Wednesday, June 26, 2013

...the reason for the hope that you have...

1 Peter 3:15 says: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
Its a famous verse, often quoted and applied by Christians. The thing is, in my experience, Christians usually seem to interpret the verse to mean something other than what it actually says. What it does not say is always be prepared to explain or defend why you believe what you believe, what it says is be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have.

So what is the hope that Christians have, and in what way is this hope different from the hope of non-Christians?

You see, I think pretty much everybody in the entire world hopes that when they die physically, that  this won't be the end of their consciousness, and that they'll go somewhere pleasant, possibly somewhere better than here. Pretty much everyone hopes that this is true, even if they don't actually believe it.

Hope and belief are totally different things. You can hope for many things that you may believe to be unlikely or impossible.

Why do we hope that death is not the end? Because we're human. And we worry about the future and the unknown. We hope that the future will generally be full of joy and happiness and relatively free from pain and suffering. We hope that this applies on this side of our inevitable death, but of course we hope that it continues beyond that too. 

So the Christian hope is really no different from the hope of everybody else. 

What Christianity (and other religious systems) brings to the table is a fear that there is potentially pain and suffering after death. For eternity. So adopting the Christian world-view actually increases the potential of worry for the future. (Likewise for other religions.) In a purely naturalistic world-view, there is probably the belief that death is the end of consciousness, and the faint hope that maybe its not, and there might be something nice beyond. But no real fear of death. (As Woody Allen said "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." As someone else said "Where I am, death is not, where death is, I am not" - why should you fear something which, by definition, you won't be there to experience?) But the real fear of judgement and possible damnation after death comes purely from a religious world-view.

The Christian hope for salvation in the hereafter is predicated on Christian belief in judgement and hell. Without the latter, there is no meaning in the former. The 'good news' of the gospel relies on acceptance of the bad news inherent in the gospel first. 

So the Christian, attempting to give a reason for their hope in Christ for salvation, first has to give a reason why they fear the possibility of hell. And the reason they fear hell is that they have been convinced by the bible or the church that they are inadequate and don't deserve anything but hell. They've been convinced that they are sinners. Which literally means that they have 'missed the mark' and having missed the mark, they don't deserve a prize, but rather actually deserve punishment. What sort of a system convinces people that they are bad people, failures and inadequate? Only one that seeks to control people. If God is good, the message would be one of empowerment, but it really isn't.

Last time I heard a time of 'open prayer' in church I was struck by how many people there prayed about their own inadequacy and weakness. The message of Christianity, and this is reinforced in the believer in many ways, is not only that they are weak and inadequate, but more than that, that they have to be weak in order to be saved.

So ultimately, the reason the Christian hopes in salvation through Christ is because they believe they are inadequate, don't deserve anything good, actually deserve punishment, and all they can do is admit weakness and hope on the grace of God.

I'm not sure that is really good news.

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