Shortly after falling in love with Jesus when I was 19, I was confronted with an understanding about Christianity that I had trouble accepting: namely the notion that God would condemn to eternal torture those who were not followers of Jesus. The idea that Jesus came to save his followers, and only his followers, from eternal torment seemed to be the only way, in my more evangelical upbringing, that I was to understand the "good news" of God in Christ. My experience, on the other hand, was of God who loved me even while I was in the midst of rebelling against God. Part of why I went to seminary was to figure out if I could be a Christian: did I have to believe that Christ died on the cross to satisfy God's wrath so those who accepted Jesus would be saved from the eternal torture at the hand of God? Or was there a place in the church for a God who loved the world in the same way I had experienced God's love for me. I was ready to give my life to a spiritual path, and I needed to make sure Christianity was the right path for me.
In seminary I learned that this one model of understanding Christ - substitutionary atonement - was only one of many; and was not a central or essential belief for Episcopalians. That launched me on a quest of understanding what the good news of God in Christ was, for me. In what way does Jesus save us, or reconcile us to God? What is the central message of Jesus? My articulation of this good news has evolved over my 36 year journey as a Christian. Here's what I think now:
- God is love. God's only judgement is mercy.
- All humans are beloved children of God, created for love, deserving of love, and capable of love.
- All humans are created to live in holy communion with God, all other humans and all of creation: Jesus called this state of holy communion "the Kingdom of Heaven"
- We are all paralyzed by fear, judgement, insecurities, addictions and a way of thinking that pits me against you, us against them. This paralysis is called sin. Sin leads to division. Division is the work of the devil (root word = divide.)
- God's response to this paralysis is not wrath but heartbreak.
- God was in Christ reconciling the world to God: Jesus came to reconcile us, to reconnect us to God and one another (aka heaven) by leading us out of this paralysis of fear, judgement and dualistic thinking (aka sin.) Connection and reconciliation is the work of God.
- We are called in some mystical way to become Jesus, to embody God's spirit and love, and join Jesus in sacrificially loving the world into wholeness.