My wife and I just watched the movie The Stoning of Soraya M., the true story of an Iranian woman who was stoned to death by her village wherein her husband and the local mullah trumped up charges that she had committed adultery (a crime punishable by stoning under Muslim Sharia Law)—her husband wanted to divorce her and leave her for a 14 year old girl, but she wouldn’t grant him the divorce until she raised enough money to support herself and her daughters before the divorce took place. He didn’t want to wait that long, and so fabricated the charge of adultery in order to do away with her on his time schedule. My wife has read the book, and says that it offers even more detail; but the movie itself will challenge many things you believe, as a Christian, to the core (and if not, it should!).
Some of the questions it caused my wife and I to ponder were questions orbiting around the fairness and mercifulness of our God. Like: How is it possible for our God of love to condemn someone like Soraya to an eternally conscious torment of hell? She died a Muslim, in an isolated Iranian village where the Gospel had never intruded. Soraya lived a life of hell from the moment she was born; she was basically pawned off by her parents to a rich man in the village where she functioned as his personal slave girl, which also included him molesting her. Then she married a man who was quite the beast himself; he cheated on her with all kinds of woman, he beat her on a consistent basis, and ultimately fabricated these charges of adultery against her in order to have her stoned to death and killed. She lived a life of atrocity after atrocity; tribulation after tribulation. So the question that won’t go away is how is it that the Christian God (my God!), who is love, can eternally condemn this poor soul named Soraya to an eternity separated from him when she never had the chance to even hear of him?
These are the kinds of questions that are plaguing me at the moment. They aren’t new questions, there are other stories in the world that pressure me in this same way. It’s just that we just saw this dramatic and tragic story re-inacted in rather gruesome form in a way that provokes emotive response in quite visceral ways. In ways that I want to let percolate, even thought it is hard.
There are other questions that stories like this cause me to reflect upon. Like the fact that my God called for the stoning of people amongst his own Covenant society in the nation of Israel under the Mosaic Code. The question is how can my triune God of love sanction and even command this kind of brutal way of putting people to death?
The answer my wife and I came up with is that just as Jesus said to the religious leaders that divorce was given to the people not because it was God’s ideal, but that it was given because of the people’s hard heart. This has to be the answer to why he sanctioned the usage of stoning in cases of capitol punishment; i.e. because given the technology at that time, and his mode of providing a civil code for his people, stoning was the way to accomplish this. But it wasn’t because this was God’s ultimate answer or ideal—the cross of Jesus Christ was/is—it was because it God’s outworking of his salvation plan, this was an aspect that was provided in anticipation of the final answer to the problem of humanities’ sin problem.
I am still struggling with the first question; the one having to do with Soraya being condemned to an eternal hell, moving from a temporal one, to an even worse state that is eternal and final. I have once read a book entitled The Evangelical Universalist, and it is times like this that the argument that Robin Parry develops therein looks very appealing; in instance with trying assuage the true and real angst that the story and death of Soraya M. causes.