Hell and Loving God

Saturday 17 November 2007

I'm sorry if anyone finds what I'm going to write offensive, but I just feel so strongly about this these days. It is so clear to me what our conceptions of hell do to our peace of mind that it is becoming something like anathema to me. I apologise if my anathema conflicts with your strongly held beliefs.

I don't think it's any coincidence at all that
consistently the Christians I find who are the most loving and the most free are the ones who have got the concept of hell worked out in their own minds, hearts and spirits, and found it to be the demonic bondage that it is - at least, our modern-day concepts of it. I will go further and stand up loud and proud on my soapbox and say that we won't be able to trust God as much as he yearns for us to do until we get this idea out of the way. I can't think of any other idea we have about God which so limits his power, his love, his control, his reach, and what Jesus Christ achieved on the cross.

Neither do I think it is coincidence that consistently I find that the Christians who are the most fearful and lacking in fruitfulness are the ones who believe in a God of eternal torment. Which makes complete sense. How close do you go - as much as you are drawn by Jesus - to a God who is going to do that? Because if God is going to do that, our hearts whisper, then he seems a bit ... well, from my limited darkened human perspective, very ... well ... like a tyrant, an egomaniac.

In this view, God commands we love him enough or he will throw us into eternal torment. How do you command people to love you? (This was partly one of the things the Old Testament showed us - you can't. Love cannot be commanded by fear). And how incongruous Jesus seems in this light. He seems like the wussy, girly part, while God is nasty, distant, unemotional and removed from his creation. This is where the good cop/bad cop dichotomy comes in (apologies Wayne for using all your analogies :) Jesus is the good guy we can run to, who has died on the cross for our sins to protect us from the bad God, who cannot dare to look at us in our disgusting, sinful, horrid, gut-wrenchingly evil state. Right. How come, then, God still walked in the garden in the cool of the day as soon as Adam and Eve sinned? It was Adam and Eve who were hiding. The wrath of God is directed towards the sin, not the sinner. He knows that we are dust (so bah to you, Jonathan Edwards and your disgusting sermon). Causing us to hide is what sin does, what shame does. And the concept of eternal hell if we fall or somehow do something not quite right (and we can never quite be sure we've got it right enough to keep God's wrath at bay) just keeps us locked up in a box of shame which drives our sins deeper. How funny that our fear of God doesn't cause our sins to disappear, as you would imagine - it just sends them underground where we feel even more shame abut them, but they become even more juicy, hiding just where they like in the mushroom compost where they breed and grow the best. I know all this from experience. I spent years living a shame-filled life and I know the dynamics. I also know what being free (or beginning to be freed) from it feels like. It's a lens cleaner, for sure.

How can you draw near to a God who is so ego-driven that he would throw the majority of people into hell because they haven't performed well enough for him or they haven't called on his name or whatever? What kind of a God is that? Not one that I want to worship and, I am convinced, one that turns good Christians into the kind that the media loves to vilify (and with good reason, too - you become like the god you worship, and their god is a rigid, dogmatic, nasty man; rather like them a lot of the time, unfortunately).

Did you know that hell as the "eternal punishment for daring to not believe in/or follow God well enough" is not found at all in the Old Testament? And in the history of the Church, the idea didn't really gain a foothold until around about the time of Constantine (for more reading on what the early church believed see here). This was around hte time the Church went from being a persecuted Body on the sidelines to the baby of the Empire. Think about that. It's no coincidence.

Now, having said all of that there is definitely stuff in the Bible about God's wrath. I just don't think we've understood the idea very well. The best analogy I have found is one told by Wayne Jacobsen. He remembers a day when his family is camping, and his two-year old son is set upon by a swarm of bees. As Wayne's wife hears the screams of her son as he is being stung by heaps of bees, she rushes like the wind towards him to rescue him. What struck Wayne was the face of his little two-year-old boy as his mother rushed towards him. Her determination to rescue her son must have appeared fierce on her face. All her son saw as she rushed towards him to rescue him was wrath. But it wasn't directed at him. It was directed at the source of his affliction.

I think that everyone is destined to suffer at the hand of God's "consuming fire". It just depends on whether it is now, in this life, or afterwards. The words we translate as hell - sheol, hades, tartarus and gehenna - are a
temporary state. And the suffering that so many of us go through now feels like flames. It has been a recurring refrain in my life over the past few months and years. God is definitely a consuming fire, and when you are in the midst of the furnace it is very easy to lose sight of the fact that he is purposing something in that suffering. I have come out of all that stuff with insights I just don't think I could have gained any other way but through those difficult times when I am forced to draw near to God. I wish it was different, but I am always grateful for the experience afterward because the view is just amazing.

This site, Tentmaker, has stacks of stuff on hell. I roolly roolly encourage you to explore it. I know if you believe in the concept of hell but are questioning it that this is a difficult place to be in. You feel like going down this road is going to lead you to hell forever - and you want to guard against making that mistake if you can. I have been in this place before. I can't say anything to encourage you to explore this further but just hope that you listen to the Spirit of God and go forward into exploration, even if it's scary. You will be amazed what you find at the end of it.

Hell? Hell is a crock of demonic crap :) Nothing has kept Christians in bondage more than that one doctrine. I don't even care anymore if what I say steps on some people's toes. I personally have seen how the idea of eternal torment is one that has been rejected more and more by people over the past five or so years. I have seen how it is a weight that we just cannot live under and live the way that Jesus asked us to. I don't care if people find this idea offensive. Because I find the idea of hell way more offensive.

End rant.

Links: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/EarlyChristianView.html

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