It’s January 2nd in Ohio and it’s sunny and over 40º. I’ll take it. My good friend, who has been counseling me since Shayna’s passing, calls me about going for a walk. We meet at the hiking trail and soon our talk turns to death, the afterlife, heaven, all that stuff that I’m obsessed with now. My friend has just lost his stepfather on Christmas day. So we spend time talking about his transition and how my friend was there for it and how peaceful it was. For different reasons, my friend and I are both at peace about the condition of our loved ones after their passing.
My friend is a pretty traditional Christian, so I often temper my discussion when it comes to things like mediums, out of body experiences, Near Death Experiences, meditation. All the woo-woo stuff I am in to now. My friend is also a former pastor and I get the impression he is trying to lead me back to the path to God. I’m good with that. I appreciate the effort, but I’m on my own path and our views of God are pretty divergent. We discuss the Bible and it’s authority, etc. We talk about the Trinity and I make the case that the Bible can be used to make the case either way- that Jesus was God (as most Christians seem to believe) or that Jesus, the God and the Holy Spirit are not the same in identity (as I believe). I don’t want to get into this debate with him. My point is different people read the same Bible and come to different conclusions and all of them they are are right and are supported by the Bible Calvinists and Arminians could hardly be any further apart when it comes to how we are saved, but both believe only some will be saved. Both believe Jesus’ sacrifice is limited in application. People like Martin Zender believe ALL were saved by Jesus’ sacrifice and will quote Paul all day long to back it up. I tell my friend once again that I am a universalist. He asks me what that means. A fair question because there are many variations. I personally don’t care about the atonement theories. If you want to believe that God killed Jesus for all of mankind’s sins you’re getting to the same conclusion I am (except you are starting by believing God can’t simply forgive and needs blood). But both our conclusions are that God will not leave any man behind. Whether it’s in this lifetime, in the afterlife, through reincarnation, whatever, all will find their way home.
Our conversation is getting pretty deep and all of this stuff can be very confusing so my friend kind of summarizes. I can’t recall his exact words, but they were something like “Well, I just hang my hat on Jesus being who he says He is. All of this other stuff can be interesting mental stimulation, but for me it’s about Jesus being who He says He is.” Basically, “I am saved because of Jesus”. I tell him that I believe that all religions are basically the same. At the core it’s about unconditional love and forgiveness. It’s about having compassion. If you do these things you can’t go wrong. He says that the religions do have things in common, but fundamentally they are different. I disagree. I say it depends on what you call the fundamentals. Then, he proves me wrong and maybe for the first time I really get how fundamentally different Christianity is.
He says that Christianity is about Jesus being who He says He was. He quotes C.S. Lewis to me, one of my favorite lines from back in the day “Jesus is either Lord, liar or lunatic” because Jesus claimed to be God. Either He is God, He lied about being God or He was crazy enough to think He was God. Checkmate. I finally realize that Christianity is fundamentally different from the other religions I know. It’s the only religion that claims you can be “saved” based on the work of another being. Christians would say all other religions are works based, but here’s what I think. Christianity has become focused primarily, if not exclusively, on salvation. On individual salvation. Christianity is about fire insurance, just keeping your butt out of Hell. Islam is the other religion I can think of that’s focused on salvation, but it’s more works based. Do all of these things to prove your love to Allah and keep your butt out of hell. Judaism was primarily about the redemption of a nation (no teaching of Hell). So, yes the three Abrahamic faiths even are fundamentally different.
But, here is where I disagree with Christianity. Salvation, keeping your ass out of hell, is just the beginning. It’s not the final destination. We are supposed to be working to bring about the Kingdom. We are supposed to be working on what I call our sanctification. Paul says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Sorry Paul. I gotta call foul on you there. If salvation is about the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we can’t “work it out” , but we can and need to be working on our sanctification, purifying ourselves, being light and love in the world and working to bring the Kingdom to Earth. Not just for ourselves individually, but for all of mankind.
So, I now fully realize why I can’t be a Christian again. It’s not about salvation for me anymore. I have faith that God/Jesus/Source will save or has “saved” me. I think there are places in the afterlife you don’t want to go, but I know no one will be left in such a place. And if you want to avoid going there, just believing in Jesus ain’t gonna do it on its own. Jesus didn’t say “Sit at the foot of my cross”. Jesus said “Take up your cross and follow me”.