Bad Theology Kills- Relationship:Part 2
A few weeks ago Danny did an guest blog here on how often christian's rhetoric of intense preoccupation with hell can actually dissuade people from seeking heaven. The post was very well received and incited lots of discussion. He promised a part 2....and here it is.
It was her toes that caught my attention. It was cold - but she showed no signs of it affecting her. It was late but she seemed wide awake. This young teen should have been at home but instead, she was out on the streets in the middle of the night, this cold sidewalk outside a 7-11 in a seedy part of the city was safer than her house. Yet - she showed no signs of it being that big of a deal. To me this was a horrific situation to witness, to her - this was her normal life. She was calm, cool, and collected. Except for her toes. Her sandals revealed her toes were scrunched tighter than fists. Her toes betrayed her - her toes told me how scared she really was - her toes told me she’d walked in some bad places - her toes told me that she was fighting for her life - Her toes screamed about the choices she’d made just to feel alive. Of course, she wouldn’t tell me the details of what was going on. She knew the system well enough. Tell me and there would be police and social services involved. She’d been through that many times and those things made her life situation worse and she’d told me she couldn’t give up the lifestyle. We’d had conversations like that before. We’d already gone down that road time and again. She wouldn’t tell me anything, but her toes said it all.
At that moment the spirit pressed in on my heart. God wanted her to know how near he was to her. Despite all the things that she’d done, and that had been done to her I could sense his delight in her as his child. I shared those thoughts with her and she broke down. She’d only known God, like the police she encountered, writing up the list of charges against her. I told her some stories about Jesus and I genuinely felt like I was making an intimate introduction. It was a beautiful interaction to witness.
I was sharing about this experience with some others and I was surprised at their reaction. They wanted to know, in my presentation of the gospel, if I’d remembered to have her repent of her sin. I admit - I was thrown off. Thinking back on the conversation it would have felt like I was shaming her and reinforcing her unhealthy view of God had I stopped the meaningful connection she was making at that moment to be sure she said the right words. Could I tell this group that although she didn’t repent with her words, she had repented with her toes?
I know that such things don't fit well into a theological textbook. Then again, a woman washing the feet of Jesus with her hair doesn’t fit in very well either. It is a narrative and not a theory. It is something deeply relational, not merely transactional. I know that the intention of these people asking about repentance was coming from a place of care and concern for this girl. Their concern was that if she didn’t repent, that she would end up going to hell even though she thought she had been saved.
I certainly don’t want to be selling false security, but sometimes, as Christians, our obsession with the hereafter can prevent us from recognizing the ways in which heaven and hell can be experienced in the here and now.
My ideas on hell began to shatter when I read the account of Adam and Eve, eating the fruit and God banning them from returning to the garden of Eden. Why? God explains, “[They] must not be allowed to reach out [their] hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” God was concerned that the fate of living forever in this world would be worse than death.
For this young person on that dark night with clenched toes - she was experiencing a hell that I cannot describe. (Literally, I can’t legally share most of the details of her life) If I could, you would see that she was so distant from anything remotely resembling love, hope, value, or purpose.
At that moment though, when she met Jesus, heaven came down to her in the midst of her personal hell. We shouldn’t try to avoid hell - it is where God some of his best work. Maybe it is bad theology to be obsessed with hell. Maybe it is good theology, just poorly executed to be more concerned about the right words than with her toes. Either way - bad theology, or bad delivery can kill the opportunity for a girl like this to see Jesus.