Some things I used to believe | Worship
I had a seminary professor who used to say that the human problem is the inexhaustible capacity to draw imaginary lines between good and evil – and then put ourselves on the good side.
I always wanted to be the one on the good side. I wanted to be sure that I would be numbered among those invited through the pearly gates. I wanted to be certain.
Certainty is intoxicating. It makes me feel invulnerable. It’s an aphrodisiac that lulls me into infatuation with my own vision of what’s important. Certainty tricks me into thinking that my life is clear and manageable. I used to be so certain of so many things. I liked it.
After all, when you’re certain, you can win arguments, you can ignore uncomfortable truths, you don’t have to listen to other people, and you can pretend you’re always right. Certainty is such a luxury and such an illusion. I miss it so!
Perhaps age and disappointment have worn off some of the hard edges of certitude in me. These days, the list of things I hold deeply is getting shorter.
For instance, I used to believe in objectivity and consensus. I used to believe in fairness. I used to believe that success came to those who worked hard. Now I see that it doesn’t really work that way.
This part is harder though. This part puts me at odds with people I trust and people I love.
I no longer believe in Hell. That’s right, I said it right here for all to see. Now, before you call me a heretic, let me explain. I no longer believe in the Hell that some of my Christian friends imagine as an otherworldly, fiery, tortuous punishment presided over by a malevolent, red-suited, pitch-fork wielding, goat-like monster.
Instead, I have come to believe in a Hell that I see every day. Hell is right here in this physical world where there is violence, addiction, pain, deception and avarice. I don’t think that we wait until we die and leave this Earth to see it. I think it’s as close as the evening news and my own backyard.
I no longer believe in Heaven either, at least Heaven in the sense that when we die we float off to another universe where there are clouds, angels, harps and Saint Peter’s big list.
That vision of Heaven took shape in my head while watching TV and Sunday school flannel graphs more than it did by the Scriptures themselves.
It’s better than that. Heaven is here every day; every time the sun rises, or an alcoholic puts down a bottle, or a sick child laughs, or lovers find forgiveness or an honest but hard truth saves a life.
I do believe in a Heaven that touches the Earth with God’s grace and compassion. Even in the face of human greed and death, God’s delight and promise of resurrection comes to us. Heaven is not later. Heaven is here. It’s not a location – it is the presence and purpose of God.
A pastor friend of mine and I used to have a slogan. It came up in sermons and Bible study classes. I wanted to put it on a T shirt: “Heaven is not the place to which God’s good people go; it is the place from which God’s good things come!”
Some might wonder if I have lost my faith or if I’ve become cynical with these changes in my system of beliefs. In fact, quite the opposite is true. There has been liberation and inspiration in no longer believing.
Letting go of certain certainties has opened for me a new way of seeing God’s goodness and presence in this life – right here and right now.