“I can’t believe in a God who would send my brother to hell,” the man told me. His brother had died in a car accident at a young age and he still felt the sharp pain of the tragic loss. The brother wasn’t a follower of Christ, so my friend was wrestling with the final destination of his loved one.
If I were God, I wouldn’t want to send my friend’s brother to hell. Heck—if I were God, I’d do away with hell altogether.
If I were God, I’d come after the Assad regime in Syria and punish them for killing innocent men, women, and children.
If I were God, I’d eliminate pain and broken marriages and child abuse.
If I were God, I’d change the world religions so they’d all inevitably lead to me.
If I were God, I’d find a way to reverse the polarity of the food-space continuum so that desserts yielded zero calories and brussel sprouts yielded the caloric equivalent of a smothered chimichanga.
If you were God, what would you do? More than changing world events, if you were God, how would you change the beliefs of your religion of choice? Would you make it more tolerant or intolerant, loving or judgmental, rational or mysterious? Would you still eat brussel sprouts?
Fact is, all of us play God at some level. Consciously or subconsciously, we tend to tailor our beliefs to what we wish to be true. This can be quite problematic with 6.8 billion people on the planet. At best, 6,799,999,999 people will be wrong. And I doubt that one remaining person has it right, either.
For our Friday study of God’s word, we’re exploring the epistle of 2 Peter. I find this study fascinating because it speaks so clearly into the culture of our day. At the end of the apostle Peter’s life, he sought to address certain trends in the Christian faith that bore little or no resemblance to the Jesus he knew. For a little background, read Searching For the Authentic Jesus or last week’s post Tryvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Prevention of Truth Decay.
At the beginning of chapter 2, Peter warns his readers about destructive teachers who play God and lead their followers astray.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 2 Peter 2:1–2 (NIV)
In this passage, Peter warns about false prophets and false teachers. The terms are literally translated “pseudoprophets” and “pseudoteachers”—people who purport to teach truth but really teach a lie. What they teach sounds good…but it ain’t necessarily so.
Peter also uses a word that has fallen out of the common vernacular: heresy. Ever notice that no one uses the word anymore? The last time I remember hearing the word, I was watching a Monty Python video clip about the Spanish Inquisition. The hapless inquisitors were prodding an old lady with a seat cushion in order to get her to recant for espousing heresy.
For you, the word “heresy” might conjure up names like Jim Jones or the Hale Bopp Comet kooks who committed suicide in order to reach an alien spacecraft that was following the comet.
Do you want to know what the word “heresy” literally means? The Greek word for heresy, haireseis, means simply “chosen beliefs.” Heresies are the tailor-made beliefs we choose for ourselves.
True confession: with that definition in mind, I acknowledge myself as a recovering heretic. Just because I want God to conform to my desires doesn’t mean he does. Nor should he. He’s God and I’m not.
And civilization is a better place because of it.
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If he were God, he’d spend every day water-skiing.