April 30, 2004

More Compassionate?

Lynn Sislo comments on an article about a young preacher who has been charged with heresy by his denomination. It seems that the preacher has been teaching that non-Christians might still be able to go to heaven; the denomination's position is that that's false doctrine and that he ought not be teaching it.

I don't mean to speak to which of the parties is correct (though I'll note that Holy Scripture and nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition are on the denomination's side). Nor do I intend to speak to Lynn's contention that if the preacher is really called by God that he has no reason to care what the denomination says (though I could say a few words about human frailty, as well as the fact that if God called the preacher, he equally called the preacher's superiors). Nor will I go into the various means the Church has used over the last 2000 years to determine the truth of various doctrines.

No, what I want to talk about is an interesting contention of Lynn's. She says this about the article:

I like this part:

...said the Joint College in a statement March 29. Despite "repeated, compassionate and loving overtures," it added, Bishop Pearson refused to quit preaching that doctrine.

"Compassionate and loving overtures" to force a preacher to stop preaching according to his beliefs, which are more compassionate than the official version.

It's that phrase, "more compassionate than the official version." What Lynn is saying, clearly, is that it's more compassionate to say that non-Christians can go to heaven than it is to say that they can't. And I'm trying to understand the logic here, because it purely doesn't make sense. Where does compassion come into this?

It's not as though the preacher's contention that non-Christians can be admitted to heaven actually admits them to heaven, or that the denomination's contention that they can't be actually bars them from heaven.

Either there's a heaven, or there isn't. If there isn't, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans what either the preacher or his denomination says. If there is a heaven, as Christian doctrine teaches, then either non-Christians can be admitted or they can't. This young preacher is either right or wrong. But whether he is right or wrong has no bearing on whether God admits non-Christians to heaven or not. So in what sense can he be held to be compassionate? Compassion that doesn't lead to acts of mercy is just a cheap feeling.

Now, on the other hand, let's suppose for a moment that there is a real heaven, and a real hell, eternal joy on one side, eternal torment on the other. And let's suppose for a moment that Christians go to heaven and non-Christians don't. I don't care for the moment whether you believe this or not--just, for the sake of argument, suppose that it's true. Let's think about the implications.

The preacher is saying, "It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or not, you can still go to heaven and have eternal bliss."

His denomination is saying, "That's not true. If you're not a Christian, you're subject to eternal damnation."

Now remember, we're assuming, for the moment, that his denomination is correct. In that light, which of the two is the more compassionate? Is it more compassionate to tell people what they want to hear, and make them feel good, at the possible cost of eternal suffering? Or is it more compassionate to tell them things they dislike, and make them angry at you, in the hopes that some among them will win through to eternal bliss?

I know which of those two positions has the greater personal cost.

I don't know what's in Lynn's mind. But when I hear this sort of thing, that somehow it's more compassionate to tell people that their actions do not have eternal consequences, I always feel that I'm being maligned--that the speaker assumes that I like consigning people to hell--that it's a bowl of cherries to me. That I think that the God that I believe in loves me and those like me, but hates the people whose actions I disapprove of.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't pretend to any moral superiority; God offers salvation and the hope of heaven to every man and woman. The Christian who calls people to God is like a man in a power boat, rescuing flood victims from the roofs of their houses. When he says, "If you're not a Christian, you can't go to heaven," all he's really saying is, "The waters are rising. If you don't get in the boat, you're going to drown."

Meanwhile, our popular young preacher is telling folks to stay on the roof, the flood waters aren't going to go that high. Maybe he's right. Me, I'd rather be in the boat.

And frankly, I'd rather you were in it with me, because I really don't want to watch you drown.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 30, 2004 10:07 PM

Deb said:

Well, for one thing, I dont recall anywhere reading that it's in my job description to make the call on who goes to hell and who doesn't. Seems to me there are clear sets of rules on how to get there and how not to--plus a contigency plan of Divine Mercy and Grace etc etc-- that outlines all the steps.

Seems to me your job and mine is to tell the Truth, explain the process and let those who will make their choices and then to argue with them if they make the wrong one. But in the final reckoning, if they dont get into the life boat after repeatedly hearing the call to come, who's to blame?

Will Duquette said:

Deb,

Absolutely. It's not for me to look at anyone and say, "You're going to heaven," or "You're going to hell." Only God, who can see what's in our hearts, can do that.

What Jesus says in the scripture is, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." Now, it's conceivable that one could come to the Father through Jesus without being aware that it is Jesus who brought you, just as it's possible to get driving directions from a stranger without knowing their name. If so, all praise to Christ--I've no desire to shut the gates of heaven against those he'd bring in. But if it is possible, I'd judge it the exception rather than the rule, and for a preacher to tell people to attach their hopes to such a slender reed strikes me as presumptuous.

But all that's to the side of my main point, anyway.

Kenneth S. Courtney said:

What I really don't get is how perfectly reasonable rational people can believe any of this. I found this entry while following a link in my TCL/TK mailing list.

I really don't get how a person who must use the most of their reasoning abilities to use the best information available to them to make essentially life or death decisions about code ... completely throw that to the wind and instead think that somehow looking 'within' gives some kind of meaning.

You make a great point, doctrines are divisions, they are differences in opinion. Have you ever noticed how the opposite can be said of scientific theories? Over time, the lesser of them are either disproved, like theories may and can be unified, but ultimately, science discards those that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

Have you ever wondered why topics such as homosexuality, freedom of choice, and female ordination are so contentious, even just among say just protestants? Lets not forget Catholics, or Greek Orthodox, all of which think they have the right path?

I just don't get it, I bet you can code like a demon, always asking exactly the right question, yet, you cannot or will not question your religion, most likely a result of your geography more than anything else.

Oh well, maybe one day you can see your own light. Several resources I have found helpful:


http://www.exchristian.org/
http://www.religioustolerance.org/
http://www.infidels.org/index.shtml
http://www.infidelguy.com
http://www.atheists.org

Will Duquette said:

Kenneth,

I'm rather at a loss to know how to respond to your comment. Given that you don't appear open to discussing why I believe what I believe (and no, it's not because I'm unquestioning), it's not at all clear what the appropriate response is.

If you've a suggestion for me, I'd be glad to listen.

steve h said:

Ken--

What is the meaning of, "one day you will see your own light." ?

Or is that another version of "somehow looking 'within' to find your own meaning?"

I could be misconstruing your words. However, in most of the English usage I have met, the two phrases are equivalent. Yet you appear to deride one and use the other as a possible escape from the first.

Just a question.

A resource which might be helpful in getting anyone's mind outside of their "geographic" boundaries would be here:

http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/

This is a website devoted to an early 20th-Century author named G.K. Chesterton.

Come to think of it, since this author is roughly a century old, and resided in England, he might help the reader get out of "temporal" boundaries also. That is, the common cultural assumptions of early-21st Century America.

Just a place to start thinking.

Incidentally, if no one ever questioned their beliefs...Christianity would never have produced the divisions that it has, and probably would never have exploded from a small band of fishermen/tax-collectors into a worldwide faith. So divisions resulted later on...they're partly our problem, but they also point out a reminder that no Christian is perfect, either in sin-lessness, or in understanding of the mysteries of God.

I'd love to hear back from you. (I think my name will link to my email, if you want to clarify things one-on-one with me.)