This is a response to the conversation by Erin and others in "People Often Talk About 'God As Love'" below, but due to sheer length I decided to start a new post rather than extend the comments.
When I consider the myriad of statements in the Bible about life after death or what salvation could mean or what it takes to achieve salvation and/or life after death (which are not the same, who says we need to be “saved” in the first place? Saved from what, exactly?), its hard to see how anyone could come away with a definitive answer for what "the Bible says." Faith traditions have certainly come to an understanding of what they believe in this regard, but to say that "the Bible says" and have one solid answer would not be reading the Bible accurately.
James says it takes "faith and works", Matthew 25 says its about loving the poorest of the poor, John 3:16 talks about the necessity of belief in Jesus, the first letter of John goes back and forth talking about belief in Jesus and then it talks about how God is really love and the extent to which we love is the extent to which we are close to God (or something to that affect). And the list goes on and on. Paul suggest further journeys after death, I believe.
A lot of people have worked really hard to reconcile all of these together into one definitive statement, but they are really irreconcilable.
Religion is all about human limitation--trying to see the Divine through a foggy glass, as Paul says. The Bible is included in that--it is a foggy glass, trying to show you something, but it is hard to put into words. It is trying to point to something, over there, just beyond the horizon. As a reader, you are asked to do your fair share of the workload, because it won’t spoon-feed.
Religion is important in my opinion because it is a collective experience of God, passed down through the centuries. It is not just my own experience of God and my own interpretation, but it is the experience and interpretations of countless people through the centuries. Together, a living and always-evolving portrait of God is developing.
You can see this evolution in thought in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God is more vengeful. Moving on through Isaiah and the New Testament, God is much more loving. However, you can see the loving nature of God in the OT, as well. I really am undecided as to whether God changes much or not, as Process Theologians would say. But I do believe that what we are seeing in the Bible is more of the evolution in human understanding of God than the evolution of God.
So much of what we believe as Christians today is considered "later theology." In other words, there are ideas in the Bible that after thinking and meditating on for centuries we have taken them to a level possibly never even intended by the Bible authors. Did the early apostles really understand Jesus as God incarnate? I think they took his statements and actions and put them together, and 2 + 2 got them 4, but that was after going home and thinking on it a spell.
There is nothing wrong with this. Religious thought has always been in evolution. All too often, we have an assumption that there is something wrong with religion because it does not give us a static answer, but if you consider that we are meditating on great mysteries of the Divine, then how we know anything at all is the biggest mystery of them all!
The Bible is a not a book of answers. It is a book of questions, suggestions, stories, observations, and some advice of some very good people who have come before us. It includes some of their answers, as well, but for us to read that looking for answers for ourselves would be the wrong approach, in my opinion. It is a living document that demands our own interpretation today and which we have to come to an understanding about. It is important to consider the conclusions of past generations, though, but not to rely on them exclusively.
I don't think God appeared to Moses and had a conversation and gave clear indicators about what he's all about or hard fast rules to follow. Those people who hold onto that seem to base their faith on the testimony of past generations. That is not what faith in God is all about, in my opinion. That is faith in Moses. Faith that Moses was telling the truth and that the truth is recorded in the Bible. The people during the Bible times didn't have any more "experience" of God (probably) than we do. They were all trying to make sense of this world with sometimes faint, sometimes powerful, sometimes mysterious experiences of something beyond themselves that they tried to put a framework around to help later generations understand what they themselves were trying like hell to understand. Its all of us fumbling about in the dark. However, as Dr. Finan says at ODU, the basic assumption of theology is that we believe there is a God and that we can actually know something about this God.
We’re all in the dark, but if we form a human chain then I can feel this wall and you can feel that wall back there and we can communicate our “findings” to each other and somehow or another we can put a picture together that we otherwise would have a hard time doing by ourselves. It is like “the blind men with the elephant” story characterized so well in the blog of mysticalseeker . . . Religion is truly the “blind leading the blind”, but we are still better off together than by ourselves!