from my own? Even more importantly, how big is my belief of God? Do I believe, and can I trust God enough to be able to meet other people where they are, independent of where I am, with or without my being aware the immensity of God’s love and God’s ability to commune with God’s creation?
But if God can be in community with God’s creation outside the confines of the Sinner’s Prayer or the Romans Road or the Four Spiritual Laws, what does that mean for the way I do my faith? Can I still hold true to my faith, and focus on what Jesus told me to focus on (loving God and people well), and not feel like I have to maintain control over the process of winning and losing souls?
The answer I personally came to is not just “yes,” but that a fuller “yes”—an abundant “yes”—a “yes” that spreads the Gospel like wildfire and exponentially multiplies the love of God in ways our small minds and small denominations and small religions cannot even comprehend.
This post originally appeared on Stan’s blog.
STAN RANDALL is a lover of life, people, religion, humor, and the Oxford comma. If you move quickly, you can find him at his apartment in Brooklyn, New York, where he’s patiently sitting at his laptop waiting eagerly to receive the email notification that you’ve started following him on Twitter and Instagram at @ItsStantastic, and at StanRandallBlog.WordPress.com.