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Frustrating Conversations

In the last few months, I have had a number of conversations with other Christians that have left me shaking my head in disappointment.  I suppose I always hope that people will actually consider the beliefs they hold dear, examining them to be certain that they understand why they hold those beliefs.  Yet I am often left feeling somewhat deflated when I discover that most people just don’t think that deeply, even when they say something is very important to them.

The three most recent discussions I have found myself involved in are repeats of similar conversations I’ve had over the years and cover three of the main topics some Christians see as a kind of barometer of the faith.  In other words, if you have the right opinion about those things, then you are clearly a “real” Christian.  Inevitably, they go something like this:

Conversation A

Person: The world is going to Hell in a handbasket, society has become so immoral.  We accept terrible things, like the “homosexual agenda,” abortion, and fat people.

Me: Um…this is the human condition.  People do bad things.  It’s not worse now, just different.

Person: We need to return to the values of the 1950s.

Me: You would like separate lunch counters?

Person: No, but you have to admit, it’s much worse today.

Me: Really?  Well, what about things like slavery or the Crusades or the Nazis?  There’s a lot of racism and genocide in history.

Person: Well, we still have all those things.  But now we also have men who want to marry each other.  And also fat people.

Me [realizing this person has a particular view of the world and is shaping his opinions to match]: Never mind.

Conversation B

Person: The Earth is really only about 10,000 years old.

Me: Scientific discoveries seem to indicate something different.

Person: Science doesn’t know everything.

Me: True.  But how can we explain what science has discovered?

Person: God made the Earth LOOK much older than it is.

Me: Why?  Why would God want to trick us like that?

Person: So that we would take the Bible on faith.

Me: Ok, how does that strengthen our faith?

Person: I don’t know, I guess God just wants us to believe Him instead of trusting our own observations.

Me: That doesn’t make sense.  I feel more drawn to God knowing He made all these wonderful things, including dinosaurs.  I think it’s really cool that our part of the world used to be a tropical sea!

Person: But God wants us to just trust that His Word, the Bible, is the only truth we need.  He wants us to pick Him over science.

Me [realizing this person isn't able to give a concrete reason]: Never mind.

Conversation C

Person: People who are [Catholic, Orthodox, non-Evangelical, emergent, social justice Christians, etc.] are not really saved.

Me: Why not?

Person: [gives various reasons, usually some variant of "they don't believe in salvation by grace through faith alone"]

Me: Are you sure about what “they” believe?

Person: Yes, I grew up in that tradition.  I know everything they ever believed and can recite it to you verbatim.

Me: So everyone from those traditions or beliefs is not actually a Christian.

Person: Well, no, I’m sure some of them have found their way to faith.  But most of them just don’t understand their faith or what they’re supposed to believe.

Me: Not unlike most people within our tradition.

Person: I’m sure there are people in our tradition who don’t understand, but that isn’t most of us.  It is most of them.

Me: Ok.  Even if that’s true, are you certain that we’re right and they’re wrong?

Person: Yes, because the Bible says so.

Me: You know they say the same thing about us, right?

Person: Yes, but we are actually correct, unlike them.

Me [realizing this person has preconceived notions that can't be addressed in this conversation]: Never mind.

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There you have it.  I’ve been having similar conversations on and off for the last 20 years.  It doesn’t offer me much hope.

Revealing Revelation

Last spring, I participated in a study of Revelation.  Increasingly, I find it hard to believe that we are to take the writings literally.  In particular, I am not convinced that somehow all “true” Christians are going to be taken away from the earth so God can rain His wrath on all of creation, punishing the unbelievers.

As the conservative, evangelical church teaches it, all of the people who are genuine Christians (usually defined by a pretty narrow standard) will escape the fire and brimstone by virtue of our faith.  There will be no believers left on earth.  Somehow, though, a new wave of Christians will rise up.  Now, here’s the thing.  If I had just witnessed the disappearance of my loved ones, I might at first think there was something to this whole rapture thing.  I just might start reading my Bible.  But when people, plants, and animals started dying, disease became rampant, the water turned foul, and the earth was plagued by war, famine, and insects, I’m not sure I’d want to associate myself with God anymore.

Not only that, I find it somewhat difficult to align what we know of God through the Jesus of the Gospels (see John 14:9) with the vengeful God of popular interpretation of Revelation.  Where is the deep, passionate love; the gentle compassion; the mercy and grace?  Why would such a God command eternal, conscious torment for the simple crime of unbelief?  Does anyone seriously believe that all non-Christians are just black holes of moral decrepitude, deserving of punishment ONLY because they never said the magic words asking Jesus into their hearts?  I find that not only hard to swallow but distasteful as well.

So instead of trying to find ways to make Revelation fit a rather narrow interpretation, why not read it with fresh eyes and see where it leads us.  Why not take it metaphorically, perhaps as a vision of the eternal struggle between good and evil, or a picture of the spiritual battle raging as Jesus gave his life on the cross?