By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 7/14/12 in The Madera Tribune
I’m usually not a frequent letter writer or recipient, even as a newspaper columnist. But below are excerpts of an online conversation I had in January about religion. It has been rewritten for brevity, clarity, and to protect brain cells.
LP: “There may be a god. There may not. No one can be 100 percent certain either way. Live and let live I say!”
There’s a difference between being 100 percent certain and being convinced. Hint: the requirements are lower for being convinced.
LP: “Brainwashed from birth.”
I prefer a brain that has been washed to a dirty mind.
LP: “Ha ha. Good comeback! … But how do you know a lot about God? Does he speak to you? Or are you going on the word of an old book?”
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe humanity can know God because God chose to self-disclose. This self-disclosure to humanity is referred to as “public revelation” and is expressed, in part, in the books of the Bible. Admittedly Judaism doesn’t accept all of what Christians term the Bible, and Islam distrusts its reliability — depending instead on the Quran.
LP: “But God never spoke to me! I have never read the Bible!”
President Obama has never spoken to me personally either, but if I wish I can find out what he has said.
LP: “What about people who… have never been discovered by civilization? Are they going to hell because they don’t have access to the Bible?”
Opinions differ on that. My church, Catholicism, believes those who truly had no opportunity to learn about public revelation would not necessarily be damned. Some of the other Christian religions would disagree.
LP: “What kind of god would send someone to suffer for eternity in hell just for not worshiping him?”
To answer the question of why God would allow someone to go to hell for eternity, one must first grasp the concept of hell itself.
Hell is more than a place. It is also a state, and that state of being can be experienced even in one’s lifetime… Hell is a place and state of rejecting God and all that directly reflects God.
This rejection has many consequences, because God is a being with the fullness of the qualities of existence: all-beautiful, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, etc. To reject God is to, ultimately, embrace ugliness, weakness, ignorance, hate, and more. That is worse than any fire or torture.
Moreover when one turns away from the gift-giver, one also spurns the gifts.
LP: “My parents gave me life, but they don’t demand worship! I will go through life being nice to people but others can rape and murder as long as they repent to God afterwards. So I’m going to hell and they’re going to heaven. Where’s the justice there?”
Each human has the choice to accept God into one’s life because God has offered that option to us. We don’t deserve it. The happiness from appreciating God’s presence transcends what any human could “earn” in any way. Even in life, it is a great gift. Everyone sees God’s reflected presence in every experience of true beauty, love, and goodness. We all usually take it for granted. Its loss is hellish.
We can lament we have a choice to embrace or refuse God, but that would be like grieving that a stunningly attractive, intelligent, and good-hearted woman asked you out for a date. If one turns down that offer, who is to blame for having to return to a cold, empty, and solitary apartment afterwards?
LP: “What do I have to do to accept God into my life then? It all feels so one-sided when I pray.”
It comes down to daily choices. Despite what some may believe, it isn’t just a one-time decision. Every day of our life, one has to welcome God into one’s life.
How? The most basic way is prayer, which is a misunderstood term for communication (the word originally meant “to ask earnestly”). As with any relationship, communication is key, and yes, it should be two-way. We can listen to God by hearing what God self-revealed, especially in the person and words of Jesus.
Like in any relationship, we should try not to offend. It also helps to have friends who want God in their lives too, because they won’t be annoyed when you bring God with you.
Ultimately you need more guidance than I can give from afar, so seek humble teachers.