I have been trying to write this response to a series of blogs written back in the spring. Every time I sat down to write it I seemed to choke on the words. They seemed too harsh, but the illustration has not left me.
In the spring I ran into a series of blogs that spoke of the idea that we are all perfect, that all are going to be saved, that God is too good to let anyone suffer eternal damnation. If I just look superficially I really like this idea. Everyone begins life as an innocent baby. Many of those babies suffer terribly growing up, learning bad habits and misconceptions along the way. How could a loving God punish them for turning out less than perfect?
The blogs were not the first time I had encountered this conundrum. When I was a child my father had brought home a little pamphlet he had run across that spoke, in disturbing tones, of the need to balance God's goodness with a place of everlasting torture. My father had a different understanding and wanted to compare and contrast the two views for us. I have yet to find an understanding of hell that I agree more with than my dad's conclusion that God's glory is the eternal fire spoken of. Those who do not accept his gift of eternal life, who are not open to the necessary transformation, are not physically able to withstand this glorious heat and are consumed by it in an instant as chaff in a furnace. The fire is eternal, but not the suffering.
This still does not resolve the perceived injustice of excluding some from the joy of eternal life. If God is capable of changing those "chosen few" in the twinkling of an eye so that they can withstand and even rejoice in his searing presence why not transform us all? Why allow any to be destroyed for eternity? When I read the story of the Exodus in the Bible I have always been similarly bothered by the plague of the first born dying. It seems so cruel, so harsh. Why kill the children?
Recently, I watched The Exodos Decoded on the History channel and was thrilled by their findings that meshed scientific discovery with both the Bible and the Egyptian records. Their controversial conclusion is that a volcanic eruption scientifically accounts for all the plagues and miracles mentioned in the account. I was especially relieved by the explanation that it was a cloud of trapped gas being released and floating out close to the ground that would have killed anyone sleeping low to the ground. Egyptian first born had the privilege of sleeping on low beds while siblings slept on the roof or in wagons. When Moses announced the last plague, the angel of death who would kill the firstborn, he warned those who believed in God, who wanted to avoid this plague, to eat a special meal. It was the first Passover feast (because they ate it so the angel of death would pass over them) and they were told to eat it standing up. Those who were standing up, or sleeping in places other than the low beds, would avoid the low cloud of deadly gas.
Thus God warned the whole area that death was coming, and told them how to avoid it, but only those who heeded his instructions, both Egyptian and Hebrew, were able to avoid death. In the same way I believe God has told us how to avoid eternal death, but it is only available if we take him at his word.
The Bible speaks of us becoming one with God, just as a bride and groom and joined as one in a marriage. I fact he is even called the Bridegroom. Paul says our lives are hidden in Christ and Christ is hidden in our hearts. We are invited to a wedding banquet. There are many, many references to God romancing us. I do not think that this is an accident. It may not be a complete analogy, but I believe it has real applications.
What, you ask, does any of this have to do with rape? Well, if someone approaches you on the street and says that all you have to do to be "saved" was to be intimate with them, I hope you kick them in the groin and run the other way as fast as you can go. In our current culture it is no secret that sex can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be torture. If a person does not open themselves up to the experience, if it is forced upon them, it is rape. Even within a marriage if a man or woman forces their affections upon an unwilling spouse it is still legally wrong. So would God "force" oneness on us?
I sat folding and rubber-banding 54 Sunday papers in preparation for filling in for my 13-year-old's paper route. I flipped through the TV channels. Suddenly, the beautiful colors and scenery of First Knight filled the screen. I've seen it a couple times before, but am always enchanted by its beauty. As fate would have it the paper folding coincided exactly with the scene where Guinevere is caravanning towards meeting her betrothed, King Arthur.
Her caravan is attacked and she flees on foot pursued by three soldiers. Lancelot is able to assist her in fighting off her attackers and there is instant chemistry. She is unable to resist giving in to one kiss, but asks him to promise never to kiss her again. With confidence he replies that he cannot promise that, but he will promise not to kiss her again until she asks him to. Of course, we all know the disastrous end that leads to, but it left me thinking back on this topic as I walked the cool morning streets delivering papers.
If God is able to give us eternal life, but it involves being intimate with us, we must open ourselves up to the experience, to the transformation. He has stated his interest, he is actively wooing us, but he is waiting to be asked. He will not force his power upon us, invading our hearts against our will. Instead He says in Revelation 3, "Look at me, I stand at the door, I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you." It sounds, to me, like he is asking for a date, but where it leads depends on how far we are willing to go.