“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”
“Let us therefore reject all superstition in order to become more human; but in speaking against fanaticism, let us not imitate the fanatics: they are sick men in delirium who want to chastise their doctors. Let us assuage their ills, and never embitter them, and let us pour drop by drop into their souls the divine balm of toleration, which they would reject with horror if it were offered to them all at once.”
It’s almost like a joke, for a Christian like me to use Voltaire to correct other Christians who I consider to be believing absurdities. But this is what I am doing. Bright and godly men are telling the world that eternal hell awaits everyone who does not receive Christ as their savior before “this life” is over. If the only thing in the Bible were messages which seemed to teach this idea, I would leave it alone. But the Bible is equally strong, indeed much stronger, in saying that God is merciful and loving and has planned the redemption of all people. The bright and godly men whose works are listed on the above site are consistently willing to attack and degrade anyone who presumes to draw hope from the loving and optimistic promises of scripture.
At times like this, a Christian needs to learn from a good atheist, like Voltaire. (Or was he a deist? — see Thomas S. Vernon) We need to speak to our Christian brothers who still believe in the notion of eternal hell, with all its absurdities, with the divine balm of toleration.
This is all the more important to me as I discover from Howard Dorgan that often the Calvinists of today turn on a dime and become the Universalists of tomorrow. In his book In the hands of a Happy God: the “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia, Dorgan points out that the Baptist leaders who adopted a “salvation for all” belief did so by clinging to the concept of predestination, and simply allowing for the idea that God chose to save all rather than some.
Now, I’m not a Universalist. But I think the golden key that unlocks the Bible is this: that Christ died in exchange for Adam. What man lost by Adam’s sin, through heredity, Christ restored. The children of Adam lost a relationship with God, and the opportunity to truly choose for themselves how they would live, before they were born. They were born dead, so to speak, “without God and without hope in the world”, as Paul puts it. What Jesus provided was a voluntary “righteous act” that offset the single act of disobedience of Adam.
This is reciprocity at its simplest. One man sins, and dies. Another man does a noble sacrificial good deed, choosing to pay the penalty of that first man’s sin, thus releasing the first man and making a second chance possible for him.
And this act of free grace also benefits the children of the first man, by giving to them something they never had: a first chance to be sinless, in a garden paradise, where they could decide whether to obey God or not.
That is what Jesus brings by his act of reciprocity.
And it frees Christian believers from the absurdity of administering Eternal Torment for folks who under God’s sovereign arrangement simply do what they are inclined to do by virtue of their heredity and environment.
I’ve been traveling but when I return I hope to write about some of the atrocities that the above absurdities have generated.