I took my home health client to the Baptist church again this Sunday. It was a strange experience in this way: After being treated with great kindness by everyone prior to the adult Sunday school class we attended, I listened to the teacher of that class talk about how unkindly God would treat everyone who isn’t Christian on Judgment Day. Out of this experience, I came up with a rule of thumb for choosing a spiritual path: You might want to rethink your path if its God is less loving than you are.
It really was a bizarre bit of cognitive dissonance. Everyone in that church is so unfailingly kind and friendly to me and my client. And while the cynic may say that’s simply because they’re trying to recruit us, I think it isn’t just that. I think that for the most part, they are genuinely loving and good-hearted people, really trying to love their neighbor as Jesus instructed them.
Yet then the Sunday school teacher began, and I heard about how harshly God would judge this nation for all its moral depravity. (The only specific examples given were the usual – abortion and homosexuality. No worries about poverty or global warming here.) He said that Muslim prayers or Buddhist prayers or any other non-Christian prayers would do no good. These folks are dyed-in-the-wool literalists who believe, as the book of Revelation tells them, that God will wipe out the vast majority of the human race in the End Times, saving only that small remnant of people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Gandhi? Into the fire of eternal damnation. The Dalai Lama? Ditto.
The usual response of those who don’t believe this sort of thing is anger, but I didn’t feel angry. Instead, I was both befuddled and saddened by it. I held my tongue, of course. But I wanted to stand up and say, “Have y’all [in a Southern Baptist church, you have to say “y’all”] thought through what you’re saying and believing? You are all good, kind-hearted people. You love your spouses, your children, and your friends. You make a real effort to be loving and caring toward “the least of these.” And I’m sure you would never inflict terrible pain and suffering upon those who are dear to you, no matter what they’ve done. Yet your God, whom presumably you are trying to emulate, condemns to eternal torture all those who don’t believe that Jesus’ death two thousand years ago wiped away their sins. Surely something is wrong with this picture. How can you be so much more loving than the God you follow?”
I thought about it afterward, and I realized that this phenomenon of people being more loving than their God is virtually universal. It really applies to any path that claims God or the Absolute is responsible for generating this horrendously painful world in any way. It applies to the New Agers who extol nature, for nature is every bit as cruel as the God of the Bible. There is such a strong tendency to call acts attributed to God (or Goddess) “good” even if the exact same acts would be considered monstrous in human beings. For instance, if God wipes out the entire earth except those on Noah’s Ark, it is righteous. If nature wipes out 98% of the species that have ever lived on earth, as our evolutionary biologists tell us, it is the glory of evolution. But if a human dictator tries to wipe out a particular ethnic group, it is genocide, and is rightly seen as monstrous.
Hence my dictum: You might want to rethink your path if its God is less loving than you are. That’s one of the reasons I’m so irresistibly attracted to the Course: It passes this test with flying colors. Its God is so much more loving than I am. His Love never creates suffering of any kind. His Love only gives, only blesses. His Love encompasses all, with no exceptions. His Love is limitless. This is a God entirely worthy of my emulation. This is a God I can truly regard with awe, as the Course invites us to do.
With this God, the question is no longer: How can I be so much more loving than God? Instead, the question becomes: How can I learn to be as loving as God? How can I make my life and my love consistent with the God I follow? How can I be as lavishly and totally loving as the God who created me in His image?
I recently read about a near-death experience in which the experiencer was in God’s embrace, and didn’t want to go back to earth. The experiencer tried to persuade God that she deserved to stay in Heaven because she had been so loving on earth. God said, without any condemnation, “Let me ask you one thing – have you ever loved another the way you’ve been loved here?” She replied, “No, it’s impossible. I’m a human.” In response, God continued to hold her and simply said, “You can do better.”
I too can do better – a lot better. Fortunately, my task is made easier by a God who is not Someone whose acts I have to rationalize and justify, but Someone who loves with a Love so perfect that it is not of this world, yet can be expressed in this world. I want to love others the way we are loved in Heaven. This kind of “doing better” sure beats doing better than God because my picture of God is so unloving. And just in case anyone is wondering about my attitude toward the Baptists, they are included in that limitless heavenly love too. May we all learn how to truly do better.