Thursday, January 22, 2015

You Sentenced Her to Hell

Dream: Sister -- you know how I felt for Nada once. What I feel for her still. But she defied me. I gave her due warning, and still she spurned me, so...
Death: So you sentenced her to hell.
Dream: ...yes.
Death: Desire was right.
Dream: What?
Death: Well, maybe not about everything. But right about Nada, anyway. You did a terrible thing to that poor girl. You acted appallingly.
Dream: You too? Even you turn on me, my sister?
Death: Oh, just shut up and let me finish. You can shout at me afterwards.
Nada loved you. She really did.
Now, maybe Desire had more to do with that -- and with your reaction to Nada's love -- than it's saying. That doesn't matter.
Because Nada was right.
It is bad for us to get involved with them. You know that.
Dream: I would have made her a goddess.
Death: Maybe she didn't want to be a goddess, little brother. Did you ever consider that?
Anyway, condemning her to an eternity in hell, just because she turned you down...
...That's a really shitty thing to do. 
 - Sandman #21
by Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg

Man, Dream, that is harsh.  A lover rejected you, so you damned her to hell for an eternity of eternal torment and punishment?  You, sir, are not a good person.

Aren't you glad we don't serve a God as fickle and petty as Dream, here?  Or, do we?

Unfortunately, we often depict God and God's "love" in this manner.  God loves you so very, very much and he wants you to spend all of eternity in Heaven with him.  But if you don't reciprocate his love, he will send you to burn in Hell forever!

That is messed up.  The thing is, this tactic actually works well in recruiting converts because it is a scare tactic.  People are persuaded they should "love" God, but not necessarily because of his love for them, but out of their fear of going to Hell.  This is probably how I first became a Christian.  Making little kids scared of Hell is a good way to get them to say the sinner's prayer.  Whether they understand it or not is unimportant.

This may all seem like a harsh critique, but let's examine the metaphor of God as an abusive lover.  If your significant other threatens to physically harm you, let alone send you to Hell, if you fail to shower him or her with unconditional love, that should send up a massive red flag.  You should probably get out of that relationship right away.  But it could be even worse.  What if the love is unrequited, and God is a total stranger that comes up to you and declares his utmost love for you and if you don't love him back, well, he will set you on fire and unleash unlimited, unholy terrors upon you forever in Hell?  If handy, you might be best served to shoot him in the face with pepper spray.

Of course we never really phrase it his way, but this is the scenario we set up when we preach this view of atonement.

Sharon L. Baker concurs that this is a prevalent, yet perverse depiction of God's love.  "But isn't this what we've been saying about God for centuries?  God says, 'I love you with all of my heart and want to be with you forever.  Love me back or you'll suffer in hell for all eternity, always separated from me.'  Yikes!  Should we get a restraining order against God?"1

Is this the salvific love of God?  Is it nothing more than quid pro quo?  Does God love us only on the condition that we reciprocate his affection and, failing that, he exacts the harshest of all imaginable punishments on us?

Again, Baker disputes this and says we must move past our depictions of God as " angry father or a dissed lover who must exact retribution."2  Instead, what if God's love is the love that Jesus preached and lived?  What if God loves unconditionally, which would be a ridiculous, absurd, reckless, and downright stupid love?  What if God's love, what if his grace, is a gift, freely given, never deserved or earned, yes, yes, oui, oui, amen?

1. Sharon L. Baker, Executing God: Rethinking Everything You've Been Taught About Salvation and the Cross (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2013), 163.
2. Ibid.

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