Please note, these are my personal conclusions as I’ve studied the Bible. They can be thrown aside if you feel you must. I only wish to present my understanding so far. While I’ve written about this subject in the past, I learn a little more each day. It seems appropriate occasionally to revisit certain topics.
Over the years, I was led to believe that discomfort with a topic meant an attack from Satan. Basically, if my beliefs were being challenged, and I felt uncomfortable, then it was most likely heresy. I’ve since found answers to many questions I was always made to suppress, yet they didn’t quite line up with the indoctrination I underwent growing up.
I’m starting to realize now that truth is often uncomfortable. I use to see Matt 23 as very uncomfortable and confusing that my meek and mild Jesus could be so cruel. Later, as I wrestled with the “whys,” I came to see a lot of myself in those verses. It was certainly uncomfortable, but it wasn’t condemnation or a satanic attack. It was just what I needed to break through the hardness that had encased my heart due to my upbringing. This hardness alienated me from truly loving Jesus or others.
Fear and Control
I don’t say this to bash on religion. I think there are good people who are trying hard, but there are always those roadblocks that seem to do more harm that good. One such blockage that tends to shutdown conversation and alienate others is “The Hell Card.”
I remember one Sunday night when I was five. Since there was no Children’s Church at night, the kids sat with their family in the “grown-up” service. This particular night the sermon was on…you guessed it…hellfire, brimstone, and eternal torment. I don’t know of any nicer way to say this, but this is nothing short of mental abuse to present such a hellish topic to five year old kids. Yet, this topic still seems ingrained in much of our society as a reason to love Jesus. Does that really make any sense though? We love Jesus because the alternative is burning forever? Can we really love anyone that would torment us or our loved ones for all of eternity? Coming to understand the words associated with hell and the afterlife have gone a long ways to helping me personally fall in love with Jesus in a more deep and real way once that roadblock of fear was removed.
I remember some extended family who baby-sat me when I was five. They use to let me watch movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. These movies had no effect on me and I use to wonder why. Now I realize that after being tormented with threats of eternal torture, these horror movies were mild in comparison.
So why do we use such hellish tactics to “win” souls for Jesus? Is our religion so shallow that it has to be sold under threat? Or is our religion about control? If we were allowed to have a real and direct relationship with Jesus, we may no longer be under institutional control. Therefore, the fear of slipping up or not being really saved in the first place has to be upheld so others constantly question their eternal status with God.
Hopes of Unity
Why do I bring all of this up? This seems to be one of the biggest issues in Christian unity because it’s about keeping control of others. A relationship with Jesus isn’t about control of others though. It’s not about a pastoral mediator between us and God. That’s the role Jesus has taken on.
Generally, to “close the deal,” threats have to be issued. Questions such as “Are you really sure?” and “What would happen if you died tonight?” are often used. These types of questions isolate people from Jesus’ love in favor of a fear-based relationship. I speak to such things because Jesus desires a love relationship with us and not a fear-based one. I speak to such things because those Christians subsisting in fear seem bound, like I was, and are blocked from a freeing relationship with God and others.
Many who have made it this far reading this have probably had a knot in their heart. This isn’t a satanic attack though; it’s Jesus trying to liberate your heart from the bondage of fear. A new truth can often be challenging and uncomfortable.
But what if…? Does Jesus really want a “what if” relationship? That’s not unconditional love. The “what if” scenarios seem to only uphold the relationship if the condition is true. In other words, if eternal torment doesn’t exist, would your relationship with God be better or worse?
Assuming that hell exists as we’ve upheld it, would a loving God send his children there for all eternity? Is that how the Bible describes God?
“People send themselves to hell.” In this case, people would also send themselves to heaven, which is a works-based salvation. The very premise of the cross removed the work-based dichotomy.
As may be evident, the more we underpin our faith on fear-based love, which seems to be a concept that contradicts itself, the more we isolate ourselves from the very love of Jesus that we are called to proclaim.
As stated, all of this can be cast aside if necessary. My faith and love for Jesus is absolute, and I only wish to show other’s to that relationship. Fear and obligation don’t work for long—they only lead to burnout, frustration, and spiritual drought. Again, I encourage everyone to research these concepts on their own. If presenting such a nightmarish afterlife, it behooves us to be knowledgeable of our rigid stances as not to push others away from Jesus.