Had dinner with my friend Dave today. Had one of those deep, soul-nourishing conversations. Dave told me about a girl he knew from uni, who was a free spirit with quite left-wing political beliefs, yet held a quite conservative, evangelical theology. The girl turned to him one day, and asked Dave if he was an exclusivist - that is, somebody who believes that if you hold to a religion other than Christianity, you will go to hell. Dave answered that he was not. Presumeably the girl was. He reflected later that many people who hold to a very strict, evangelical theology are actually driven by a fear of hell. People are afraid of even considering truth in other religions, because of the continual threat of hell. This perhaps explained the fact that the girl was quite a free spirit in other areas of her life, but not in the area of religion. I can relate to that myself. Growing up as a Christian, I was taught that we had the truth, and that as long as I stuck with that, I had salvation. To deviate and explore elsewhere would be to risk losing my salvation. ("Once saved, always saved" went the theology that my parents ascribed to, but if you did stray from the bounds of Christianity, it showed that you were never saved in the first place. Better not to stray.)
I reflected on the past few months, where I have been stretching out my arms a little, feeling around the edges of other faith traditions. It has been slightly scary, but I've been able to do it without feeling like I'm about to go to hell. I wondered how this was possible, and I realised that it was because I felt secure in the love that I know God has for me. I know that God won't abandon me because I am peering outside the gates of institutional Christianity. I actually feel like God will honour the fact that I am seeking Truth - that I am attempted to get closer to God. So, I realised, I am able to travel as I do not out of fear, but by being secure in love. And with that, I began to understand how it is said that fear and love are opposites. We should not come to God out of fear of the alternative - we should come because we are beckoned with loving, open arms. Fear is often the result of not knowing. We are fearful that nation that we presume is full of terrorists, because we don't know the people. If we did know them, we would probably relax and realise that they are ordinary people, like us. To get to know them, we would need to step out in love. Love is about connecting; fear is about disconnected ignorence.
We also talked about feeling connected with God and feeling connected with community. I have realised that the two are very much connected. I'm reading a book about mysticim at the moment. Mysticism is the desire to be unified with God. Christian mysticism is different from other forms in that it sees connection with God to be based in community. The two great commandment of Jesus were "Love your God" and "Love your neighbour". It seems that without loving our neighbour, we cannot fully connect with God. Unity with God rests on both aspects. It's a wonderful realisation, because lately I've had a great desire to be unified with God, and it's helpful to know that I can't do it solo! It's also lovely because I am in a strong Christian community. I have realised that some of the times I've felt closest to God has been as we are singing as a group or praying as a group. It makes sense now.