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via: Relevant MagazineJohn Pavlovitz

According to various strangers on the Internet, I’m going to Hell.

I get told so several times a week by Internet commenters who disagree with things I write.

Now, most people would take offense at another’s announcement of their own personal damnation or at least be mildly insulted by the messenger, but I always receive this news with a rather soothing mix of peace and gratitude. Firstly, I am keenly aware that someone else’s belief about the ultimate destination of my soul has no actual bearing on whether I will indeed burn for all eternity. Secondly, if they do truly believe this, I feel strangely indebted to them for alerting me of the matter.

People ask me all the time how I can regularly interact with passionate people whose religious views are so very different from mine. (Actually, they usually ask how I can deal with “those ignorant morons,” but you get the point). While I don’t always succeed (as pride, judgment and general jerkiness will continue to seep in), I take great efforts to engage people in matters of faith in a way in a way that is respectful and Grace-giving, and to encourage conversation amongst others that doesn’t degenerate into vulgarity and personal attacks.

Hear: Sanctified Sermon: There’s No Disagreeing When It Comes To God! [EXCLUSIVE AUDIO]

Serious young woman angry with friend

Source: Steve Debenport / Getty

Here are a few core ideas that I fight to remember as I enter into the dangerous, chaotic fray of public religious dialogue:

People are a Product of Their Stories.

People don’t pop out of the womb as an atheist, agnostic or believer. Our faith perspective isn’t an instant download that comes with the operating system.

Everyone you encounter is shaped by their individual journeys—the home where they were raised, their friends, the churches in which they grew up, the books they read, the teachers who inspired them, their experiences, the wounds they’ve sustained, the way they are wired.

It all slowly shapes them, and that very specific renovation of people results in the exact version of them standing in front of you at a given moment. Regardless of whether you can see it, everyone has a deep back story that looms large, both in their theology and in the way it gets expressed.

Also See: 4 Ways To Let Go When You’re In A Bad Relationship

Theology is a Place.

What we believe about faith and God and the afterlife is not as fixed as we often like to think. Rather, it is an ever-shifting spot in space and time. You probably believe quite differently than you did 10 years ago in both subtle and substantial ways. And 10 years from now, the same will almost certainly be true. In this way, I like to think of theology as a place; as the specific location where you are right this moment.

This is important as you interact with others, because it helps you clarify your limitations and remember your place. When it comes to matters of faith, you cannot force someone to be where you are. It’s not your job or your right to pull someone to your faith perspective; to make them see as you see or agree to the givens you’ve established in your mind.

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