Posts Tagged ‘damnation

08
May
09

For the Hell of It

galaxy-blueSo it was just a couple days ago I posted on My Black and Secret Heart, and as I noticed in the comments, and as I’ve encountered before, there is a point of view that the idea of Hell is incompatible with the idea of a loving God.

I would disagree. In part because I think we attach too much tradition and perhaps incorrect assumptions about Hell. Really, it isn’t described in detail in the Bible. Its role isn’t fully explained. It doesn’t even seem to be permanent, as it apparently gets tossed in the Lake of Fire eventually. And the Lake of Fire, for that matter, has to be at least somewhat allegorical, because I doubt that God is literally maintaining a huge lake of flames in which to toss everything.

Now, one might argue: If Hell isn’t a punishment for not following God’s rules, then why doesn’t the Bible tell us that explicitly? Well, note that the New Testament talks much about love and a relationship with God, whereas the Old Testament treats the relationship more as a master/servant or lord/subject model. And yet, God didn’t start out in an authoritarian mode with Adam. What we fail to see is that God had to snap us to attention when we broke trust, and He had to call attention to the error of our ways, and He had to bring about a way to heal the damage. It would be nice to think that the New Testament would just say, “Hell isn’t about punishment; it’s about the choice between growing and being part of God’s plans, or separating yourselves from those plans because you don’t like them.”

But you know what? That would have been kind of a hard and huge transition for the Jews of the time, or even the Gentiles. I think we are expected to have grown in our spiritual outlook and divine God’s intent to bring us into a family mode. The New Testament was written in a time of transition from the old convenant to the new convenant.

So, with that notion in mind, I’m not so sure Hell is about suffering or punishment. It may be. But I think we shouldn’t assume that. I do think that at the very least, it is separation from God, for either a very long time or forever. Again, I couldn’t say for sure either way.

But what if Hell isn’t about making us pay for our sins but about protecting creation itself? Bear with me here, as I make a slight aside.

If you haven’t seen the movie Defending Your Life, I highly recommend that you do. It’s a brilliant romantic comedy, in my opinion, and poses some interesting theological questions in the process of tickling the funny bone. The basic premise is that when we die on Earth, we go to Judgment City, where we basically stand trial to prove we have overcome our fears in life. If you prove that, you move on to the next intellectual/spiritual plane and evolve to the next level. If not, you get reincarnated to do it all over again.

Albert Brooks, sitting in the office of his Judgment City defender, is confused about all this. His defender explains that the universe is like a big machine and people are the cogs. The universe doesn’t want faulty parts, so people get sent back until they get it right. Appalled to find out just how many times he’s been sent back already through the ages, Albert Brooks’ character asks, basically, “So if I don’t prove I’m over my fears, I just get sent back over and over and over again?” To which his defender responds, “No. Eventually the universe will just throw you out.”

My point?

God doesn’t need or want people who are broken and want to stay broken. He doesn’t need people who are going to be contrary to his purpose for creation.

Let’s remember, for a moment, that we are “created in God’s image.” The angels were not. So what sets us apart from them in Heaven? I suspect it’s the fact that we have the power and potential to access and alter creation in much the same way that God can. We are far from God’s level, but imagine what we each could become, given eternity in which to develop.

Imagine what damage could be wreaked by selfish or hopeless people with even a smattering of such power.

What if the point of Heaven vs. Hell is the decision as to whether you want to move on and evolve or whether you don’t give a damn. If you don’t want to move on, you won’t. And that, I believe, is when you go to Hell.

Do you get a chance to rethink? I don’t know. Maybe in that decision you are basically saying, “Just throw me out, because I don’t want to change or grow.” Maybe you are simply erased at that point; a faulty part that had to be thrown away. Or maybe you are placed somewhere you can’t do any harm, but can continue in that static existence that you won’t shrug off.

God isn’t trying to keep people out of Heaven, but I do think He wants to ensure that those who go there really want to be there, and to be there for the right reasons.

Hell of a thought, eh?

07
Dec
08

I Don’t Have a Problem

darknessI see a common argument among people who dislike evangelism or dislike Christianity in general, and it goes like this: I don’t need to be saved. I don’t want to be saved. I’m insulted that you even think I need to be saved (even if you don’t say so). Stop trying to act like you have any clue how to save my ass that didn’t need saving to begin with.

OK, fair enough. But then again, I’ve never been the kind of person who gets into your face and says, “You need the saving blood of Christ.” Yes, that is what I believe, but I’m not into confrontational encounters where I try to browbeat a person into choosing Jesus.

And before anyone starts, this blog doesn’t count as being in your face. You don’t have to come here and you can leave here any time you like. I haven’t trapped you in a corner or pounced on you at the office trying to proselytize to you. This blog is here for me to muse about spiritual matters, to share my thoughts, to show people that Christians aren’t all from the same cookie cutter, to perhaps get people thinking about Christ, to expand my own thoughts, to entertain, to vent, and other such things.

I find it interesting that some folks here and there still seem to want to paint me as at least slightly judgmental because I believe in Hell. Believing in Hell doesn’t mean I feel warm and fuzzy about it or derive any kind of satisfaction out of anyone who does go there. It’s like saying I’m judgmental if I were to say that having prisons and courts is a necessary thing. Hell is the spiritual equivalent, like it or not. Or believe it or not. Don’t paint my opinions or my attitudes solely on a belief in Hell and judgment of souls. A slice of my beliefs doesn’t give you enough to go on about me. It would be like me judging a person’s intelligence based on the fact they like some empty headed pop music.

But, on to the point of today’s post, which was inspired by a post at another blog, Tit for Tat, titled  Are We So Bad We Need to Be Saved? It’s a short post, so I’ll just paste it below, but check in at Tit for Tat’s site using the link above anyway, because there will be comments to that post, most likely. Besides, you might find some interesting, edifying or entertaining stuff at other posts there. But here it is:

After several recent conversations, it got me thinking(again). Are we really such bad people that we need to be “Saved”. I mean ,like really, do the majority of us continually do crappy stuff to each other, everyday all day long? I like to think that my fellow Human has just as many Good moments as they do bad, and if that is the case then why do many Christians feel the need to see themselves as inherently bad? Im wondering fellow bloggers, do you see yourselves as inherently bad or good?

His general point is a good one to ponder. Are we really so bad? But I would submit that it isn’t so much about being good or evil. It’s easy to couch sin in terms of good vs. evil but that isn’t necessarily always the best way. It has its places and uses, but sin and salvation are a lot more complex than that, which is why I rely on metaphors and analogies a lot around here.

And yes, I’m about to do so again.

Let’s look at sin and damnation/salvation and sinning/being saved from a different angle. Not whether we seek to be good or embrace unfettered badness. Not whether we see ourselves on the side of light or darkness. Not whether we believe in God or not. Let’s consider the alcoholic instead, as a stand-in for the sinner.

Alcoholics comes in all sizes and shapes and types. Some get violent, some get silly, some get unconscious, others get all sorts of other ways. You have constant drinkers on one end of the spectrum and binge drinkers at the other. An alcoholic may drink to excessiveness, or may simply drink constantly at a very low level.

Alcoholism causes problems. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as killing someone while driving drunk. It doesn’t have to be hitting a spouse or child while under the influence. It can be as simple as wasting family money on too much drink and hurting your household in that manner. It can be the fact that your little buzz every night when you come home from work to unwind is robbing you of opportunities to bond with your family. It could be the slow destruction of your liver. But the fact is that an alcoholic chooses to drink, despite doing so to his or her own detriment and sometimes also the detriment of others.

But what all alcoholics share is a problem. It is in part a sickness and in part a choice. And it can only be solved when the person admits that he or she has a problem.

Sin and damnation are very similar.

We all sin. Even born again folks are sinners. They are simply like alcoholics on the wagon. No alcoholic ever stops being one. In fact, in terms of sin, people are worse than alcoholics because even those who “take the cure” will in almost 100% of cases still sample sinful ways, whereas a committed alcoholic in recovery might never again touch a drop of liquor.

The problem of sin isn’t so much being evil. It’s a matter of whether we recognize we have a problem and seek the solution to that problem. That’s the crux of Christianity.

Sin is a departure from God’s plan and it causes us to separate ourselves from His grace. It is the admission that we are sinners that puts us on a road to getting back in connection with God.

Just like alcoholics, there are sinners aplenty who will maintain that they don’t have a problem. They don’t need help. They are mostly good. They can quit being separated from the divine any time they want. It’s not just atheists or agnostics who do this. It isn’t even people who believe in other religions. There are so-called Christians who do the same thing.

But they do have a problem, even if they don’t admit it. All of them. All of us. The reason the Gospel is there is to provide a mirror for those people to look at and, hopefully, see the problem, desire to solve the problem, and take the cure. That cure would be Jesus.

Just like an alcoholic being confronted with their problem and getting help. What is the reason they should seek recovery? Not because they are browbeat into doing so. Not because the law tells them to or else. Not for any other reason than this: They have chosen to do so, and want to do so.

30
Jun
08

Choosing Satan

I seem to be stuck on Satan and Hell a lot lately and I’m not trying to be; much like my streak of posts about speaking in tongues not so long ago, I guess the Holy Spirit is pushing me in a certain direction. Anyway, many of my posts about Hell (and more recently my father-in-law’s stuff about Satan, which I posted) have discussed the fact that many people will choose Satan and choose Hell rather than select God’s way. I’m sure many readers have thought me crazy to think that anyone would choose Hell.

But consider this image:

 

In a post at The Jesus Gang that features this graph, the author says simply:

Whose team would you want to be on? I’m just sayin’.

I know the graph is likely meant in humor. And I’m twisted enough to see the joke, despite being a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ. But it points to a larger issue here. People don’t get it. Satan is a liar and a deceiver. Truth be told, Satan’s devices have led to far more death and suffering in the world. Has God been responsible for some killing? Sure. And there have been reasons for it. But most deaths are not at God’s hands; only a miniscule percentage in the history of humanity have been. Yet, too many people think that disasters are sent from God, that God is to blame when people kill each other over religion, that human illness in this world is a creation of God’s.

Nothing could be farther from the truth but still, people cling to that notion. Some even preach from the pulpit (or just on their media-based religious soapboxes) about how God sent the floods to punish wickedness in New Orleans or sent HIV/AIDS to punish gays or whatever else. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

The world and the mess it’s in is a joint creation by Satan and humans. God didn’t create a world of suffering; we have repeatedly rejected His way though to follow our own. And when we follow our own way, we are all too often taking Satan’s path.

You think Satan won’t be telling folks in Hell: “God sent you here. He doesn’t want you. Look, I never smote the first-born of every Egyptian. I never declared war on any people who were in the way of the Hebrews. Stick with me and you’ll be better off.” I can almost gol-damn-guarantee he will. And if not that track or those words, some other form of misdirection. Satan isn’t going to reveal how he’s moved people and races and nations through his tricks. He’s not going to call attention to his evil. Shit, in this world he tries hard to give the impression to most folks that he doesn’t exist at all or that he’s just a comical guy with red skin and a Snidely Whiplash mustache and a pointy tail.

But God gives us honesty and truth, and we can’t handle it. We’d rather be stroked by Satan than to be held by God. We’d rather have transient pleasures than long-range salvation.

People choose Satan all the time. And many will choose him even when they have a clear chance to choose something better.

And that’s a fact.

For the record, here are most of my recent (and not-so-recent) other posts on Hell and Satan:

19
Jun
08

Hell? Yes!

So, yesterday I started on the topic of Hell and whether or not people actually choose to be there and, for that matter, why the freakin’ hell we should even have Hell. Well, if you were around for that post, you might have noticed I spent a lot of time talking and didn’t get nearly far enough.

This time, I’ll try to get in some biblical passages to back my ass up a little instead of just providing links to past posts of my own that bear relevance on this topic, so this will probably be an even longer journey than yesterday. An important part of today’s post is found in WNG’s comment to me a couple days past, and in particular one thing she said:

I overheard a discussion this weekend about whether or not hell is actually empty. The two gentlemen discussing the matter weren’t close enough for me to eavesdrop completely but the gist that I got was that God’s love and forgiveness are all encompassing and offered forever, so basically you’d have to CHOOSE to go to hell. I thought hmmm…

Now, I’m sure most people would, upon really thinking about this shit, also say to themselves, if people choose to be in Hell rather than simply being sentenced there, who the hell would go to Hell? The truth of the matter is that it is sort of a combination of being sent to Hell and choosing to be there, in my humble and non-divine opinion.

First, a person chooses to not accept Jesus as their savior, and this choice basically put you on the elevator car going down. By not choosing God’s way, you put your soul into Satan’s hands. I know, that seems a bit harsh—eternal punishment because maybe you didn’t hear about Jesus or no one really told you about him in a way that was truly meaningful. Also, the whole eternal damnation thing itself seems a bit out of line with pretty much any offenses one could possibly commit in a single lifetime on this planet, even if your name was Adolf Hitler or something. Eternity is a damn long time.

And here we need some clarification. Hell isn’t eternal in and of itself. It actually gets thrown away into something the Book of Revelation refers to as the Lake of Fire (Revelation chapter 20, especially verse 10 and verses 14 & 15).

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. … Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Yesterday’s post provided a link to my post titled End of the Line? and you can look there to see my more complete argument on that front. But the short version is that I suspect that anyone in Hell (at the very least those who weren’t around there when Jesus descended into Hell for a few days and they heard preaching from his own mouth) still has a chance to repent before they stand before Jesus on Judgment Day.

I’ve seen arguments that Hell is where you suffer with images of your impending doom and the Lake of Fire is where every lost soul is utterly destroyed. But I don’t get the impression that the soul is something that can be utterly destroyed. Also, isn’t that pretty mean of a loving God to torture you with images of your destruction, then destroy you, having given you no hope of redemption? That kind of two-step punishment is cruelty entirely out of step with a God who would let His son be a sacrifice for our sakes instead of lifting Jesus off that cross that he never deserved to be on. If God wanted to destroy you, wouldn’t he just get straight to the ultimate penalty? So, I so see Hell as being a place where you are separated from God’s grace but only as a means to give you that final “Don’t you get it yet?” before you go to the place where you will never get out of, namely the Lake of Fire, in the hopes maybe you’ll have a saving epiphany.

Still, you might argue: Who would choose to stay in Hell and be discarded for eternity and an endless separation from God? True, I should think a short stay in Hell would be more than enough to make it clear that it’s not someplace you want to be (unless Satan is making it look good to fool people into thinking his way is still a good choice, which certainly is a possibility). But even if it’s a really horrific place to be, does that really mean that before you go before Jesus to be judged, you’re automatically going to accept him as your savior because you endured suffering and are facing the prospect of more of the same?

No.

Because it’s about accepting Jesus. It’s not about being afraid of punishment and saying “Please save me.” It’s about saying, “I’ve sinned against God and I am sorry and I want to be a child of God…please lift me up and guide me on that path.” If one doesn’t accept that they have wronged God and rejected God—and they don’t seek to be reunited with Him through Jesus—there will be no forgiveness. And that isn’t because God is cruel but because you won’t do your part. The parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15, verses 11-32, is something worth mentioning here as an example of that, because the younger brother comes back not to demand anything or to justify his actions, but in humility. Yes, he doesn’t return until he hits rock-bottom, but that’s the way some people have to roll, just like many alcoholics don’t seek help until they truly crash and burn. The point is, the prodigal son doesn’t come back with excuses and doesn’t assume he’ll be welcomed back as a son (figuring he’ll only be worthy to act as a servant), and that is exactly why the father does take him back.

God can reach out to you, but He expects you to reach out too. And I think that is fair. I also believe that a lot of souls in Hell are not going to be willing to accept accountability. They will act out of fear and self-preservation and justifying their actions and making excuses (see, for example, the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7, verses 21-23):

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.

And the decision to defend their wrong decisions instead of atoning for them is a choice that will keep them in damnation. Too many people think their deeds will get them into Heaven instead of realizing that it’s their faith that will do that. And plenty of people in Hell will believe that they can still talk their way into Heaven by explaining why their works were good and why those works should be enough.

And the fact is, even if my musings in the Party that Never Ends? post that I linked to in my post yesterday are accurate, and Satan has put a nice facade on Hell to convince you to stay and party, I don’t think it’s like God is going to just let a lie like that go without a challenge. I think souls will be told, “Satan is lying to you and there is something better for you if you just admit that you’ve done wrong and listen to Jesus and accept his sacrifice for you.” But I also think that even if that is so, there are people who will cast their lot with Satan because they will gamble that things aren’t as bad as God says they will be and that maybe Satan really has a chance of winning. Because they want the petty things they have always clung to and won’t reach out to be lifted to something better.

There is also an interesting concept put forward in The Sandman: Master of Dreams mature comic series that ran from 1989 to 1996, and that is that everyone in Hell is there by their own choice and not by God’s design. The gist is that many people expect punishment and end up in Hell because that is what they secretly desire. Either because of their belief in a punishing God or their own internal sense of worthlessness, they simply cannot have a satisfying afterlife if they don’t suffer torment for their perceived sinfulness. I don’t think this is the way of things generally speaking, but it is an interesting concept and it might be that some people go to Hell for that reason as well.

Despite all I’ve said over the past couple days, it’s probably still going to appear cruel. After all, why should people who didn’t hear about Jesus have to go to Hell for that, for any period of time, instead of being judged on their personal merits?

I don’t know. That is, I don’t know why…and I don’t even know if that’s how it really happens. I just don’t know. My father-in-law, who is a reverend, has a theory that some people are born again and just don’t know it. In fact, he believes there are people who are born again and aren’t even Christian or even Jewish for that matter. And that may be the case. Perhaps there are people who have other faiths but know deep inside there is something wrong with them (sin and separation from God) but they don’t know exactly what. They simply realize deep down that they aren’t getting the answers from their own faith, and maybe people like this are considered to have accepted Jesus because they seek him without knowing who he is exactly or how and where to find him.

There’s also the possibility that Hell might not be a homogeneous place. Maybe those with seeking hearts but who haven’t received the gospel end up somewhere more contemplative than punishing, even though they might remain separated from God until the final judgment. Pure conjecture on that though, even more so than most of what I’ve presented so far. 

In the end, my point isn’t to try to convince you of a certain vision of Hell, only to show how it is possible that people might choose Hell, explicitly or implicitly.

And whether I’m right that it’s really our choice or whether I’m wrong and God is capricious (which just seems so unlikely to me), all I know is that it’s a hell of a choice.

And I pray that none of you reading this make that kind of decision.

…finally, if I may overuse the “hell” puns a bit more…it’s taken me a hell of a long time to get to the end of this topic. Apologies for any dry, achy eyes out there.

18
Jun
08

Oh. Hell?

Hell is pretty much the 400-pound gorilla in the middle of the room known as Christianity. It’s impossible to ignore and sometimes even more difficult to explain. On the one hand, we have a supposedly loving God the Father and a forgiving son of God—and yet, there is this place of eternal torment that both are willing to send folks if they don’t accept Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s dominion.

Yeah, I know, it seems pretty weird doesn’t it, when I put it like that? But I do believe that Hell exists and I do believe that there are people who end up there. Now, this post, for those of you who aren’t regular readers or didn’t read comments a couple days ago on one of my other posts, is something inspired by one of my readers, WNG. I had been intending to do a detailed and specific post about the nature and necessity of Hell anyway, but her comment got me off my ass finally, and here’s what she had said in my post Opinions are Like Assholes just for context:

I wanted to ask you a question – sorry it’s comepletely unrelated to this post…I overheard a discussion this weekend about whether or not hell is actually empty. The two gentlemen discussing the matter weren’t close enough for me to eavesdrop completely but the gist that I got was that God’s love and forgiveness are all encompassing and offered forever, so bascially you’d have to CHOOSE to go to hell. I thought hmmm… they were quoting scripture at each other rapid fire and I didn’t have a pen so I’m coming to you with???? What do you think? And where should I be looking in the Bible for answers? I think this is a really interesting question (especially since I’m been having some trouble forgiving lately). If you’re not interested no harm, no foul and sorry for taking over your blog!

Now, WNG hits on some of the major sticking points about Hell, which is why I wanted to repost her comment above. It might also be useful if you read the following posts by me about Hell (the last two of the three are really a two-part discussion and are even more speculative than the first of the three): End of the Line?, The Party that Never Ends?, and It’s a Trap! I really recommend that you at least read End of the Line because it impacts directly on some of what I will discuss about the permanence of Hell (or lack thereof).

Something that is pretty clear from all three posts above, though, is that there aren’t a lot of clear answers about precisely what Hell is or how it all works. But there are reasonable assumptions one can make based on human nature and God’s nature.

First, let’s get God’s love out of the way. God does love us. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have rules, though. And consequences for that matter. If you look back at the Garden of Eden (which I talked about here and a little bit here, too), what God wanted was children (us humans) who would choose to love him. The goal was to create a spiritual family, something God didn’t have in the angels, who were created to serve. Now, that free will to choose God or not, to love Him or not—well, it’s pretty meaningless if there is only one choice. If God is the only choice and obedience is the only option, free will is entirely a sham.

So, God had to provide a way to rebel; a way to reject him. When Lucifer rebelled and was ultimately cast down to Earth as Satan, that provided a being who could be a counterpoint to God. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil provided the initial means to disobey (other rules would follow as both means to show our obedience and as reminders to us of how the vast majority of us cannot motivate ourselves to obey anything God tells us to do). Sadly, Adam and Eve made the choice for all of us by being the first to disobey and to choose Satan’s way over God’s. Instead of being an ongoing option for humanity, Adam and Even polluted the whole situation from the get-go and made all of us, essentially, Satan’s pawns instead of God’s children.

This is why in the Old Testament the Hebrews refer to God as Lord and why in the New Testament, the shift is to call Him Father, with Jesus as our Lord and our heavenly sibling.

God loved us enough to put a plan in place whereby we could be washed clean of our sins, and that was the placing of people and events that would ultimately lead to the birth of Jesus and then his sacrificial death for us as a symbolic lamb in the same vein as the actual lambs that Jews had sacrificed to God before (Satan thought he had God beat in the Garden of Eden, but God wasn’t about to let us go without fighting for us). Essentially, we gain entrance to Heaven not by our deeds, because too often, our deeds are in conflict with God’s law, but rather through the good credit that Jesus possesses. The juxtaposition of prison/damnation/punishment with good credit/bad credit is odd, I know. It a mixed metaphor, really. But the fact is that Jesus co-signs for our eternal reward. His credit is that good. But God the Father isn’t going to let you cash in on His son’s credit unless you actually acknowledge that (a) there is a God in Heaven who is in charge and (b) you accept his son as Lord and Savior with a recognition of Jesus’ divine nature and an appreciation for the horrible sacrifices Jesus made for us out of love for us (suffering persecution; enduring crucifixion; taking on the spiritual pain of all sins committed in the past, present and future; being cut off from contact with God for a time; and going to Hell for three days to preach to the lost souls there even though Jesus had done nothing worthy of setting a single foot in Hell).

Whoa, I see this post is already getting long, and I’m beginning to think I’ll have to finish this tomorrow, as there is so much set-up before I can even get to the issue of how people choose Hell. So let me finish up a bit on love I guess, and then we’ll get to the rest of it tomorrow.

God is indeed love. It brings Him no pleasure whatsoever to see anyone go to Hell. But He isn’t going to give people a pass just because. Giving us free will means that there must be consequences as well. The fact is, I don’t think God keeps anyone in Hell. The damned have kept themselves there—or in many cases will keep themselves there when the chance comes to leave Hell. Because God is just, I believe that no one is going to stay in Hell without having been fully informed of what the deal is and how they can get out.

I know many preachers will say that there is no excuse for not hearing about and learning about Jesus in this day and age but I think that’s a cop-out for people who don’t want to really evangelize and want to feel better about not doing their part. If a person is raised a certain way, they typically aren’t going to be in a position to think of Jesus as anything other than a fanciful notion or a direct competition to the faith in which they were raised and continue to be devout. For God to hold that against a person and not give them a chance to truly know about Jesus and accept him seems indeed to be cruel and petty, and that’s not the kind of God I can envision if God really loves us.

Also, I know there are those in the predestination camp who argue that God has already picked out everyone who is going to Heaven and everyone who is going to Hell and I think that is bullshit because it flies in the face of us actually having free will to choose God’s way or not.

Love is at the center of what God does. But just like with any good parent, we as children often don’t recognize the love that lies behind the rules, the correction and even the punishment. And our failure to accept the love and to continue to cling to our own conceptions and our own desires is what ultimately dooms many of us to Hell.

More on that tomorrow in my post Hell? Yes!.

10
Apr
08

It’s a trap!

OK, time to put yesterday’s post, The Party That Never Ends?, into some perspective. In writing that possible scenario of what Hell might be like, I was inspired by the classic “Be Careful What You Wish For” philosophy. Or, perhaps, the “If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is” adage. Also, inspired by any number of TV episodes, short stories and the like where the protagonist desperately wants something to be one way but finds the reality isn’t so great after all. Let’s take a few plots from the original “Twilight Zone” TV series as examples:

  • Aliens visit Earth and offer to begin taking people to their planet. Everyone is happy about this, all the more so because the aliens are carrying around a book titled “To Serve Man.” Great, they want to help us! The first batch of humans goes on their merry way and one of them, after a friendly alien urges him to eat more during the voyage, realizes that the book “To Serve Man” isn’t a philosophical treatise or mission statement. Instead, it’s a cookbook on how best to prepare humans to eat them.
  • A very farsighted, introverted guy wishes people would just disappear so that he could be alone to enjoy his books. He finds one day that everyone is indeed gone and goes to the library, whereupon he stumbles on a step, his eyeglasses shatter, and he realizes he won’t be able to read a single word of any books now.
  • A man makes a deal with Satan for eternal life and indestructibility, thinking, “Hey, if I can’t die, he can’t claim my soul…ever.” Satan makes his life so miserable, making the indestructibility such a strain and a curse on the man, that he simply gives up and asks Satan to kill him, thus forfeiting his soul.

See a trend?

What looks really good on the surface may not be so good over the long run, or even the short run sometimes. Now, yesterday’s post may seem to put Hell is a potentially positive light. Big Man of Raving Black Lunatic suggested as much in the comments, saying that it makes Satan look like a nice guy. Big Man is right to a large degree (and thanks for pointing out the fact I didn’t make the bad implications clear enough), because I was making a subtle point and trying not to write an even longer post than I already had, and my overriding point may have gotten missed. So, let me clarify, because you definitely don’t want to go to Hell.

Let’s assume my musings yesterday are on the money and Satan has made Hell into party central for many (maybe even most) folks. If so, he ain’t doing it for your benefit. His sole mission is to oppose God, and taking souls away from God is only the first step. Satan hates humans because God set them up to be His children and to be set above the angels, including the demon formerly known as the covering cherub Lucifer. Because God loves us and wants us to choose Him, it hurts Him when we don’t. I imagine it hurts Him a lot more to know what Satan has in store for us when we choose to reject Heaven. If there’s a party in Hell right now, it’s going to end at some point, and rudely.

Satan is a liar of the worst kind. And if what he’s offering looks good, it’s only to mask something much worse down the the line.

And even if there’s a party and Satan doesn’t stop it and suddenly reveal all the demonic torturers he’s had hiding in the shadows, believe you me that he will find a way to make sure you get so sick of that endless party that you will wish you never had to party again. I mean, you might like to sit at your XBox 360 till all hours of the night, and if someone told you you could do nothing but play it and they’d make sure all your other shit got taken care of and send food into you, that might sound great. Up until the point you’ve played all your games several times, get up to head out, and realize the door is locked and it’s going to stay that way forever.

Satan wants you in Hell, and he wants to keep you there. As I theorized in an earlier post, End of the Line?, Hell might not be the end of every damned person’s story. I won’t go into the details of why I think that there’s still a chance even then…so just read the old post…but there is a point of no return eventually, and it’s called the Lake of Fire. So think about it. If Satan wants to keep you from getting to Heaven, and if there is still a chance even in Hell to redeem yourself by the time Judgment Day rolls around, what’s the best way to keep you from choosing Jesus even in Hell?

Give you what you think you want. Wouldn’t that be the nastiest trick ever?

As Big Man points out, the Bible does refer to Hell as place of torment and punishment at times, and the guy in Hell wishing for a drink of water from the guy over in Heaven is one example. But I still think a lot of talk about Hell in the Bible is symbolic because it is so vague on particulars. I believe it is meant to convey that Hell is a bad place to go, but doesn’t necessarily tell you all the reasons why. But maybe it was fire and brimstone and pitchforks back in Jesus’ time…after all let’s remember that prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, there were a lot of people in Hell because there hadn’t been a savior and most people didn’t meet God’s criteria for salvation. All that time Jesus was dead and before he rose back up, he wasn’t resting, folks. Most likely, he was in Hell spreading the Word of God and letting the damned know that it was time to choose a side on their own: Him and salvation, or Satan. Jesus didn’t die and go to Heaven. He didn’t finally get to Heaven until he rose from the dead and tied up some loose ends on Earth.

As my End of the Line? post suggests, I suspect many would still have rejected God’s way out of spite, even with Jesus there teaching them there was a better way and a better place to go if they would accept him as lord and savior.

It’s entirely possible Satan has changed up Hell a bit since then. In the Old Testament times and during Jesus’ lifetime, Satan wouldn’t have any reason to make Hell look good. As far as he could tell, he had it made. He wasn’t expecting Jesus. He didn’t realize what God had up His sleeve.

Now that Satan does know, it seems entirely possible (though certainly not definite) that he might make Hell seem a lot more attractive now. At least for as long as it takes to get the souls in his grasp so twisted up that they never look toward God at all, or to keep them distracted until everything foul gets tossed into the Lake of Fire and thus the ultimate damnation…the truly eternal separation from God.

That party doesn’t look so fun now, does it?

09
Apr
08

The party that never ends?

“Why go for Jesus? All the fun people will be in Hell.”

That’s not a verbatim punchline as far as I know, but it’s the jist of a lot of stand-up jokes about the relative value of living for God in this life vs. living for oneself. And it’s funny, I’ll grant you. Any decent comedian can get at least a chuckle from me with a joke like that. Really, I do have a frickin’ sense of humor, folks, despite being a born-again Christian. Lewis Black, George Carlin and everyone in the Original Kings of Comedy tour rank really big in my comedy pantheon.

And you know what, I might even agree with the joke. A lot of the “fun” people probably are in Hell, and they might very well be having the time of their afterlives right now.

It’s a popular notion that Hell is all about torment and gruesome punishments but let’s face it, the Bible makes analogies about Hell; it uses imagery. Nowhere does anyone, to the best of my knowledge, really give a detailed description of what Hell is and what goes on there. Dante had some fun playing around with the concept in The Divine Comedy, and the Sandman series of mature comics (a literary classic in its own right) also had some interesting opinions on what Hell is and why people really end up there, particularly in the “Season of Mists” story arc.

I don’t necessarily believe Hell is about tormenting folks directly. I think Hell is about making the wrong choice for eternity and putting your heart and soul into bodily pleasures rather than earnestly desiring something better. I think it’s entirely possible Satan has made Hell a very fun place for a lot of lost souls. Party central. I imagine he didn’t make many (if any) rules for people to follow. Which probably also means people probably abuse each other in the name of pleasure, too, but that’s a whole other story. You can probably get as much food, drink, drugs and sex as you could possibly want. And you’re already dead, so nothing to worry about, right? Pleasure without judgment or consequences. Every man and woman can reach for all the pleasures they couldn’t get in life and more. Fun stuff.

Until you finally exhaust the limits of carnal pleasures and realize how empty the choice really was. When you finally notice that you had a soul with so much spiritual potential and decided to ignore that. That’s the point at which you come to the knowledge that you utterly spurned Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and went for the base and limited pleasures. How much pleasure is endless partying going to be after a few dozen millenia? I doubt that Satan is setting out any meaningful pursuits. I’ll bet he’s setting out a very attractive buffet of nothing but carnal pleasures.

But you know what? God ain’t giving us harp lessons in Heaven, people. I don’t know what he’s giving us, but I know it’s going to be fantastic, and it is only a soul that seeks him and that admits its failings and sins and desires for something so much better that will be admitted to Heaven and equipped to do those fantastic things. In the comment section of one my recent posts, I mused a bit on what the afterlife might hold. Just to give you a sense of the huge things that could possibly be in store, I’ll share it again with you here (it’s a bit longish…if you want to skip the preamble and set-up, you can skip to the last paragraph of my ramblings):

Let’s imagine that you are a being who has created a universe. You have created servants to be part of your comings and goings through the cosmos (those would be the angels) but what you want is to populate the universe with beings who are not simply spiritual creatures who SERVE you but beings in your own image (spiritually) who can LOVE you. Freely. And thus bring you from being a singular being to the head of a family.

So, you decide to start small because, after all, you’re dealing in eternity here, and if you do anything fast, you’re going to have a lot of time to kill. You create beings (or modify beings) on one insignificant rock in the universe and give them that spiritual spark that mirrors your own spiritual blaze. You give them free will so that they can choose to be part of your family or reject you and be part of Satan’s. Your first two beings out of the starting gate, not completely unexpectedly, take the seemingly more attractive path of disobedience, and mar their spiritual natures in such a way that they essentially become dead to you.

But you still have love for them, and so you work within the tainted and fouled pool they have created to bring forth, thousand, tens of thousands or millions of years later, a being who embodies your spiritual nature but is, unlike you, in physical form and can bridge the gap between you and your lost children, thus creating a way for the family to begin forming up again.

Of course, this is still a huge work in progress, because the system you have set up is about faith and spiritual existence and sinless behavior. It’s your rules, still, and people are a long ways from internalizing those rules and, more important still, doing it because they WANT to and want to love you and not because you force them to. So humanity, even after the arrival of Jesus, continues to be a haphazard mix of the faithful and faithless and fence-sitters. But you know that as things progress, you will get a certain critical mass of those who choose your path.

Now, why choose one planet? Why choose a certain group (the Hebrews) to start fixing the mess humans made? Why choose one savior? Because again, you’re dealing in eternity, and there’s no rush. In fact, to do things in a rushed fashion is simply to create the end YOU want without getting any satisfaction (or us getting any growth) from the process.

So, let’s fast-forward to the end times, whenever they come. The situation on earth reaches the tipping point you’ve been working toward, when you finally bring everyone who’s willing into the family fold and finally settle the nonsense with Satan and the people who even after spending time disconnected from you after death and aware that they are spiritually dead, still don’t want to be connected to you. Now you have a new heaven and a new earth…you have sons and daughters who have shucked off their mortal coils and want to be with you as family and not created servants like the angels are. There is still a universe out there. Untold numbers of planets and a spiritual family that finally gets what you’re about (or mostly does). If you started things rolling on earth but planted the seeds for life in millions of other worlds as well, now you have young races coming up to whom you and your children can go, and build up THEIR spiritual natures in a similar manner. Perhaps, with your family having your spark but not your omni-everything power, your new sons and daughters maybe even create worlds of their own or small universes or whatever else. In other words, there is plenty of work and plenty to do, even with eternity staring you and your children in the spiritual face.

So, there may not be any fires to sear your eternal flesh or pitchforks to prod you in the ass if you go to Hell. But what’s going to happen when it all ends and Hell is cast into the Lake of Fire and you’ve still decided that you don’t want to give up on that big party Satan’s been throwing? Now you’ve earned yourself eternal separation from God and everyone else in Heaven. I suspect that once the baser pleasures have been exhausted, eternity is going to start looking pretty awful.

That’s just a theory. But it’s often conjectured that we create and choose our own Hell. And a lot of people are going to assume Heaven is all about bowing and scraping before God’s throne instead of realizing that God is a pretty big thinker. He has grander plans for us. Things we cannot imagine. But we have to want what He’s offering and reject what seems like so much more fun: sex, drugs and rock-and-roll for eternity.

05
Mar
08

Over the limit

cross01.jpgSo, what’s that magic number of sins that send you to Hell until judgment day? What number of sins, or what kinds, can rob you of your salvation once you accept Jesus as lord and savior?

This is a really divisive issue at times inside and outside the church (the worldwide body of Christ and actual brick-and-mortar worship places).

First, people outside the church structure, and people in very liberal churches, just don’t like the idea of sin and Hell. It’s just too icky. It makes God look mean. Of course, removing sin and Hell from the equation also renders Jesus’ atoning death on the cross entirely meaningless.

Simple fact (biblically speaking) is that it only takes one sin to put you on the road to Hell. We are born with the devil in us, so to speak. Working only toward our own interests is easy and often very satisfying. Serving others and obeying God doesn’t bring that instant gratification. Let’s face it, sin is crack cocaine for the soul.

Now, when you consider the multitude of sinful things, from little white lies where you have your spouse call in sick for you so you can play hooky from work to murdering your neighbors in a cold-blooded orgy of murderous glee, the average human can easily commit thousands of sins in a lifetime. That’s thousands of sins committed by a really, really nice person, by the way. If you’re average…or better yet, a complete asshole…you can bring that up into the tens of thousands and more quite easily.

This is why it was such a big deal that Jesus took on himself every sin ever committed and every sin that would ever be committed in the future. He bore an amazing amount of really bad juju, folks. And in so doing, he had to allow himself to be separated spiritually from God for a time. A guy who had been in touch with his heavenly father every day of his life, cut off until he rose again from the dead. The physical suffering he endured during crucifixion was unbelievable already, and if you ever read about what crucified people went through before death, you would have to be insensitive to the point of serial killer psychosis not to shed at least some internal tears for Jesus and anyone else who suffered that form of execution. And then you add the spiritual factor, and you get some sense of why God wants people to acknowledge His son’s sacrifice and truly accept Jesus in order to benefit from his atoning death on our behalf.

So, that alone is a reason why everyone should seriously look into Jesus, and learn about why he makes sense not just spiritually (how many other religions try to restore a connection between God and humans and provide a savior for us) but historically as well (I highly recommend The Case for Christ, written by a former atheist, Lee Strobel, as a starting point on the logical reasons for believing in Jesus as the son of God). You may decide it still doesn’t make sense, but you have to give serious consideration to Jesus for your own sake. If you reject him after a real and sincere search for truth, I’ll respect your decision, even as I fear for your soul.

Now, how about losing your salvation? There are things in the Bible about how the branches can still be cut away from the olive tree and how certain sinners cannot inherit the kingdom of God and so on. So, a lot of Christians argue that being born again through faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily get you off the hook. You have to reject sin and live like Christ.

Bullshit.

If God made nothing else clear through all those commandments and convenants over the centuries, it was that humans are inherently disobedient, ever since screwing up in the Garden of Eden (thanks so very fucking much, Adam). To make Jesus’ protection over our souls contingent upon our behavior after accepting him is ridiculous. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us is a spiritual thing, and it can moderate and guide us in our earthly activities, but we still live in human bodies that really like sin, be it physical or otherwise. Temptation occurs, and the world presses in on us, and sinning in a multitude of ways is still easy and, frankly, unavoidable. You improve, but you don’t become perfect.

The problem with saying there are certain sins, or a certain number of them, that can cost you your salvation make no sense. Now, saying that failure to accept Jesus and be accountable for your mistakes before everything is tossed into the Lake of Fire is pretty clear-cut. On the other hand, saying you are saved unless you commit too many new sins is hazy as can be. How could you ever know when you crossed the line? How could you know when you are over the limit? That places Christians into more bondage, more confusion, more doubt and more fear than before they accepted Jesus. Being born again is supposed to free us from bondage and fear and the love of sin so that we can do God’s work.

That doesn’t mean that someone who claims to be born again and commits all sorts of nastiness is necessarily born again. But that’s for that person to come to grips with. Someone who kills for the mob for a living, for example, and continues to do so after claiming to have accepted Jesus is someone whose spiritual sincerity I doubt. But that’s between that person and God and Jesus. He or she really needs to look inside and reevaluate but, for all I know, maybe that person is truly born again. It’s not my place to judge, even though an awful lot of people seem to like to set themselves up as God’s earthly judges.

The idea that you might not inherit the kingdom of God for certain sinful behavior, even after being born again refers not to losing your salvation but to the fact that depending on how well you do avoiding sin and sharing the Gospel, you will have varying rewards in Heaven. The idea of differing rewards for the really, really faithful is established in the Bible. But when you get down to it, I’d rather live in the “slums” of Heaven (if one can even say there is such a thing) than have 10 earthly homes to rival what Bill Gates, Donald Trump and any major sheik can boast.

(Image by Joshua Miller, from ebibleteacher.com)

25
Feb
08

Hypocrisy hell, part 1

lady-justice.jpgOK, just for fun: When you find someone who says something like “I just can’t believe in any God that would sentence anyone to damnation for eternity. That’s not a loving being”…wait a few days, and then ask this:

“So, what do you think about the fact that any sins can be forgiven by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

You’ll be surprised how often the same person who was aghast at eternal damnation will say some variation of this:

“I couldn’t believe in a God who could let some baby-raping, murdering freak into Heaven just because he ‘accepts’ Jesus and seeks forgiveness. That isn’t fair to the victims.”

Amazing in the human mind how forgiveness, spiritual justice and the like are acceptable only when applied to those with whom we feel sympathetic or who are more or less like us.

This is why I’m glad God and Jesus are in charge of the judging of our souls, and not mortal folks.

23
Feb
08

End of the line?

I should probably attack things in a more linear fashion, but I have to assume that if God is behind me on this blog thing, I should follow my gut feelings rather than my brain. So, while I plan soon to talk about why Hell (and Satan) are even necessaryand why everyone should stone-dragon.jpgat least give serious consideration to Jesus even if they ultimately reject himI’m going to start with a thorny topic that is weighing on me right now: Is Hell really the end of the life in the afterlife? Let’s be clear here: This post is “learned speculation.” Some logical guesses based on Scripture that, frankly, may not be true. I’m writing this in prayer, but I’m only human, and some of the assumptions of this post could be wrong.

But working on my current theories, it seems highly unlikely that Hell is the endpoint for all those who don’t have Christ backing up their lousy record with His exceptional credit.

First, let’s consider the fact that the Bible says that Hell and death and the fallen angels will ultimately be cast into something called the Lake of Fire. Why bother dumping lost souls into Hell if you’re going to throw them somewhere else later? The universe is pretty efficient, so I cannot imagine God giving souls a pit-stop for no good reason. More on that in a moment.

Also, if you read the Book of Revelation, you’ll see a picture of the future that has a pretty grim 7-year run. Let’s consider the fact that during these “end times” (that big bad period when the antichrist shows up, hell on earth breaks lose, and all that), people will see some pretty amazing metaphysical shit going down, and the Bible is clear that as things get worse and worse, large groups of people turn to God and redeem their souls. So, if folks who rejected Jesus can still turn to Him once the final battle is raging and they see God’s forces at work and they suffer all sorts of wrath (in other words, the clearest-ever proof that God exists), why would people who for whatever reason didn’t (or couldn’t) accept Christ in life not be granted similar benefits? I mean, that would seem to be way fucked-up unfair, don’t you think? Just like the people left on earth, they turned away, they have suffered, and now they see some pretty strong evidence that they were wrong about the way of things.

Here’s what I thinkand again, it’s not biblical canon but my educated opinion, so don’t base your life (and afterlife) on this. I’d rather you found Jesus before you croak. Anyway, what I think is that those in Hell do still have a chance to accept Jesus as Lord and savior before that hunk of damned real estate goes into the Lake of Fire.

Now, that may seem like I’m giving a “get out of jail free card” to folks in Hell. Far from it. For one thing, people are people in this life or in Hell. If they turned a deaf ear and blind eye on every chance to learn about Jesus, why would they feel all that warm and fuzzy toward God and His son in the end? Many might be repentant and feel remorse for ignoring Jesus’ sacrifices and God’s love, but many I suspect will simply blame God. They will insist His universe was pooch-screwed from the get-go and He’s an asshole, and they’ll say “Take your fucking heaven and every last one its damn harps and get out of my sight.” Also, there will be a fair contingent of folks who will try to appeal to Jesus out of fear, but not out of remorse. No one is going to get out of Hell for hating the place or fearing eternity there, but rather for realizing that the reason they are there is because they rejected Heaven themselves. Redemption does not come to those who cannot accept responsibility. Accountability is the first step to accepting and receiving salvation.

Hell is a place of separation from God’s touch. It’s a harsh place but a place for reflection and, I believe, final redemption. But if I were you, I wouldn’t take my word for it. And I wouldn’t wait too long to explore whether Jesus makes sense.

Eternity is a hell of a long time to end up regretting your decisions.

(Image from freeimages.com)




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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