If you’ve ever driven along an interstate highway in the Midwest, it will not surprise you that Avoiding Hell billboards are only rivaled by Pro-Life billboards in abundance. Having driven over 1000 miles in the last two days across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and much of Kansas I feel a little beat up by this singular theology.
Hell Avoidance Theology makes self-preservation the only focus of what it means to be Christian. This turns Christianity into a selfish religion. This focus also has a cruel and needy god who must be served lest one be punished for eternity. I wonder if this is how the people behind these billboards really think about God? It is certainly the implication of their messaging. Sadly, this selfish religion is left with only fear mongering as a way to bring folks into the fold.
This is not the God I experience. The God I experience is abundantly loving. The Christian scriptures taken as a whole, describe God as extravagantly and unconditionally loving. The arc of the biblical narrative, particularly the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) describes a god who despite frustrations with God’s people forgives and loves.
Each time the Israelites disappoint by failing to live as instructed, God ultimately forgives them and helps them to try again. God expresses frustration with people who can’t seem to get it right for more than short periods of time before backsliding. God is tempted more than once to destroy them but God’s abundant love prevails and the unworthy are forgiven. When God’s love ultimately manifests in the salvific narrative of Jesus, we end up with an even bigger example of God’s extravagantly loving nature. Hell Avoidance Theology as presented in the billboards in the Midwest neglects the arc of the biblical narrative and focuses on a limited number of passages of the canon.
We must all guard against the idolatry of only focusing on the aspects of God’s nature that appeal to us. God as portrayed in the scriptures has depth and complexities. Jesus, the one who breathed in God and breathes out God’s nature, most fully shows us the nature of God. He did not focus only on social justice or only on the coming Realm of God (the Kingdom). Jesus did not only focus on healing and compassion or only on his own spiritual practices. He did all these things and more. Any theology, billboard or otherwise, that focuses only on one of these aspects of Jesus paints a false portrait.
Location:Oak St,Hays,United States