My wife and I had a conversation the other day that really opened my eyes to something (actually more than just one thing). We were discussing my growing dissatisfaction with our current church. It's a topic I've been dancing around and avoiding for quite a while because I knew the conversation probably would not be pleasant. She is satisfied with where we are attending and I think more than a little freaked out at some of the alternatives I've been looking into. Finally though a couple of days ago she asked me why I was "suddenly" so dissatisfied with the Vineyard.
What I have come to find is that it's not really "suddenly" that I'm dissatisfied. There have been things that have bugged me for years (and years going back way before the Vineyard). What I've realized is that humans are amazingly adaptable creatures and capable of rationalization that goes way beyond what is truly rational or useful to rationalize. Adaptability and rationalization are excellent survival and social traits.They are absolutely essential to being human. But, like any other traits, they can be harmful if left unchecked. For example, when I didn't know I could possibly remain a Christian and not believe in Eternal Conscious Torment, I forced myself into what Martin Zender calls the "Oh well creed". As Martin applies it, this is the creed that keeps Calvinists from going completely insane, which would be the natural progression of trying to believe God is good, fair and just and creates people that He predestines for Eternal Conscious Torment. To the thinking, feeling person, this doctrine would send them screaming into the night. But, Calvinists cope by simply saying "Oh well." which they repeat as often as neceesary to keep their sanity. They accept this irrational, horrific doctrine by chalking it up to the fact that if God is doing it, it must be OK. I had my own version of this. I was horrified by what my church taught (so much that it caused decades of panic attacks). But, I thought I had no choice but to accept it. I couldn't leave Christianity (I'd lose my salvation) and this is what Christianity taught.
So, how did I cope? I said "Oh well." a lot. Not until I found out about Christian Universalism did I even allow myself to really explore whether ECT could be wrong. The same applied to evolution (which I used to think was unbiblical), Bible inerrancy, etc., etc. I simply swept under the rug or chalked up to "mystery" anything that didn't make sense or was too uncomfortable to face.
When it comes to church, I have found that over the last couple of years, I've been using the "Oh well" creed, also. "Oh well, they do a lot of good things." "Oh well, I have great relationships with people there." "Oh well, they don't preach fire and brimstone from the pulpit every week (or even most weeks)." "Yeah, it's not perfect. But, oh well, nothing is."
Amazingly, when my wife began to give me her list of "Oh wells" I just about hit the roof. I mean, they were so irrational. It's amazing how hypocritical I can be- at least it amazes me. She told me she has her own relationship with God. So, she's not really concerned with what the church is preaching concerning eternal destination. She doesn't really listen to that part anyway. In fact, she denied that they even teach ECT And said, if they did, there are more important things. I said, incredulously, "What could possibly be more important than where you are going to spend eternity?!" She replied something to the effect of "I don't know. But, there are more important things.". I couldn't let this go. I said "No. What could possibly be more important than if someone is going to be tormented for all eternity?" Again, she dodged the question. But, I still couldn't let it go. I asked more questions. I was going to back her into a corner if it was the last thing I did. She said she doesn't think our church teaches that people go to hell for eternity. I was astounded! I asked her if she remembered the time our pastor had said "Your inner child is going to hell, unless you get this Jesus thing right." Sher reply, "Well, everyone gets the Jesus thing right. So, no one goes to hell.". "What?" I said. She said "I heard that Jeffrery Dahmer converted in prison." (how that relates to everyone, I don't know). I said "But, you know not everyone converts to Christianity before they die. You know most people never hear the gospel. You know that most churches teach that those people are going to hell for eternity." The conversation continued. (I never did get her into that corner, BTW) The details are not important (except my head almost exploded trying to understand her rationalizations. But, once I calmed down and thought about it I realized what she had done. And I think a lot of people who we presume believe in ECT do the same thing. She can't accept the teachings of the church. She knows in her heart they are wrong. So, she has actually convinced herself that the church(es) she's attended her entire life don't teach what they actually teach. She (because she does have an extremely strong relationship with the True God), doesn't believe the lies they tell about Him. But, because she can't believe they are telling the lies, she has convinced herself they are saying something they are not aying and not saying things they are saying.
I told her that the rationalization that the good things outweigh the bad was no longer working for me. The thing that I had convinced myself was inconsequential (that G-d is even capable of sending people to Eternal Torment) had become poison to me. And, a little poison is not an OK thing. Surely there was only a little poison in the Kool-Aid at Jonestown. But, the people who drank it are still dead. The fact that the Kool-Aid was mostly good didn't mean it wasn't toxic. The belief that G-d could create children to torment eternally is so damaging to Her character and to my relationship to Her that I cannot tolerate that belief, no matter how slickly it is packaged, swept under the rug, whitewashed or soft-peddled. It infests everything about my relationship with G-d. When I tried to cuddle up to this God, I was repulsed and full of fear. The Bible says "Perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:18) Reading this verse used to bug me to no end (like many verses in the Bible). I tried to cast out my own fear through sheer will-power. But, my fear could not be cast out. How could I not fear a monster like the god I believed in? The simple fact is that one teaching completely dominated my relationship with my heavenly Mother. It is not a little thing. It is not a tolerable thing. The Bible refers often to leaven equating it to sin. It says how a little leaven effects the whole loaf. The doctrine of ECT is like leaven, having a much larger impact that people have allowed themselves to believe. We become like the god we serve. If we think our god makes disposable people, we'll treat people as if they are disposable. If we think our god demands that we "pay" for our every mistake, how can we possibly forgive others?
I know I'll never find the perfect church. As long as people are involved, there are going to be problems. As long as there's more one person in the church, there are going to be conflicts. But, I have to find a place where people believe in the true Gospel of Grace and that our G-d does not create people to eternally torment them. For now, that's my internet community. One day, G-d willing, maybe I'll find a group of people I can meet face-to-face that believes that G-d is as gracious as I believe She is.