Imagine, for a minute, that you knew absolutely nothing about Jesus…. That you lived somewhere far away from America, with its hundreds of thousands of churches–Both the omnipresent, small congregations that pepper each block or two of every U.S. town, and the giant mega-churches and their sprawling campuses–and had no preconceptions (positive or negative) when someone told you that they were a “Christian.” Then imagine that one of these Christians tells you about this “Son of God” who died for the sins of the world, but also taught us how to treat each other and showed us what things were REALLY important: Namely, ridding the world of the Blacks and the Jews. Then, this “Christian” tells you that unless you accept this Jesus as your Lord and Savior, God is going to send you to burn in hell for all eternity, and they say, “Do you accept or reject Jesus?” If this was me, I’d be like, “Sorry dude–I completely reject Jesus. That person offends every good thing in me. I guess one of two things is true: Either I’m going to burn in hell, or you are full of shit…. But I’m going to bet on the latter.”
Now, imagine another person–living far from any land with Bibles in every hotel room…. Living far, even, from anything close to a “hotel room”–who lived for a time, and then dies without ever hearing anything about Jesus…. What happens next? Would a just God sentence this person to an eternity in hell for not accepting someone they never heard of? Or does God use a different standard when dealing with people who apparently never had a chance?
People have a lot of different ideas about this theological question–This whole “What happens to people who die who never heard of Jesus?” question. It also encompasses other questions as well–Questions like: What happens when babies die? What about kids who die (and is there such thing as an “age of accountability?”)? Or people who are mentally handicapped in some significant way? And what happened to all the people who died before Jesus? Christians over the years have come up with all kinds of theological explanations to make themselves feel better about these difficult questions, and the way that people have answered has led to many splits in congregations and denominations. As varied as people’s answers to these questions are, most people would agree that handing out a punishment of eternal torture to a person for not accepting someone they have never heard of does not seem like the actions of a just God.
People believe a lot of different things about hell (ME, FOR INSTANCE). Many people believe that hell is a place only for those who actually reject Jesus. So if someone never had an opportunity to reject Jesus (like a baby, or some African teenager living in some remote village) then it wouldn’t make sense for God to send that person to hell…. But what if the “Jesus” that a person rejects is a completely false Jesus? A “Jesus” like the one I rejected at the beginning of this post?
For example, I live in a state where there are actually people who are trying to pass legislation that would make it legal to bully kids who are gay–As long as it’s for religious reasons. This legislation was promoted by something called the Family Action Council of Tennessee, or FACT. They try to promote “Biblical beliefs” in public policy (as I throw up in my mouth a little), and introduced this legislation less than a month after a Tennessee teen took his own life after years of relentless bullying because he was gay. These are the sort of Christians who introduce people to a Jesus whose “important things” are making sure gay people don’t have equal marriage rights, defeating Obamacare, and insuring that kids have the religious freedom to tell gay kids they are going to burn in hell–A false Jesus.
So here are MY Biblical beliefs: If there is a gay kid who grows up being told by all the people he loves that in order follow Jesus he has to be straight, I believe that kid was introduced to a false Jesus. And if some kid was brought up to hate homosexuals so much that he feels like his bullying of gays is justified by the Bible, I believe that kid is following a false Jesus. And if some kid hears that “God hates gays” and “Jesus Christ died so that you don’t have to be gay anymore,” and she rejects that Jesus–She didn’t reject JESUS. I believe she rejected a bullshit, counterfeit version of Jesus. Maybe she never heard anything about the real Jesus anymore than some someone in the third world who has never even heard his name. Maybe, in God’s eyes, she is no more accountable than a child….
I’ve been thinking about it, and if there is a hell (whatever hell is like) for people who reject Jesus, it turns out I’m probably a lot more likely to burn than some poor, gay kid who rejects a hate-filled Jesus that was presented to her. Because the Jesus she rejected SHOULD be rejected. Maybe there are people reading this who have rejected Jesus. Maybe you rejected a hate-filled Jesus. Maybe you rejected a Jesus that tries to change the world through violence and manipulation and war. Maybe you rejected a consumerist, me-first, red, white, & blue Jesus. Maybe you rejected a Jesus who only allows straight people into church or at the table. Maybe you rejected a Jesus who reveals a God who created humans knowing that the vast majority (billions and billions of us) would burn in hell for eternity. Maybe you rejected a Jesus who can’t forgive you…. If this is you, I’ve got some good news for you: That wasn’t Jesus. I reject that Jesus too. I love Jesus, and that is just not him.
Unfortunately, I’ve also got some bad news: If you are one of the many people preaching the Jesus I mentioned above…. Well, that isn’t Jesus either. Cut it out.