In Fear and Trembling – The Peace from Our Lord

November 12, 2007 at 9:58 pm 46 comments

Hieronymus Bosch's depiction of Hell.  Detail from the right panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights tryptich c1450LeoPardus recently published 3 articles which focused on reasons he left Christianity. I will be reprinting 3 slightly edited articles from my old website that highlight only one of the main reasons I left Christianity – the tortuous doctrine of eternal damnation. If you have already read these, forgive me for this second go-around.

I used to wear a button on my hat. I wore it everyday for years. It was one of those buttons that I used to identify myself as a Bible Believing Christian, without having to go through the trouble of actually having to say it to everyone I met. My button had a cliché printed on it.

It read “Know Jesus Know Peace, No Jesus No Peace.”

Why did I have peace in Jesus? I was to have peace because my faith in Jesus Christ gave me hope of an eternal reward in Heaven. No matter the trials of this mortal life, no matter how I was persecuted for my faith, no matter what physical ailments may become me, no matter if death knocked on my door, I could say “O death where is thy victory, O death where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). I was to have peace because I knew that I was a refugee here on earth, a mere nomad on this temporary and mortal plane. I was to have peace because after the Resurrection I would have an incorruptible body, all things would become new, there would be no more sadness and no more fear. I was to have peace because I was to spend all of eternity worshipping my Lord Jesus Christ for being so gracious as to pluck me from the damnation of hellfire.

Christians who visit this site claim that they have peace because they have no fear of damnation. They know they will be saved from hellfire by the grace of Jesus Christ, they are justified through faith, and have no fear of being deemed unworthy by their sinful flesh.

My question is, how can any Christian with this mindset have any peace knowing that the bulk of humanity will be damned? You may be saved; you may get to Heaven, but then what? You watch as 99% of the people who have ever lived are cast into the Lake of Fire? And then say – oh well, they had their chance, Hallelujah? I can’t see any peace or hope in that – Heaven is an eternity of survivor’s guilt!

I think Christians have a terrible time rationalizing this view of eternity, but they will never admit it. Many say they are uncomfortable with it, like CS Lewis admitted in The Problem of Pain, but they ultimately just swallow those ugly thoughts down and don’t dwell on them. They must in order to remain faithful to God. Just let go and let God. Let me site a recent example. Brad of seminarian blog recently made this comment:

I am the only Christian in my family, and the thought of them being tormented without end is… well… uncomfortable to say the least.

Yet, later in that same comment thread, Brad went on to say,

As a grace-loving protestant, I do admit that God has done all the work, but I certainly do not demand it. That grace then empowers my ability to love others […] you know the rest I am sure. Ironic? Sure. Absurd? Nah. Tis glorious.

Brad, you know I really like you and appreciate your visits here. But how can you be disturbed by the prospect of your family in eternal damnation, yet call the grace of that very God of Damnation ‘glorious’? Seriously, that is not a trivial question. In my humble opinion, it is an absurdity.

Another legitimate question to ask a Christian is, “what about all the people who lived before Jesus who never had an opportunity to accept his Salvation?” “What about the people who never heard of Jesus?” The standard answer a Christian gives these days is, “Trust God – He will judge fairly and do what is right”. Christians say this because the standard Fundamentalist answer is very unsavory. Paul makes it very clear that sinful humanity is without excuse (Rom 1:20). If people are saved by ignorance of the Gospel, we better stop preaching now because people have a better chance of making it to Heaven by ignorance. The ancient Chinese civilizations? Destined for Hell. The native Americans? Nope sorry, wrong place wrong time. The faithful Jewish people waiting for their Messiah? Sorry suckers, you rejected your Messiah. No wonder Christians just blandly say “Trust God – He will judge fairly”.

Sure, these are old questions. But unless you have universalist beliefs, the answers are always the same.

Here are some more questions that Christians should contemplate:

Is God bound by a morality that defines Sin? If so, then that something that defines morality is transcendent over our transcendent God. God has actually made the sacrifice for us to save us from sin. But this makes God far less than all-powerful since he is bound by that morality that when broken, sends us to Hell.

Is this option correct?

Or does God impose his own sense of morality on humanity, and call our transgressions from his morality Sin? If so, God’s morality is simply whatever he pleases it to be, and if he wishes to cast the ignorant into Hell for breaking a morality imposed by nothing but himself, then that is his prerogative. But that makes him worse than any tyrant who ever walked on Earth, and Christians are forced to endorse his program. If God set the defined sin, then God can impose whatever method he wishes for humanity to bridge that gap caused by sin. Is the belief in the sacrifice of Jesus by faith really the only way? Why? If God decides what sin is, he also must decide the salvific path for humanity, otherwise he is not omniscient So salvation through Jesus is not something God is forced to do, it is something that comes from his whimsy, and you are forced to follow this plan or be damned. Yes, at his own whimsy. Sorry, there is no love in any of that, and there is no justice in any of that. A God who would do this is truly mad.

Is this option correct?

Which option is correct? Either one makes the Christian God into a medieval barbarian. I see no way out of it.

There is an even more unsavory aspect to this. What about children who die very young? The mentally handicapped? The aborted fetuses? Somewhere along the line, Christians have become extremely uncomfortable with damnation involving these innocents. Ask your pastor about their eternal destiny – some denominations who otherwise consider themselves strict Biblical Literalists invoke an amorphous ‘age of accountability’. The rationale is that surely God is not so unjust as to cast children, mentally handicapped and aborted fetuses into eternal torment. But that is invoking our own sense of justice onto God. The Doctrine of Original Sin, and the first point of Calvinism teaches that mankind is conceived and born corrupt in their sin. The newborn and innocent baby is actually filthy and corrupt in its own sin, destined to Hell by default!

There is no age of accountability in the Bible – it is something man has imposed on God because Christians are very, very uncomfortable with the implications. If children are really saved from eternal damnation by dying before their ‘age of accountability’ then Christians should be thanking God for Roe vs Wade, praying that abortion clinics stay open, and maybe Andrea Yates really did the most loving thing she could for her children by drowning them. Dying young is a very easy ticket into eternal paradise.

Of course I am being absurd. By being absurd I hope I am making the point of how ludicrous I find this belief in Hell.

I took these thoughts literally, and I thought of them often. With the implications of eternal damnation destined for the bulk of humanity, I had no peace in Jesus. I looked at humanity in two camps – the Justified and the Heathen – the Saved and the Damned. I witnessed to my workmates fervently, because they were my friends, I enjoyed being with them because they were great people, and I could not imagine them in eternal torment. I prayed every morning for the Holy Spirit to empower my witness so they too could experience the peace of Jesus.

The devout Christian would have us believe that the purpose of life is to serve humanity, but the ultimate purpose is to serve God and win converts to Jesus. So they can win converts to Jesus. So they can win converts to Jesus. So they can win converts to Jesus. And on through the ages, the gears of the proselytizing life continue to grind on.

My dad, because he had embraced the Mormon faith, was doomed. Sure his Mormon faith was kooky, but his faith had helped bring him from a miserable, mean man to a real joy to be with and genuinely happy for the first time in his life. When I confronted my pastor about this, his diagnosis was that he only seemed joyful and happy, but it must be superficial because real joy only came through Jesus. My dad’s apparent joy was actually from a religion spawned from Satan. How my pastor could do this without ever meeting dad was beyond me, but I took him at his word. So I witnessed my faith to dad off and on for years, even though I knew he would never convert. He had no reason to. It was tortuous knowing that Dad was headed for Hell because he was following Doctrines of Demons.

I used to believe in Hell because I had to – but I refuse to accept this barbarous belief in eternal torture anymore. A God who would torture anybody for all eternity simply makes no logical sense. I challenge Christians to tell me they are ok with their unsaved friends, family and neighbors facing eternal damnation at the hands of their Christian God.

to be continued…

- HeIsSailing

Picture: Hieronymus Bosch’s depiction of Hell. Detail from the right panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights tryptich c.1450

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Reasons why I can no longer believe: 3 – Unchanged lives I want to go back, I want the blue pill !

46 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard  |  November 13, 2007 at 1:48 am

    I read somewhere — I cannot find this quote — that even Christians do not take their doctrine of hell seriously, because if they did they would be shrieking it from the rooftops. I.e., its that bad.

    I also read somewhere that if anyone ever did take the doctrine of hell seriously, they would either immediately deconvert or go insane.

    Obviously, I thought the latter option seemed less messy. But in all seriousness, this issue is a big deal, and Im glad you brought it up. I am continually horrified at the breezy, nonchalant way I accepted and promoted the idea of hell when I was a believer.

    I often think that a fair “test” of sorts, to identify candidates for counter-apologetic efforts, is this: are you uncomfortable with the idea that some people you care about will be in hell? This idea *should* keep them up at night. If it does not, if they maintain and defend it over the long haul, sad, perhaps, but still affirming its ultimate justice, then their faith system has complete hijacked their conscience. There is nothing left to appeal to if this idea does not turn their stomach.

    After all, *from within a Christian perspective*, hell can make sense. From a Christian perspective, God is God, and what God says, goes. If God says you deserve hell well, then, who are you to tell God what the rules are? I actually disagree with you that hell makes no logical sense. It does make sense, even if that sense is rather contorted and gerrymandered, within the Christian framework. What it does *not* make is human, ethical, moral sense. It is literally an outrage. Any god who would create and/or allow to exist a hell is a monster, unworthy of worship. To me, that alone is sufficient argument against it.

    Here is my final rant, designed to get Christians who accept this crap to lose some sleep over it, if they still can:

    A google is a search engine. But a “googol” is a number (the search engine presumably takes its name from this). It refers to 10 raised to the power of 100. Thats a *big* number. Possibly (according to Carl Sagan) more than there are atoms in the entire universe.

    A googleplex is an even bigger number. It is 10 raised to the power of one google. That is an incomprehesibly huge number. The entire universe couldnt contain even a piece of paper big enough to write all the zeros in it.

    Now consider this: when you have been in hell, being tortured in screaming mindless agony, every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every year, for a googolplex of years — or, for that matter, for a googolplex of googolplexi of years — for every sin you every committed in your eighty or so years on earth….

    …youre just getting started.

    Justice? No. Unholy bloodlust.

    Richard

  • 2. Richard  |  November 13, 2007 at 1:49 am

    Sorry, in the 3rd paragraph that should read “the former option” as that is in fact what I did. Though my wife might disagree.

  • 3. Quester  |  November 13, 2007 at 2:02 am

    Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, bringing up points you’ll discuss later. If so, I apologize. The problem of Hell is the one I’ve wrestled with longest, for many of the reasons you suggested. I’ve reached a number of different stages in my understanding of what Hell could be.

    I first thought that sin was a matter of breaking rules, then began to see it as choosing to love something (anything) more than God, and thus imposing a distance between myself and God. An emotional, relational or qualitative difference, is how I soon conceived it, because there can be no actual distance from an omnipresent God.

    For the people who lived before Christ, I first put my trust in Jesus’ words to the Sadducees, in Luke 20:27-38, telling them that Abraham, Issac and Jacob, at least, were resurrected. I assumed that Jesus’ resurrection had consequences stretching forward and backwards in time, saving God’s chosen.

    It took me years before I grew concerned about the majority of people who were not among ‘God’s chosen’, and even longer to question why Jesus would be saying this to the Sadducees if eternal life was a consequence of His resurrection.

    Eventually, I came across the question of what Jesus did during the two nights between his death and resurrection. There were various teachings that He went down into Hell, or the lands of the dead, and defeated the devil and/or death. But if Jesus went to hell, and like God, Hell is eternal (unconditioned by space or time), then when Jesus went there, everyone who went to Hell- before, during, or after the time Jesus was there- had a chance to see Jesus, speak to Him, and choose Him.

    Why such a thing, happening outside of time, would still take until Sunday morning, I can’t say. Out of respect for the Sabbath, perhaps?

    This calmed my conscience in regards to all those who never had a chance to choose Jesus in this life. A little. They still experienced some amount of torment, sort of, for some reason. I did more reading and talked to more people. 20th century theologians, like Karl Rahner, really got my mind going.

    If Jesus really defeated sin and death, could He do so only partially? Perhaps the teaching that Jesus is the only way to eternal life is telling us that all people are getting eternal life, and Jesus is the reason. Following Jesus’ teachings are not things to do in order to earn eternal life, but to honour our source of it. Or, perhaps, it is to improve the quality of our eternity. And to believe in Jesus would not be an act to earn salvation, but a choice to give up fear and the anger it creates, and instead allow God to give us the power to draw ever closer to Him and become more what He created us to be.

    Then, I began to question why God would torture and kill Himself so He could give us life. Did it not make more sense that Jesus was born and lived as a human to teach us that we have eternal life, because we somehow got the idea we didn’t, teach us how God wants us to live our lives, then come back from the dead to prove that we don’t need to live in fear and judgement any more? The crucifixion was handy as a public way to show Jesus died, but any sort of death would have worked? That seems more consistent with the bit from Luke I quoted earlier.

    Lately, I came to wonder if there could even be a hell? Whether you understand hell as an infinite punishment for a finite crime, or as a place that is separate from a God who is omnipresent, neither made a lot of sense.

    And if there is no Hell, is there any need to believe in a God, other than the benefits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that LeoPardus expressed his doubts of in his post, “Reasons why I can no longer believe: 3 – Unchanged lives”?

    I offer no answers or certainties, but a few perspectives from someone who is struggling with the question and has been for years.

  • 4. joysong  |  November 13, 2007 at 2:06 am

    God loves you, but won’t force you to follow him and go to heaven. Thus, you are left to the devices of the other spiritual beings who are more powerful than humans, those out to deceive, kill, steal, destroy, and take you to hell with them.

    But it is a sad case. We know only in part until we die. But I do know for sure that we are in a spiritual battle. I would rather be under the protection of Jesus and live in the life and grace He gives, rather than live in any life without Him. Particularly if life without him means all the outside-of-marriage sex, drugs, pride, self-destruction, broken families, etc. that I see around me that is not dependent on the amount of money/wealth a person has.

    I have many non-Christian colleagues and classmates, and it does sadden me that they won’t know the joy of heaven with Jesus. The Hindu “heaven” is an empty stopping point between lives. The Muslim “heaven” is a sex orgy for men and nothing for women – most women are predicted to go to hell. Buddhism is a nothingness – an end to one’s self/personhood. All of the other religions’ “heavens” are hell in comparison to the one in the Bible, where we get to be with God forever!
    So much more I could say, but so little time…Sorry for any lack of love on my part.

  • 5. HeIsSailing  |  November 13, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Thus saith Richard:

    I actually disagree with you that hell makes no logical sense. It does make sense, even if that sense is rather contorted and gerrymandered, within the Christian framework.

    Yeah, I understand where you are coming from. I would rationalize hell as the final place where the Holy Spirit would not dwell. No Holy Spirit meant no conviction to repent to God, so we were truly doomed. Hell is the place that we were born to be destined to, so that we were born damned without the saving blood of Jesus. As a Christian, it made sense to me in that way. It was not much of a comfort.

    Richard:

    …A googleplex is an even bigger number. It is 10 raised to the power of one google. …

    ahh.. glad to see there is a fellow math nerd here. My mother used to tell me eternity was like. Imagine a giant granite boulder of some immense size. Every thousand years or so, a little sparrow would land on that boulder, sharpen it’s beak across the face of it, and fly off. When that boulder has finally worn down from the filings of those little sparrows, eternity will have just begun. That was supposed to give a little boy hope towards an eternity in heaven, but that concept of eternity has also terrified me over the years.

  • 6. HeIsSailing  |  November 13, 2007 at 6:43 am

    Qwester says:

    I offer no answers or certainties, but a few perspectives from someone who is struggling with the question and has been for years.

    Thanks for your perspectives. Honestly though, If there were no doctrine of hell, Christianity would be a vastly different religion. And who knows, it may be a Christian when ignorant of any concept of eternal damnation, and all this de-conversion business would be moot. But, its too late now, isn’t it?

  • 7. HeIsSailing  |  November 13, 2007 at 7:01 am

    Joysong says:

    I would rather be under the protection of Jesus and live in the life and grace He gives, rather than live in any life without Him. Particularly if life without him means all the outside-of-marriage sex, drugs, pride, self-destruction, broken families, etc. that I see around me that is not dependent on the amount of money/wealth a person has.

    You know, I keep hearing about all the money, sex, drugs, drinking, and wild sodomy and fornication I should be involved with because of my life apart from God. My life should be veering off course like a runaway car crashing over the cliff. I should be out raping, killing and looting – I mean what do I care when there is no God, right?

    joysong, I hope you really don’t believe that characature. It is just not true.

    joysong:

    All of the other religions’ “heavens” are hell in comparison to the one in the Bible, where we get to be with God forever!

    joysong, have you actually read the Bible’s description of heaven? You will spend forever with God, and with every Christian who ever lived… check that… you may have to be a Jewish virgin male…. I guess it just depends on what part of the BIble you read. Anyway, you will spend eternity in a giant walled city called the New Jerusalem. Streets of gold, gates of pearls, giant gem-laden foundation stones. A river will run through the middle and there will be the Tree of Life in the center of the city.

    And you will be there forever.

    … and that’s about it. Sorry, but color me unimpressed.

  • 8. Yueheng  |  November 13, 2007 at 7:42 am

    joysong:

    Hindus believe in moksha as their final spiritual goal. The attainment of Moksha means that one is liberated from the cycle of rebirth, so yourdescription of Hinduism as “an empty stopping point between lives” is misinformed.

    And the “emptiness” (sunyata) that Buddhism teaches is not a vacuum or a nihilistic void. Buddhism states that all things are “empty” in the sense that they are all interdependent and have no inherent existence. Realizing the “oneness” of all beings, Buddhists see salvation as not a personal affair, but something of universal concern. In his book, History of Japanese Religion, M. Anesaki succinctly summarizes the spirit of Buddhism: “Individuals may purify themselves and thereby escape the miseries of sinful existence, yet the salvation of anyone is imperfect so long and so far as there remain any who have not realized the universal spiritual communion, i.e., who are not saved. To save oneself by saving others is the gospel of universal salvation taught by Buddhism.”

    You seem to be arguing the validity of Christianity based on how attractive it’s version of the afterlife is. In that case, the Christian heaven is not necessarily the most attractive afterlife destination since “attraction” is itself a subjective thing. The Hindus believe that those who have faith in Krishna will be attain moksha in Vrindavana Goloka – Krishna’s personal realm where they get to be with Krishna forever in an idyllic, pastoral environment. Krishna devotees will probably see the Christian heaven as a sort of hell. Pure Land Buddhists believe that faith in the grace of Amitabha Buddha will win them rebirth in the Pure Land, a fabulous realm adorned by flowers, gold and jewels where they will learn the teachings of Buddhism from Amitabha himself and after attaining enlightenment, will return to the world of suffering as bodhisattvas to deliver sentient beings. Many Pure Land Buddhists will, I suspect, see the Christian heaven as inadequate.

  • 9. loopyloo350  |  November 13, 2007 at 9:35 am

    A book is rewritten when it doesn’t convey the meaning intended or when it is defaced. To take words from history as literal is to limit God to a time period in the past and confine him to a box that fits standards that fit expectations. The book God writes is still being written and we are just a small part of the whole.Simplicity/complexety are parts of a whole but by themselves are not the whole. To limit is to constrain, God has no limits. Heaven/hell are manmade, not Godmade. Man is constantly renewed in more forms than physical. You are more than the sum of your parts and God is more than a book written in the past.

  • 10. Brad  |  November 13, 2007 at 9:59 am

    “Brad, you know I really like you and appreciate your visits here. But how can you be disturbed by the prospect of your family in eternal damnation, yet call the grace of that very God of Damnation ‘glorious’? Seriously, that is not a trivial question. In my humble opinion, it is an absurdity.”

    Hahaha… No HIS, I don’t necessarily blame you for thinking it is an absurdity. In High School, I was told that because I didn’t go to church, I was going to Hell. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow. I want no part of that God. I will never believe in a God who dictates arbitrary rules and condemns me for eternity because I don’t follow them.” And now here I am. A Christian seeking to be a pastor in a few years.

    So how do I reconcile it? Well, it has ever so much to do with sin. Sin is not just a breaking of “arbitrary rules.” It is direct rebellion from God. But that’s not all either… God is not a dictator sitting on a throne, barking out orders. But a father (dad) who loves us enough to guide us towards maturity and realization of our very identity as his children.

    Now, that may sound pie-in-the-sky, and a very stereotypical Christian answer, but the key distinction with what you are talking about and how I reconcile it is the responsibility of sin. Dude. It is all ours. Grace, by definition, is a gift of something that we have not earned. If we have earned Hell (“wages of sin is death”), then God would be VERY fair to send us all there. But because He is gracious, he will save some.

    Without the first part (“we have earned hell”), God seems incredibly cruel and unjust. But if we have truly earned Hell (something our individual-emphasized Western worldviews may have trouble accepting), even a single person saved is “above and beyond the call of duty,” so-to-speak.

    There are other aspects I will try and come back to address later, but I have GOT to run to class now! Good post, HIS, very provocative.

  • 11. Yueheng  |  November 13, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Brad wrote:

    But if we have truly earned Hell (something our individual-emphasized Western worldviews may have trouble accepting), even a single person saved is “above and beyond the call of duty,” so-to-speak.

    But the Bible seems to indicate, in numerous places, that it is God who decides who sins and is condemned. For it is written in Romans 9:

    What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. — Romans 9:14-18, NIV

    Assuming that there is a Creator God who has created human beings, the belief that human beings have, by default, “earned” hell because of their human flaws seems like a cruel absurdity. God created imperfect human beings and he is offended by their imperfection (sin) and thus he is going to torture them for all eternity for their imperfection.

    Here, I am going to pre-empt the stereotypical Christian argument that human beings chose to defy God when Adam and Eve ate those apples in the Garden of Eden. (Anyway, didn’t the God say of the Bible say in Deuteronomy 24:16 that “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”?) One letter in the NT explicitly states that the fall of creation was a plan by God from the very beginning:

    For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. — Romans 8:20-21, NIV

    And later on in the letter:

    For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. — Romans 11:32, NIV

    In the above passage, Paul opines that the fall of mankind was part of his God’s design from the very beginning. God willed the fall so that humanity could be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Paul even goes on to say that God has “bound all men to disobedience” so as to “have mercy on them all.” But yet according to the doctrine of eternal damnation, billions of human beings will suffer in hell for all eternity for disobeying this God. What sort of a God is this? He puts into motion a plan to bring freedom to his children, but somehow this plan includes him hardening the hearts of many and causing his children to become disobedient. And this plan will cumulate in millions of his children being tortured for a situation that he set up from the beginning. This is hardly sounds like a father who “loves us enough to guide us towards maturity and realization of our very identity as his children.” This seems more like a divine despot who has initiated a very confusing matrix to bewilder.

    And furthermore, the credibility of the loving father analogy is blown to bits when one reads the OT and sees passages like:
    This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ — 1 Samuel 15: 2-3
    I will punish the world for its evil,
    the wicked for their sins.
    I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
    and will humble the pride of the ruthless.

    I will make man scarcer than pure gold,
    more rare than the gold of Ophir.

    Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
    and the earth will shake from its place
    at the wrath of the LORD Almighty,
    in the day of his burning anger.

    Like a hunted gazelle,
    like sheep without a shepherd,
    each will return to his own people,
    each will flee to his native land.

    Whoever is captured will be thrust through;
    all who are caught will fall by the sword.
    Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;
    their houses will be looted and their wives ravished. — Isaiah 13: 11-16, NIV

    What kind of a loving father will cause such carnage? Can one make sense of a benevolent and compassionate deity instigating warriors (see Isaiah 13:3) to dash infants to pieces and ravish women? Is this a glorious God? My answer would be a resounding “No.”

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  November 13, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Funny, but Hell never bothered me as a Christian. Not completely sure why. I know that part of it was that I believed God would be just and hence would not condemn folks without a truly fair hearing.

    I also had the view that Hell was just God saying, “You said you don’t want me, so I’ll put you over here and leave you alone.” Not really a place where you were deliberately burned and tortured, but a place where you were left completely alone. No food, no water, no companionship, no light, no nothing. Just you (or your soul I guess). An eternity of just me, sounds pretty bad after a few billion years.

    The Orthodox, and the Catholics, got around some of the “hell problem” by believing that there was hope for people even after they died. That’s why both of them pray for the dead. I guess that’s sort of comforting to folks. If Uncle Joe died an unbeliever, you can still pray that he’ll come to his senses posthumously. Of course that begs the question of why you’d bother to witness now.

    Just some thoughts.

  • 13. Brad  |  November 13, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Yueheng,

    There is no doubt that God’s wrath is expressed in scripture, particularly the OT. And, absent the atonement of Christ, I have no doubt that much of that would remain. There are numerous instances in the bible that involve an apparent paradox of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (hardening Pharaoh’s heart for example), often in the same verse.

    The lynch pin of course, is Jesus. Paul says that “there is now now condemnation” for those in Christ Jesus. If the Amelekites had Jesus, they would not have been punished or experienced wrath. That is the point of Christ’s sacrifice. Why is the language so harsh and so wrathful in 1Samuel and Isaiah? Because it points to the need for a resolution, it points to the need for a messiah of redemption. All that wrath fell on Jesus, and that is why Paul says that there is “now no condemnation.” We look back in faith to the cross, and the B.C. Jews looked forward in faith to the cross.

    One cannot read the justice of God apart from His love. Both are in scripture, both are in the same books of scripture, as well as the same chapters and even verses within those books. Context is king. Also, you make an assumption that your view of “justice” is the normative view, and that God’s view is barbaric. Where did you get that view of justice? The same goes for love as well. Why is our view the normative view?

    As such, here are a few quotes that talk about love. If one can quote scripture that points to God’s justice and wrath, those concerning his love and grace must be equally valid.

    “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-8.

    God’s love does not ignore, marginalize, or contradict his just-ness. Through Christ both are satisfied by grace.

    I wish I had more time to read and comment, but alas, I have to run to class (again). Peace.

  • 14. pineridgeoklahoma  |  November 13, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks for your perspectives. Honestly though, If there were no doctrine of hell, Christianity would be a vastly different religion. And who knows, it may be a Christian when ignorant of any concept of eternal damnation, and all this de-conversion business would be moot. But, its too late now, isn’t it?

    I’ve come to the conclusion in my own faith journey that the idea of hell is wrong and does more harm than good. I’m not sure why Jesus talked about it (at least what the Gospels recount of him supposedly), but the Old Testament does not mention the idea of hell or for that matter have a clear conceptualization of the afterlife. My own opinion is that the idea of heaven and hell had been a popular idea by the 1st century C.E. and the common people resonated with it, so Jesus incorporated those ideas into his teachings, however, I don’t think they are a key part of his teachings.

    As such, I just don’t believe anymore in a literal hell. It doesn’t make sense to me that Jesus would tell us to forgive everybody, yet God only forgives those who say the magic words and put their faith in him. I also can’t fathom the monstrosity of a God who would feel the need to torture sinners forever and ever. I don’t think even the worst “sinners” (i.e. child molesters, genocidal leaders, etc.) deserve this.

    But I don’t think it is necessary to throw out the baby in the bathwater. I do consider myself to be a Christian because I follow the core teachings of Jesus (peace, loving one another, justice for the poor). Those ideas are much more important than issues of eternity that we really won’t know for sure until we die. I think it is far more important to do what Jesus taught, than to “believe in Jesus.”

  • 15. karen  |  November 13, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    I think most truly thoughtful Christians either reject the notion of hell as eternal punishment or they become universalists, believing in the possibility of eternal salvation for everyone.

    I’ve seen many moderate and liberal Christians redefine hell into something just mildly unpleasant. They get around the “lake of fire” verses by reinterpreting them.

    I never worried too much about hell as a Christian fundamentalist, myself. It fell into that category of “god’s mysterious ways” and I figured if god was truly just – as I believed he was – he’d find some way of working things out fairly that I just didn’t understand. I did a lot of that kind of rationalization that actually horrifies me today. It feels so insensitive from my perspective now!

  • 16. Brad  |  November 13, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    “the Old Testament does not mention the idea of hell or for that matter have a clear conceptualization of the afterlife.”

    Oh yes it does…. The word used for hell in the OT is “Sheol,” and it occurs 62 times in the OT. Jesus contextualized it (by referring it to as Hades, for example), but both refer to the same “place.”

    Also, verses such as the one below very clearly demonstrate an awareness of eternity/afterlife:
    “But Israel is saved by the Lordwith everlasting salvation;you shall not be put to shame or confoundedto all eternity.”
    (Isaiah 45:17)

    Jesus talked about Hell more than anyone else in the NT. He clearly saw it as a real place. In the Sermon on the Mount, he talked about the extreme measures that had to be taken to avoid it apart from Grace (measures that are impossible to adhere to apart from the sacrifice of Christ).

    If we were to focus on the things Jesus taught, we would see things like “I am the way, truth and light” “No one comes to the Father except through me” “I am the light of the world.” The core teaching of Jesus was that He was the one in whom all the promises of God were fulfilled. The ethical or moral teachings of Christ were meant (mostly) to illustrate the need for Him, and relegating all of his teaching to strictly ethical application would be totally misinterpreting the absolute “core” of his message.

    And his message was himself.

  • 17. Brad  |  November 13, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Karen,

    “I think most truly thoughtful Christians either reject the notion of hell as eternal punishment or they become universalists, believing in the possibility of eternal salvation for everyone.”

    The ironic part about that statement is that the “reformed” tradition is generally considered the most academic/thoughtful (often to a fault), yet it is people like Calvin and other reformers who hold so firmly to both the doctrine of grace and the reality of Hell.

  • 18. pineridgeoklahoma  |  November 13, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    BTW, here’s an interview with Bishop Carlton Pearson, who is a well-known who argues against a literal view of hell.

  • 19. Paul S.  |  November 13, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    joysong said,

    I would rather be under the protection of Jesus and live in the life and grace He gives, rather than live in any life without Him.

    Hedging your bets like Pascal, I see.

    joysong said,

    Particularly if life without him means all the outside-of-marriage sex, drugs, pride, self-destruction, broken families, etc. that I see around me that is not dependent on the amount of money/wealth a person has.

    You would have a valid point if the only people who suffered from “outside-of-marriage sex, drugs, pride, self-destruction, broken families, etc.” were non-Christians. But we all know that isn’t the case.

    From religioustolerance.org: Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

    This same old, tired argument that without God the world would be a chaotic place with no regard for morality, has been shown to be utterly ridiculous.

  • 20. karen  |  November 13, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    The ironic part about that statement is that the “reformed” tradition is generally considered the most academic/thoughtful (often to a fault), yet it is people like Calvin and other reformers who hold so firmly to both the doctrine of grace and the reality of Hell.

    Sorry, I’m talking about the thoughtful people I know of in today’s world, Brad. I’m not talking about the historical record.

    The people I know who really put a lot of time and energy into examining their faith – as opposed to fundamentalists of the “god said it, I believe it, that settles it” camp – tend to reduce the scope and nature of hell in their personal theology because its sheer brutality is offensive and contradictory to the nature of a “god of love.”

    You also said:
    Jesus talked about Hell more than anyone else in the NT. He clearly saw it as a real place. In the Sermon on the Mount, he talked about the extreme measures that had to be taken to avoid it apart from Grace (measures that are impossible to adhere to apart from the sacrifice of Christ).

    If we were to focus on the things Jesus taught, we would see things like “I am the way, truth and light” “No one comes to the Father except through me” “I am the light of the world.” The core teaching of Jesus was that He was the one in whom all the promises of God were fulfilled. The ethical or moral teachings of Christ were meant (mostly) to illustrate the need for Him, and relegating all of his teaching to strictly ethical application would be totally misinterpreting the absolute “core” of his message.

    I actually agree with you here, which is why the moderate/liberal camp of Christians does not appeal to me. I don’t see how they get around all of this exclusivity that Jesus preached, nor his strong message about hell. But they do it!

  • 21. HeIsSailing  |  November 13, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Brad says:

    If we have earned Hell (”wages of sin is death”), then God would be VERY fair to send us all there.

    You have “earned” hell? Really? Are you really so evil and rotten that you deserve nothing more than to be kindling for the griddles of neverending hell?

    gag

    I will vent on that theme in the next exciting installment. Stay tooooned.

  • 22. HeIsSailing  |  November 13, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    pineridgeoklahoma says:

    BTW, here’s an interview with Bishop Carlton Pearson, …

    You forgot to leave the link. Reprint it so we can check it out.

  • 23. HeIsSailing  |  November 13, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Brad says:

    Sin is not just a breaking of “arbitrary rules.” It is direct rebellion from God.

    Is not sin defined as ‘missing God’s mark’? Who defined that nature? If it is God himself, it seems arbitrary to me. The redemptive plan thus also seems arbitrary. If we desire to gain a closer relationship with God, and as a result consider the doctrine of hell in in the Scriptures to be ludicrous as a result (which is the situation my wife is in), are we thus sinning?

    It really does seem very arbitrary to me.

    Brad continues:

    The word used for hell in the OT is “Sheol,” and it occurs 62 times in the OT. Jesus contextualized it (by referring it to as Hades, for example), but both refer to the same “place.”

    I beg to differ. Sheol seems to be the subteranean underworld that everybody will go to after death – or as you said, ‘the grave’. There does not seem to be a distinction made whether righteous and wicked will go there – consider Psalm 89:48, 88:3, which are explicit that *everyone*, the godly and the wicked alike, will go there.

    The Old Testament does not contain any reference to a flaming hell of eternal torment. Neither does it contain much any reference to any afterlife. Hellfire is really only explicit in the New Testament books of Matthew and Revelation. More evidence again of evolving religious doctrines right there in the Bible.

    So I guess it depends on the church denomination how you want to interpret these passages, and make the distinction between heaven, hell, sheol, tartarus, gehenna, hades, etc… Different churches inerpret these things in different ways. My church believed that sheol, or the grave, was a holding tank where all the dead waited for the final resurrection, where they would face the great White Throne Judgement, then the damned will be chucked into Hell from there.

  • 24. OneSmallStep  |  November 13, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Sheol seems to be the subteranean underworld that everybody will go to after death – or as you said, ‘the grave’. There does not seem to be a distinction made whether righteous and wicked will go there – consider Psalm 89:48, 88:3, which are explicit that *everyone*, the godly and the wicked alike, will go there.

    The Old Testament does not contain any reference to a flaming hell of eternal torment. Neither does it contain much any reference to any afterlife. Hellfire is really only explicit in the New Testament books of Matthew and Revelation. More evidence again of evolving religious doctrines right there in the Bible.

    I agree with HIS on this. The word used in the Tanakh, Sheol, does not really match how the concept of hell is used in Christianity. Which is why many scholars say that there is no clear concept of the afterlife in the Tanakh, at least not until late into it, such as Daniel. Most of the readers of the Tanakh would not have understood it as eternal torment.

    And wasn’t it referred to as Hades because the Gospels were written in Greek, and that was the Greek translation of Sheol?

    In the Sermon on the Mount, he talked about the extreme measures that had to be taken to avoid it apart from Grace (measures that are impossible to adhere to apart from the sacrifice of Christ).

    Yes, but he used the word “Gehenna” there, which was a reference to a garbage dump. And things don’t eternally burn in a garbage dump. Plus, the Sermon on the Mount dealt with metaphorical language, such as cutting off one’s hand. That is taken metaphorically. Why not the concept of Gehenna? Why not say the crowd understood that metaphorically as well?

    The problem I have with saying that the Sermon points to a need for Christ is that there is no indication that the crowd would’ve heard it that way. He was speaking in present tense, with saying blessed are the poor, or the meek, which is how most of that crowd would’ve been. He also made mention to the crowd that, “you are the light of the world, salt of the earth.” That’s a present tense. It didn’t say that they’ll be that only after Christ sacrifices himself, or that one needs Christ to be a light. Instead, it seems to be set up as a contrast, with an old picture of God verses a more expansive one. It’s not really letting the Sermon stand on its own, but using the Gospel of John to interpret it — which is the information the crowd did not have.

    If the Amelekites had Jesus, they would not have been punished or experienced wrath. God’s love does not ignore, marginalize, or contradict his just-ness. Through Christ both are satisfied by grace.

    My understanding is, under evangelical Christianity, is that one sins by breaking God’s law. But God’s law, as the Torah, at the time only seemed to apply to the Israelities. If that covenant wasn’t established with the Amelekites, how could they then break that law, if it didn’t apply to them? Not only that, but even the infants experienced this wrath. That’s just? IT’s just to punish a people for something their ancestors did, which is what happened to the Amelekites? They were punished because their ancestors attacked Israel — I think it was 400 years prior.

    Not only that, God’s justice often referred to equality as well. The prophets alone kept telling Israel to pursue justice, through carrying for the orphans and widows and such.

  • 25. Richard  |  November 14, 2007 at 2:10 am

    Brad-
    I will just echo what has already been said. Sheol does not refer to the Christian idea of hell. It was rendered thus by Christian translaters who assumed, without looking, that the OT must cohere with the new.

    The ancient Israelites had nothing like the Christian conception of hell, as far as we can tell. Sheol refers to a shadowy underworld, where everyone goes. Not much is said about it. As far as we can tell it didnt figure much in their theology.

    Hell entered early Hebrew thought only after Hellenizaton, when Alexander came a-calling, beat the crap out of everybody , and introduced greek thought. The greeks had a concept more similar to the Christian idea of hell. Thats why something like the idea of afterlife punishment is first suggested in Daniel, as someone said above, which is believed to be the last (or one of the last) books in the Tanakh to be written (probably during the Maccabean period).

    Incidentally, the concept of body-soul dualism is also not native to early Judaism and also entered Jewish thought from the Greeks. Actually, it comes from Plato, who had a lot of ideas about an eternal soul (in his dialogue Phaedo). If youwill notice, nowhere in the Tanakh does it tell us human beings were given a soul. The breath of life given to adam was just that – breath.

    Back to the topic (the morality of hell), our beef with the issue of hell is not whether the rules that occasion it are arbitrary, nor necessarily whether we have “sinned”, nor whether we obey or rebel, nor even whether we deserve *some* punishment. I could in theory accept all that and still balk at the idea of infinite torture. The issue is the punishment fitting the crime.

    Richard

  • 26. Yueheng  |  November 14, 2007 at 2:26 am

    Brad:

    You wrote: Why is the language so harsh and so wrathful in 1Samuel and Isaiah? Because it points to the need for a resolution, it points to the need for a messiah of redemption. All that wrath fell on Jesus..

    This is not accurate. If you accept the passage that I cited from 1 Samuel to be factually true, then all the wrath fell on the Amalekites whom your God ordered to be totally destroyed for having commited a crime a few generations ago during the time of Moses. The wrath fell on their men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

    You seem to have brushed aside the passages from Romans which I have cited with a simplistic invocation of there being a “paradox”. Perhaps the more accurate word would be “contradiction”. The doctrine of free will to choose between salvation and eternal damnation is logically inconsistent with a God who intervenes in human decisions as and when he sees fit, to the point where he can actually “harden” the heart of some beings into disobedience and then proceed to punish these human beings for being disobedient when he is the one responsible for their disobedience (Romans 11:32).

    Would God be just if he punished someone whose heart that He himself has hardened? If the answer is yes, then I am afraid that this “justice” not really “justice”, isn’t it? For the concept of justice to have any meaning at all in the realm of human thought, it has to be logically coherent. God punishing someone for being something that ordained by God is not logically coherent and to describe this as “justice” renders the whole concept of justice meaningless.

    You ask: Where did you get that view of justice? The same goes for love as well. Why is our view the normative view?

    Most rational, objective people today would agree that Love is incompatible with genocide, dashing infants to pieces and enslaving women as sex slaves (all practices endorsed at one time by your God) Of course you may argue that this is a subjective view and that one cannot judge God by the human ethical standards of our time. But when you compare God to a loving parent, are you not doing the very same thing? You are imposing your own understanding of parental love onto your God. But throughout history (and not just today), parental love has never been associated with wilful and violent filicide. To my knowledge, there has been no society anywhere in which it has been considered a virtue to murder one’s offspring and/or torture them in a lake of fire. As such, the God of the Bible who sees fit to murder infants and children is fundamentally incompatible with the universal moral grammar of parental love. So your analogy of God as a “loving parent”, upon objective scrutiny, cannot stand.

    I would like to turn your question around and ask: Why should ideas about God that has been encrypted in the language and values of pre-modern tribes be the normative view? When you say that your conception of God as a genocidal infant-murdering deity is the normative view, are you not merely substituting one human conception of God with another human conception of God? After all, the claim that a God of Love can murder infants is a claim expressed through human concepts, just as the claim that it is inconsistent for a God of Love can murder infants is also a human claim. So how do we decide which is true?

    The lynch pin of course, is reason. A God that is meaningful to human beings cannot be incompatible with human reason. If you say that your conception of God is beyond human understanding, you are effectively saying that your God is beyond reproach of reason, are you not? He can be loving and at the same time murder children and infants – because he says he is loving. He can be just and at the same time punish human beings for being disobedient when he has set them up to be disobedient – because he says he is just. Is this a God who is meaningful to reasonable human beings? I think the answer is in the negative.

  • 27. Brad  |  November 14, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Oh sure… wait till I hit the hay and THEN respond… *sigh*… ok, let me try to tackle this…

    HIS said: “Are you really so evil and rotten that you deserve nothing more than to be kindling for the griddles of neverending hell?”

    Ummm…. In short: yes. How we define “evil and rotten” is not the way God does (particularly in the relativistic West).

    Karen said: “I’m not talking about the historical record.”

    Oh I know. Sorry I wasn’t more clear. The Reformed tradition (of which I consider myself a part) does not minimize or marginalize Hell. This is why the doctrine of grace is so key.

    HIS said: “The Old Testament does not contain any reference to a flaming hell of eternal torment. ”

    Meh, for me, it is somewhat a moot point because I am more than willing to admit that that the image of Dante’s Inferno is the image we often conjure up when we think of Hell, and scripture is neither that specific, nor is it really anywhere close. Hell is described by the NT as a place of torment and flame (Luke 16:22-24) and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:50). Hell, by its simple definition, is eternity apart from God. We do have several instances (the above mentioned Luke 16 passage being remarkably clear) that talk about Hell being a real place of fire, similar to Gehenna and the Greek Hades. Yes, the use of those places was symbolic, but it was to contextualize a very real reality.

  • 28. Brad  |  November 14, 2007 at 10:08 am

    Yueheng said: “You seem to have brushed aside the passages from Romans which I have cited with a simplistic invocation of there being a “paradox”.”

    I certainly did not mean to “brush” them aside with a simple statement of paradox. I struggle with understanding what the crap is going on in verses like: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
    (Matthew 26:24)

    However, the paradox is there, and thus I will not say one way or the other when the Bible refuses to make the either/or distinction. It is both/and.

    “Of course you may argue that this is a subjective view and that one cannot judge God by the human ethical standards of our time. But when you compare God to a loving parent, are you not doing the very same thing?”

    In re: to the tough passages in the OT where God orders death and violence… I don’t know. I am learning more everyday, but that is an answer I have not found to my liking yet. When I do, I’ll let you know. In re: to God as a parent… The imagery is EVERYWHERE in scripture, and cannot be explained so simply as my eisegeting it into the passage. That is an extensive over-simplification.

    You now ask several questions, but let me tackle them somewhat out of order:

    “When you say that your conception of God as a genocidal infant-murdering deity is the normative view…”

    I fail to see where I said that. I only questioned our normative view.

    “So how do we decide which is true?”

    Well, for one, look at the whole body of scripture. Taking a few verses from larger books and ascribing it holistically to the character of God is hardly responsible exegesis. And please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that those passages are not difficult to reconcile. I am only saying that those select do not represent the body of what scriptrue has to say about who God is.

    “A God that is meaningful to human beings cannot be incompatible with human reason. If you say that your conception of God is beyond human understanding, you are effectively saying that your God is beyond reproach of reason, are you not?”

    Nope. God can be compatible with human reason (which is why we can know anything at all about Him), but it is just… proud to say that God can be perfectly explained and defined by his own creation. It is the influence of Western Enlightenment thinking that tells us that something must be “certain” to be true in order to be true at all. God did not reveal Cartesian thought in scripture, and never intended to eliminate all mystery or doubt.

  • 29. OneSmallStep  |  November 14, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Brad,

    Meh, for me, it is somewhat a moot point because I am more than willing to admit that that the image of Dante’s Inferno is the image we often conjure up when we think of Hell,

    But you later say that hell does include flames and torment — yet neither aspect is described in the Tanakh, which is a good 2/3rds of the Bible. The concept of hell evolved throughout the Bible, and the current times concept only comes into play in the last 1/3 or so. I think it was Richard who mentioned that this comes into play because of the introduction of Greek thought into Hebrew. To me, that speaks more of cultural interaction, rather than a firm concept applied from the beginning of the Bible. The timing is just too neat, that the idea of a place of torment only is seen after the Greek thought.

    Hell is described by the NT as a place of torment and flame (Luke 16:22-24) and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:50).

    But why say that the Luke reference was meant to describe a reality of hell? What sent the rich man there was his treatment of the begger. The warning there seems more along the lines of the requirement in how to treat others. The story was along a parable fashion, so why say it’s describing a literal reality of hell? As it is, what got the begger into heaven had nothing to do with a correct belief set about Jesus.

    And with the Matthew reference — that can just as easily be read that the wicked are cast into the furnace of fire and completely eradicated. That is what a fire furnace would do. It doesn’t say that it’s an eternal location.

    Ummm…. In short: yes. How we define “evil and rotten” is not the way God does (particularly in the relativistic West).

    I think this is in part what Yueheng is getting at. If we go back to the Amelekites (sp?) and how God ordered them killed, even the infants, for something their ancestors did, we would find that evil. If Israel suddenly decides to punish Germany now for the Holocaust, we would find that evil. Yet God retroactively punishes the Amelekites of that time for something they’re not even responsible for. The concept of evil and rotten do become almost arbitrary, because they hold no meaning. It’s evil to punish one generation for the faults of a previous one, and yet that occurs in the Tanakh, ordered by God. We have no standard to measure as to whether God is good or not, under this system. The concept of evil has just become relative, when applied to God.

    As it is — Brad, would you ever tell your child that s/he is evil, rotten and condemned to hell? What do you think that would do to your child? Because as I see it, that’s what it comes down to. Under this system, we are condemned for existing, and thus will suffer eternally simply for making the wrong choice. You don’t even have the ability to not sin, due to how original sin functions. You are born with sin, and then blamed for your actions.

  • 30. Paul S.  |  November 14, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    OneSmallStep said,

    As it is — Brad, would you ever tell your child that s/he is evil, rotten and condemned to hell? What do you think that would do to your child?

    This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Paine:

  • 31. Paul S.  |  November 14, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Damn, hit the submit button by mistake!

    Here’s the quote:

    “Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system.”

    I think that pretty much sums it up.

  • 32. Yueheng  |  November 14, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Brad:

    You wrote:

    However, the paradox is there, and thus I will not say one way or the other when the Bible refuses to make the either/or distinction. It is both/and.

    No, this is not a paradox. It is a contradiction. Consider the following.

    A. Some parts of the Bible suggest that human beings must choose between salvation and eternal damnation.
    B. Some parts of the Bible claim that human beings have no input in salvation. It is God who decides who is saved and condemned. He hardens whom he will and he has mercy on whom he has mercy.

    A and B cannot both be true at the same time. If A is true, then B is negated. Vice versa. The only plausible answer, to me, is that the Bible is not a single work authored by a divine author, but an anthology of writings by different people containing different theologies, some of which overlap and some of which are contradictory.

    In Chapter 6 of his book The End of Faith, Sam Harris argues that that those who engage in honor killings to preserve the sexual purity of women are objectively less capable of love than those opposed to such killings. He writes:

    What is the proof that these men are less capable of love than the rest of us? Well, where would be the proof be if a person behaved this way in our own society? Where’s the proof that the person who shot JFK didn’t really love him? All the proof we need came from the book depository. We know how the word “love” functions in our discourse. We have all felt love, have failed to feel it, and have occasionally felt its antithesis. Even if we don’t harbor the slightest sympathy for their notion of “honor,” we know what these honor killers are up to – and it is not a matter of expressing their love for the women in their lives.

    Pursuing his line of reasoning, that “love” is an objective and universal human experience, Harris goes on to write:

    What is love? Few of us will be tempted to consult a dictionary on the subject. We know that we want those we love to be happy. We feel compassion for their suffering. When love is really effective – that is, really felt rather than merely imagined – we cannot help sharing in the joy of those we love, and in their anguish as well. The disposition of love entails the loss, at least to some degree, of our self-absorption – and this is surely one of the clues as to why this state of mind is so pleasurable. Most of us will find that cutting a little girl’s head after she has been raped just doesn’t capture these sentiments very well.

    I find the above excerpt very relevant to this discussion. You ask why our human view of love and justice ought to be the normative view when we look at the God of the Bible. This line of inquiry could take the form of another question: “Where’s the proof that the God of the Bible who can order his followers to cut down children, infants and women and enslave virgins as comfort women didn’t really love them?”

    In answering this question, I will borrow Harris’s argument by invoking humanity’s collective experience of “love” as proof. Although the scope of love may differ, in all civilizations and cultures, love for others has been synonymous with compassion. “Do unto others what you want to be done yourself.” is the Golden Rule of Love taught by Jesus as well as other spiritual leaders. Yet, the God of the Bible seems to have failed to adhere to this rule, unless one supposes that this God also desires to be subjected to the genocides and sexual slavery that he has inflicted on others.

    All our human experience of Love tells us that people who love others do not go about murdering, or ordering others to murder human beings on a large scale. People who are loving do not go around dashing infants to pieces and they most certainly would cringe from instigating rape. People who are loving do not wish to torture anyone even for a minute, much less an eternity. These actions are fundamentally incompatible with Love as human beings have always understood Love down the ages. Yet the God of the Bible is guilty of all these actions and his followers somehow continue to assert he is “Love”. This Love can be shown by turning the other cheek when someone mistreats you, but it is also compatible with the genocide if infants and children. This God can decide to send two bears to devour some children (2 Kings 2:23-25) and he can still be said to be a loving deity.

    But doesn’t this ultimately mean, as OneSmallStep has pointed out, that there are no longer any consistent, objective standards by which we can measure whether God is really good or not?

  • 33. Brad  |  November 14, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    One Small Step,

    “But you later say that hell does include flames and torment — yet neither aspect is described in the Tanakh, which is a good 2/3rds of the Bible”

    That may be true, but it is not entirely absent. Fire and flame are used in judgment and atonement in many areas of the OT (Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt in Exodus, the ritual of burnt offerings). It is definitely not a leap to go from burning flesh to atone for sin and a hell that includes fire. Common usage of Greek terminology is not automatic proof of an adoption of the belief system, but contextualizing a concept into hellenistic culture. Jesus’ parables are key examples of this.

    “If we go back to the Amelekites…”

    Elsewhere in the OT, the Amelekites are responsible for wanting to wipe out the entire Jewish race (Esther), attacking the Jews as they leave Egypt (as already discussed), and several other times in the history of Israel as aggressors. Wiping out the entire people would have prevented generations of violence, death, and destruction. I am not defending the implications of “pre-emptive strikes” and our decisions to carry them out, but can we at least agree that God may have had a different perspective on world events (particularly, an eternal perspective)?

    “Brad, would you ever tell your child that s/he is evil, rotten and condemned to hell? ”

    Yes and no. I will teach them that they are sinners, but saved thanks to the grace of God and are not condemned to Hell.

  • 34. OneSmallStep  |  November 14, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Brad,

    It is definitely not a leap to go from burning flesh to atone for sin and a hell that includes fire.

    Even if there’s no trace of that until after the introduction of Greek terminology? It can only contextualize a concept if the concept was there in the first place, but Sheol was not how Christianity depicts hell. Yes, flame is used in terms of judgement (though possibly also because flame purifies, and thus it would completely eliminate the evil). But that judgement is not an eternal one. They are punished for a brief time, and then eradicated. It was a one time thing, taking place in this world.

    Wiping out the entire people would have prevented generations of violence, death, and destruction.

    But that is not the reason given for wiping them out. It was specifically because of what their ancestors did when the Israelites left Egypt, which is why I asked if it would be just if Israel attacks Germany for what the country did in WWII. The same principle applies. We would find Israel’s action evil, because it’s vengence on the wrong people. Yet this action is not deemed evil. Same action, different players. How is that not relative morality?

    but can we at least agree that God may have had a different perspective on world events (particularly, an eternal perspective)?

    But how does this answer my question on relativity? Think of how much evil can be done under this viewpoint. World leaders have a different perspective, but if they’re going to commit genocide on a country, including infants, then I would hope we would demand a full accountability for that action, and not just say, “Well, they have a different perspective.” Yes, God has a different perspective. But if that’s how His goodness is justified, then I find that sobering. There is no standard to make sure that God is in fact good.

    “Brad, would you ever tell your child that s/he is evil, rotten and condemned to hell? ”

    Yes and no. I will teach them that they are sinners, but saved thanks to the grace of God and are not condemned to Hell.

    But when thinking about this in full, you are saying that every single person deserves an eternity of no love, no light, no justice, no compassion, nothing. None. You are telling that child that they don’t deserve to be loved, because the absence of God is the absence of love. Think about what that message does to the child. Even if the concept of grace is applied, it’s constantly attached to the message that you don’t deserve this, what you really deserve is to be condemned to torment.

  • 35. HeIsSailing  |  November 14, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Brad says:

    That may be true, but it is not entirely absent. Fire and flame are used in judgment and atonement in many areas of the OT (Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt in Exodus, the ritual of burnt offerings). It is definitely not a leap to go from burning flesh to atone for sin and a hell that includes fire.

    Oh man.. yes it is. That is a huge leap you are making there. I mean, either Scripture teaches that the Old testament conception of Sheol is a flaming hell or it does not. Your analogy of Sheol being typified by God’s firey wrath ignores the many other types of judgement he inflicted on earthly sinners: flood, famine, draught, pestilences, and captivity by Babylonians, and Assyrians. Why can’t hell be typified by those? For no other reason than they simply do not fit the harmonization. You have also forgotten about Old Testament passages which teach that Sheol is a place where *all* go to dwell after death, righteous and wicked alike. When you claim that the Old Testament teaches that Sheol is an eternal flaming torment for the wicked by arbitrarily selecting a few of God’s judgements by fire at the exclusion of the others, and ignore contrary passages of Scripture, you are, quite frankly, grasping for straws. This is desperate harmonization.

    This is not a trivial matter. This is one of the number of reasons why I stopped believing in eternal Hellfire. Not only does it make no moral sense, but the teachings of the afterlife are inconsistant in Scripture. There are various teachings and competing traditions on what happen to the dead, it just depends on where in Scripture you look.

  • 36. Brad  |  November 14, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I still fail to understand how the usage of contextualization must equal helenistic influence, and thus nonexistence. That is the kind of assumption-based reasoning that typifies the Jesus Seminar crowd, and makes academicians (both Christian and non-Christian) cringe.

    I have tried to present as much of the whole of scripture as this type of medium allows (and the time I have to spend on it). There are instances beyond the NT that it is described in that way, yet I also readily admit that there are exaggerations stemming from church tradition that leads us to the rather shaky understanding of hell in the platonic-dualistic sense.

    Bottom line: We either spend eternity with God or we spend eternity apart from God. There is no middle ground. Whether Hell involves fire or not is a moot (or at least less significant) point. It sucks either way. Is it possible that the NT’s use of fire imagery is used to make a point? Sure. But is the entire concept imported from Hellenistic culture? Not likely, considering the cultural elitism of 1st century Jews (insistence on staying separate). There is far less evidence for that claim beyond mere speculation and individual reasoning.

  • 37. OneSmallStep  |  November 14, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Brad,

    You may or may not respond to this, givne your time constraints.

    still fail to understand how the usage of contextualization must equal helenistic influence, and thus nonexistence. That is the kind of assumption-based reasoning that typifies the Jesus Seminar crowd, and makes academicians

    Because the concept of eternal destruction was something that came into play after the introduction. Regardless of an insistence on being seperate, if one country is occupied by another, the dominant culture is going to affect the minority culture to some degree. It’s inevitable. What we are saying is that the idea of hell as a place of torment/fire did not exist prior to that. It was simply a shadowy underworld. No one is saying that Sheol didn’t exist. But as HIS says, why say that fire is equal to hell, when there were many other ways God punished? We don’t see the contexulization fitting what was there before.

    We either spend eternity with God or we spend eternity apart from God. There is no middle ground

    But this might be the core problem, which is another thing that I think many of us have touched on briefly. The concept of eternal life, and how it evolved throughout the Bible. When the concept of salvation is applied in the Tanakh, how often is it associated with an afterlife? Was an afterlife even the primary focus for most of the Tanakh?

    The reason why many are focusing on this is because the concept of hell is a prime focus for much of evangelical Christianity — Jesus came to save sinners from hell. But if hell is that primary, why does it not appear until late in the Tanakh? Why only in the minority section of the Bible at that? Why didn’t it dominate from the very beginning of the Bible?

    To say a statement above is, in my mind, to assume that the Bible always had the message of eternal life, and I would say no. Not just because Sheol was a place where the righteous and unrighteous went, but because of the ramifications of Adam/Eve, and how their punishment was a physical death, with no mention of an eternal seperation.

    The bottom line isn’t even of where one spends eternity. The Bible can be read that the ultimate end of those who God punishes is simply non-existent, and there are a multitude of verses to support that. As HIS says, it depends where in the BIble you look, and what is used to interpret other things. As it is, Psalms 139 mentions that if the writer descends to Sheol, God is there, and he can’t go anywhere to escape God’s presence.

  • 38. HeIsSailing  |  November 14, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Brad says:

    Whether Hell involves fire or not is a moot (or at least less significant) point. It sucks either way.

    I don’t think it is moot. This is not merely a matter of academics. You see, the Bible says many different things concerning the afterlife. I think myself and several others here have convincingly shown that the OT conception of Sheol is not the same as Matthew’s conception of Hell. But that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Bible’s inconsistant stance on the afterlife goes. So, just what happens in the afterlife? Paul never mentions hell, and seems to think that unbelievers just wind up in the grave when they die. What happens to God’s favored when they die? Do they go to Sheol as some writers of the Psalms think? Do they immediately go to paradise as Jesus sometimes seems to think? Do they return to the Earth with Christ when he judges the nations like Revelations teaches? Will they stay in the grave and be resurrected at some future point as Paul seems to think?

    I suppose you can try what many Christians do, and mash all these conflicting ideas together into a complicated harmonization. But such harmonizations render the apologetic claims that the Bible shows signs of Divine inspiration due to its internal consistancy to be ludicrous. The Bible is anything but consistant on this, or nearly any other matter.

    Bottom line: We either spend eternity with God or we spend eternity apart from God. There is no middle ground.

    And that is the bottom line, isn’t it? But as inconsistant as the Bible is on the subject, it is just impossible to be certain what it says about our afterlife. The very fact we both have convincing arguments to be made on either side of this debate prove that the doctrinal inconsistancies and ambiguities are real.

    But I am the one with real freedom here. Seriously. I don’t believe in a God who will Damn me simply for being convinced by the wrong side of this trivial debate.

  • 39. Richard  |  November 15, 2007 at 1:07 am

    To me, this essentially comes down to two questions:

    1. What would we expect from a text come down to us across 30 centuries, cobbled together from various sources, written by different people in different languages with different agendas at various stages of a culture’s evolution and development?

    We would expect a text that contains many different concepts that seem to evolve. Ideas, like an afterlife, would reasonably be expected to stay static for a while then, potentially, be altered when, centuries later, the culture comes in contact with other ideas that shape their thought. Given the distance and cultural barriers that separate us from the writers of this text, it would probably be hard to trace with precision just what changed, why, and what was meant by the new and old terms, though we could make reasonable guesses at it.

    2. What would we expect of an omnipotent God who loved us infinitely, and deeply wished to spare us from eternal torture?

    We would expect a text to come down to us unaltered, written in simple, clear, declarative sentences telling us precisely what the facts were and what they were not, omnisciently anticipating objections and misconceptions, and clearing up all contingencies.

    Which one better describes our situation?

    More specifically….
    The issue is that the Tanakh simply does not say that the wicked are tormented after death in Sheol. It does not say that. Period. If thats what God meant, then why did he not just write that into the text? If we must infer from the mere mention of fire in the Tanakh, kinda-sorta having something to do with sacrifice and destruction, to the clear and distinct idea that non-Christians will be tortured forever — you think this isnt a leap? If you start your investigation determined to find evidence of hell in the Jewish Bible, then yeah, I guess you can do it. But isnt it a simpler hypothesis to say that it doesnt mention hell because that concept did not exist in that culture? And after they came in contact with a culture that *did* have such a concept, lo-and-behold it shows up among the Jews?

    Youre right, its not proof. But it is, as philosophers of science might say, the inference to the best explanation.

  • 40. Brad  |  November 15, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    There a lot of really good views with some very good questions, but they are far more sweeping than this format allows. And even if it did, I don’t have all the answers anyway! I do however recommend “Hell on Trial” and “Two Views of Hell” by Robert A. Peterson. The first defends the biblical notion regarding Hell, and the second debates the Anihilationist view (no eternal life after death).

  • 41. Thinking Ape  |  November 15, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I’m just wondering about the usual defense of sin as a “direct rebellion” from God as someone wrote earlier. Why is it that the afterlife was never a big concern for the Israelites until around the 2nd and 1st century BCE when Jewish apocalypticism started to gain popularity? Why is the harshest mention of punishment from God, according to the Tanakh, a place by the name of “Sheol” or “Hades,” which has little resemblance to the Christian hell and lake of fire?

    Something just doesn’t add up. There is a serious disconnect between the Jewish scriptures and the Christian scriptures when it comes to the afterlife, sin, and human nature. Methinks the Paulinistas needed to create a problem in order for their cult of Jesus to solve; just in case people didn’t take to their far-fetched Hellenistic Jewish cult, a condemnation to hell should scare them into submission, right? Maybe that’s all too much speculation. However, my point stands: Yahweh was a jealous and often wrathful God, so where is all the fire and brimstone in the afterlife in the Tanakh? Why is it that when we want to make God our buddy by anthropomorphizing him into cult figure that we then need to have this idea of eternal punishment? It’s almost like, “it’s too good to be true, since accepting Christianity is so easy, so we have to throw in something that makes it seem believable – like hell.”

  • [...] Part I: In Fear and Trembling – The Peace from Our Lord [...]

  • 43. HeIsSailing  |  November 17, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Brad:

    I do however recommend “Hell on Trial” and “Two Views of Hell” by Robert A. Peterson.

    I read ‘Two Views of Hell’ several years ago. It assumes the reader already believes in hell and just debates annilhilist vs eternal hell theories. Presenting universalist theories in there may have been nice too, but ultimately I don’t think a non-believer in hell is going to find much convincing or useful in it either way.

  • [...] Part I: In Fear and Trembling – The Peace from Our Lord [...]

  • 45. The Myth of God’s Unconditional Love « de-conversion  |  December 25, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    [...] This “good news” did not bring the promised peace on earth but resulted in wars and fear. However, as LeoPardus recently pointed out, there are some good things that can be attributed to [...]

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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