These are your welcoming introductory words to ISIS beheading videos, according to several reports. Their compassionate, merciful God is apparently cool with His loving people decapitating other human beings.
Last week on Facebook, I posted an intriguing, if flawed, article that appeared in Time online entitled, “5 Reasons Christians are Rejecting the Notion of Hell.” One of my Facebook friends kind enough to reply to my post offered some quotes from Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, from an interview in the New York Times:
“I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something,” he said between chews. “I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen,” he went on. “My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’ ”George C. Scott’s character in The Exorcist III (an underrated film, to be sure), has an even better way of putting it:
When I proclaim, with quivering voice and an aura of uncertainty, that I do not believe in hell, it is not an evangelical call for like minds. Opinions and beliefs don’t change much nowadays -- like we're afraid God would not tolerate doubt or uncertainty -- so a blog that usually focuses on pop culture nonsense is no venue to sway anyone.
The Bible is relatively clear on the afterlife. There is a heaven, and there is another place that’s eternally crappy. Call it whatever you will. Hell. Hades. Sheol. Lake of Fire. Whatevs. Jesus talks about it, about the punishment of not believing.
Jesus also talks about how you can’t follow him unless you hate your family, but even the most strident Christian loves to explain that one away. In fact, right after they will tell you that you can’t pick and choose the verses you like, and you can’t explain away all the ugly stuff you don’t like in the Bible, they’ll explain away why Jesus told you to hate your parents.
Because that’s what we all do to the Bible if we care at all about it. We interpret it. We work to make sense of it. Except for the ones who think they’ve got it all figured out perfectly. And I just call those people zealots, or crazy. Tomato tomahto.
Hell could very well exist. But here is what I believe to the core of my soul: it is my responsibility and duty as a Christian to hope it doesn’t, to pray it doesn’t. And if it does exist, it is my duty to pray that God changes his mind (which, by the way, has Biblical precedent as well) and offers parole for the eternally damned.
If you claim to be a Christian, and if you ever find yourself hoping and praying that someone, or some group of people, or some portion of humanity, will “burn in Hell” or “rot in Hell for all eternity,” then I am absolutely certain that you weren’t reading the Gospels very closely. I just know those are not Christian wishes or words. To desire justice on Earth is human, is reasonable, is understandable. To desire that someone, anyone, should suffer forever and ever amen is bloodlust, and it is decidedly unChristian.
ISIS beheads “intruders” to honor their God, “the merciful, the compassionate.” We want to “bring ISIS idiots to justice” (read: bomb them into tiny puddles of hair gel and blood) because we believe our merciful and compassionate God would champion our sense of right and wrong.
God becomes nothing so much as the centerpiece for a vicious cycle of come-uppance in our desperate thirst for what different books and faiths perceive as “justice.” God becomes our excuse to sink ever further into unGodly behavior, violence and revenge as retribution and holiness.
I hope for no Hell, but I leave it to God. I hope for justice, but I leave it to God. I know my sins make me an unworthy and undeserving soul, but I’m not worried about myself or my fate. I worry about those beyond Earthly reach or reason, beyond human hope. If His Grace is big enough to overcome any obstacle -- and it is -- I will hope it’s big enough to reach even the most lost of souls guilty of the most rotten of wrongs. And, because I know He could if He chose to, I will hope He does.