Someone I love and respect told me the other day how horrified she was by the claim she’d heard some other Christians make that those who did not believe in Jesus Christ were destined for Hell. To her, that was the essence of tearing relationship apart, to pass judgement on someone else like that. And it seemed arrogant. After all, why does it matter who you call the creator, she said, it’s all the same so it’s way too narrow minded to say that only the name of Jesus is good enough. It struck me again just how unpalatable the Christian message can be.
If I’m honest, even though the word ‘gospel’ means good news, often it seems like bad news to me. I mean, if someone knows they’re in peril, speaking of a way to salvation is fantastic! But if they think they’re fine, the very suggestion that they’re not seems incredibly presumptuous. Let alone the arrogance of claiming to speak a message from God! And that’s without the dropping the bomb that we will all answer to God for our failings! So there’s a question there of how to come to terms with good news that is bad news for some.
I think the first thing we do is to work out how God interacts with people, that is, what Jesus shows us of God. Most of us think in dualistic terms: we either go to heaven or are condemned to Hell. But Jesus speaks in much more relational terms: of not knowing people; and of keeping those who know his voice. God is in the business of knowing people. And yet, this is the very level at which God is so unpalatable to this person. She rejects the notion that this God, or any God has a real claim on her life. And she shows very little interest in getting to know God, whoever he is.
She doesn’t care what God thinks of her. She’s far more motivated by what I and her other friends think of her, whether we accept or reject her. But what she fails to see is that bearing the bad news comes from love of her – because I want her to hear the good news! Because she means so much to me, I can’t offer a mere ‘gold pass to heaven’ or a ‘get out of hell free’ card. The offer of God that I have experienced is so much richer than that: it’s about the vibrancy of living life with a relational God and looking forward to sucking the marrow out of life for an eternity! The God who has a claim on my life is the God who gives all good things, and it’s these good things that I want for this person. This is the good news about the bad news that she needs.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.