As I was driving Nils to the beach the other night to swim to escape the nearly 100 degree temperature we drove by a big white tent with probably a few hundred folding chairs and a big stage inside it. Near the street was a sign that said "Revival" with the time it was happening each night.
Part of me was a bit nostalgic--almost wanting to stop and see what was going on (but I didn't). A few centuries ago, tent meetings in America would have drawn hundreds of people. They were the thing to do. Maybe it was just the going form of entertainment back then.
I'm not sure if there were even twenty people in the tent as we drove by. Mind you, it was nearly 100 degrees outside. Without a breeze.
But I don't know that a revival meeting is that effective anymore either. Of course, if one person walks in off the street to find relief under the awning and find Jesus' love for them as well, then it's worth it.
I just think the gospel is more effective when revival comes from our homes, not a tent. Not necessarily even a church. But then again, I'm not a good model of that.
I'm not one to go about starting religious conversations. It's not my gift. For me to do it would feel intrusive. I don't always like to be a part of them when they come up, either. Many of us tend to either get defensive of put up our guard when religion comes up in conversation. It's a touchy subject. It gets to the very core of who we are and what we believe.
A few nights ago we were over at the home of some friends for supper. Their newish neighbors stopped by and ended up staying for supper as well. The husband neighbor was a conversationalist. When a running book that our friend was suggesting came up, he started discussing The Exorcist, which he was currently reading. And from Catholicism and exorcisms we got onto the topics of hell, Satan, and evil.
My friend doesn't like to believe that hell is a reality. She doesn't think a God who is all love could send people to hell. And I can totally understand this universalist bent. God shouldn't do that to people. Isn't His goal to save everyone? Isn't that why Jesus came--because God so loved the world?
The neighbor was very philosophical about free will. If free will exists--if how we live is our choice instead of being puppetted by God--then evil is a choice, a fallen angel such as Satan must be a possibility, and hell must be a necessary outcome.
Now, I know I haven't stated either of their positions fully or articulately, but the basics are there. (As is my nature) I listened more than contributed. Neither was arguing, but dialoguing about their spiritual beliefs. And this is good to do.
I do believe Satan exists. I don't believe he is behind every single evil in the world (otherwise we become puppets of his and loose that free will option), but he has done plenty of damage (more in the way of getting us to believe his half-truths and sweet-sounding lies than through actual evil). I do believe there is a hell. And I do believe God is loving.
He is also just and righteous. For him to be so, there must be consequences for injustices. But this doesn't necessarily warrant the existence of hell. We often experience those consequences in life. A loving parent will discipline their child in some form for misbehavior, but those consequences aren't permanent.
I think that hell exists not because God has to send us there, but because we choose it. I do believe God loves everyone and desires for them to spend eternity in Heaven. I don't believe that everyone will be there.
I do believe God tries to do everything possible to save people. He sent His own Son, for crying out loud. And I don't know what goes on in the spiritual realm after death...Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). That means it is in His hands. I will not dictate how people are saved. He will do (and has done) everything possible, I believe.
But it is all still our choice. We can choose to accept God's love for us and give Him our lives. Or we can try and keep our lives for ourselves (or whatever else we might give it to: our jobs, money, etc.).
The Bible refers to God's love and salvation as a gift. It is free (not earned). It is also our choice whether or not we accept it. Someone can give us a gift for our birthday. It can sit on our table, neatly wrapped with our name on the card. But we can choose not to accept it. We can choose to exchange it or return it. We can choose to simply ignore its existence if we want to. The gift is there, the choice is ours.
I think, maybe slightly simplistically, but with validity, that hell is what happens when we choose not to accept the gift. God can't force Heaven on us. We have to want to be there.
And ultimately heaven/hell/faith/salvation isn't about having a "fire insurance" card when we die. God is just as concerned about how we live. Not to impose rules and commandments on us, but that we might "have life and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
Somehow, instead of big white tents with powerful speakers, I think we need to figure out how to show people the fullness of life that God desires for us. If we can figure that out, I think Heaven could be pretty full.