I’m going to Hell.
I know this, because lots of religious people regularly make this quite clear to me.
My beliefs about the Bible, my full affirmation of the LGBTQ community, my criticisms of the American Church, (even my questions about the very existence of Hell itself) all apparently ensure that I’m headed there once I reach my expiration date here.
Believe me, I’m not thrilled about it but hey, they’re Christians and they must know these things or they wouldn’t make such claims about the eternal destination of my soul, right? That would just be cavalier and arrogant and reckless—the most irresponsible kind of religion.
I used to argue with these folks. When they’d toss damnation grenade Bible verses at me, I’d fire back in vigorous defense; challenging their hermeneutic, questioning their theological conclusions, and passionately making the case for myself.
I don’t do that very much these days. Now I just assume that they’re right. I resign myself to the hot and humid forever fate they’ve so willingly prescribed for me.
And since I now know how my story ends, at least I can use whatever time I have left wisely and stay busy.
So, before I go to Hell…
I’m going to give all people as much grace as I am able, knowing that they’re very likely as much of a daily, frazzled, freaked out mess as I am.
I’m going to look relentlessly and deeply for the good in even the most seemingly unlikable human beings, because I believe this goodness is embedded there somewhere in each of them.
I’m going to live my faith as best I can at any given moment, with all the inconsistency, hypocrisy, doubt, and vacillation that endeavor may come with.
I’m going to speak defiantly into bigotry and hatred, especially when they come delivered in the name of God, because sadly that is often when they are most likely to go unopposed.
I’m going to let people know that they matter and belong and have value; not if they get their act together, not when they sand blast off their rough edges, not once they clean up their crap—but as they are, right now.
I’m going to look for the broken places in the landscape of my days and to try my best to bring some healing there; to leave less injustice and pain than I found when I arrived.
I’m going to be the best father, husband, brother, son, friend, pastor, and human that I can be; the best version of myself I can manage in each day, holding fast to humility when I succeed, and gentleness when I fail.
I’m going to resist retaliation and revenge when I feel unfairly judged or poorly treated, knowing that only perpetuates damage.
I’m going to have patience with those who exhaust me, compassion for those who disappoint me, and forgiveness for those who injure me, knowing that I so often exhaust and disappoint and injure others.
I’m going to keep searching for God, knowing full well that I’ll never find everything I’d like to find or figure out all that I hope to figure out while here—and to make peace with that truth.
It’s likely that none of this will spare me from the brimstone future awaiting me, and many Christians folks assure me of as much.
But I’m not doing these things to get myself into Heaven or to have a cushy afterlife of clouds and wings and harps. I’m doing them because they need to be done here whether they benefit me beyond this life or not.
I’m doing them because my deepest faith convictions tell me to try and make this place more like however I believe Heaven to be, and that this will bring justice and mercy along with it.
I’m doing them because loving people as I desire to be loved is the best way I know of reiterating Jesus in the world.
I’m doing them because restoration and redemption are not cloistered religious relics saved for church buildings. They are the loud, messy places faith invites us to live in here and now.
I’m doing them because I don’t believe this life is a meaningless holding area before something better, but the sacred chance to make something better with this day and this breath and this place.
Those religious advisors may be right. I may indeed be going to Hell for believing the wrong things or not believing the right things, or for what I do or fail to do.
But if that’s the case, I’m going to bring as much of Heaven down here as I can before I do.