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.


Don R said...

Michael- Amazing how much your story parallels mine....up to a point. I am a retired educator (history), so I went the same way you did, studying early Christianity in detail. I checked out literal versions of the Bible and various concordances that went with them. Two years ago, I left the church (remember I was a deacon for 21+ years and a Baptist all my life. I could not reconcile stay in a place that believed so diametrically opposite as I did. I have never looked back. I am very open-minded now. I will and do study any belief system to see if it has anything to offer me. I found a great deal of comfort in the writings of Neale D. Walsch (Conversations with God-a trilogy). I also found a lot of comfort studying Quantum theory. It helped explain a lot of things to me. I don't really know if any of my old friends would define me as a Christian today. That doesn't bother me one way or the other. My wife of 41 years just thinks I'm a little weird. She doesn't accept all the changes I've made over the past three years, but that's another story for another time (we essentially live apart. She works in The Woodlands down near you and I work in Fort Worth. We see each other every 2-4 weeks. A little weird, but it works great!). I would very much like to discuss things further with you anytime.

Redlefty said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Don. Our stories are indeed similar:

--I also served as a deacon

--I also continue to study other belief systems and pick up things that help me in my life.

--I also am fascinated by quantum theory, and got to hear Brian Greene give a speech a few years ago. Powerful, powerful stuff, and I'd be money he's a theist, based on his discussion of the perfect balance of the fundamental forces in the universe.

--I've also been challenged that I don't qualify as a Christian due to my beliefs. Doesn't bother me, either, just as it doesn't bother you. I've tried to put away labels (for myself and others) since they're usually not useful. They're just so darn effortless, though, that the temptation is too great for me some days.

Eventually I need to figure out a way to get a link to my email address on this site. In lieu of that, I'll email you first to kick things off. :)

Thanks again.

James W said...

I would say for me growing up in the Baptist church has influenced what I believe today. I have had ups and downs throughout my Christian walk, but God always seems to help me find my way back to Him. I would love to think everyone is Heaven bound, but I just do not see how and why then God would send his son Jesus to die for us. Don I guess I should have explained my Father/Son comparison a little further. You brought up some really good questions. I think as far as the comparison goes it is an easy way to explain God's love, but do not think that gives the full picture of how much God really loves us. I just think it is easier to explain to most since it is something they can relate to. So here is a brief explanation on why I believe what I believe.

God sent his Son Jesus to die for us so we can get to Heaven. If I do not believe that Jesus died for me, then why would God allow me to be in Heaven? Also why would Jesus say go and make disciples of men? If we are all Heaven bound then what is the point of even talking about God or going to Church for that matter. We could basically do whatever we wanted without any true consequence. I think the other thing that makes me believe what I believe, is that if there was not a Heaven and Hell why would it be in the Bible? I know this is a very weak statement, but if you believe that the Bible is God inspired, then you have to conclude that all of the Bible is accurate.

~aj~ said...

First off, I want to thank you for such a thought-provoking, introspective post. I know you've had it in your heart to share this for quite a while, so I'm glad that the time was finally right for that. I also know it wasn't easy--the journey to get to where you are now and sharing it with others, especially considering your religious background and the "silent" audience that reads your blog. So Kudos to you for writing this post!

I want to share my thoughts with you on all of this, but I'm going to preface it by saying this is not something I've ever studied. I feel like I'm totally out of your league as far as debating this issue. In other words, go easy on me Mr Smarty Pants!

I see where you are coming from with your change of beliefs. However, I just can't "follow" you there. I definitely believe in Heaven AND Hell. Like your friend James mentioned, Heaven and Hell are both mentioned often in the Bible. I just don't see how you can believe in one without believing in the other...both are shared with us in the inspired Word of God. I believe God gave us His Word to guide us, encourage us, instruct us...not to confuse us by hoping we will sort through it all to find what is "real" and "not real".

No matter how hard it may be to accept that Hell exists and perhaps even people I know and love might be there someday, I just can't turn my back on what the Bible says concerning it. And it is very, very hard, I will give you that.

A difference I noted between you and me is that I have found that through my beliefs (including the presence of Heaven and Hell) I have more love and compassion for others. When I meet someone I can't help but think of their eternal destination. I by no means try to judge whether someone will be in Heaven or Hell. That's only for God to decide. However, if I am around fellow Christians that I assume will be in Heaven, my heart soars. It is amazing to have that bond with someone.

However, when I'm around people that do not know God and therefore I worry about their salvation, I find that I love them even more. I'm not the best at personal evangelism. It's hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, but I do try to be a "shining light" to those that do not know God. I make a conscious effort to go out of my way to show them love and compassion, in hope that they'll realize what makes me different is my belief in a loving God. I hope that in turn, they may want to seek this same relationship for themselves.

I beleive there are many verses in the Bible to support a belief in Heaven and Hell. Rather than go into all of that, I'll tell you the first 2 things that came to mind when I read your post yesterday.

If there is no Hell, then why we were given a Savior? What is there to be saved from? It seems to belittle the fact that Jesus performed the ultimate sacrifice to save us.

If there is no Hell, then what is the point of evangelism? If we're all destined for the same place, no matter what our actions on Earth are, then I don't see the point in sharing the Word with others and missionary work. I could see sharing the Bible to maybe show others how to live a good and moral life and yes, that would make the world a better place while we are living on it. However, it would have no long term effect because everyone would be in the same place for eternity regardless. Our time on Earth is like a drop in the ocean...it wouldn't even seem worth the time and effort to preach God's Word if it made no difference to a single soul in the long run.

Hope you don't mind that this turned into a short novel. I hope nothing I said was offensive in any way. I have no doubt about the kind of man you are and the kind of life you live. Regardless of how you feel about the Heaven/Hell issue, I'm still super proud of you and love you just the same.


Redlefty said...

James and AJ, thanks from the bottom of my heart for your comments and questions. Would either of you mind if I addressed some of them in my next blog post? Not in an effort to "win" any kind of debate, but just to show my perspective on those questions so that my own interpretations might be made a little clearer.

Don R said...

James and AJ-
Let me start this comment off by saying I very much respect both your positions on hell. I was there three years ago. Like James, for years I had trouble with the idea of hell. Once I started to study early Christianity, a new picture began to appear. My studies revealed a very different picture the ecclesia and scripture. I would encourage you to get a literal translation of the New Testament and check out those references to hell. You will find that most of the accepted translations KJV NIV RSV have mistranslated the original Greek words which became one word, hell. This fact was quite a revelation to me. Needless to say, I continued my research curious to see what I would fine. As a reference, I would encourage you to got to: tentmaker.org, as a starting place. They have a very large source of articles dealing with the mistranslations and with the subjects which Michael and I discussed. I'll stop right here, but I would like to discuss some of the points both of you made in your comments. Please check back for that.

Don R said...

Michael, thanks for giving me space on “your” blog to discuss the very important issue. Before I get to the points made by James and AJ, I would like to tell you basically what I believe about the Bible. Is it inspired by God? Yes. Is it inerrant (without error). No. There are quite a few errors in it to basically remove the inerrancy label. I will provide my thinking on this if you ask me to. I don’t believe it is a manual for Christian living. I believe it is an account of the experiences of early Christians, written down for the first time a minimum of 60 years after the crucifixion. None of the authors, whoever they were, were eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus. All of the accounts were orally passed from generation to generation. There were dozens and dozens of manuscripts that were not chosen to be in the New Testament at the Council of Nicea, one of the early Catholic Church councils in the 4th century. Interestingly, Revelation barely made it in, not accepted by Eastern churches for another 300 years. We had no New Testament as we know it for over 700 years after the crucifixion. We have none of the original manuscripts first translated from the Aramaic to the Greek. Most are copies of copies of copies of copies, etc; Errors occurred in the translation from Aramaic to Greek, and many, many more from the Greek to the Latin. The “Word of God” which is often used to refer to the Bible or New Testament, actually comes from the Greek word for “breath” (pneuma, rhema). This means the word of God is living, not just a book, but being delivered on a daily basis to mankind. Now for some of the points James and AJ:
James, your 1st point, “if I don’t believe in Jesus, why would God let me in heaven. That’s because HE IS LOVE, and because He is the Savior of the whole world. (I Tim. 4:10, I Tim 2:4, John 3:17, Rom. 5:15, 18, 19, 20).
2) Why would Jesus say go and make disciples of men? To give them the “real” good news that God is the savior of ALL men.
3)The number #1 argument against “all saved” is “what’s the point of church? We can do what we want to. My answer is why would you want to.That makes Him more precious that He saved the whole world. A NO consequences! I think not. As I stated in an earlier comment, earthly consequences can be a “hell on earth”
4) Why is hell in the Bible if it doesn’t exist. It isn’t in the Old Testament (mistranslations again). Paul mentions it once, in another context. In the rest of the NT, the word gehenna, sheol, hades, tartarus are all translated as one English word, HELL. This is simply bad transation.

AJ-You said, “I just can’t turn my back on what the Bible says”. I don’t want you to. I just want you to have the most accurate translation so you can see what it says, not what King James, and others wanted it to say.
2) You mad an interesting statement: because I believe in hell, “I have more love and compassion for others.” I would think that if you believed in hell there wouldn’t be enough hours in a day for evangelism. You would spend 24 hrs a day trying to keep the people you have compassion for “out of hell”. I don’t say that facetiously. I wondered, myself, why if I believe in hell, why don’t I want to get out there and tell the world all the time.
3)You said, “that’s for God to decide”. I think your right and I think He decided to save us ALL. Do you realize that the best, most optimistic estimates by Christian sources say over 90% of all people who have ever lived, will NOT be in heaven! Your Bible in Revelation says that Christ has won the victory. To me that doesn’t seem like much of a victory if He loses 90 % of His creation! Doesn’t make Him sound very much like the LOVING God we say He is. I believe He will have the victory, by saving His whole creation.
4)”If there is no Hell, then why were we given a savior?” TO SAVE US….Your Bible says that this was His plan before the creation of the world (universe). Jesus went to the cross because that was part of his vision, his plan to show God’s love.
5) “What’s the point of evangelism?” The original point was to share the good news. Once a person realizes that God loves us all, we will want to live a good life to honor what He did.

I have not even scratched the surface of all I want to say or feel. If you only read one article from: http://www.tentmaker.org read this one:
Thanks for your patience with me on this subject. It is near to my heart. Blessings to you both.
Don R http://donrogers.org

MamaRose said...

Well, because I haven't YET 'commented' on your last/first blog on this subject, I feel like I'm WAY BEHIND!!!!!!!!! Sorry.

First of all, I KNEW you were 'depressed' & I wasn't sure about what or WHY a couple of years ago, but trusted that you would figure out what to do to 'feel better'!!! SO GLAD you DO/DID, now!!!!! THANK GOD!!!!!

And, GOD BLESS JAMIE for 'staying with you' during your 'struggling' time--those come & go--and you've found a GREAT WIFE who will STICK WITH YOU, even when you're having doubts. THANK YOU, JAMIE!!!!!!!!!

I WAS raised in the 60's DURING the preaching of 'HELL, FIRE & BRIMSTONE' Sermons--mainly from Jimmy Allen & he was SUPER--always SCARED THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF ME--from what he told us OUT OF THE BIBLE--mainly the 'God' of the O.T.--when God DID 'ZAP' his OWN people when they didN'T choose to OBEY him FULLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!--Remember the guy that got 'STRUCK DEAD' from just TRYING to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling?--when they wereN'T carrying it right, in the first place????!!!!!
SEE!!!!! Just one of MANY!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, from that & my reading as I've gotten older & matured in Christ leads me to BELIEVE THAT 'HELL IS REAL'!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AND, from Larry's CLASS ON GOD--it has WIDENED our view of our God & helped me get to KNOW HIM BETTER!!!

YES, our God IS LOVING, HE IS LOVE, BUT, He is ALSO (TOTALLY) "JUST"!!!!!!!!! And, because of THAT, the ones of us who DON'T follow his commands, by our OWN FREE WILL--(which is what makes our obedience & 'worship' MEANINGFUL to HIM)--WILL BE PUNISHED, ETERNALLY, IN HELL!!!!! This is WHAT the Bible 'says' & THIS is WHAT I BELIEVE!!!!!!!!!

Burning & suffering in the HEAT & STENCH of everyone who's there--BUT, NEVER being totally BURNED UP--GOD CAN DO THAT--HE'S ALL POWERFUL--whether we understand or can even imagine it NOW or NOT!!!!!

I BELIEVE THAT & I also BELIEVE that GOD GAVES US HIS WORD & even if we happen to 'find' a 'mistake' in there, here & there, it WON'T be ANYTHING that has ANYTHING to do with OUR SALVATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He was/IS powerful enough to 'deliver' it to us, in OUR language, today--He was/is powerful enough to WATCH OVER IT & MAKE SURE that it STAYS PURE--enough!!!!!!!

And, YES, the ones who WROTE ALL OF THE NEW TESTAMENT DID KNOW & SEE JESUS when he was ALIVE HERE ON EARTH, except for Paul & he 'SAW GOD' in his CONVERSION VISION!!!!!!!!!!!!!--talk about someone CHANGING their minds/religion--Paul switched TOTALLY 180 DEGREES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, he wrote a verse that talks about WHY God doesn't/won't send any more PROPHETS or MIRACLES to us, TODAY--because HE ALREADY HAS & if we didn't BELIEVE THEM, THEN, we wouldN'T BELIEVE NEW ONES!!!!!!

I understand where some of you are 'coming from'/thinking that IF we don't 'SAVE' all these folks, THEN WHO WILL?????!!!!! Well, God WILL--IF they/we are HIS "CHOSEN"--now, that'll get you on another topic, huh??!!!!!

But, GOD Himself SAYS that the MAJORITY of HIS CREATION WILL BE LOST--HE KNOWS THAT--HE KNOWS EVERYTHING--HE even KNOWS the NUMBER of HAIRS ON OUR HEADS--today, yesterday & tomorrow!!!!!!!!
And, we DON'T KNOW THAT!!!!!!!!!

So, there's LOTS we DON'T know & HE KNOWS THAT, TOO--so, I believe we need to KEEP STUDYING & TRYING TO KNOW MORE, understanding that we will NEVER be able to know or even understand it all--we don't even THINK like God THINKS!!!!!!!

BUT, I ALSO BELIEVE that He has given us ENOUGH in HIS WORD to UNDERSTAND the things HE WANTS US TO, HERE!!!!!

And, with child-raising getting more liberal, since I was a child--no spanking pretty much, etc.--which might not be 'all bad'--the word 'disicipline' has gotten a 'bad' meaning. God SAYS he does & WILL DISCIPLINE us, and HE expects us to DISCIPLINE our children, likewise, to HELP them GROW UP BETTER/STRONGER!!!!!!!!!--to KNOW 'THE TRUTH'!!!!!

So, if someone today doesn't believe in 'discipline', then, of course, it would be MUCH easier to believe that NO ONE will be punished, IN THE END, EITHER!!!!!

BUT, the Bible/God says in lots of places that SOME will be PUNISHED WORSE than others & that SOME will be REWARDED MORE than others!!!!!!--those times 'SAY' 'HEAVEN & HELL' to me as much as any of the rest.

Where some of our 'GOOD church-going' folks have GONE WRONG, for sure, is TRYING TO FIGURE WHO THAT IS--and, we all know that GOD/JESUS SAID IT IS NOT FOR US TO 'JUDGE', BUT HIM & that's WHERE we HAVE to 'leave' it--IN HIS HANDS--the ALL-KNOWING ONE--to decide WHAT to do with our SOULS/NEW BODIES that we will ALL HAVE AFTER THIS WORLD ENDS!!!!!!!!


Don't get me wrong, Michael, I, in NO WAY, am 'condemning you/what you said--but, I also don't believe we ALL HAVE to KNOW EVERYTHING & HAVE EVERYTHING 'RIGHT' in our minds TO BE SAVED/GO TO HEAVEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I, obviously, COULD BE WRONG in some of my beliefs, today--that's WHY I'm STILL STUDYING & LOVE READING BLOGS LIKE YOUR GREAT ONE!!

Your Dad LOVES the verse that talks about HOW we ALL should 'WORK OUT OUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR & TREMBLING'--well, getting back to the beginning of this LONG (sorry) comment--I DO FEAR OUR GOD & I think HE WANTS US TO/WE ALL SHOULD--ALONG WITH LOVING HIM, TOO--as we do/did our parents, growing up--"TRUE LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR", but WHO of us, here, can say we have 'TRUE' love?
So, IF we're not FEARING GOD some, then we need to READ the O.T. MORE!

And, MICHAEL, just so you & everyone else who reads your blog will KNOW FOR SURE--your Dad & I LOVE YOU, WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU--no matter what you say or do or believe--that's called UNconditional LOVE & that's what we HAVE FOR YOU & ALL OUR FAMILY!!!!!!!!!!!!!--THAT'S the SAME KIND OF LOVE GOD HAS FOR US!!!

Bold Grace said...

1Corinthians 13- 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5-It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

If Love keeps NO RECORD of wrongs as Paul says here, how can there be a future judgment sending people to hell? Because judgment has to have a record in order to judge.

Also would someone answer this: where in the O.T. did it speak of a Redeemer coming who would give the world a "chance" at redemption as the church today teaches?

Also could you tell me what "the scriptures" are? Do you accept Jesus definition as "the scriptures" or do you include what someone other than Jesus said "the scriptures" are?

Could someone also tell me what "the scriptures" were that Paul said the Bereans studied?

Could you also tell me what Paul was referring to when he said "all scripture" is God breathed and to be use for doctrine and reprove?

Grace & Peace

Joel Spencer said...

Sheesh that was long. I've got alot to sort out before I really comment. I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

Res afterlife: Read Godel and Einstein: A World without Time, On one level it does not have any bearing on theology. But on another level it will make you a non-believer in time, at least as common sense and as we commonly experience it, which is undoubtedly false.

FD Maurice, an Anglican theologian of the late 1800s wrote a personal and very moving essay as to why he no longer believed in hell. The Church of England, being a state church, he was taken to court. After lengthy and due consideration the judge declared it was legal to disbelieve hell. If your state library has the annuls of English high court proceedings you can look it up. RobLL

Don R said...

Michael's Mom- Thank you for your input.

"--your Dad & I LOVE YOU, WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU--no matter what you say or do or believe--that's called UNconditional LOVE & that's what we HAVE FOR YOU & ALL OUR FAMILY!!!!!!!!!!!!!--THAT'S the SAME KIND OF LOVE GOD HAS FOR US!!!

Mom you are so right. Your unconditional love is well deserved by Micheal. I have a few questions:If your love is unconditional, and you say it is, and you say God's love is also "unconditional", why do you place conditions on His love that you would not place on yours? That condition being that if we don't love Him back and follow His "rules" He will send us to Hell. God told us to love Him unconditonally and our neighbors as ourselves. Should we as parents expect less of Him? Will He ask of us something He is not willing to do?

Bob Barbanes said...

Don R.: God told us to love Him unconditonally and our neighbors as ourselves. Should we as parents expect less of Him? Will He ask of us something He is not willing to do?

Ah, the very crux of my faith! We say that God loves us "unconditionally," yet we are very keen to put conditions on that love. Strange, that. Me, I simply do not believe in a vindictive, spiteful, wrathful or vengeful God. Those are weaknesses. I believe they are human emotions and traits that God does not possess. But hey, maybe I'm wrong.

Another great, thought-provoking post, Michael. It strenghthens my belief that main thing is knowing that God exists in the first place - that He created and loves us. Beyond that, it's all human argument over the details. Let us try to keep a focus on what's really most important and not get too caught up in them.

Andrew said...

Thanks for sharing your story. My story is similar, and I think there are a lot of folks out there on similar journeys.

Yael said...

Quite an interesting story. My own story took me from being the daughter of a fundie minister, from being a seminary student studying for ministry, to finding my place as a Jew. It was a long convoluted journey but I can't complain. I'm finally where I belong. Always enjoy reading other's stories of journeys so long as their stories don't include evangelizing me and mine! Yours doesn't so I'm curious to see where it leads.

MamaRose said...

Ok--Don r--This is the FIRST time I've ever done this: Answer someone else's question on someone else's blog.

My first thought is: I can't 'place conditions on God's LOVE'--ONLY HE CREATED THE WORLD & 'MADE THE RULES'.

ONLY HE & Jesus & the HOLY SPIRIT have been 'around'/ALIVE ETERNALLY--the rest of us THEY MADE!!!!!

It was WAY BACK BEFORE THE WORLD WAS FORMED when Satan/THE DEVIL & 'his' angels (the other angels who REBELLED AGAINST GOD WITH him) that God 'instituted' Hell, Judgement Day, and Eternal Punishment--Matthew 25:41 & I Timothy 3:6.

Revelation 20:10 says: "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day & night for ever and ever." I understand the Book of Revelation is a 'Vision' of John's, but this verse is pretty CLEAR to me!!!!!!!

It is TOTALLY OUR CHOICE/how we CHOOSE to live our lives that either puts our 'NAMES IN THE BOOK OF LIFE' or NOT--it HAS to be OUR CHOICE or our WORSHIP of God is NOT MEANINGFUL--THIS IS WHAT'S IMPORTANT, RIGHT HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even if we CHOOSE not to PRAISE & HONOR & TO GIVE GLORY TO OUR CREATOR & GOD, 'the rocks will CRY OUT'--Lk. 19:40--quoting from Hab.
In other words, NATURE, in ITSELF 'SPEAKS' that there is ONE ALL-POWERFUL GOD, who we MUST OBEY if we want to be rewarded/go to Heaven.

And, also do you think God would have 'LET' Jesus DIE FOR ALL OUR SINS & go through EVERYTHING HE DID, by BEARING ALL THE SINS OF THE WORLD, WITHOUT HIM, if his sacrifice was not TOTALLY NECESSARY--I don't--therefore, Jesus DID save me & you from our sins, IF WE OBEY HIM, and we WILL BE SAVED from HELL & ETERNAL PUNISHMENT with Satan & the others.

AND, I believe God DOES love us ALL UNconditionally--BUT, that that doesn't mean he won't discipline us--like we do/should our OWN children--and/or punish us, if we do not follow HIM!!!!!

This all just came off the 'top of my head', I'm sure I'll think of something else to 'answer' you--so, give me a couple of days & I'll try to post something else. LOVE YOU, MICHAEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mom

Don R said...

Mom- You know I think all our disagreements center around interpretation of the Bible. Guess that's why there are 30,000 + Christian denominations. My studies of early Christianity and the literal Greek translation of the NT have lead me in another direction. I find nothing usful in us arguing doctrine and interpretation of a few key verses. You are a believer in God as am I. That makes us part of the same whole. Some day we'll understand how it was and is. Till then, blessings to you and yours.

MamaRose said...

THANK YOU, Don r--I never really FELT like we were 'arguing'--just maybe 'exchanging' different points of view that weren't really THAT FAR apart--like you said--we are BOTH BELIEVERS!!!!!

I think it's very good to study 'other things'/religions, translations, histories and the Hebrew & Greek versions, too--but, since I believe that our ALL-POWERFUL GOD made sure we received, into our hands, TODAY, the WHOLE TRUTH--that we NEED for our SALVATION, I would 'TAKE' my/THE BIBLE & what IT SAYS 'over' anything else--that's just me.

And, I don't believe that all of us English-speaking folks today NEED to even know, much less study the Greek NT--ok, for sure, but, just NOT necessary.

The BIGGEST 'thing' I see out of this is: to MAKE SURE that Satan/his deceitful ways/teachings DO NOT TAKE AWAY OUR HOPE!!!!!!!!!

The reason LOVE is the MOST IMPORTANT is because we will STILL HAVE IT WHEN WE'RE IN HEAVEN--by then, our FAITH & HOPE will have been SEEN & FULFILLED--BUT, FOR NOW, OUR FAITH & HOPE is VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!!! So much so, that NO ONE/thing should EVER TAKE IT AWAY from us!!!!!!!!!

Bet you agree with all of that, too. Sounds like you're a 'great guy' & I'm glad you read & comment on our Michael's blog!!!!!

If we were ALL just alike & thought ALIKE, it would be pretty boring, here, huh??!!!!! LOVE YA, Michael's Mom/MamaRose

JP said...

Very interesting dialogue here. Don, there is not reason for me to reiterate your splendid points. If we love our own children unconditionally, should you expect anything less from the creator? The good news HAS to be that one Jesus came, he took the sins of the world and nailed it to the cross. Even the sin of unbelief. That is truely goood news.

My take as a non-believer!

Don R said...

I would recommend this article to those who put "conditions" on God's "unconditional" love.
(Sorry. The best I could do was provide this for your cut & paste practice)

Yael said...

The good news HAS to be that one Jesus came, he took the sins of the world and nailed it to the cross. Even the sin of unbelief. That is truely goood news.

In one world maybe. I thought this post was about a journey to universalism.

Andrew said...

I think your take "as a non-believer" is spot-on JP. Becoming a father had a HUGE impact on my theology. What could my son or daughter ever do that would make their endless torture seem reasonable to me? Either God sucks as a Father, or I am reading scripture wrong.

I came to the conclusion I was reading scripture wrong. Whatever tradition we come from provides thick glasses as we read scripture. Mine colored my scripture reading with Hell, Fire, and Brimstone.

It was amazing to me that, once I considered the possibility that God really does love unconditionally, I saw scripture in an entirely new light.

I don't know that we can ever truly get away from reading scripture with "glasses", but I definitely feel like I found a better pair.

Hal Johnson said...

"Whatever tradition we come from provides thick glasses as we read scripture."

Yep. That's one reason that, in the Protestant fold, we have eleventy-seven hundred denominations.

Great blog post, and great comments.

JP said...


thanks for your highly academic opinion my friend. My post was directly related to universalism

Yael said...

Sure, universalism for one religion is such universalism. I'm a Jew. Jesus dying on the cross is NOT of any interest to anyone but Christians and certainly isn't good news for the rest of us. Many Jews died on crosses during the Roman era. Such a fuss to make about one....How many Jews have died since as a result of that fuss?

Appreciate your sarcasm. I thought this might be an interesting place to read, but it seems I was wrong. I guess I'll have to stick to the uneducated Jewish world....Enjoy.

Redlefty said...

Yael and JP, you are both welcome here. You each have something unique to add to the dialogue so I'd like to see you stick around.

My next post will be up shortly.

JP said...


With all due respect, you ARE on a christian blog and the post IS concerning universalism.

Remember yael, I am not a believer but was adding my 2 cents of what the "good news" should or how I interpret it to be from a christian standpoint.

Yael said...

Thanks. Perhaps I will. As I said in my first post, it is always interesting to read about journeys.

Obviously we are using the same terms in different ways. I'm well aware this is a Christian blog, I just wasn't aware it was the type of Christain blog where the gospel would be presented as being universal. I blog with Christians quite regularly and we mostly manage to be civil because they don't take that POV. If they hold to the gospel story at all, they only hold it as valid for Christians and leave the rest of us to follow the teachings of our own religions or not.

My take on universalism is that the righteous of all the nations have a place in the world to come, that there are multiple paths to God, one path is right for one person, another for another person. There is no 'good news' other than that unique people are allowed to have unique relationships with the one God without someone else coming along to tell them they're wrong. So, perhaps now you can see why I would be startled that someone would give a crucifixion story, a story only valid for one particular group, and claim it to be anything having to do with universalism, even if the person doesn't believe the story.

Here's your chance to educate me. I'm curious to hear your take since it seems to me we're talking apples and oranges.

Don R said...

Not sure too many Christians would call me a Christian anymore. I believe there are many ways to discover and learn about God, and ourselves along the way. The way I have chosen, for the time being, is through the teachings and life of a man named Jesus. He seems to me to be a rather fine example of what it is to truly be a man, a part of God as are all of us. To me, Universalism simply means there will be a place for everyone in God's creation in whatever He/She has in mind for humankind for now and forever. He/She is not a God of exclusion, but inclusion. God needs nor wants anything from us, but a willingness to explore what He/She is and the process what we truly are as a vital part of this universe.

JP said...


Its tough for me to speak as a non-believer but I think don hit the nail on the head.

Yael said...

Thanks for your replies Don and JP.

Hmmm, maybe not apples and oranges but different types of apples? Mine being Granny Smiths of course....

JP said...

too sweet. I'll take red delicious

MamaRose said...

Don: It may seem like I'm being too semantical, but I believe it's important to remember that there really is no such thing as the gift of unconditional love.

Why? Because you can't give me a gift if I won't accept it. Because the key word is receiving. Love that is offered unconditionally is not necessarily accepted. Therefore, nothing is really free or unconditional. It is conditioned on our acceptance.

If I refuse your gift, I obviously don't possess it. If you offer the gift and I say "I'll only accept it on my terms" and you don't agree with my terms, I've turned down your gift conditionally.

A lot of our struggle with God comes from us wanting to accept his offer based on our conditions. We miss the point that when we do that we are in reality turning His gift down. We're free will. He won't force us to accept a gift, even if it is offered freely. Salvation is free. Accepting salvation on His terms is a free-will decision.If we turn away the free gift because of our conditions, we've obviously lost something we could have had.

There a lots of people who never received a conscious opportunity to accept the free gift of salvation. These people may in fact be under that "law unto themselves" Paul talks about in Romans. In those cases maybe God offers them their "conscious" as their guide to their acceptance of Him. Tons of stuff in the Greek and Aramaic to show that God gave us this conscious, this "law written on our hearts". From Michael's DAD

Don R said...

Mamarose- You wouldn't believe how many times in my 62 years I've heard the very same comparisons made between our gift giving and God's gift giving. However, I see no comparisons that fit. When God gave you life, did you have the right or ability to refuse it? When He gave you parents, did you have the right or ability to refuse to accept them? I don't think the comparison you, and countless others, made can successfully apply to deity

Old Pete said...

My first visit here after seeing your comments on Jim Palmer's blog - I've just left my comment there.

I'm 73 and I've been on this journey outside the four walls for almost 40 years. I understand where Mum is coming from - she has a view of the Christian faith based on her own journey - and I have no problem with that.

I don't believe in the traditional teaching of hell - neither do I believe that we go to heaven when we die - the Lord's Prayer refers to God's will being done on earth! I know I'm seen as a heretic by some people. I've been married 48 years and while my wife agrees with some of my 'unconventional' views she would probably agree with Mum rather than me.

I've recently rewritten my blog - I'd appreciate any feedback.

Roger said...


Thanks for sharing your story! We are on very similar paths. It's interesting to see God leading many people the same way....

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kristy said...

Michael it would very nice to speak with you seeing the years have passed. I think it was a sign that I found your blogs. I was looking for news coverage to print out for Julian's case to send to America's Most Wanted. I came across your blogs. I enjoyed reading them even though it was sad and brings back memories. Thank you for these blogs. They are very sincere and descriptive. Email us at kristymeekerfamily@yahoo.com. Thank you so much.