Instead of reading something I wrote today, head over to jeffpearlman.com, where Jeff Pearlman—hence the name of the site—interviewed an Ashland pastor and amazingly hardcore Cincinnati Reds fan named Drew Snyder, author of Good People Don't Need Jesus (But You Do).
They were tremendous. They cover everything, from the beginning of time, to science, to homosexuality, to heaven and hell. Seriously intense stuff, atheist versus Christian, in a knock-down, drag-out — okay, it was actually a pretty amicable exchange, which only makes it more awesome, because some of this stuff you see the screaming heads on TV explode over.
Jeff, as you know from this post if you've been around here for awhile, was an awesome mentor for me while I was writing my book. Probably wouldn't have happened without him, or at least, it would have kind of sucked.
Jeff is also a staunch atheist, and regularly and ruthlessly eviscerates religion on his blog. Anytime he posts one of his anti-Christian rants, my heart sinks a little. Not because of him. No, Jeff's a smart dude. Real smart. And the reason for his rants is because he sees so clearly through so much of the B.S. that Christianity sends into the universe. And it's that B.S. more than it is Jeff's ranting that gets me all heavy-hearted and such.
That said, when I saw that his weekly Quaz interview was with a Christian, my heart actually lifted, for two reasons: One, I figured he'd ask hard-as-crap questions (and he did), and two, I figured he'd pick somebody who'd give him good answers.
Drew gave some of the best answers to some of the hardest questions you could imagine asking a Christian. And a few of his answers hit close to home. Like him, I was raised in a well-to-do middle class home, never wanted for anything, and my "goodness" also turned me into, to borrow Drew's words, a self-righteous prick.
Thank God for growth, right?
Anyway, here's an excerpt from Jeff's interview. You can read the full interview by clicking the link at the end.
And as always, thanks again for stopping by.
J.P.: You just released a book, Good People Don’t Need Jesus (But You Do), and the title is based off the idea that finding faith in Jesus has little to do with being “good” or “bad.” I’m fascinated by this—and also troubled. To me, there’s something very flawed in the idea that, as long as you accept Jesus in your heart and soul, you’ll be OK. In other words, Adolph Hitler, in the five minutes before he commits suicide, genuinely hurts for his sins, asks Jesus for forgiveness and fully accepts him—and he goes to the pearly gates. Meanwhile, Johanna Baer, my great-grandmother and a Jewish concentration camp victim, dies a Jew. She lived a humble life, never hurt anyone tried her best. However, because she’s a Jew—hell. That strikes me as, to be blunt, awfully fucked up. Or, at the least, warped. What am I missing?
D.S.: I think that largely, you’re right. It is messed up that a bad life could result in eternal bliss. But that’s the entire concept of grace. It’s the opposite of justice—it’s receiving something you don’t deserve and have not (and in this case, cannot) earn.
What you’re missing, however, is that if life were fair, no one would live eternally. For the sake of argument, say that the Bible is correct in saying that God is absolutely holy and morally perfect. If he’s going to interact with human beings—who are, at best flawed, and at worst, downright evil—then logically, it can’t be on the basis of our own goodness. In other words, no one could ever look at a morally perfect being, show them their good life, and say, ‘this is why you should love me.’ All of our attempts to impress him would fall well short of the mark.
GPDNJ is basically my story of coming to grips with this reality. I grew up in a white, middle class, ‘good’ home. My parents loved me, we never wanted for anything, and I was always taught to do the right thing. And for the most part, I did—I went to church, was active in my youth group, and I avoided doing the ‘big’ sins that we were taught at church to steer clear of.
And in the end, my theology turned me into a self-righteous prick. I didn’t think I needed grace, because I believed myself to be ‘good’ because of what I had done and where I had come from.
But when I look at who I am honestly—really, truly at my core—I suck as a human being. I’ve made mistakes I wouldn’t want to share with anyone, and each and every day I fall short of the example of unconditional love and compassion that Jesus set. If God is going to accept me, he’s going to have to do so because of his goodness, not mine. And that’s precisely what the gospel teaches—even though we’re terrible people who could never deserve it, God loves us so much that not only did Jesus die for us, but the Holy Spirit lives inside of us each and every day. That’s a powerful, scandalous, ridiculous kind of love, and it’s available to each and every person.
Of course, that conveniently avoids talking about your great grandmother. Truthfully, I’ve wrestled with examples like hers for years; after all, while she never accepted Christ, did she reject a gospel of grace or a man-made religion of rules? And is she in hell? I don’t know. I really, truly don’t, and won’t say one way or another. All I do know is that Jesus died for her as well as he died for me, and whatever her relationship with God is or is not for eternity, it’s based on God’s love and our choices. All I can do is share the gospel and allow the people I encounter to experience that love and make their own choice.