Religion as a life sentence

I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence. I can understand a wrathful God who’d just as soon dangle us all from a hook. And I can understand a tender, unprejudiced Jesus. But I could never quite feature the two of them living in the same house. You wind up walking on eggshells, never knowing which… is at home at the moment.
– Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible

I’ve been listening to The Poisonwood Bible in the car. I didn’t read it when it came out; I was biased against it because it was a book club favourite. But two tapes in, I’m finding it an enthralling novel. A Southern Baptist family move to the Congo to live as missionaries there in the 1950s; Nathan Price, the father, is a harsh and stubborn man, not willing to learn from the Africans – or his wife, from whom this quote comes.

Jesus is tender sometimes, but is just as often harsh, especially with hypocrites. But still her quote resonates with me. Faith asks us to live out a particular way of life, at odds with the world. And we have do that without certainty. We shouldn’t think of salvation as ‘life insurance’ – yet often we do, and if it doesn’t pay out, then we have just been given a life sentence.

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4 thoughts on “Religion as a life sentence

  1. Hi Nathan,

    On the relation between the wrathful God and the tender Jesus, an interesting post is by post-conservative evangelical theologian Derek Flood, dated Sept.2 2011.

    What is interesting is that Derek takes what appear to be very harsh statements by Jesus and looks at them in their immediate and broader contexts and concludes that God is really on about peacemaking and compassion.

    God is seen is most fully in Jesus and Jesus supports the view that God is a God of healing love and mercy who loves his enemies. He shows, to mind mind quite persuasively, that in their contexts and if we look at the trajectory of the story, that Jesus is trying to overthrow these harsh views.

    His blogsite is http://www.therebelgod.com/. Anyway, let me know what you think ogf his blogpost.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  2. I’ll check this out, John – thanks. More than anything, I wanted to flag that I was aware of the theological problems of the quote, that it is problematic to drive a wedge between a harsh Yahweh/ gentle Jesus.

  3. Nathan – I love this book – beautifully written – insightful and disturbing. I still remember how the previous missionary got dismissed for fraternizing with the natives… Argh…

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