When Love Wins came out in 2011, I read it. I cried. I thought it was beautiful.
A lot of other people read it (or just watched the trailer for it). They cried too, but not for the same reasons. They thought Rob Bell had denied central tenets of Christianity and were saddened to see him leave the fold.
I researched Universalism and slowly became convinced of it. This was not Rob Bell’s goal.
Then I found another post arguing against Penal Substitution. I thought it was beautiful. I thought it made a compelling and beautiful picture of God, centering on God’s cruciform and self-sacrificial love. Though everything else was shaking, this cross-centered love, love alone, for all, with no caveats, exclusions, or liabilities, became the core of my faith.
During the Universalism debate, everyone was worried because my doctrine was wrong, and dangerously so.
During the Penal Substitution debate, everyone was worried about me because they thought it meant I wasn’t a Christian – which, for me, wouldn’t have mattered because I considered myself a hopeful Christian Universalist, which is to say, God is saving everybody.
In one debate, I argued that God was good and loving to everyone, even to the enemies of God, and the cross proved this.
In response, they reminded me of passages where God commanded genocide. This did not convince me that God was angry and violent. Because God had become for me, at the core, this enemy-loving God, and because my Philosophy of Religion class had given me lots of room to doubt, this made me wonder if God was there at all.
I was an atheist for a good fifteen minutes.
Then I left the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy behind, because either God could be good, or the Bible could have no mistakes and be scientifically and historically and everythingally accurate, and inerrancy wasn’t worth anything remotely close to what it cost.
That was the first time I used disbelief in God to protect me from believing something awful about God. Sadly, it would not be the last.
I became something I am not entirely pleased about. Doubt became my go-to response.
Did the Bible say something that made God look mean? Did Jesus say the Bible was to be obeyed?
Doubt: Does God even exist at all?
Was there some kind of evidence that God was a psychopath?
Doubt: Does God even exist at all?
Doubt became my nuclear option. If I couldn’t win a point – gay marriage, inerrancy, parental authority over adults (yes, really, I know at least one person who believes that last one) – I would dive for doubt.
I wanted God good, or not at all.
I wanted God love, or not at all.
I still do.
Since then, I’ve developed robust arguments against inerrancy, for God’s blessing on same-sex marriage, against God being violent, for universalism, and for everything I’ve found beautiful about the Christian faith.
And one day, when I feel safe in all my other defenses against belief that God is mean, or wicked, or genocidal, or homophobic, or any number of other things, maybe I’ll lay down my doubt.
Maybe – maybe – my kids won’t need it. Maybe they’ll feel safe in what I’ll teach them about the reckless self-sacrificing love of God. I hope and pray they will.
But I don’t feel safe yet. If I could be convinced of God’s definite existence, maybe I could be convinced of inerrancy, and if I could be convinced of inerrancy, then, for me, God as good and loving and kind to all is toast, and I will not believe that. If God be wicked, though obedience be expedient, it is my moral duty to refuse obedience, even if there isn’t a God for me to have that moral duty to.
So I hold on to my doubt. I hold it as tightly as I hold my faith that, if God is there, then God is love.
Because I want God good, or not at all.