I was about to go to bed when my phone rang. At first I assumed one of my kids needed money, but then realized it was a friend. As a person surpasses the 50 year mark they stop sending late night calls to voicemail. “Hey man, how are you” he asks every single time with a very slow tempo, which is highlighted by a southern accent. I usually try to say something clever or funny, but my gut sensed this wasn’t going to be good news. I was not prepared for the next couple of sentences. “Well man, I have some bad news” he said quickly and then only a brief pause before, “I have stage four colon cancer.”
I just sat there for a moment letting it sink in as a rush of memories raced through my mind. Driving down the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach with the windows down, and our beautiful mullets flowing in the wind while singing “Taking Care of Business” (ask your parents). Smoking funny smelling cigarettes, drinking bad beer, and yet diving into deep conversations about God and religion. And him picking up one of the 5 instruments he could play and bringing a party to life. I had blinked, and suddenly we had gone from young boys without a care in the world to men fully understanding phrases like “time flys” and “time is precious.”
Now, my good friend is a surgeon so there was no need trying to soften this diagnosis. He is an expert and already knows his prognosis. He was feeling the full impact of the words “It has metastasized to your liver,” and fully understood that since it was found in his lymph nodes that he was literally in a battle for his life. In fact, he gave me the odds of him being cured. He is an agnostic despite reading the Bible front to back more times than 98% of Christians, but I told him I’d be praying for him. “Well man, I’ll take it. Talk to Buddha, talk to Allah, or Jesus. I will try anything” he replied almost too calmly.
He then explained to me that he was not afraid to die. “In fact, its kinda cool, I’ve always wondered what is on the other side” again strangely calm. Now, how does that statement feel to some of you? Yes, I want to know how it makes you feel when I say an agnostic is interested in whats on the other side? Some of you didn’t even think about it, but others of you are worried about where he’ll spend eternity if he can’t beat cancer.
While working on the country radio station The Wolf in Seattle I met an incredible young man. He was on staff and the moment I met him…I liked him. He was amazingly kind. You know, one of those people you can actually feel his positive energy, and sense he cares about others. One of those young men who’s momma raised him right! After working with him for several months I asked him if he was a Christian. I explained that there was just something special about him. He smiled and then almost whispered, “Well, I’m actually an atheist.” I really didn’t know what to do with that statement! Weren’t all atheist angry with eyes that turn red when they hear the name Jesus? He didn’t seem demon possessed!
I left the radio station that day, and I couldn’t quit thinking about him saying, “I’m actually an atheist.” So I went on a journey of reading atheist authors, listening to atheist podcasts, and then after my divorce I even dated a few. Again, no sign of demon possession. Well, there was a lady from Vancouver, Washington who I’m fairly certain put a curse on me, but that’s for another blog.
Seriously, in my journey to understand atheist and agnostics I realized something that I believe is important for all Christians to grasp. They are not bad people. Sure, like Christians some of them become militant, and push their beliefs on everyone, but most just want the same things we all want for their families and community.
I know someone is asking, “If a person isn’t a Christian how do they know what is moral?” People don’t need a book to tell them that lying, stealing, jealousy, coveting, adultery, and MURDER are not good for society. And they know that treating others as they’d like to be treated is a great way to live.
Growing up in the fundamentalist world we use words like “saved” for those who are Christian’s, and “lost” for those who are not. I can remember feeling sorry for my friends that didn’t go to church, because I was just sure they were going to hell. I had an Uncle that wasn’t “saved” and I prayed for him every single night so that he would not be charcoal after he died. I had great parents, but let’s think about this for a moment. A child picturing someone burning for eternity! My favorite story was of the guy in hell begging for a drink of water, and God said, “Nope!” Yeah, shocking I have issues with anxiety.
At this point some of you are starting to feel a slight bit of anger toward me. Why? Why does it offended you that I may not believe in a literal hell? It’s a very valid question, and I hope you’ll pause to think about it. Why would you be upset with me for not believing someone will face eternal damnation in complete darkness while their skin burns off?
I love Jesus. I love you. And I pay my taxes most years. Even the women who break up with me say I’m sweet and a “good man.” I simply don’t think there is a literal hell that people will fry in for eternity. If that offends you or makes you angry then I say this in love, you are religious, but you are likely lacking a loving connection to Jesus. I’ve found that religious people are angry, but those who focus on loving Jesus and others…can agree to disagree. My views and opinions don’t impact your relationship with God. And here is something to hold on to…no where do we learn that a belief in heaven or hell makes us a Christian. When Jesus said, “Follow me” He wasn’t talking about following Him to heaven. He was saying, let me show you how to live.
I read a book by Rob Bell called, “Love Wins” and it changed how I view Heaven and Hell. Bell believes that after death we still get a choice as to where we want to spend eternity. I realize most of us think that no one would choose hell, but look around, they are choosing it every single day. And again, no one should choose Jesus out of fear of going to hell when they die. They should choose to follow Him, because He teaches us how to live.
When I think about my Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu, and other brothers and sisters I don’t worry about where they’ll go after they die. I do worry that we aren’t all coming together to love one another while we are living. I think in the end we are all serving the same God. Something much bigger than any book or human can explain or understand. For me, the picture of God is Jesus, and I love Him with all of my heart and soul. And while you and I may disagree on that…we still need each other in this life. Where we go to church or if we go to church or synagogue should never divide us. Life will always be easier if we will do it together. What happens next is not in our hands.
I love ya,
Consider reading “Love Wins” by Rob Bell
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