The Unfundamental Conversion

“No, who’s Jesus? He doesn’t live around here” {A Dialogue that Changed My Faith}

August 13th, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Fundamental/Evangelical

If you have followed by blog since the beginning, this is a story you have heard at least in part before. This post is part of a three part series I am doing on three defining moments on my faith. These stories will come out in consecutive days.

People frequently ask me why I am no longer a Calvinist. I repeat the same story I have told here on the blog. I did not become convinced from scripture. I still believe we can make a good case for Calvinism in scripture. This always puzzles Biblical literalists. “You mean you came up a belief without consulting the Bible? Herasy!”

IMG_1863When a missionary went to one village, he stopped over at a house and asked a family, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?” “No, who’s he? He doesn’t live around here,” they answered. At my church we had maps along the walls of whole districts without any believers. This was the area my kids and I prayed for every day.

Back in my town my friends would often tell me they had nothing against the idea of God. Buddhists are pretty Kantian. They believe we can never prove or disprove the existence of God, so most prefer not to focus on who put us here but instead focus on getting out. They found the America’s desire for eternal life, let alone certainty, odd. “Why do we need to know where we will be after death, when I don’t even know where I will be next week,” they would say, and then sit down for yet another work break.

Calvinists teach that we are born in darkness, born children of the devil, born dead to trespasses in sin. They teach that we are like Adam and Eve in the Bible. God calls us, and we hide. And we hide good. We are ashamed of God, so we hide. Then we turn back and rebell against the creator.

No, who’s he? He doesn’t live around here.” That stuck in me. These villagers were not in rebellion, not in the Calvinist sense. They had never heard of him, and those who had (like my good friends) were just puzzled by the western need to have all the answers.

Back when I was a Calvinst I used to hang out at the bookstore on Friday and Saturday nights with a group of interesting people. They would often say, “If God is real, I would rather burn in hell than worship in heaven.” This confirmed in my mind the idea that only Christians desire God, and that everyone else is resistent to the idea of God, so much so that they would rather burn. If you think about it, that’s a pretty heavy statement.

So when I was explaining this to someone the other night, I thought of something else. I love Jesus, and I’d also rather live in hell than worship God if God dumps his wrath out on mournful sinners in hell. For the first time in the life, I actually understand what the atheists from that bookstore were trying to tell me.  Worshiping God is noble, only if God is good. Much of the atheists “hatred” towards God is not actually at God but at religion.

Calvinism at least made hell tolerable for me. I looked at my friends at the bookstore, and I could say, “They don’t want Jesus.” Hell was a place they wanted. So it didn’t seem like a punishment as much as just a default place. It seemed like God was saying, “Hey, if you don’t want to worship me. I have this alternative place,” so to speak, except the alternative place does damage our souls because sin does that.  But still, this was a default place for people who do not want to be in God’s presence, I believed. I could live with this, so I was a Calvinist.

All this, of course, came with the huge assumption that unbelievers don’t want to be in God’s presence.

When I moved to SE Asia, I met people who had never heard of Jesus and who certaintly did not dislike him. Suddenly my mind saw people like the rich man crying out over the abyss, “just let me go back and tell my family,” and “just give me a drop of water,” only this time it came with names and faces, names and faces who confirmed for me that they did want to be in God’s presence. They wanted out of the hell, and God just wasn’t answering.

And so it slowly faded. So slowly I didn’t even notice. But one day I awoke from my slumber and realized. My faith in Calvinism was just gone.

Stay tuned for part 2: Hint: Hell followed. (and a story I have not actually told here on the blog before, I don’t think.)

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  • Calvinists teach that we are born in darkness, born children of the devil, born dead to trespasses in sin. They teach that we are like Adam and Eve in the Bible.

    This right here may be a foundational problem. None of us is what God created. We may be born under the invasive influence of sin in a fallen Creation, but this is not what God made, and Adam and Eve subject to suffering and death were only that way after the Fall. A Christian anthropology that considers man sin-ridden ab initio and thus fails to take into account the primordial state, which is our true and created, in the image and after the likeness, nature subjects itself to a cascade of problems in its efforts to understand man and man’s relation to God.

    “If God is real, I would rather burn in hell than worship in heaven.”

    Of course, it’s a figure intended to make a point, said by people who probably don’t believe in Hell anyway, but it’s worth noting that the would-be nobility of this would inevitably disintegrate after about two seconds of burning. Excruciating pain is something most of us have a hard time enduring–else it would not be excruciating, now, would it–and I scarcely think that any human being would be pleased with his choice after some amount of time in an agony greater than anything anyone can know in this world and in the knowledge that it would never end. “Wait, Lord, I didn’t mean it!” would likely soon follow.

    It’s worth mentioning, by the way, just because it’s, well, an annoyingly self-important thing to say. As in, “My knowledge of good and evil is so solid, and my integrity is so great, that I would suffer like that rather than worship a God I despise.” Few in this life are able to make even sacrifices that barely resemble that (eternity in fire). People should have a better sense of human frailty and the overwhelming reality of overwhelming pain.

    • I know, I hear that sentiment all the time, but I honestly don’t think I’m that strong. I wouldn’t want to worship someone I think is evil, either, so I don’t know exactly what I would choose, but if God is really like some of the bible or some people portray him, neither choice seems very good.

      • This was a good question, I could grant that none of us would want to live in hell and experience that kind of pain. But supposing that God would come and just offer us an entry into heaven right then, I don’t think it would be possible for us to tand in his presence and love him because our hurts would be so great. You can’t worship someone you hate. A transition has to take place. You could potentially be in heaven and not enjoy (I think that’s possible) but not worship him.

        That is why C.S. Lewis’ great divorce makes sense even if I’m not there. He basically says you can leave hell anytime. Hell isn’t a place of torture. It’
        s a place you live. But since you are kind of own your own, that hell is still full of suffering that man creates. In that kind of world, someone might choose to leave, because God isn’t your enemy. Granted, people might still blalme God, but God would not be obviously torturing people.

        Le us not forget that some Calvinists even teach that God hates people HATES.

        • I’ve heard some good things of C.S. Lewis’ views on hell, though I’m not too familiar with his works. Catholics also seem relatively enlightened, from talking to them online (one guy told me that even the devil can repent, in hell, and God would forgive him, a lot like what you’re talking about here). You’re right, though, I don’t think I could love someone who had tortured me or my loved ones (or anyone, really), unless maybe there was a major, convincing change of heart.
          I must say that I find Christians who think I’m going to hell a little insulting, as they apparently think that I wasn’t sincere as a Christian or that I’m “stupid” enough to jeopardize my own soul. I really like your views of God, and other people. I do hope there’s some kind of comforting afterlife, because this life can get pretty rough!

          • I do hope there’s some kind of comforting afterlife, because this life can get pretty rough!

            That’s a rather inconspicuously profound statement.

          • Thank you. It’s an understatement, I know, and something everybody knows, but it still bothers me sometimes.

  • True. There’s a lot of morally dubious parts of the bible. You know, happy is he that taketh his little ones and dasheth them against the stones, that kind of stuff. Genocide, keeping the virgins, stabbing pregnant women through the belly. Sending all the Jews killed in the Holocaust to Hell, according to popular interpretation of how people get to heaven by believing in Jesus. If he’s ever shown to be real, Yahweh’s not someone whose butt I want to kiss.

    • Lana Hope

      I get it, completely. But I will say I am not sure “God said” any of it. George Bush said God said to evade the middle east. Ego mankind can think God is on his side, and then do tremendous evils in his name. If people prefer to avoid religion because of this, it’s not like I can argue against that, of course.

      • It was in one of my homeschooling, bought-from-a-Christian-school textbooks that I first came across the idea that scholars debated how God may have inspired the bible. Almost none of these theories involved “literalism.” It was so freeing for me, to discover that! Maybe God didn’t say that disobedient children should be stoned to death, wives had to obey their husbands, it was wrong to be gay, etc. That changed my life, and I was so happy to learn that! 🙂

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