If you prefer to watch me read and expand on this letter, CLICK HERE!
Good morning my friends! (I’m always aware when I say good morning that it might not be morning where you are or when you read this, but alas!)
It’s a bright day and the snow is brilliantly blinding. I went for a 5K run this morning. I wanted to run 10K but at -20ºC (-4ºF) I couldn’t feel my legs after a while and my feet started to feel weird. So I cut it short.
While I was running I thought about how I was going to address this issue today: fear. Today I want to talk about “Stop worrying about what you believe.”
- I think the first question we need to ask ourselves is where did this belief come from? For example… the existence of hell. If you believe in hell, where did this belief come from? Do you believe it because you were taught to believe it? I mean, has this idea of hell been drilled into your belief system since infancy? I know it has for me. I’ve never met anyone yet who came to the conclusion on their own, completely separate from all religious thought, that there was a literal hell. This is a theological, religious idea that has been passed down from generation to generation. What do we do with this idea that’s become a key component in the fabric of our thinking? I mean, it’s so enmeshed in our thought patterns, how do we extricate it?
- I don’t know about you, but I can’t simply dismiss something I’ve believed my whole life with a single thought. Again, the idea of the final judgment and punishment by hell… I can’t read Rob Bell’s book “Love Is”, and say, “Oh! There’s no hell! La-la-la-la-la!” No! Why would I replace one adopted belief for another? I’m going to test everything for myself. One of my favorite ideas is that the best way to solve a problem is not by skirting around it but by going through it. So I investigate, for myself, all the ideas about final judgment and hell and fit this into the larger puzzle of history, religious developments, textual criticism, as well as compassion, grace and forgiveness. I’ve come to the conclusion, personally, that the final judgment and hell are metaphors used to motivate us, either through fear of punishment or desire for reward, to be and do good. I’ve come to that on my own. I’m not sure when I stopped being afraid of the last judgment and hell, but I’m not afraid anymore. For many reasons. I’ll get to that in a second. Well… I’ll be honest… once in a while a terrifying thought will race through my mind, but I immediately recognize it as a phantom memory. It’s not real. I want to share with you what really helped to remove the worry about what I believed.
- I personally don’t think Jesus EVER threatened people with judgment for what they believed. Jesus was not a professional theologian. He was a mystic and a teacher. He was most concerned with what people said and did, not what they thought or believed. Even his parables are all concerned with right action, not right belief. Of course, I’m sure he would have agreed that what we believe leaks out in what we do. But I think he would have laid emphasis that if a person’s fruit is good, then the root is good. If the water is good, then so is the spring. Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats? The religious people stand at the judgment bragging about how they’ve been missionaries for Jesus, preaching and casting out demons in his name. They’ve got the lingo and the liturgy. But where is the love? The others who don’t even recognize Jesus (“When did we visit you…?), who don’t have the lingo or the liturgy, are praised. Why? Not for religious beliefs or religious deeds, but for simple, human acts of kindness… giving a cup of water, visiting people in prison, clothing the naked. Remember the Roman centurion who is considered good by everyone and Jesus praises him in front of the others? I’m sure his theology wasn’t in line with the religious expectations of his day. So why are we so hung up about what we believe when Jesus didn’t seem to be?
- So… I believe what I believe. I just notice it. That’s all. I don’t believe in a literal existence of a physical hell. But I do believe it is a powerful mythological metaphor that can teach us something important, like perhaps understanding that our actions could have lasting consequences and we should try to keep ourselves aware of this. I don’t believe in supernatural stuff. Bigfoot. UFOs. Aliens. Ancient gods visiting the earth, leaving archeological remains behind to perplex us. Magic. Faith healing. Now… I examine this because some weird and unexplainable things have happened in my life that seem to be miraculous. I also know a lot of people I trust who believe some of these things. So I don’t believe some of these things loosely. I’m not willing to die over them. I also don’t think I’m going to be eternally judged for not believing or believing in them.
At some point in our journeys we have to become independent. We have to get to the place where we “help ourselves”. Confidently! Perhaps if we remove the fear and worry about what we believe, that in the end even if there is a judgment that what we think or believe is not on the table, perhaps then we will feel freed up to believe what we’ve come to believe.
I hope this helps!
If you want to watch a 20-minute video of me reading and expanding on this letter, CLICK HERE!