"Yet this strong emphasis on grace got transformed into a new system of conventional wisdom, not only in my own mind but, I think, in the minds of many Lutheran, and many Christians generally. The emphasis was placed upon faith rather than grace, and faith insidiously became the new requirement. Faith (most often understood as belief) is what God required, and by a lack of faith/belief one risked the peril of eternal punishment. The requirement of faith brought with it all of the anxiety and self-preoccupation that mark life in the world of conventional wisdom. Was one's faith/belief real enough, strong enough? Thus, for many of us latter-day Lutherans, the system of conventional wisdom remained. Only the content of the requirement had changed- from good works to faith." (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, pg.79)
When did faith become the requirement for salvation in Christianity? A more challenging question may be why must we be judged in the first place? I believe this is tied to our perception of God as either Judge and Lawgiver or Gracious and Compassionate. Within Christianity the two are blended into one almighty that is both Judge and Compassionate. We will be graciously spared IF we follow his commands and ONLY AFTER we believe. But what if we can't believe, reason that it is a waste of time or foolish to believe? Must these unbelievers be punished just because they can't pass the litmus test of belief?
How is this gracious or compassionate? I can not believe that God would torture unbelievers in the afterlife for their inability to believe nor their choosing the wrong belief. Nor can I believe that the very same God who gave us Free Will would make such a choiceless request: "Believe or else..." How is there any freedom of choice when one of the choices is eternal damnation? Harold Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People explains that Free Will allows us to be human. Without choices we would be like animals who follow instinct and do not make as many decisions as humans do. The biggest decision an animal might make would be choosing a fruit from a particular tree. Yet this is also guided by their senses which is driven by instinct.
This is why I do not believe in the Stick and Carrot theology of a judging God. By being offered the choice between life and death the obvious and only choice for all mankind would be life. This does not mean there is not an actual heaven or hell, although I do not believe that these places physically exist. I can not validate the existence of an afterlife anymore than anyone else can. There may be a Heaven and a Hell but my issue lies with the system of punishment and reward dished out by a God who allowed us (or created us) broken in the first place. If this were the case then God is an Unjust God. Neither the system nor this God as Judge exist in my eyes, but do not confuse this with Atheism or Agnosticism. I believe in God although I can not describe what God is. All I can say is what God can not be IF God is a loving and compassionate God.
So what does this have to do with faith? I am unable to comprehend that a loving and compassionate God would hold ANY requirements for us to share in that love (I define this sharing as salvation, being in the presence of infinite Love). Maybe I'm defining Love wrong, or maybe I'm defining God wrong. I do not know. What I do know is that if God is Love then why must we be judged and sentenced according to our beliefs? Does that mean that my inability to comprehend that God as Judge and Lawgiver would automatically sentence me to hell? Well, if it does then we're all in a lot of trouble. I hope that no one has found my words offensive since that is not my intention. I intend only to question, even if what I am questioning is considered sacred, so that I may grow in my spiritual journey.