Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Favorite DVD viewings from 2007

If you've ready my profile on the right side of this page then you saw that our family doesn't have a cable TV subscription. Haven't had one in eight years. I don't have any special agenda against television -- it's just not our thing.

We love movies, though, so we have a subscription to Netflix and try to watch several movies per month with their DVD mailing service. I looked through my rentals for 2007 and selected the following as my favorites from the year:

5) Away From Her

What it's about: A retired couple deals with the consequences of the wife's onset of Alzheimer's.

Why I loved it: I felt that the couple was truly in love, although they had some baggage from past mistakes. It reminded me that everything I do today has a ripple effect on my empty nest years with Jamie, and that life's hardest decisions don't ever have easy answers.

4) Reign Over Me

What it's about: A man who lost his wife and daughters in the 9/11 tragedy works through the grief in a very unique way, and an old friend ends up finding himself in the effort to help.

Why I loved it: It got Jamie and I talking about bereavement and the individuality of life's emotions. It reminded me that nobody should be labeled and put in a box for our convenience.

3) Stranger Than Fiction

What it's about: A man discovers that his life is simply the fulfillment of a famous author's book in progress -- as she is writing things, he lives them. Hard to explain. Underneath it all is my favorite love story from 2007.

Why I loved it: It was original in so many ways -- the editing and tone of the film were completely fresh. Every character popped. Will Ferrell was amazing in a role that didn't require goofy outfits and one-liners, and I was rooting for his character all the way through.

2) Good Night, and Good Luck

What it's about: Newsman Edward R. Murrow goes against the herd and his superiors to shine a light on the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy during a time of national fear.

Why I loved it: The filmmaking was superb and gave me more details about a time I knew little about. The similarities to today are downright terrifying.

1) Born Into Brothels

What it's about: A photographer decides to document the life of kids in Calcutta, India's red light district. She ends up attaching herself to a few of the kids and doing everything in her power to inspire them to a better life. It is a documentary, not fiction.

Why I loved it: It was a stark illustration of the identical human conditon that exists across all cultures, genders and times. These kids just want a chance at a different life, just like anybody would. But they're still just kids, so they can't really see the inevitable life that awaits in the slums, and what it would mean to escape. Photography was a brilliant way to get them outside of themselves and see the world with new eyes.

Honorable Mention

Pan's Labyrinth, Mysterious Skin, Saved!, Lord of War, Thank You for Smoking, Spartan, The Station Agent, Fresh

Friday, January 25, 2008

More on hell -- conclusion

This post will be shorter as far as the remaining common questions are concerned. I'm going to start with some more details about my background, which may be especially helpful to those of you whom have never met me in person.

You should know that by nature I am not a rebel. I am a pleaser. I do not like to rock the boat. Everything in me likes to go with the flow and avoid conflict. So for me to face up to what was happening inside me, and then begin exploring new concepts of theology and eschatology... well, that's a big deal. It was evidence to me that this was something very profound and important, and something I needed to see through to the end.

If there even is an end. If anything I'm more unsure than ever on doctrinal grounds, but my spirit is finding peace for the first time in my adult life. My intentions are pure -- I am seeking truth and seeking what will be most useful and helpful to myself, my family and everyone I impact.

The response from people has continued to be very encouraging! I now have an email link in my profile, so if you don't feel comfortable making a public comment you can still communicate with me if you want to. On to the next questions...

#3 -- If everyone is saved, what was the point of Jesus?

I see lots of possibilities here, but many of them could cause problems for 21st Century Christians. So to make it shorter and safer, I'll stick with the assumption that the death of Jesus was a literal payment for sin (a.k.a. the atonement model).

If Jesus' sacrifice made salvation possible, why would that be any less important if everyone was saved? To paraphrase a fellow blogger's illustration, imagine that a building catches fire and 100 children are inside. A firefighter dies in his rescue attempt but manages to save two children, while the other 98 die. We would still call the firefighter a hero, wouldn't we? He might have a parade in his honor, a beautiful and well-attended funeral, charitable funds in his name, etc...

Would he be any less of a hero if he had saved all 100 children? Of course not! If anything his complete success and self-sacrifice would be even more heroic. And without the firefighter's death all 100 children would have surely perished instead. So I have to admit confusion at the idea that Jesus' sacrifice is meaningless if it covers everybody. Perhaps some of you can leave comments or emails to help me understand better.

In the end, I see much mystery in the life and sacrifice of Jesus, and how that shapes our current lives and expectation of afterlife. And for now I'm comfortable with mystery.

#4 -- What bad sin are you trying to justify by taking away hell?

This is often an unspoken fear, but I believe it's common. I can assure you that in terms of my own story, I have no new sins that I am looking to justify. I'm still seriously flawed, and have plenty of skeletons in the closet, but they've been there for a long time and will probably be there when I die.

Sidenote: Jamie read this and fearfully asked, "What are your skeletons?" I confessed that my biggest is vanity, but really, if you've seen me in person you can't really blame me for that one. That was a joke. Sidenote over.

Ironically, I've never been more kind and loving in my life than I've been once I gave up the need to be kind and loving. If you've been where I am then no explanation is necessary. If you've not been where I am, no explanation will be sufficient. I'll close with a very short tale(maybe true, maybe not), again borrowed from a friend. It's about 19th Century universalist Hosea Ballou:

Ballou was riding the circuit in the New Hampshire hills with a Baptist minister one day, arguing theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, "Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I'd still go to heaven."

Hosea Ballou looked over at him and said, "If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you."

What's on Tap

Time for some lighter fare, I think. Here's some stuff I was thinking about:

-- My favorite movies watched in 2007
-- My favorite rock vocalists from the 90s
-- Household tales - man/woman differences
-- YMCA stories (oh, yes... I have more)

Don't forget you can now get my email address from my profile (Click on "View my complete profile" on the bottom of the "About me" section on the right side of this page).

See ya!


Friday, January 18, 2008

More on the doctrine of hell

First of all, thank you to all the friends and family who've emailed me and/or commented here on the blog. While it was fun and relieving to finally write about some of the things that have been on my heart for so long, it is always nerve-wracking to introduce topics that in other settings can become explosive and divisive. That hasn't happened here, and I thank you for that.

I've also received some good questions and would like to use this post to give further explanation on my journey and my views. Rather than address the inquiries one-by-one and possibly make someone feel singled out, I've decided to write about four common Christian responses to ideas such as universalism. (This post will contain only the first two common responses -- the final two will follow in a couple of days.)

I believe these are common responses because I had them myself when I first started looking into the topic. Jamie had these same responses when we talked about it more than a year ago. Almost every Christian I've talked to has had these same responses. So there must be something there, and here's how I've personally worked through them.

To beat a dead horse, these are my own thoughts. You may not go through this same process and end up where I am, and I respect that. I'm sharing my soul so that you will understand my path, not so that you will follow it. Because through understanding we grow closer, and in the end that is my goal.

2 common Christian reactions to universalism:

#1 -- I believe in hell because I believe what the bible says

I won't spend too long on this one since my post on four views of eternity hopefully made a decent case that all four of those views had some biblical support. I may not hold any of the four views, but I've tried to at least see where they're coming from.

So if I believe that hell is real because of Luke 12:5, I have to deal with verses like 1 Corinthians 15:22 that seem to show God will save all humanity. Then if I get on board with universalism, there are issues with Matthew 5:30 (hell) and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (destructionism). No matter which I choose, there's biblical support. And biblical conflict. And all views can claim that "it's what the bible says".

We all read the bible as we are, not 100% as it is. Have you ever read a part of the bible, and then read it again later and come away with something totally different? Happens to me all the time! The words didn't change -- I changed. And as I've changed, I've come to a different perception of the bible's overall story of God's relationship with creation.

There may be people reading this who can't get on board with that, and would respond with "but my view is the only real biblical view." That's fine -- I'm not going to challenge you on that. You need to work out your own understanding. Where I'm coming from, though, I see thousands of denominations all claiming to follow the bible, yet with very different interpretations. How can I tell which one is the "real" church?

I have relationships with people from many of those denominations and relationships with people from many other non-Christian religions. People who for the most part are genuinely seeking God and seeking to follow what they perceive as divine guidance. I had to search my own heart and ask, "Did I really believe that people with different doctrines would perish forever?" It was a long process of research, introspection and discovery, a process that was detailed in the previous blog post. The journey was necessary because I was literally in despair over every face I saw throughout the average day. Faces that for most of my life I thought were destined for eternal torment.

So my heart eventually released that burden and I came to the place where I don't believe the stakes include trillions of years of pain. The stakes are still very high, though... next response...

#2 -- What's the point of Christianity if people can do whatever they want and still go to heaven?

I've had two personal struggles with this one. First, I had to look at this world (and the bible) and work out what's really at stake here on earth. Take someone who's quietly lived the Christian life and found joy and peace in it. Then take whom we would consider some of the worst people on earth -- repeat criminals, for example. They've left a signature of pain and death in their wake and are now in prison waiting to be executed. I had to ask myself -- are there still some pretty serious consequences for our actions here on earth?

I came to the conclusion that yes, this universe has a way of dishing out reward and punishment pretty well. In Luke 17 Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." When I follow the two greatest commands (love God and love your neighbor) I have experienced what I would call the kingdom of heaven within me. I have also, due to either my own faults or some uncontrollable circumstances, experienced the kingdom of hell. Within me. Take a look around the world and see if you find anyone who is pretty much living in hell on earth already. In my opinion, despair like that should not be discarded as "minor" just because it only lasts for a few decades.

There's also a principle at work here of the punishment fitting the crime. Parents understand it, and we use discipline with our children to shape behavior and shape their character. But the discipline ideally fits the crime, and the purpose is remedial in nature, not punitive. In the bible, even in the Old Testament, the punishment was supposed to fit the crime (eye for eye, tooth for tooth). Does trillions of years of torment seem appropriate as punishment for anything a depraved human could accomplish in 80 years? And is there anything remedial in that, or is the purpose simply to punish forever? If imperfect human parents understand that discipline has its limits, and that its purpose is to build up, then I believe God does that and more.

My second struggle is a very personal one. I eventually discovered that my response of "why should 'bad' people get to go to heaven" was actually a case of sour grapes. I was saying that Christianity was hard sometimes, and somebody who didn't work as hard as me shouldn't get rewarded anyway. This was a tough attitude to explore and accept in myself.

The biblical stories that convicted me were:

1) Jonah -- he was angry that God would show mercy to the people of Ninevah
2) Parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20) -- men who worked all day were angry that the vineyard owner would give the same pay to those who only worked an hour
3) Prodigal son (Luke 15) -- the "righteous" son was angry that his wayward brother was thrown a party when he returned home after living the wild life

You may be thinking, "Yes, but in all three of those stories there was still something required of people to get the reward!" True. I'm not worried about them -- I was identifying with the sour grapes of Jonah, the all-day workers and the faithful son. My attitude was full of bitterness that God might have the nerve to save the bad people.

I still don't know what God's going to do with the people we would consider evil, but today I hope he shows them all mercy. My hope admittedly changes nothing of eternity but it has made all the difference in the way I treat others. When I saw how much the paradigm-shift improved my empathy and gentleness, I took ownership of it.

The next post will cover what I see as the other two common Christian responses to universalism:

#3 -- If everyone is saved, what was the point of Jesus?

#4 -- What bad sin are you trying to justify by taking away hell?

p.s. -- Remember that my conclusion to the previous post was that I probably don't qualify as a real universalist. My final answer on eternity is "I don't know."

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My hellish journey (long post)

Here's an intro and a foundation-laying before I start. Some important points:

1. This is my story. I'm not trying to proselytize or convince you I'm right. I fully expect I may not even identify with this story myself in ten years. But it's where I am now.

2. My goal is simply to share it. If you see yourself in here somewhere, let me know and we can share our stories together. If you can't see yourself in it, let me know and I can learn from your own story.

3. My last post was very clinical and dry, and purposefully so. I was trying to show that many different eschatological arguments have merit on logical and biblical terms. But those four views don't agree, so eventually we have to make our own choice and live accordingly.

4. The "living accordingly" part is to me the most exciting part of my story. My view on eternity has fundamentally changed the way I live. And when others share their views on heaven/hell, my first inquiry is how that view has shaped their life. Philosophy is fun but at the end of the day I'm a pragmatist. Show me how your philosophy has made you a better human being, however you define that.

Part 1 -- The Stakes

A couple of years ago I went through a kinda tough time emotionally. Sorta down and depressed -- we called it my "melancholy phase" at home. I'd had experience with depression before and knew a little about the weirdness of brain chemistry and such, but this was different. It didn't feel like something to medicate or squash; it felt more like a natural consequence for something off in my life. It's like the great quote in the movie Spanglish, "Dear, sometimes low self-confidence is just good common sense." I wasn't feeling good because something was off. I didn't want to fix the feeling, I wanted to fix the problem!

Over time I realized my faith was inconsistent with my life, and it was eating me up inside. I'd hidden it well for years, but now even I couldn't deny it any longer. I was a major hypocrite. And it sucked. At the root of it all was my doctrine on hell.

All the churches I'd attended believed and taught that hell was a real place of eternal torment, and that the majority of people were going to end up there. Nobody talked about it much, though, as the "fire and brimstone" days of preaching were past and churches were more grace-oriented now. Here's the thing, though -- the fire and brimstone sermons marked the phase that my denomination was actually growing! Once the preacing turned grace-focused, membership has been on a worldwide decline ever since. So at a practical level the teaching of grace wasn't really working to fulfill what I was taught as the great commission -- "go out and make disciples", or in another word, "grow". We weren't getting it done. Still aren't. Muslims and Mormons make far more disciples every year than my church does.

Forget the church-wide results for a moment, though -- my issue was a personal burden that I wasn't getting it done when it came to evangelism. I would walk into a store and see dozens of people around me, and try to imagine 90% of them, or even one of them, literally burning in a pit of fire. Yes, I know most Christians don't believe the "burning" is literal, but this was my thought experiment. Find a person, and imagine them in front of me, burning and boiling but not dying, always aware of their pain. It was terrifying. There was not a soul I'd ever met who I would wish that on for five minutes, let alone forever!

As I expanded that and thought more about all the hellbound people, billions and billions of them, it was crushing to the point of total despair. This universe was a total disaster. Me and my fellow church members would leave our comfortable homes on Sunday morning and drive past thousands of doomed souls while we looked forward to sitting in comfortable pews to hear a sermon we'd heard a hundred times before. Then we'd leave, eat lunch, and wait to do it again next week.

I saw two choices of how to look at the situation:

#1 -- My church members (including me) were the most selfish, uncompassionate people in the history of the world. We knew how to keep people from eternal torment yet slacked on evangelism because it was uncomfortable, inconvenient or hard. We were the ones who deserved to perish.

#2 -- None of us really believed, deep down, that the eternal picture was that bleak and that the stakes were so massive. Or else as sane human beings we'd be doing more about it.

I was leaning to #2. But it was time to dig deeper.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I read and I read and I read. For months I consumed church histories to see what kind of eschatology was common in the centuries after Jesus' death, and then how that played out over two more millenia. I consumed bible commentaries and dove into the Greek/Hebrew roots of the bible, looking for more concrete and consistent teachings about the afterlife in scripture.

Every time I found two things that matched, something else would gum it up. I began to understand how there could be more than 8,000 denominations (some estimates are up to 30,000) in Protestant Christianity alone -- there were so many ways to interpret what the bible says! The more I learned, the more I realized that I could never really know the answers I was looking for. I couldn't go back and personally ask Constantine, the Nicene council or the thousands of biblical scholars how we ended up with the book we now call the bible. I couldn't challenge historians who claimed that some books of the bible were written generations after Jesus died. Biblical authorship, dating, translation, cultural connotations, authenticity and accuracy... these things just weren't knowable, at least not in the concrete, empirical way I defined it.

At one point I had a meeting with our church's preacher, because I had come forward in confession that Sunday morning. My research and doubts were tearing Jamie apart, and she was scared about where I was headed spiritually. I knew there was no way back to my former "I assume it's all true" approach to doctrine, and was scared myself of where it was headed. I wanted the church, and my family, to know I was just as confused and tender as my wife was.

The meeting with our preacher was actually very good. He's a well-real, well-rounded man and we've had a good connection since the first time we met. I started off by quoting Soren Kierkegaard with the line, "scholarship tends to complicate faith". He respectfully disagreed, but at least got the reference. Eventually, we got to the topic of heaven and hell. I stated my basic beliefs and confusion, and he confirmed that it's far from settled, even in our small denomination, how that will all play out. I responded:

"I know that. And you know that. But why do we never present that in church?" He didn't really answer but he didn't have to. The answer is that it would make members feel uncomfortable. People want to believe that the men and women who've dedicated their lives to studying the bible do have it figured out. And when doctrine is preached on Sundays, it's 100% rock-solid fact. That's what people want to hear -- it's comforting. But the preachers and church leaders know better. Not only are things like eschatology not settled, they are unsettleable (is that a word?). The church gets ever more fractured, with more denominations. Far more church splits than church mergers. Is there really only one group that has it right?

Further down the rabbit hole I went.

Riddle me This

More thought experiments. Sometimes I would pick an escatological view and play it out against scenarios. For instance, in the traditional view of heaven and hell:

1. God created me with flaws and is prepared to send me to eternal torment if I don't "get right" with him... is this love? And even if I responded in obedience, wouldn't it always be primarily motivated by fear? What if I told Samantha, "sugar, you have to obey me. If you don't, I'll shoot you and kill you. But don't worry about that -- obey me in love and it'll all turn out fine." I'd be jailed.

2. Fear didn't seem, in general, to be a good motivator for consistently ethical behavior. Reciprocal love is much more powerful in the long-term, but how can that rule while I'm on the precipice of hell? Fear would always rule for me in the traditional view of heaven and hell.

3. Let's assume babies go to heaven if they die (a common doctrine based on a "sorta-in-the-bible-but-kinda-flimsy" doctrine of the age of accountability). But adults only have a low-percentage chance of going to heaven. Abortion doctors would have sent far more souls to heaven that any evangelist I'd ever met. Does that make any sense? It didn't to me.

4. The odds of going to heaven would be almost purely based on the family you're born into. Most of us take on the faith of our parents/families/culture. Born in the Middle East? Sorry, you didn't win the Christian lottery. By the way, less than 1/4 of babies born today are born into Christian homes.

5. Why didn't God include more mentions of the stakes at hand in the Old Testament? If millions of souls were on the line between heaven and hell, didn't they deserve to know? Why wait until 2,000 years ago to teach about it?

6. Recall the story of Jesus and the woman who was about to be stoned -- the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story in John chapter 8. She had commited adultery, and the teachers of the law (religious leaders) were going to kill her. Jesus just sat there and drew in the dirt, until they pressed him enough that he said his famous line and everybody left in shame. He then told the woman he didn't condemn her. Before she repented. Did she win the lottery by having Jesus there to forgive her, or were all the other criminals facing execution saved too?

And on I went.

Universal Phase

This eventually led me to accept the universalist view of eternity -- that all souls go to heaven. It has tons of biblical support, but I won't pretend that there aren't problem passages for this view as well. Like I said in the last blog post, every eschatological view has its problem passages -- in the end we pick a view and live accordingly. Once we've picked one, then those problem passages won't seem so bad, and the support will seem overwhelming. The classic human gift of justification is still alive and well, and I was using it with universalism.

The "living accordingly" was fantastic. For the first time in my life I didn't feel like a failure for not baptizing the world. For the first time in my life I felt connected to everyone I met, because we were truly in the same boat. I wasn't in some exclusive club -- we were all redeemed by God and finding our way through life. For the first time in my life I really stopped and smelled the roses, because I had time to enjoy creation without despairing over the bleak picture of eternity. Because I didn't have to love God in order to be saved, I found myself responding in love because I was saved from the very beginning, with no chance of falling away.

I was more patient at home because I wasn't guilt-ridden. I was more empathetic at work because I didn't feel like one of the few saved souls in a fallen world. Jamie saw the change in me and started understanding some of my beliefs, and had the grace to stay with me. For a while my changing faith was literally a potential deal-breaker on the whole "marriage and parenting" thing, but that crisis had passed. She knew deep in her heart, without a doubt, that I was loved and accepted by God. Even where I was, which didn't fit into any church-defined doctrine or lifestyle we'd ever encountered. She made a choice to have an open mind and accept me, and we've been building on it ever since.


I can't say that I'm 100% universalist today because while it has great merit, it is no more knowable than any other doctrine. We all do our best and make assumptions to fill in the gaps.

My view of the afterlife is more agnostic than anything, because I just don't know. And I am at great peace with the mystery, although I still enjoy studying the topic. I've also been studying world religions, both past and present, and am finding it fascinating how so many have a few common threads. There is something about human beings that leads us to look beyond the physical, search for answers, and often worship what we find. I believe that all of us seek the same thing, and that deep down we are more alike that we ever care to admit.

I still go to the same church and feel at home there. I get great encouragement from the community that exists there, and hope to offer the same to some of the other members. I've taught a few bible classes now and then but tried to stay away from topics where my views may cause tension. I don't know if this is right or not, but it's worked so far. I have no interest in leaving the church.

The Michael from two years ago would have read this article and spat in anger at the apostasy, arrogance and craziness written above. I hope you do not do the same. But even if you do, I still love you. And I still feel connected to you. And in the midst of it all, I don't worry about eternity, either with happy hopes or dreadful fears. I'm simply focused on today, trying to find my way, and loving every minute of it.

There's so much more to write. I hope you stay to read it. Feel free to share your own stories with me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Four biblical views of hell

As promised, here's a little summary of a few Christian views of hell. Each of these has been held by millions of people, and there are still other Christian views on eschatology (mankind's final destiny) that aren't represented here. I'm not trying to give an exhaustive list -- just a high-level look at four pictures of eternity in the Christian world.

I've got friends who fall in each of these camps, and it's been interesting to learn about the reasoning behind each view. That's one of the key takeaways for me -- each view of eternity is perfectly reasonable and can be supported in the bible and with logic. I'll post more takeaways in my next writing.

View #1 -- Endless Punishment


This is basically the traditional view that has been held by the majority of Christians for centuries, with one group of people (the saved) going to heaven to be in bliss with God, and the unsaved going to hell for eternal torment. Every human soul survives for eternity, but not in the same place. Many denominations have different interpretations for what it takes to become one of the saved.

Bible support

1. Matthew 5:30 -- "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. "
2. Matthew 25:41 -- "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
3. Luke 12:5 -- "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."

Logic questions

1. Consequences are a part of this life, so is it unreasonable to believe that consequences continue into the afterlife?
2. God is perfect, and many people are sinners who have not asked for God's forgiveness -- how can God allow that in his presence?
3. The fact that this is the by far the most common Christian view of eternity is nothing to sneeze at -- can we not accept the scholarship and conclusions of thousands of previous teachers?

View #2 -- Annihilationism


Also known as destructionism or conditionalism, this view states that while the saved go to heaven, the unsaved souls will be destroyed and will cease to exist, rather than living forever in hell. Only the saved souls are truly eternal, in this view. As a random point of interest, one of the most active proponents of this view is an elder of the Church of Christ right here in Houston. He wrote this book detailing his interpretations. So eschatology is by no means agreed-upon even in my own denomination.

Bible support

1. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 -- "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power"
2. Phillipians 3:19 -- "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things."
3. Revelation 17:11 -- "The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction."

Logic questions

1. If we believe that God is Love, how could he allow the vast majority of his human creation to live in eternal torment?
2. In the Old Testatment, when people disobeyed God, they were often killed with no mention of any afterlife. Is it possible that this type of judgment remains the same today?
3. God described himself in Deuteronomy 9 as a "consuming fire". Doesn't this mean that something is burned, consumed and ceases to exist?

View #3 -- Universalism


This view holds to the belief that eventually all souls will be in heaven with God. Perhaps all rise together at the time of judgment, or perhaps some souls will have a temporary phase of punishment that is remedial in nature -- opinions vary. But universalists agree that the final picture is the same -- all of creation together in the presence of God.

Bible support

1. 1 Corinthians 15:22 -- "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
2. 2 Corinthians 5:19 -- "...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation."
3. Colossians 19-20 -- "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

Logic questions

1. If God is love, and love does not keep a record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:6), why would God keep a record and then punish so harshly for it?
2. If humans are called by Jesus to forgive without ceasing, are we being held to a higher standard than God?
3. If the vast majority of people who have ever lived are bound for hell, why do we call the record of Jesus' life "The Good News"?

View #4 -- Hades as one place with multiple experiences


A friend in the Orthodox church helped introduce me to lectures on this view of eternity -- I had never heard of it until a few months ago. It is the belief that there is no such place as a separate "hell"; instead there is but one place we go after death, and that is the presence of God. For those who loved and served God in life, they will experience God's love as light and joy in the afterlife. Others will experience God's love as a darkness or overwhelming fear, too overwhelming for their comfort, just as they ran from God during their lives.

Bible support

1. Daniel chapter 3 -- Nebuchadnezzar's strongest soldiers are burned to death merely by being close to a super-hot furnace, yet God's servants (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) go into the furnace without harm.
2. Luke 16:23 -- As noted two blog posts ago, in Jesus' story the rich man and Lazarus are in eyesight of each other in the afterlife.
3. Revelation 20:13 -- "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done."

Logic questions

1. Why and how would God actually create a separate place of punishment for his creation that he loves?
2. Why are the proper nouns for afterlife in the Old Testatment (Sheol) and New Testament (Hades) translated into different words like "hell", "grave" and "pit"?
3. Don't other sections of the bible teach that God loves the whole world? Then how could he send so many away from himself? Wouldn't it be more consistent to believe that he continues his embrace in eternity, but some perceive it as overbearing and terrifying just as they did during their lives on earth?

Sunday, January 06, 2008


On top of the holiday break, both kids have been sick with stomach bugs. Then our brand new home computer had a complete hard drive failure (we have a one-week wait for a replacement, and all of our data is gone for good). The old computer was more than eight years old, but maybe we should have stretched it a bit further...

I will be posting again tomorrow, with the following topics upcoming:

1) Four biblical views of hell (short summary)
2) My own journey to hell and back
3) True north -- a corny metaphor from my warped mind
4) What I've learned about anger, and my talk with Julian's dad
5) The look of death -- three more YMCA stories
6) Family profiles -- grandparents

See ya again soon!