Eternal Life—An Invitation, Not a Reward

By Keith Miller | December 8, 2010

Dear Keith, I’m wondering if you could talk about God’s love as you understand it.  If God’s love is “unconditional,” as people often claim it is, why does he need people to accept him?  Isn’t that a ‘condition’?  It seems contradictory to me for Christians to claim that God loves everyone and then that only those who love him back a certain way get a reward.  I’m hoping you have something insightful to say about your own faith that will help me sort through this issue. Thanks, Emily

This is a great question, Emily, one that theologians have wrestled with a lot.  All I can do here in this blog is try to tell you how I’ve come to deal with it in my own faith journey.

I believe that God loves all people like a perfect parent would love his or her child, regardless of what the child has done.  For me, God’s unconditional love doesn’t require anyone to accept him.  The greatest gift he has given us (besides his unconditional love) is free will, which allows us to decide whether we will live life with God or without God.  Therefore, because of God’s integrity, he will not take away this free will and coerce us or manipulate us to accept him.  Whichever choice we make, his love continues unconditionally.

I’m assuming that when you say “get a reward” you are referring to eternal life with God in heaven after death.  But I am convinced that this eternal life is not a reward for “loving him back in a certain way;”  it is a relationship with God and other people that we are invited to start now.  So if we choose to live a life with God, what does that mean?  God invites everyone to live Life with him.  Jesus told us before he died that the Spirit or Personality that we saw in him is going to be with us and within us as our tutor and companion in a relationship with God that begins now and never ends.  This life involves learning from God by seeing how Jesus and other Christians on God’s adventure are living that life in a loving way without hesitation or equivocation.

When we make this choice we re-position ourselves to allow God to be in charge of everything in our lives, and to become child-like students who want to know everything about God and his nature, and to learn to live more and more as loving co-creators and healers with God.  The more we can surrender our own wills and let God lead us, teach us, and transform us, the more we learn the freeing power of being loved just as we are, without doing anything to earn this love.  This is living in the creative image of God.  The more that we do this (live the life that Christ modeled) the more that we realize the creative potential that we possess and the more fulfilled we can be.

This transformational process is not generally what is seen in the religious institutions of the world.  This transformation is something that happens to individuals in a family/community that sees itself as part of the transformational family of God that is being actualized now.  This life is based on a continuing and constant prayerful and intimate relationship with God’s Personality (or Spirit) within us and with other Christ followers in a safe and sharing community, helping each other as they are loving hurting people in the ‘worlds’ each inhabit.

Those who do not choose to accept God’s invitation to life with Him, choose separation from God (which is a primary definition of hell.)  And I suspect it makes God very sad when people choose to try to reinvent life in ways destined to separate them from God and other people.

Emily, I hope these thoughts in this limited format will help you sort through this issue.  There is so much more I wanted to say about God’s unconditional love and about how a life with God has been transforming me and other people I have been in community with.  Perhaps I will say more in future blogs.  And if what I’ve said today raises any other questions for you, please let me know.

Jesus, thank you for telling us that your spirit or personality would be with us and within us to teach us and be our companion if we choose to live a life with you.  And thank you for the enormous gift of freedom to make our own choices—and that you can patiently love us just as we are even when we make choices that do not bring fulfillment or the realization of our potential.  Help me to make good choices that are in accordance with what you had in mind when I was born.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Jesus, thank you for telling us that your spirit or personality would be with us and within us to teach us and be our companion if we choose to live a life with you.  And thank you for the enormous gift of freedom to make our own choices—and that you can patiently love us just as we are even when we make choices that do not bring fulfillment or the realization of our potential.  Help me to make good choices that are in accordance with what you had in mind when I was created.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Jesus said these things.  Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said:

Father, it’s time.  Display the bright splendor of your Son

So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.

You put him in charge of everything human

So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.

And this is the real and eternal life:

That they know you,

The one and only true God,

And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

– John 17:1-4, The Message

Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go?  You have the words of real life, eternal life.  We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

– 1 John 5:21, The Message

And we know that the Son of God came so we could recognize and understand the truth of God—what a gift!—and we are living in the Truth itself, in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  This Jesus is both True God and Real Life.  Dear children, be on guard against all clever facsimiles.

– 1 John 5:21, The Message

God’s mercy is not merely therapy for a few individuals beset by guilt…God does not dole out mercy like cookies only for good, repentant children.  God’s mercy is not conditioned by our response.  God is mercy.  So, wide is wider than we guess….  Our calling is to live in mercy….  Recalling God’s unmerited mercy … we absolve one another, enacting the good news.  ‘In Jesus Christ,’ we say, ‘we are forgiven.’  So we look into each other’s eyes without illusions; we are sinners all.  Yet we embrace each other in the mercy, the wide, wide, mercy of God.

David Buttrick, The Mystery and the Passion

“If men and women today began by the thousands to experience the depths of Jesus Christ in a transforming way, there would simply be no place for their expression of experience to fit into present-day straitjackets of Christianity.”

Gordon Cosby, Sermon

If any of you are interested in one simple way to accept this invitation from God there is a free download, “How Can I Find God?”, here.

2 comments | Add One

  1. Richarfd - 12/8/2010 at 11:26 am

    Jesus said ” If I be lifted up I will draw everyone to me.” Not just some, not just a few but all, all, all. Grace is greater than all our sin. There is nothing stronger than the love and grace of God not even hell, if there is such a place. I am a believer in universal grace, it is the only thing that makes sense to me. Some how I do believe God will redeem all of us.

  2. Ellen - 12/8/2010 at 11:44 am

    Romans 11:32

    We’re all drawn to and allowed to disobey, so that we may ALL experience God’s great mercy.

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