A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Would we rather be right in hell than wrong in heaven?

Would we rather be right in hell than wrong in heaven?  I was asking myself something similar this week as I prayed for rain and contemplated climate change.  I tend to believe scientists who say global warming is happening and the consequences will be dire if we don’t make some changes in the way we use our natural resources.  We are in the midst of a drought.  Amidst the worry, the stress, the aching with the plants and pondering how we are going to find feed and water for our animals, I detected within myself some small bit of twisted satisfaction at this possible evidence of Global Warming.  After all that would make me right.  Uggh.  As I figured this out about myself I began to pray I am wrong.  I pray this is just a passing thing.  I pray the rains will come and nothing else dire will come and I can snicker at myself for being so silly.  
I have noticed this in other areas as well.  Tell someone you believe ultimately all people will be saved and responses are often adamantly opposed, sometimes even angry.  This seems like it should be good news.  Wouldn’t it be a good thing for hell to be empty?  Wouldn’t it be a good thing for all people to come to God?  Then why the fierce opposition to this idea?  Personally I feel like my odds aren’t very good if God is judging and vengeful.  Would people rather be right in hell than wrong in heaven?  
I realize I am simplifying things.  Fear also plays a role.  We are afraid “universalists” might lead us astray.  We are afraid we might believe the wrong things and end up in hell.  We are afraid our children, friends, or loved ones might end up in hell if we don’t set them straight or if we allow negative influences in their lives.  
But I can’t help but think a little bit of it has to do with pride.  We believe what we believe and if anyone says differently they are telling us we are wrong.  And in the matter of all people being saved, who would we gloat over if everyone was in heaven with us?  What could we congratulate ourselves for if all paths lead to God? 
We all sometimes let pride get in the way.  Nothing surprising there.  The problem is when our pride gets in the way of conversation.  It is difficult to have a conversation with someone who is so set on defending his or her beliefs that he or she doesn’t have time to listen.  It is hard to have a conversation with someone who is afraid the wrong thoughts could send one or both of you to hell.  Jesus set us free from that fear by showing us God’s love and forgiveness.  Jesus also set us free from pride in our own salvation by teaching us we are saved by God’s love.  We are free to talk to each other.  We are free to really listen to each other.   
I really like being right.  Just ask my husband.  But I would sure rather have rain.  I really like being right.  But I long for conversation and conversation needs for all participants to recognize they might be wrong. 


Rachel said...

I have a new goal to read your blog more often because I really like it, and when we go back to China, I know I will need more conversations like this even if they are not in person. I have argued with myself about these issues as well. I LOVE to be right, and when I look at myself critically I find that I love it so much that I often avoid even listening to the other side of the conversation just so I can keep on believing my "right" ideas. On the issue of universalism: I just don't know where I fall here. I truly do believe in a God of reconciliation. Isn't that what Jesus was all about? Setting things right and bringing people along his path? But I also think scripture points us to Jesus as the ultimate way for that reconciliation. Does God have a way for everyone to be a part of his kingdom? I certainly hope so and think, "Hey, He's God, so why not?" What I do know is that I am called to praise God and love others right now, right here. And that probably means listening more than talking and not always being so "right" in my assertions.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks, Rachel. I like your thoughts on universalism. Whether universalism is right or wrong isn't my point (at the moment:)) but right or wrong it seems strange that reactions to it are often so harsh. It seems like the worst a universalist should be accused of is wishful thinking unless we are so hooked on revenge that we actually want those who have wronged us to suffer eternal torment. Thanks for your thoughts. We all definitely need to do more listening.