Heaven and Hell
I didn't post on the blog around Easter because of the death and/or disability of too many friends in the past year. The hope of Resurrection seemed weak in my heart, and I couldn't fake overcoming the depression. I believe strongly in the Holy Spirit, but I struggle with the theology of our bodily resurrection and the concept of heaven and hell as a physical place. God isn't "out there" someplace, even though there is a world of the spirit that exists parallel to our known universe of our senses. My years of Bible study have convinced me that we place too much emphasis on trying to define or demonstrate God in terms of personification That limits God and our understanding and our knowledge of the world. We claim we know all the facts because of science, and state that we can't prove (or disprove) the existence of God. That's a false assumption. We really don't know or understand the world or the mind, even with the advances in science. There is still just too much that we don't know,
I recently had a discussion with a friend who formerly was a Methodist but now has become an atheist. He said he changed the beliefs of his childhood because they didn't fit with what he understood to be scientific facts. He just didn't believe any of those Bible stories anymore. I conceded there are many things we don't know or understand about Jesus, including the nature of his divinity. Theologians have argued about it for centuries. Yes, there were many other iterant preachers in Palestine in the first century, and some of them also were crucified by the Romans. But the one question he couldn't answer was, why was Jesus the one who changed the world? What happened to his disciples after the Resurrection? They had been ignorant, weak, self-centered and misunderstood much of what he taught. Suddenly they were changed and became powerful, committed, and filled with a faith that eventually overturned Rome. The church became a driving force for good and for human rights and responsibility for others. Unfortunately, as the "church" assumed a more formal organizational structure, it also became susceptible to human weaknesses and mistakes.
The basic issue of the conflict between the church and the LGBT community is whether being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender is a sin. If it is the only unforgivable sin, then we're going to hell. Most people hedge and dodge around the issue. The fundamentalists quote some of the 613 rules of the Old (Hebrew) Testament and a few quotations from the letters of Paul. They ignore the cultural context of the times in which the Jews were a small minority threatened on all sides. They had no separation of church and state so they developed what we would call civil laws and a health code that were appropriate for that century. It was a matter of survival. Even the 1st Century Jews had different beliefs about the afterlife as well as a preoccupation with procreation. Rob Bell has an interesting book and more detailed commentary about Heaven and Hell in Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
It is pointless to debate the scriptures. People simply interpret them in different ways so we end up with hundreds of denominations based upon deeply held beliefs and traditions that are only loosely related to the Bible. We have dozens of English translations from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. That's not even considering the translations into other modern languages. Most of these translations/commentaries were influenced by the cultures of the times in which they were written. For centuries slavery was an unresolved issue in the church with both sides claiming God as their champion. Although LGBT people have been around for centuries, we were hidden and repressed to conform to the cultural mores of the times.
The United Methodist Church is split on the issue of homosexuality, but many people and congregations are welcoming and ignore the official dogmas of the church. These marginal steps are not very satisfying to me. I'm tired of 40 years of bickering. I guess that it just will have to take another generation to resolve this gridlock. In the meantime, I'm not afraid of going to hell.
Romans 12:11-13 New International Version (NIV)
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.