Recently a friend of mine sent me a very nice gift – a book by Rob Bell entitled “Love wins: a book about heaven, hell and the fate of every person who ever lived” (Thank you Jan!) Having known me for about 20 years, Jan knows that I enjoy books that are thought provoking. Especially if the subject matter is spiritual. In fact, I initially brought this particular book to his attention after reading a book review in the USA Today newspaper a few months back, but I couldn’t exactly run down to the local bookstore myself, so fortunately Jan knows that it is relatively easy to send books to death row prisoners as all he had to do was order it on Amazon.com and have it shipped directly to me.
This isn’t the first book I received from a friend as I am blessed to have several friends who sent me books recently. But I am writing about this particular book because of the message it provides, one that I have reached myself long ago – that our spiritual evolution is about embracing love, not condemning all of us to hell. Like many others I find the concept of being condemned to hell and subjected to eternal torture to be in conflict with what I believe God really is. If God truly loves even me, then why would he want to beat me over the head until I submit to what some self-righteous and self appointed representative of God tells me a true Christian is?
Many years ago I got to know one of the volunteers that regularly visit death row from churches. They come to save our soul, bless their hearts. Most of these men do so at their own expense and spend many hours each week going from cell to cell, reaching out to the condemned and showing a measure of compassion that reflects a true Christian spirit, and I enjoy the few moments I am able to share with them.
This one volunteer (“Carl”) told me something that has stayed with me since – at the time, I was facing a death warrant (formally scheduling execution) and upon learning of this, Carl came to my cell to see how I was holding up. I was alright, but we go to talk and he commented on how I was actually lucky to be facing then imminent execution, as most people do not really know when they will die and often die suddenly without any opportunity to get their heart right with God.
Anyone who really knows me knows that I’m never at a loss for words, but at that moment, I didn’t really know what to say. The implication was that those unfortunate enough to die without the opportunity to get their heart right with God would be condemned to hell for all eternity, no matter how good of a person they might have been, while at the same time a presumably “cold blooded killer” who by virtue of his condemnation and imminent execution would go straight to heaven because he had the chance to get his heart right with God.
Myself, I don’t buy that argument and it really makes no sense. But I’m not articulate enough to explain why this whole concept of condemning the righteous to eternal damnation while rewarding the worst of sinners with eternal heaven makes no sense and so I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rob Bell’s book “Love wins” as it explains beautifully what I have come to believe – that the whole concept of condemning anyone to hell for all of eternity is nothing but a fabrication by those “Christians” who want to use fear and intimidation to coerce others to believe only what they say the nature of God is.
Everybody has the fundamental right to believe what they want and for the most part, each if us find God in our own way. I prefer to believe in a God that embraces love, mercy and compassion towards all men, even the worst of sinners, as by believing God of that nature too I can hope that men will evolve to reflect that nature too. I’m certainly not perfect – but knowing that I’m not getting beaten over the head every time I do slip is comforting.
If in the end I am put to death for a crime I did not commit (please check with www.southerninjustice.com ) then it will be because of the imperfection of a judicial process corrupted by men. But for now, as I remain entombed in a man made hell few could begin to imagine, my real struggle is to rise above the anger and bitterness that tries to consume me. In reading books like “Love wins” it gives me that strength by reassuring me that in the end, it will be love – and not hate – that wins. That’s a concept I can embrace.