“SHARE the gospel! Preach the good news!” is something I would often hear while growing up in church.
But what is this gospel? What is the good news?
Very often it would distilled into one Bible verse: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Countless sermons have been written and preached on this one verse alone.
I remember hearing one about a bridge operator who brought his son to work one day. His job was to sit in a booth and control the mechanism which raises a bridge when there is river traffic and lowers it when there is none to allow land vehicles to pass through.
On that day, he saw a tourist boat full of people approaching the bridge so he started the machine which would raise the bridge. As the bridge slowly went up, he heard his little boy cry out and to his horror, found him caught in the mechanism that was raising the bridge. If it opened fully, his son would be crushed. He was about to stop the machine but he saw that the boat was fast approaching and it would crash into the bridge if it was left unopened.
With tears in his eyes, he allowed the bridge to open, crushing his son while allowing the boat of happy people to pass through, blissfully unaware of his huge sacrifice.
Stories like this, especially prevalent during Christmas and Easter, are meant to highlight the love of God in giving up his only son to suffer and die in our place, for our sins. All we have to do in order to avoid this terrible fate, as the verse says, is to believe.
What is rarely questioned is why or how we were destined for this fate at all, but there is a ready answer for that nonetheless -- the doctrine of depravity -- that we were born imperfect, stained with the “original sin” of Adam and Eve; that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we strive to be good, “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and we will never be good enough to stand in God’s presence unless we accept the sacrifice of his son.
Otherwise, it’s off to the torture chamber for us - hell, endless suffering, eternal separation with God, and so on and so forth.
But let’s back up a bit, who created this system anyway? Who is the architect of all these? Isn’t it God as well? The Christian belief allows no other being to rival God. In other words there is no “evil God” that is equally as powerful and locked in a cosmic struggle with him.
Satan is depicted as a fallen angel, just one of God’s creations that he can actually disintegrate any time he likes so he doesn’t really count.
In fact, Christians like to say that God is in control of everything and that includes the devil -- that the only reason he hasn’t been blown up to bits is because God still has some purpose for him to play in his grand scheme.
So if we are to follow this logic, it is really God sending people to hell unless they believe that he sent his son (who is also himself) to this little backwater town in the Middle East, to be one of them and to suffer and die for them. And he did this all at a time before TV, radio and the internet were invented.
And so all those generations of poor folks in China or on the island of Hawaii, who never heard of this story until hundreds of years later have been fed to the fires of hell just because they didn’t believe. But it’s okay because even though it is hard for us to understand, we just need to have to trust that it is all part of God’s divine plan and that all things will come out just fine in the end.
“But God doesn’t send people to hell,” some people would argue with me. “That is the logical consequence of their choice. If they don’t want to be with God, that is not God’s problem anymore. In fact, that is the essence of freedom -- God will not force people (who do not want to be with him) to be with him.”
Well look, people do not choose to go to hell. Though some might jokingly say hell is more interesting than heaven, but what people choose is other beliefs, which is largely a product of the geographic location and culture they were born into. And if you really think about it, they don’t even get to choose. They are indoctrinated from day 1, when they don’t even have the mental and intellectual capacity to understand what is going on. And God is sending them to hell for this?
And that other thing about God not forcing people -- well let me leave you with this example -- if a parent sees his child about to hang himself or jump of a cliff, is the parent going to stand idly by and say, “Well, kid, look, I really can’t stop you if this is what you really want. I mean, I should know better but I don’t want to impinge on your freedom, you know.”
No, the parent would do everything possible to save the child, freedom be damned.
If God exists, then he has the power to forgive and accept people as they are, whatever their beliefs or choices are. Heck, ordinary people can do this, why can’t God? There is no need for a hell except for the doctrine of depravity which ought to go there.
Now that would be good news.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on December 22, 2017.
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