Posts Tagged ‘punishment

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?

04
Feb
09

Pastors Ain’t Special by Mrs. Blue

slacksAs has been the case, about as often as not, it is one of my periodic (and increasingly rare) phone calls with Mrs. Eager that has inspired me to come over here to the dear hubby’s blog and go on a rant about something.

In talking with her, she told me Mr. Eager has been having some trouble with ringing in his ears (tinnitus for you technical minded types), and he was starting to wonder if it was God’s judgment on him for having words with the pastor of a church they were going to until recently. Give me a break! But before I get to that rant, in all seriousness, if you’re Christian, pray for Mr. Eager. He’s a musician, and a good one (guitar and bass mostly) and I think he could do great with a modern music ministry. But hearing problems could be a big muck-up for plans like that.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I think it’s ridiculous that he’s worried God has judged him with illness or injury for questioning  the head of a congregation. Granted, this is the second church he’s done this at, but let me recap:

The first time, it was at the same church that hubby and I fled from as it got increasingly freaky and fixated on speaking in tongues and espousing questionable doctrine and things like that. Mr. Eager and Mrs. Eager were essentially kicked out (of the church band and the church) when he questioned that pastor on doctrinal stuff. This is the very same kind of stuff that made us leave, so fact is that he was on the money. The stuff that was (and is now) being preached there is half made up by the pastor now.

The second time well, I’m not sure the details on that discussion/confrontation, but dear hubby and I had taste-tested that church too and found it a bit wanting. I think the new pastor there has a bit of an ego (though he was an improvement over the fire-and-brimstone, vegetarians-are-all-pagans guy who came before him) and he seems more focused on his own vision of stuff than on leading the congregation he has in the way that they need to be led. Just my humble opinion of course.

But the point is that pastors aren’t special. They crap out the same kind of hole the rest of us do. Assuming they have both their legs, they put ’em into separate legs of the jeans or slacks just like you or I do. They get angry, they can be selfish and shallow, they can get hopeless, they can get confused.

In short, they are human.

Pastors are not, as some poor souls seem to think, some special spiritual emissaries that God has set down in a church. I like to hope that most pastors are put in place with a little nudge by God, but realistically, I know it is church boards who do this, and they’re human too. They hire humans. Humans who can get led astray or get full of themselves or just make mistakes.

Pastors are great for providing leadership, just as an executive director leads a non-profit. But they still have to answer to a board of directors, just like an executive director does, and they sometimes have to answer to the membership (congregation) as well. They aren’t perfect. And when they are wrong, either because of bullheaded choice or by honest mistake or by a case of the raving loonies, they need to be called to task. They need to be made aware. Mind you, I say this as the daughter of a preacher, who used to head his own small church. I love my dad, but if anything shows you how a pastor can be just as imperfect as the rest of us, no matter how much biblical knowledge he has, being the child of one will do it.

I know Mr. Eager well enough to know he’s pretty softspoken for a big guy. I doubt he read the riot act to the pastor. I’m sure he was trying to be helpful and led by God to say something. In short, even if he was mistaken about the pastor, he was right to speak up.

What wasn’t right was for the pastor and cronies to ease him out of the church for having spoken up. Dealing with dissent by kicking people out is a piss-poor and un-Christian way to handle things.

No, the tinnitus is most likely from a life of playing loud music. And I hope Mr. Eager gets past that physical problem. He really wants to do a music ministry and I hope he can. The only punishment he is receiving is what he is heaping on himself for no good reason, and what yet another pastor did to for trying to do the right thing.

18
Jul
08

The Hand That Flew

Well, I’m in a confessional mode this week; twice in two days. This time, though, my wife isn’t the person I’m feeling I might have let down. It’s my little girl.

I’m bigger on discipline (raising my voice, taking toys away, etc.) than is my wife, but I’ve never been keen on using physical force. I’ve never ruled it out (see Miz Pink’s post “Beat Down” because I agree with her 95% on that post) but I don’t like it, and there are other people in the blogosphere who have spoken eloquently on the pitfalls and uses of corporal punishment (Blackgirlinmaine recently in her Spare the Rod… post, a more light-hearted one at this blog, and a more academic take here.)

Last night, I smacked my little girl across the thigh. Didn’t leave a mark, but it still left her crying for a long while.

Now, I know that many readers will roll their eyes and say “Big frickin’ whoop!” You didn’t smack her multiple times, you didn’t hit her across the face, you didn’t use a hanger or something, so what are you whining about? And I know objectively that I didn’t do it out of anger so much as surprise, because my hand flew a split second after my little girl unexpectedly chomped down on my left nipple.

But the fact is, my hand flew.

And it didn’t need to.

I should be able to take the pain of a bite from a three-year-old. I should be able to control my hand. I don’t hit my wife. Never have, never will (unless she gets homicidally psycho on my ass, which is highly unlikely). I don’t get into fights now and I never have in the past.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not some hippie milquetoast here. Call my wife, daughter or son a certain epithet that rhymes with “chigger” and I’ll put your face into the pavement. Sexually assault my daughter, at any age, and there will be a body buried in the woods shortly thereafter. Try to attack me physically, and I will work on the assumption that you mean to kill me and respond with appropriate force. I have a very forgiving temperament and a very, very slow and long fuse. But push me too far and you could really regret it.

But what exactly did smacking my daughter accomplish that couldn’t have been accomplished just as well by yelling or throwing out one of her DVDs? What galls me is that my mom only had to spank me twice during my whole childhood. I don’t like the thought that my hand might fly faster than my reason or common sense can stop it.

I don’t fear that I’ll become an abusive parent; that would just be silly logic. That’s not the kind of person I am.

But I don’t like that a girl who doesn’t have a chance against me bit me, and probably had no clue how much that would hurt me, and I hit her. Doesn’t matter where and it doesn’t matter how minor the hit; I hit her and I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry, honeybunch, I really am. And I apologize to Mrs. Blue as well, even though she’s already long over it (and so is the little girl).

Now I just have to get around to forgiving myself.

Bonus Feature

I started work on the second chapter of my blog novel Cleansed by Fire, and I had only intended to get a start on it and then finish it by next week for my usual weekly posting, but I couldn’t stop writing, and now I have a finished part 6 already ready to post. In fact, I did post it, right before this post. I know the last installment was just a couple days ago, but I couldn’t help myself. So, if you’re following my first foray into novel-length fiction or would like to start, scroll down my main page or, if you came to this post directly from somewhere else, click here for part six of my novel.

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!.




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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