God Gets a Makeover — a short story

Posted on 2017 October 22

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I was a stranger and you did not invite me in . . . — Matthew 25:43

“Have you met Jesus?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

“Um … it’s on my to-do list.”

“I’m serious. There’s still time, you know.”

“Until…?”

“Until you’re judged.”

“By…?”

“By God. If you don’t make amends, it’s an eternity of torment.”

“Okay, lemme get this straight. Jesus offers love and salvation.”

“Yes.”

“And Jesus is God.”

“Correct.”

“And if I fail to worship Him, I go to Hell.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry, but this is a terrible offer. How can I worship, much less love or respect, a deity that sends people to Hell? That’s cruel beyond belief. Thus I can’t possibly get to Heaven.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I’m dead and try to report upstairs, God will know I’m not a fan, and I won’t have time to salute before Saint Peter pulls the lever and I fall through the trapdoor toward fire and brimstone. I’m doomed before I can start.”

“But God is love! You’re making Him sound bad.”

“Well, if He punishes anyone who fails to be properly worshipful, He comes off like a crazed Hollywood princess who’s all charm until you say the wrong thing, whereupon she turns vicious and has you escorted from the sound stage.”

“You’re being disrespectful toward God. You’re blaspheming!”

“I’m talking sense. Do you have any children?”

“Yes, a teenage boy.”

“I bet he can be a handful.”

“Sometimes.”

“And now and then he talks back and stalks off to his room and slams the door and locks it.”

“Once in a while, yes, it’s happened.”

“But you don’t set fire to his room and burn him up just because he got mad and defied you.”

“Of course not! He’s my child.”

“I rest my case.”

“But I’m human. We’re talking about God, Who moves in mysterious ways.”

“Well, mysteries or not, I can’t fathom how a God worth His salt would give two hoots what people think of Him. That’s like a boy who buys an ant farm, sets it up, and then gets mad because the ants fail to worship him, so he pulls the little critters out and crushes them.”

“But God loves you! He’s trying to save you!”

“What, from the hellish afterlife He permits inside His universe? Think about it. Jesus knocks on a door, saying, ‘Let me in,’ and the person inside asks, ‘Why?’ and Jesus answers, ‘I want to save you,’ and the person asks, ‘From what?’ and Jesus says, ‘From what I’m going to do to you, if you don’t let me in.’ That’s not exactly loving.”

“I can’t help you if you believe distortions from the Devil.”

“Oh, come on! Satan probably considers God his best agent. After all, God sends most people to him, so he barely needs to lift a finger while his underworld fills up with more souls than he has time to torture.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“And you guys need a marketing makeover. Tell you what, I’ll give you some suggestions. First, if God really is Love, then you should focus on that, and stop scaring me with doom. I’m not some medieval serf who can’t afford to bring a few coins for the Church on Sundays unless you threaten me. Treat me instead like a modern person living in a world that’s getting better by the day, with opportunities for prosperity and happiness opening up all over the planet. I don’t need your promises and threats. I need more of that elixir of love right here and now, so I can share it with others and help all of us overcome the anxieties and animosities that still stand in our way.”

“But God offers endless love.”

“Sure, to those who flatter Him, and endless torment to those who don’t. Asked and answered. Second, Jesus said people who were cruel to others were being cruel to Him, and those souls would be punished. He didn’t say that nearly everyone who ever lived would go to Hell simply because they hadn’t heard the Good News.”

“God could decide to recover lost souls—”

“If He gets around to it. Third, if you simply must have a Hell, then pitch it — pardon the pun — as absence of God, not presence of punishment.”

“What do you mean?”

“God offers His love to all who accept it. Those who don’t will end up wandering lost outside His house, tormented by loneliness. That way, God is the cure, not the punishment, and the pain is not imposed by deities but inflicted from within. For my money, this would be a much better way to campaign — or, as you would say, to ‘witness for Jesus.’”

“Well, I don’t know…”

“One thing proselytizing Christians would have to give up, in my scenario, is the quiet satisfaction, in the afterlife, of gazing down over the ramparts of Heaven to smirk at the ignorant souls burning in Hell. For one thing, that’s the sin of Pride. For another, you should feel compassion for lost souls, and — again, pardon the pun — a burning desire to bring them home from wherever they are.”

“But we must earn entrance to Heaven!”

“I thought it was for anyone who accepted it.”

“Well, it is, but—”

“If you want people to love the Lord, don’t turn it into a pop quiz that’s worth a hundred percent of the final grade. Now, go forth and spread the Gospel of a God infinite in His benevolence … and Who, like any good father, always wishes the best for His children and would never hurt them, no matter how unruly they become.”

“I must confess, it’s … it’s a … a refreshing idea. I’ll think on what you’ve said.”

“And thus we open the Gates of Heaven.”

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