Up until my early twenties I was a sincere and devout Christian. I prayed earnestly and often read the Bible cover to cover, regularly attended Church and actively evangelised “the lost” with my faith. From creationism to Revelation, I tenaciously believed the indoctrination of my childhood: the Bible was the literal word of God, and God was my life. However, I had many crises of faith, and was often frustrated at spiritual leaders’ unwillingness to confront and satisfactorily answer paradoxes contained within the Bible. Eventually, the day came when biblical answers no longer satisfied, so I followed my conscience out of the fold. Here are some ruminations informed by my ovine time in the pen, goaded by the ANU Fellowship of Christian University Students’ (FOCUS) recent “What is Love?” poster campaign.
Christianity’s number one aim, aside from convincing you to give at least a tenth of your pre-tax income to the Church, is to save your soul. There is no other way to couch it: if you do not believe Jesus Christ is your Lord and Saviour, that he died on the cross for your sins and rose again three days later, then you are hurtling headlong down the highway to hell. FOCUS believes this so intently it’s literally in their charter.
According to FOCUS’s Statement of Beliefs, they uphold many fundamental truths of the Christian faith, including: “[t]he universal sinfulness and guilt of humanity since the fall, rendering men and women subject to God’s wrath and condemnation”. This tenant, derived from Romans6:23, where the Apostle Paul asserts that the wages of sin is death, is critical from a theological perspective because it legitimises God’s otherwise patently misanthropic vindictiveness. Death, disease, famine and flood are physical manifestations of God’s judgement – the Lord giving us wretched, sinful humans what we deserve – even though our only ostensible crime is existence. And our existence is crucial, as Christians for the most part believe the soul is a distinct substance from the body, and while the latter may perish, the former will persist after death. So, what happens beyond the grave is of utmost importance.
Unfortunately, due to the unsavoury subject matter of eternal damnation, and the difficulty of convincing non-believers of their inherent sinfulness, we don’t hear as much about eschatological fire and brimstone as we do proclamations of Jesus’s love.
And Jesus is Christianity’s get out of jail free card. The second part of Romans 6:23 asserts: “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”. If you accept the teachings of Jesus and invite him “into your heart”, you will be absolved of your guilt and be set free from sin. Because the thing we need salvation from is our very essence, our inseparable humanness, the message is universal. Because the stakes are so high – eternal damnation without Christ versus eternal bliss with him – devout Christians have an extraordinary compulsion to share their “good news” by preaching or giving witness through personal testimony. The religious term for public sharing of faith is evangelism, but its manifestation is more often an uninvited intervention into others’ lives.
If something feels off-putting about this, it’s because something is off-putting about this. If Christian life were a police drama, Jesus would be the good cop with the role of bad cop going to Father God. Today, Christians like to distinguish between Good Cop Jesus and Bad Cop God, often by diminishing the Old Testament’s obsession with sin and punishment in favour of theNew Testament’s feel-good emphasis on love and grace. The problem is you can’t have one without the other: if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and if God is the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), then the love and peace preached by Jesus cannot be separated from the wrath and genocide of the Father. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, he came to fulfil the law of the Old Testament, not to do away it.
Christians like to compare the combination of fear and love one should feel towards God as that of a child to a father. However, being sent to your room or getting spanked doesn’t really compare with pestilence, war, smiting, or human sacrifice. In reality, Stockholm syndrome better explains the relationship Christianity induces between the believer and God. God holds us hostage in an existentially torturous position: tied down by the bonds of sin, we are water-boarded with guilt, shame, and suffering, then told we can obtain boundless joy only if, through sodden gasps, we declare our absolute love, devotion, and trust in Him.
FOCUS, I tender a humble suggestion for your next messianic public relations campaign. If you are going to provoke us by asking what love is, don’t suggest disingenuous answers like money or Nike. Instead ask: is love torture? Is love fear? Is love a negation of our very essence as human beings? If you answer these questions in the affirmative, only then may you truly declare Love is Jesus Christ.