Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A benevolent God

I found this picture and accompanying article on the web on Sept 12. I found it disturbing on many levels. This picture is of a man who jumped from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and it appeared in many newspapers the next day. The statement struck me as obviously true, but I know that this is not true for all people. In fact, it was important for at least one family to know that the person in the photo was not their loved one precisely because they felt that anyone who jumped from the World Trade Center was committing suicide and would be damned to hell.

Jesus, of course, did not condemn sinners. He ate with them and associated with them and healed them, much to the dismay of people with a much more rigid view of what proper behavior was. Jesus accompanies us in our brokenness. He invites us to see our own brokenness and sinfulness and start our journey to God from that point, and not from the place of judgment and self-righteousness. It is in our acknowledgment of our own shortcomings that we are able to have compassion for others who have also fallen short. This is the compassion of God and the compassion of Jesus who welcomed into heaven the thief being crucified next to him.

But as I read the article I felt how important this exercise in Christian education that I have undertaken is. There are people who have been taught a version of Christianity that is very un-Christian. It is important to present an alternative view for the sake of those who are in pain because of an inaccurate understanding of God. From reading the comments to the original story, it is also appears that many people reject God and Christianity because they are rejecting exactly such narrow-mindedness and to them Christianity and narrow mindedness and superstition are synonymous. Those of us who believe in an experiential and compassionate Christianity have a responsibility to see that this vision is presented to the world as a viable and attractive alternative.

We must also remember that while this may look like a doctrinal issue, it is mostly a matter of attitude. It is possible to believe that committing suicide would send you to hell but to also recognize that jumping out of a window to escape a fire hot enough to cause metal beams to sag is not suicide. The problem is not the doctrine, it is the rigid application of the doctrine without compassion or understanding. The problem is taking ones own views and attitudes and making it a rule by which you judge everyone else whatever their beliefs. I have seen this play out among Friends on both sides of the disputes over acceptance of gay men and lesbian women into full fellowship with Friends. I have heard reports of Quaker parents disowning their children for being gay. I also know of liberal Friends who would withhold contributions to their own meetings if so much of a dollar of that money would end up in the hands of Friends United Meeting. If you look across the theological and political spectrum of Friends, you will find compassionate, caring and open minded people. You will also find judgmental, self-righteous and rigid people. Sometimes they will be the same people.

I don't know how to open hearts and minds, but God does. We need to make our meetings communities where we can feel safe enough to admit to their own brokenness and hold in love and compassion the brokenness of others. They need to be places where we can look at our fears and to put down our swords and shields; where we can look at the people around us with compassion and love, and in doing so, find compassion and grace for ourselves. We need to make our meetings places where the Commonwealth of God is made visible to all.


Will T

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Religion is in your head, like a virus. Such a statement is insincere and paradox. Shouldn't humans have something like benevolence for others? I'd never judge someone in THIS drastic situation for his/her own decision..what a human pathetic display. some religious representatives in history should burn in hell for torturing people.
It's a freedom not being brainwashed.

May 10, 2013 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the hell doesnt exist....

September 13, 2013 4:52 PM  

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