I try to be consistent. As much as one can be in such a diverse and complicated world. But I try to be consistent, especially in what I share about what I believe Jesus is about.
Jesus is about life. Yes, Jesus provides comfort about where we’re going next, but the life of Jesus isn’t about what it takes to get to the kingdom of God, it’s about what it takes to bring it here. That’s a life lived in love with the world. That’s a life lived like Jesus.
But I’m not Jesus, you might say. No, in the sense that you’re not me and I’m not you, but yes you are, in the sense that we are both divine (created in the image of God) and human (created of the earth), just like Jesus. I think that’s the main point of Jesus, that his life shows us that’s what we are and how to live it out.
But what about evil and the devil and hell and all that stuff? Sure, we find ways to try and understand what isn’t love or grace or heaven, because we have experiences and make choices that aren’t and we live in a world where, while we’d really like it to be simple and just what we want, it’s not and it’s full of other people and other things. And we can see those as “other” or we can see them as relationships we just haven’t explored yet, or lived yet. We can see them as an obstacle to overcome or part of the journey that is a full life. And, oh, that’s a struggle. Believe me, I know that’s a struggle.
But what about judgement? Even Jesus talks about how, at the end of days, we’ll all be judged and some will go to the happy place and others to fiery furnace. Ok, but let me say three things about that. One is that, though we seem to like to do it and do it a lot, Jesus – and scripture as a whole – constantly reminds us that the ultimate judge is God, not you and me. The second is that God begins with grace and offers forgiveness. I do believe that we come from God and we return to God. And, I understand hell as meaning how sin distances us from God. In other words, we may be very far from God in this life, but we still return to God.
Third, let’s talk about sheep and goats for a minute. Despite number one above, we still see the need for judgement and yes, Jesus talks about it. But perhaps we hear that with ears listening for where we might be going next rather than consequences in this life. Take, for example, the story Jesus tells about how judgement will be like a shepherd separating the sheep and the goats (Matt.25:31-46). Already you might be thinking you want to be a sheep. You do, because the sheep feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and the imprisoned and therefore “come, you that are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The goats don’t and are consigned to the eternal fire. So, do like the sheep and you’ll get to the happy place. Right?
Ok. Except. Neither the sheep or the goats in the story are aware that what they’re doing or not doing is for Jesus. The sheep aren’t doing it to earn anything, they’re just being themselves. It’s already in them – and maybe it’s in the goats, too. We’re all God’s creation. The difference is the sheep engaged the world, saw the need, and shared in it. That’s what Jesus is all about. Love, grace and compassion aren’t behaviours you use to get points to go to the happy place. They’re who you are. Look in you, look around you, and bring life to this world by living them.