edited: Thursday, May 09, 2002
By Sara K. Penrod
Posted: Thursday, May 09, 2002
Become a Fan
A personal essay on the theology of theism from a writer's perspective.
Almost every Christian, at some time in their life, goes to a Judgment House, where you see skits about what happens if you go to Heaven and if you go to Hell—regardless of the fact that nowhere in the Bible are there any concrete, specific details about what either one is like. There is invariably a scene in which two characters who have died—on a Christian, one not—stand before God to receive judgment. This “God” never asks questions of those being judged; he only looks for their names in his Book of Life—if it’s the Baptists—or the palm of his hands for a fundamentalist denomination. The Christian, of course, is there. The other one is cast into the flaming lakes of Hell.
If I were to put on a Judgment House, that scene would change. Names would not be prerecorded in the Book of Life. God would ask only one question: “Do you forgive me?”
Most of my life I’ve had problems believing that the only way to heaven is through Jesus, because I cannot accept that the God who created us could send so many of us to Hell; conversely, I’ve had a problem believing that you have to do good works to get to Heaven, because then I would go to Hell.
One night my piano teacher and I were discussing theology, particularly the validity of the verse where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:3, NRSV). That, to me, doesn’t fit with the image of God as a loving father that is used throughout the Bible.
One thing we, as writers, learn is that different people tell the same story in different ways. This is evident throughout the Bible, especially in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Also, we learn that stories are written to make a statement—moral, political, social, intellectual, religious, and others. The Bible is no different; it was not written by God. It was written by people, impure people like all of us, and they corrupted the absolute truth and authority of the story. Thomas Jefferson was called the Antichrist by adversaries because he read the Bible in a discretionary way and even cut the Gospels apart to form his own version, which he believed to be true r. He later published this under the title The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, and a copy of it is still given to every member of the U.S. Congress.
My piano teacher told me about a theology called theism. “The idea is that the final determination of where you go depends on whether you can stand in front of God, look him in the eye, and forgive him.”
Forgive God? Having been raised in the Methodist church—an overwhelmingly conservative denomination—I was unsure of what to think. All my life I’ve been taught that God is always right, that we should put up with all the terrible things that happen to us because they’re all a part of God’s master plan for us
So I went to my Bible. I confess that I rarely read my Bible, though I know I should. When I looked at Jesus’ teachings, I came to a conclusion—it is about forgiveness. Jesus talks so many times about love, and it is impossible to love and to hate a person at the same time. Forgiveness must happen before love can begin.
Maybe one day I will stand before God and be asked to forgive him. Maybe I will just die, cease to exist. Maybe I will go to Hell. But I pray that, if that day comes, I will be able to say “I forgive you.”