There are some times I think I'm Alice and that I have fallen down the rabbit-hole. I've been feeling that way these last few days.
On one of the Christian discussion groups I frequent, I have read the following statements from two different people:
1) One was a person who considered themself a heretic for having a hard time with the belief that God sends people to a torturous hell in the next life as punishment for not being a Christian. This person reckoned that they stood on the fringes of our denomination for not believing this.
2) Another was a person who reckons that they cannot be a Christian because Christianity demands the belief that God needed to hurt someone in order to satisfy his wrath and forgive humanity. Since the person could not conceive of God in this way, they reckoned that they cannot be Christian.
Frankly, it angers me no end that people have got the idea that being a Christian demands believing that God is angry and wrathful and into torture. Of course, the Church did teach about 'God The Angry and Wrathful' for centuries and we have to bear our responsibility for our history, whether or not we are personally implicated in propogating those beliefs.
But secondly, I have to wonder whether mainstream Christians like myself have been too silent in not putting these horrible beliefs to rest. Like many, I know that I've been (perhaps still am) too afraid at 'what people will think' if I get up and explicitly say that I don't believe in a God who uses violence as a means of keeping order and that I don't believe in a God who uses the threat of violence and torture as a way of getting people to behave.
Right now, I'm angry. One person has exluded themself from the Church because they can't believe in penal substitutionary atonement and the other is lurking on the margins of the church nursing a secret fear that their disbelief in a torturous hell is heretical and possibly unChristian.
Mainstream Christian preachers have to preach the Good News. *I* have to preach the Good News. We have to preach systematic theology and let people know that not only is it 'OK' to believe in a God of Grace and Mercy, but that this God is precisely what being a Christian is about. The idea that 'no-one admits that they are a sinner unless they are threatened with punishment' isn't a Christian idea, it's an idea born of sin. As Scripture says, 'the devil' is a liar and one way that Evil lies is to perpetuate the idea that God is evil and that humanity cannot be forgiven unless violence is done first. May God forgive us.