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Q & R: Shake your hand at Wild Goose Festival, guilt/cynicism, maybe the best hell question I've received

[In light of the email below, I wanted to remind blog readers that it's not too late to be part of the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, June 24-27. This is going to be a tremendous start to an ongoing annual gathering of enormous impact ... Hope you'll be there.] Here's the Q:

Rather than listing out an inordinant amount of thank-you's and well-wishes, I will instead hope to shake your hand at the Wild Goose Festival.

A short list of thoughts:

1) I want to thank you (oops) for your comittment to experiential faith as the most important key to life with God. I am thankful (oops) to know that others further along in this strange journey still hold on to a vibrant relationship with God.

2) As I continue to interact with people at different stages, I often find questions directed at me such as this one "What is God doing in your life." I never know how to answer, because my answer would likely be something that those people believe God does not do in their current paradigm (i.e. teaching me about the wideness of his mercy and love). When I ask them the same, I often receive back something like "I did not get in a car accident during the winter weather, that is what God is doing in my life." Quickly my guilt turns to cynicism, when i realize that my answer is no more profound than anyone else's.
How do you answer this question when it is thrown out?

3) Why do you think all of those who vehemently defend eternal concious torment in the afterlife for the vast majority of humanity never live like they believe it. It seems to me that if they really believed it, they would never have kids (to spare them the large chance that they would experience ECT) and that they would spend every moment of their life screaming and frantically running around trying to rescue people. I've heard of these logically consistent people, but have never met one. Why do you think this is?

Anyways, again, I hope to shake your hand at the Goose.

Here's the R:


Thanks for your questions. I think the Wild Goose Festival will be big enough to be exciting and small enough that anyone who wants to find anyone and say "hey" will be able to do so. So yes - I'm looking forward to meeting you as well.

On the "What is God doing in your life" question - in light of my most recent book and its 12 simple words, I might say something like this: I feel God is helping me become more awake to God's presence in the present moment, here and now (here) ... I am being guided into greater gratitude for the gifts that shower upon me at every moment (thanks) ... I am experiencing awe and wonder that are beyond words (O) ... I'm learning to more cleanly and deeply own and regret my wrongs and failures (sorry) ... God is teaching me to translate my limitations and needs into requests for help (help) ... God is calling me into deeper compassion for others (please) ... I am learning to live in blessed discontent (when?) ... I am struggling with God these days, and that's OK (no!) ... I am lamenting my inability to figure God and life out (why?) ... God is helping me to see without judgment (behold) ... I'm experiencing the joy of joining with God (joy) ... I am simply and silently with God (...).

Your hell question is, I think, among the best I've ever received. Thankfully, nearly all Christians who believe in ECT are better, kinder, and more compassionate in their own character and behavior than one might predict based on the retributive, dominating, severe, and ultimately semi-gracious deity they seem to believe in. That's because, I think, they are truly made in the image of a better God ... the God of grace and truth who was imaged and revealed in Jesus Christ. So they live from their actual identity as "made in God's image," not from their theological system.

That's why, I think, we need to avoid fruitless arguments with people who are deeply wedded to the traditional view. Yes, there is a place for honest debate, but it's important to remember that many people hold the traditional view for (to them) good reasons - mainly, a) it's what they've always been taught from the Bible and they want to be faithful to their community and tradition, b) they haven't yet seen/felt the Biblical and ethical problems with it and c) they haven't yet learned that there are equally faithful or more faithful alternatives to it. [And sometimes d) because they will be treated with suspicion or expulsion when they question the view.] As you said, they are usually (always) behaving better than their system might predict, and in many cases, they simply want to be left alone to hold their view in peace with those of kindred spirit or persuasion. Better than arguing endlessly with these folks, I think, the rest of us can explore and articulate a more Christ-like view of God, and demonstrate how reading the Bible from this viewpoint produces better readings of the Bible ... and, one hopes, good, faithful, and charitable lives and communities. If this alternative approach gains a fair hearing, it will draw people to it without polemics. In the meantime, we can affirm the good and gracious behavior of those who hold the traditional view, and thank God that they are living from the best of their hearts - and join them in worshiping God who is ultimately better and greater than anyone's best and greatest understandings. Before God, we are all left humbled, silent in awe and wonder.