Thursday, August 15, 2002

It's fun to feel sorry

I suppose we are all sympathetic. Sympathy drives most of society - like the guy on the corner with the sign about the war injury he incurred. Sympathy, however, also drives one of the largest theological blunders Christians make.

Here's Christianity in a nutshell: We are all going to hell, except those who receive the undeserved salvation of Jesus Christ. Sounds easy right? Well, it is - except 4 out of 5 final breaths still aren't followed by escalator trips to the pearly gates.

But this isn't about Hitlers, Catholics or Baby Boomer family members who have been deeply ingrained with a misleading gospel message, this is about the poor tribal nomad in, naturally, Africa who has never met a missionary or heard the news of Jesus' saving grace.

What about that guy? Hell for the unlucky?

People answer that question in three fuzzy ways:
  1. Yes, to Hell
  2. No, to Heaven
  3. No, but maybe
Examining these, it becomes pretty easy to see which one is the most likely and which others are variations on the recipe of one-part Biblical truth and two-part sympathy. The latter, just like an egg in an omelet, is the ingredient which holds the pie together.

The camp that sends our poor aboriginal sinner straight to heaven is the worst of all. They feel that the injustice of his circumstances qualifies him for "special salvation," a concept worked out more by guilt then exegesis.

Other problem for the straight-to-heaven gang is missionaries. Those darn missionaries are out there spreading the word, only to send our newly enlightened indian chief straight to burning brimstone. If the missionary had simply stayed home with Kelly and Oprah, our spear-toting tribesman would never have heard and, subsequently, would have never had to choose to Jesus or not to Jesus. No missionary would mean he could have kept his first class ticket for roller blading on streets of gold; basically, the missionary sent our bare foot friend to hell.

The next camp is those that maybe do and maybe don't send our unlucky soul to Heaven. They feel that an attempt at unprovoked piety deserves some type of eternal reward other than endless boils and George Burns jokes.

This camp is typically based on the concept that nature can reveal God sufficiently to the unreached man. In other words, if our nose ring, tiger hunter can figure out that there simply must be a higher power because the sunsets are majestic and water always flows downhill, he will qualify for "special salvation," and wake up singing in the choir.

This is appealing to people. After all, the Bible alludes to such a notion; at least it does enough for people to lock and load this theology into their spiritual diaries. With this notion, we are not sending all the unreached to Heaven - thus solving the missionary problem - but aren't send them all to Hell either - thus solving the guilt problem.

Guilt you say? That's right, guilt. We armchair Christians are so deeply stricken with guilt from our inaction and ineptitude towards the lost that we come to a logically consistent "special salvation" by which we can redefine God's own plan. With our own box into which we semantically stuff Jesus Christ, we ease our troubled minds and release ourselves of the requirements of outreach.

But, alas, there is a problem. The problem is Hitler. It seems to always come back to Hitler - the perfect specimen of what nobody likes.

Let's imagine two tribesmen. The first loves his wife and children; he admires sunsets, tends his fields and shares with his neighbors as he can. The second tribesman hates his mother and plunders his neighbors. One day the second tribesman kills the first's son while also stealing the bounty of his harvest. As the first tribesman is a model citizen, the second is a monster.

Come death, the "nature" camp would apply their "special salvation" to the first tribesman. After all, he led a decent life, suffered from the evils of others and admired the creation God set before him. The second tribesman gets what is coming - swim team starter position at the pool fill of razor blades and vinegar.

We are all satisfied with the good being rewarded and the bad being punished. But we are all kidding ourselves if we think the first tribesman is good. After all, "for all have sinned." This camp's "special salvation" is based on works. Works as the sidewalk to salvation is a direct inversion of Biblical teachings. Faith is what saves us; specifically, faith in Jesus Christ.

As a side note, and not a rabbit to be chased, is the notion of sincerity as a means to salvation. If you truly believe in your false religion, God will find you worth. This would mean that Jesus, when He said that no man comes to the father except through Him, was wrong - therefore not perfect, therefore not God. Not a good choice.

Well, this is a process of elimination. If we can't sent our tattooed warrior straight to heaven or even conditionally to heaven, what's left?

What's left is what does not satisfy our sympathy; sympathy for the one due to die in one day while the missionary won't arrive for two. What's left is this:

No matter who you are. No matter where you are. No matter what you have or have not heard. Without salvation specifically through Jesus Christ, you have but a single fate - rooming with Lucifer and a swarm of angry hornets.

This should cause a few things. First, it should cause you to rethink how you think about this. Most Christians are willing to change what God says in hopes that they will confuse God into slipping some extras into the Book of Life. God doesn't work like that. He told us how to receive salvation because that's the way to receive salvation.

This should move you to ministry. If you can't give up the Lazy-boy, at least help finance the churches and missionaries that can. Feel good about this: it is your burden for the lost that motivates your sympathy for them. At least you have that.

Finally, let me leave you with this caveat: God is just and merciful, and the decision of life and death is in His hands, not my imagination.

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