This is an effort to answer some questions from a conversation in another location.
**Disclaimer: Instead of reiterating this too often throughout, I will state this here at the beginning so it can be noted that everything that follows is my personal view as I’ve studied the Bible with the Holy Spirit. There may be some cognitive dissonance associated with reading this. Take what is pertinent to your walk and lay aside what you feel you must. Overall, do not take my word alone, but research for yourself to find the deeper truth relevant to your personal walk with God. **
Does corruption and evil continue forever? Evil and corruption continues in the physical realm due to man’s free will. This corruption doesn’t exist in the kingdom Jesus rules, but that kingdom isn’t of this physical world as we know it. Generally, it’s our own desires that keep us from living in the kingdom now. What would happen if we lived like the world could continue indefinitely? Are we living out love like Jesus did (all that love your enemy type stuff)? Do we really believe Jesus’ way of love can change the world or are we just holding out until Jesus shows up someday? Jesus showed us the way and Father sent us the Holy Spirit to empower us to remake the world through love (as opposed to law).
Where do the “unsaved” go, Sheol forever?
First, I wanted to mention that I’m not qualified to make the decision of who is saved or not—only Jesus is able to make that call. However, we can get hints of how Jesus made those calls by looking at his ministry in the gospels. Often, it seems the religious leaders were the ones furthest from the truth because their doctrine of heaven worthiness was based on the letter of the law. Throughout his ministry, Jesus turns this thought process on its head.
So, those that don’t make it into heaven, according to what I personally understand, would have indeed gone to what was known as Sheol (at least until the end of the 1000 years) which has been translated into other names in the Bible—death, the grave, the outer darkness (where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth), Hades (which originated as a Greek/pagan concept), etc…but not to be confused with Gehenna. In Revelation, death (Sheol) and Hades (the Greek version of afterlife punishment) are destroyed in the lake of fire, which is called the second death. As Paul states, death (Sheol, captivity to the grave) is the last enemy to be destroyed.
Now, there is another assumption of eternal torment as translated from the words “aionios kolasis.” As I’ve researched these words, they seem to have more of the meaning of “an age of corrective punishment.” See this post if interested. This may have application to us today, but I believe the original context was directed at Israel and a continuation of the Olivet Discourse (denoting Israel’s destruction). In other words, the lake of fire may very well be this “aionios kolasis.” To state it another way, why would Sheol and Hades be destroyed if they were already eternal separation from God and/or burning punishment, just to put into place a different environment of eternal torture and separation? This is going a bit off subject, but if interested in my other thoughts on this, see this post and the bottom of this post about fire.
Is there no apocalypse?
The apocalypse happened in the first century when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and went throughout Judea killing any Jews who didn’t “flee to the mountains.” There isn’t a future (to us) apocalypse denoted in scripture though humanity seems to have developed the capacity to destroy themselves.
What about every eye seeing him?
The verse referred to here is Revelation 1:7. I would like to point out how one small word choice here can vary the meaning of a passage significantly:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.
Looking at a concordance, the “even” in this verse can also be translated as “namely.” This verse then has the meaning that those, namely the ones that pierced him, will see him in the clouds.
Additionally, the word “peoples” is better understood as “tribes” (and is translated as such in some versions of the Bible). Tribes most often referred to the tribes of Israel.
The words world and earth have various understandings depending on context. In some translations, the end of the world is actually talking about the end of the age (aion – which often denotes the OT kingdom age and the full substantiation of the NT kingdom). In other instances, the heavens and earth are speaking of Israel. For example – in the OT, God calls Israel the heavens and earth (Isaiah 1:2). Additionally, we see that OT destruction didn’t always happen literally in the physical realm as described. Compare Isaiah 13:10&13 to Matthew 24:29. When Babylon was destroyed, we know that the physical earth wasn’t shaken out of its place, yet the prophecy was still considered fulfilled.
Why is there no literature or reports about his coming if it already happened?
First, we have to consider that most Christians had fled Judea—those that kept watch of the signs and fled in advance as directed. Many of the apostles had already died for the gospel at this time. Those that remained in Judea would have been caught in the Roman campaign of extermination. Being that Jerusalem was totally decimated, no text that may have been written would have been salvaged.
However, two historians did record such events:
Josephus, a Jewish historian present during Rome’s campaign, recorded this:
“I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.”
“In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour.”
Why are there prophecies still being fulfilled?
I believe this is partially our correlating of scripture written to an ancient eastern culture to our modern-day western culture. The other portion is that history often repeats itself in part or whole. This seems to be largely because we tend to revise history to our liking thereby repeating the mistakes that we’re ignoring. In our modern culture, we’re still pursuing righteousness by law and attempting to force or covert others to follow an external set of mandates to be saved. So, we may see signs that resemble Bible prophecy, but those specific prophecies were fulfilled within their respective time frames as denoted. Modern eschatology is usually delivered with such fear that we tend to ignore the 1st Century time context entirely, or we are made too afraid to openly seek answers.
Additionally, if we consider Hebrews 10:25, first century Christians were seeing implicit signs of the Day approaching then (and how often is this verse used to mandate church attendance while ignoring the timing context?). Likewise, when some thought they had missed the Parousia (because of how implicit the signs were), Paul reaffirms that there was still one major sign to occur. Note in 2 Thessalonians 2, when Paul talks about the “man of lawlessness,” he states that he was already at work but not yet revealed (v7-8). The man of lawlessness would have to be immortal to still be alive today, and Paul delineates that it’s not Satan himself who is this man, but this man is a pawn of Satan (v9).
Now, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. I tried to stay on topic of the questions presented originally. If there are further questions, I would be happy to try to answer them.
Additionally, here’s an overview of my preterist belief. As well, I made several posts previously about my thoughts on prophecy and Revelation if interested.
How do Christians come together in unity? This is probably one of those questions that has vexed many over the ages. How is it possible to show Jesus to the rest of the world when we have a hard time loving other Christians (John 13:35)?
It seems there are at least 200 official, distinct, denominations in North America alone with worldwide estimates of various sects being around 33,000. Many of these seem to be in existence because of issues arising from how one group sees some passages versus the other. However, this isn’t just about the traditional congregations that we all know. As I’ve continued my journey, I see many Christians outside of the institutions are just as divided as those inside. I’m not speaking to being united within a congregation alone but with all Christians that profess love for Jesus.
Now, there are those that would seek to promote their view over others and make their living by carving out their section of the Body, and those should be lovingly denied such an agenda. In fact, such a platform often profits off of proffering an “us versus them” dichotomy. This methodology only serves to divide and not unite. Many seem insistent on these divisions as it makes their views more legitimized whether they succeed or fail. If succeeding—God is blessing us because of our message; if failing—Satan is fighting us because of our message. Therefore, love for others of differing opinion is routed in catch 22 phrases that only alienate Christians from one another and justify our biases.
This call to unity, also, isn’t to rally together to fight the “barbarians at the gates.” This call to unity is to love God and each other so that we can live to our calling to spread that love, and love primarily, to the rest of the world.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand.
How do we move beyond our doctrinal differences into a love relationship with Jesus and each other?
I think the question answers itself—we move beyond our doctrinal differences and just love Jesus and each other.
But what if we’re absolutely convinced that we’re right and someone else is wrong and in danger because of it?
Here, I would say each situation is unique. The overarching principle that I’m beginning to understand though is—if someone is evidently in love with Jesus, then nothing else is worth causing division over.
I was studying, among other passages, Romans 14 again last night. Here Paul explains this better than I can. He talks about the cleanliness of food and special days. While the food concept may appear antiquated to us today, and the special days is almost such (though many still hold Sunday in high regard), the concept works well for our divisions today.
One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.—Romans 14:5
Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who doesn’t judge himself in that which he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because it isn’t of faith; and whatever is not of faith is sin.—Romans 14:22-23
In the above, we see a very interesting concept. If we believe we are right, we should have it to ourselves before God. Interestingly enough, if we are made to doubt what we hold to be true, then we aren’t living out our faith in Jesus.
Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling.—Romans 14:13
Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.—Romans 14:15
So, it would seem that if we believe that we are right, we should live to that but not in a way that would harm our siblings in Christ. In other words, if we love with Jesus’ love, then those that we believe to be in error will be strengthened (14:19). Then, overtime, they may be able to better understand our point of view, but not to prove ourselves right. We may never agree on doctrinal concepts and that’s perfectly okay. My views have helped me to more easily love God and others and I believe that to be the point. If we insist that others aren’t Christian, don’t have the Holy Spirit, or are otherwise unsaved because of their views, we alienate our siblings and place stumbling blocks that may cause them to fall (14:13). In other words, if we insist that our interpretations are the absolute truth, and condemn others because they won’t perpetuate our beliefs, we may alienate them and/or ourselves from the love of Jesus.
In the past, I have put my beliefs out there, but these aren’t set in stone. They’re more of a snapshot of a step in my journey. For those that benefit from those views, great. For those who don’t accept them, feel free to toss them aside. I’ve mainly recorded my view as a way to think out loud and help others that may have the same thoughts rattling around in their head or heart.
Now to him who is able to establish you according to my Good News and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret through long ages,but now is revealed, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known for obedience of faith to all the nations; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.—Romans 14:24-26
I read and heard some great things yesterday that helped in the next steps that God seems to be leading me. I’m starting to see an overall picture of why he has led me to think on the things he has for the past couple of years. There’s one key, underlying element that remains once all the muck and grime are wiped away. That is, Love.
Much of what we see in the Bible we attempt to apply to ourselves—judgment, suffering, obligation. If someone individually is applying this to themselves, that is okay as may be needed in their developing walk with God. Where it all seems to go wrong is when these things are turned on others. It then seems that scripture gets manipulated to the worse possibly things we can imagine. Our default thought pattern seems to have been set to doom and gloom from birth. We talk about love, but the concept is so covered in other things that we hardly recognize what it is.
This is where my journey has led me. All of the passages God has been leading me to study are starting to reveal what love is and what it isn’t. The patterns I was conformed to are fading away more and more and Jesus’ love is pouring in. I pray that I know what to do with this.
My desire is to turn this outwards and start pouring it on others now that I’m starting to know what love is. It’s a bit scary, and could cost me those human comforts I hold so dearly to, but I hope God’s prompting continues in encouraging me to pursue this path.
It’s amazing that, in spite of everything I’ve been told, as long as I kept my eyes on Jesus, I arrived exactly where he wanted me to be. This is much to the dismay of others that expected my participation in their man-made plans, though they don’t seem to recognize that their plans are more about their worldly success than the spreading of the extravagant Kingdom of Jesus and his love.
One of the main concepts I’ve been considering, and that suddenly started making much more sense to me, is the progression of humanity throughout the Bible. As with their stories, we find ourselves moving ever forward, though often we take steps back. While many Christians seem to be wringing their hands at the current news stories, it would seem the entire world is moving in a forward direction. I get just enough glimpses of the Kingdom’s beauty to continue to hope for humanity’s awakening.
What really drove this home for me yesterday was a concept that I will try to boil down in one sentence—Most of what we know as Christian tradition today was once considered heresy. Think about this for a bit. As we move forward in our society with the utmost cries of coming damnation, we state the same things many of the predecessors of our own denominations had to overcome to bring us to the point we’re at. The Bible is an ever evolving story of humanity waking up to God’s reality of a people that are based solely in love for others. Imagine if we were able to just drop all of the distractions, politics, posturings, condemnations, finances, etc…and just live in that reality. It would be a beautiful world indeed.
But I have to say, getting to this point was both difficult and easy. It was easy when I stopped expecting to be led by man. While I got lots of help and advice from others, it was always Jesus leading. The difficult part was those I’ve been more ostracized from because of the changes and growth that they aren’t comfortable with.
On that same note, I’m beginning to respect each individual person’s journey. Whether they are conformed to the most strictest of religious traditions or the most devout atheist, I’m now trying to love them for who they are, where they’re at, and letting God direct both me and them from there. Sometimes I may drop subtle hints of things that they may pick up and run with or ignore altogether depending on their current walk. Now that I look back, it seems some of those who most had an effect on me did the same while giving me plenty of room to grow and see God at the pace I needed.
So what to do and where to go from here? I’m not entirely sure other than to just try to love people where they’re at and let Jesus handle the rest. Perhaps that’s what our primary purpose is in the Kingdom—not forcing, condemning, or manipulating—but simply living out love towards those God has placed us near.
The Pharisees actually weren’t the horrible people we might make them out to be in comparison to us today. They were striving to hold their society to Biblical standards in an ever changing world.
However, they were doing this through politics and force. They were well versed in the scriptures and knew well there would be a Messiah coming from the line of David. Jesus didn’t fit the bill for the conqueror they were expecting, one who would put all those sinful heathens in their place once and for all and establish Christians Israel as the dominant force in the world.
The Messiah that came brought a message of love. He taught that the Kingdom was open to everyone, and that the gatekeepers were the ones who weren’t allowing people in (Matt 23:14). In fact, even though they were teaching the Law, they were making converts twice the sons of Gehenna as they were (Matt 23:15). Ouch.
Are we still missing the point?
Are we still insisting on politics and law as the way to be a Christian?
What if we focused on loving our enemies like Jesus taught us (Matt 5:44), even if it costs us our life? Maybe then the political spectrum would begin to change because of us showing Jesus’ love. If we insist on doing it by political means, then we have to play by worldly rules. This alienates us from what Jesus taught and defiles our message to the rest of the world. If anyone is to blame for the state of the world, it’s Christians that refuse to be the salt and light. We can’t serve two masters….
Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees, but it was because he loved them and was trying to break through the callous exterior of stubborn religion they had erected around their hearts. For some, like Nicodemus, it seems to have worked to an extent. Others continued as they had always done and riled the other Israelites to rebellion.
Is that our goal? To rile Christians to rebellion? Is that what Jesus taught? Take a look at what happened to their rebellion in 70 AD. Is that the direction we want to go? Is this the same hateful stubbornness that we’re heading for? It seems history is starting to repeat again and we refuse to learn the lessons relayed by our own religious text.
“God, no matter the cost, I want a deeper relationship with you!”
“Jesus, help me love others like you do!”
These have been the most dangerous prayers I’ve prayed. They’ve completely turned my life upside down.
The first one I prayed sitting in a pew in the summer of 2013. I was spiritually stagnant and no matter how much I did within the congregation, I wasn’t growing much. Once I pleaded this prayer to God from the depths of my spirit, it was like the rug was pulled out from under me. Everything looked different. I lost my bearings and everything religious I had been taught came into question. Some I still agree with. Some I had to put away as they didn’t represent Jesus as I’ve come to know him in the Bible and through my personal walk.
The second one I prayed for about two years. It wasn’t until recently that I was brought to a place that I could actually start living it in some way. God had to clean my heart of all the bigotry and hatred first.
I don’t regret either prayer as an amazing relationship with God has been developing. I wouldn’t have guessed that this would be the way it would unfold, and I can now see how this type of relationship can’t be taught. It can only be received, embraced, and lived in Jesus.
The unfortunate side effects of this is that many religious people I’ve known withdraw from me when I attempt to share the love I’ve found with them. Others say a lot of religiously loaded words that are just hollow now. They try to win me back over to “their side” by justifying their hatred and attempts at guilt and shame. More and more, I feel sad for them because they are continuing to try to mandate God on others through law rather than embrace God and others by love.
Lately, God has been calling me to stand up for some of the people that I use to hate though at the time, I would’ve explained it more like, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” While this is a nice little ditty to recite for us Christians, now I see the effect it has on those we’ve categorized by our human judgments. When this is our approach, we end up dehumanizing people into a faceless, heartless category that we can push to the margins. The truth is, it wasn’t this way with Jesus. He loved the sinner in the midst of their sin. When we focus on a person’s sin foremost, instead of focusing on the person, we define them by our view of sin, thereby judging that they aren’t worthy of Christ until they can somehow overcome their sin.
I could write about this stuff until Jesus returns, but it won’t make a bit of difference unless people allow Jesus to truly invade their hearts. In the end, our empty religious words will be forgotten and the only thing that will have made a difference to someone is how we loved them without reservation.
If you feel spiritually stuck, ask God for that deeper relationship. If you find it hard to truly love, in a very up close and personal way, those stuffed into a sin category, ask Jesus to show you to his kind of love. However, know that if you’re really sincere, your entire life will change.
I read a question somewhere several months ago and have been researching it since. The question was: Is hell a part of the Gospel (Good News)? First, I wanted to define the meaning of hell I’ve been taught most of my life as a reference point, then I’ll state what I’ve found by researching the Bible.
The traditional meaning of hell I was taught centered around: a place of everlasting, conscious fiery torment where any human that dies without becoming a Christian will end up. The exact methodology of this process was always a shifting target though. Even after the initial salvation experience, there was a host of other mandates to follow to increase the coverage of the fire insurance policy. The very word hell became associated with fire and brimstone and feelings of absolute dread and despair. This led to all kinds of confusion for me growing up as I struggled to figure out why God would allow anyone to go to such a place as it was heavily counter intuitive to his love nature that was also being taught. I’ve touched on many of my conclusions in several other posts, but they are not the main point of this writing, though I may repeat a few points I’ve made before.
So, first, the Old Testament. In translations such as the KJV, the word hell appears in several places. However, this concept mainly refers to Sheol, a Hebrew term for the grave or place of the dead. Note, there was no burning or torment here, and David even stated that God would be there! Compare the below verses from Psalms 139:8:
KJV: If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
NIV: If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
WEB: If I ascend up into heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there!
Which translation is most accurate here? Is God in hell like the KJV states?
This brings me to my next point: What did the term “hell” mean in Old English?
Well, searching for the origin of the word hell, I found it was neither a Hebrew or Greek word. It comes from the Germanic and means “to cover or hide” in Old English. So, we can see that the original meaning of the word through the Old Testament syncs up well with the KJV translation. The dirt of the grave covers us when we die. So technically, hell (the covering of dirt) has frozen over many, many times all over world. If anyone has ever said “when hell freezes over,” well, then they have an outstanding debt to someone.
This brings about the next big question: How did burning and torment come to be associated with Sheol between the Old and New Testament?
It would seem between the end of the Old and the beginning of the New, the idea came about of “bad” people going to a torturous, burning afterlife while the “good” people went to a place of peace and joy. It would seem the Greek views of the afterlife (Hades and Elysium) somehow got incorporated into the Jewish culture. Which brings us to the next two interesting points:
Jesus never talked about hell as we know it today, he spoke about Gehenna and Hades. Sheol, Gehenna, and Hades were all universally translated to say hell in the KJV. This is probably the biggest pitfall to that translation as they are three different, distinct places. In short:
Hades is the Greek version of a conscious, burning afterlife. Keep in mind this originated as a “pagan” concept and not as a Hebrew one.
Gehenna, aka The Valley of the Son of Hinnom, is a place outside of Jerusalem that was constantly burning. Corpses were “thrown into the fires of Gehenna” after major wars, and it breed an exceptionally hard to kill worm (Mark 9:48). It also originally hosted child sacrifices by fire to false gods (2 Chronicles 28:3).
Sheol, as explained above, is the original Hebrew concept of death or the grave.
When these three are mixed, we get a doctrinal quagmire we refer to today as hell. While we have scant evidence as to why this happened, it would seem the religious leaders adopted the Greek invader’s version of hell into their afterlife theology and held it over the Jewish people’s heads as the place to avoid by observing the strictest principles of the law.
So, what did Jesus mean when he referenced Gehenna and Hades?
First, Jesus speaks of Gehenna a few times during the Sermon on the Mount. He tells the audience there that if they are unable to uphold the most strictest interpretation of the Law, thereby surpassing the Pharisees, they would be cast into Gehenna. It would be better if they did things like plucking out their eyes to avoid lustful thoughts. The people would have had a good understanding of what Jesus was referencing when he mentions Gehenna here. So how could they—and just as important, how do we—uphold this extremely strict view of the Law? Simply, they—and we—can’t. Jesus was stating the inevitable path of attempting to hold up an ever stricter set of laws to be perfect like God. As humans, we can’t. It is impossible for us to be perfect by our human methods of conformance and rule following. It is only through Jesus that we can be perfect. Striving for the goal of perfection without Jesus leads us to a point of comparative righteous. We consider ourselves better than others, thereby justifying our right to impose our superior standards on others in God’s name. The religious leaders were setting their standard of righteousness by law and professing destruction and doom to any that couldn’t meet it (Luke 11:46). According to Jesus, no one meets the actual standard! This leads to the next point.
Jesus speaks of Hades, specifically referencing the Greek version of where bad people go, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We see Lazarus, the outsider, in Paradise with the Jewish forefather, Abraham, while the evil rich man was being tormented in Hades. What was Jesus’ point here? First, we have to look at who Jesus was talking to—the Pharisees (Luke 16:14). It would seem the Pharisees were one of the groups perpetuating the idea of punishment by burning in hell-fire. In his parable, Jesus places the poor outsider (the gentiles) in Paradise with the Jewish ancestor, Abraham. Meanwhile, he measures those who had thought they were rich in righteousness by their own standard (Matt 7:2), placing them in Hades. He used their own condemnation against them to say, “If you are so adamant about holding the threat of Hades over others, you ‘righteous’ lot will be the ones that end up there while those outsiders receive your inheritance (Matt 21:43).” It seems we still wield the threat of hell today as a weapon of fear the same way the Pharisees did.
This brings me to the final points in this post, the lake of fire and second death. As I stated in a previous post, the Old Testament view of fire, prior to the Greek influence, was for purification. Likewise, fire in the Bible seems to be referencing purification, whether in this life or the next (1 Cor 3:13-15, Mark 9:49). So how about this second death business? This would seem to be the purification process of the lake of fire. In Revelation, death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire and this lake is called the second death—or as the 1st Century audience would have understood it, the second Sheol.
I know this is quite long, but I wanted to hit all the major points. These are my viewpoints and I encourage anyone reading this to research for themselves. My overall point in writing this is to help remove the fear and manipulation of the confusing views of hell and punishment that many have been subjugated by for so long so they can live in the freedom of Jesus’ love (1 John 4:18)! Going back to the original question, I would have to say no, hell, as we’ve defined it is not part of the Gospel. Jesus never told the disciples to go out and teach about everlasting punishment. Likewise, Paul only mentions Hades once, in that Jesus has defeated the very concept of this kind of punishment (1 Cor 15:55).
If we truly believed hell is what we tend to say it is, we would work a whole lot harder to save souls if we love like Jesus. For some reason, our actions don’t reflect our belief in everlasting damnation. Could we really sit passively day after day if we truly felt that friends, family, and the rest of the world are heading to a place of everlasting suffering?
There are three things most Christians would seem to accept about God. However, when thinking more in depth about these, there are some massive contradictions.
These three seem to be:
1. God is all powerful.
2. God is all knowing.
3. God is all loving.
I personally believe all three, but they raise some interesting questions.
If God is all powerful, then isn’t he able to enact a plan to save everyone from hell?
If he can but doesn’t, then is he all-loving?
I believe he has enacted this plan through Jesus. If even a single human goes to hell for all eternity, wouldn’t Jesus’ plan have failed? If God loves each and every one of his creations infinitely, wouldn’t this loss torment him for all of eternity?
Would God create beings knowing in advance that they would go to hell? If so, how is this love?
I’ve seen these questions circumvented by stating humans can’t understand. While it is true that we can’t fully comprehend God, the Bible goes to great lengths to describe him as infinite love, power, and knowledge. Many have tried to manipulate God’s character for their own ends, but are only left with a loveless, powerless, and/or ignorant god. Is it any wonder people have trouble believing in that kind of god?
God is love, and he has a plan for humanity conceived from that love.
He has the knowledge and power to bring that plan to ultimate fruition.
It’s interesting to see how my own thinking and growth have developed just in the months since I’ve started this blog. Topics that I was afraid to explore have become much easier to write about. Perhaps that has been a major purpose of God leading me in this direction so far. In addition, many of my ideals I wrote on have either changed to be more solidified or have become less abrasive for the opposing viewpoints.
I still have several topics I would like to write on, but it seems the timing isn’t right yet. As it has been so far, this could be because I haven’t considered enough of the angles yet and/or I’ve not worked out with God some of my own prejudices and sore spots with these issues.
I don’t have a solid plan on how or what I might write day to day. So far, when I’ve tried to develop a plan or a list of topics to write about, God ends up putting something else on my heart on any given day to explore. Much of what God inspires me to write is relevant to me personally so I suppose this has become a sort of public journal of my growing relationship with, and understanding of, God. Likewise, when I try to write on something that it doesn’t seem God wants me to write on (yet, if ever), I tend not to have the words or just simply lose interest. When it’s something God seems to be talking to me about, the words flow much more freely.
I don’t claim to be right or even have a good understanding of many things. However, it would seem my writing is to flesh much of this out. As I’ve stated previously, if the Bible is to be believed, it has to make some sort of sense overall. It’s impossible to follow two conflicting passages as law and attempt to enforce and defend them to others.
Like in the Bible, I believe God comes to us where we’re at in our current understanding and then points us to a better way one step at a time. Rules that were meant to guide ancient people a single step forward would now seem like major steps back in our current worldview. As humans, we still have a long way to go. It would also seem we stagnate in some ways when we refuse to let go of antiquated worldviews that were not intended to be held on to so tightly.
In summary, I don’t know what tomorrow may hold for me and that’s half the fun of following Jesus. Every new day has its’ surprise twists and turns as characters in God’s grand story of the redemption of all of his creation!
I’ve always “loved”, and was taught to love, those who conformed to a certain set of ideals. This was a conditional approval based on performance. In reality, this can’t even be called love because it has conditions attached to it. “We will love you if you admit that we’re right and you’re wrong,” is one of the types of messages that was portrayed. Unconditional love is a redundant phrase. If our ability to love others has any conditions attached to it, then it is no longer love.
As I’ve read more of Jesus’ stories and considered the context, I’m learning to love as he defined it. This isn’t based on how a person lives relevant to my assumptions of how they should. I’ve “loved” people in this respect most of my life. Jesus loved the Samaritans, who were one of Israel’s most hated enemies of the time, and made one the hero of his parable over both a Levite and a priest. Likewise, he loved the prostitutes and tax collectors, placing them at the head of the line for entrance into the kingdom while placing the religious elite in the back.
In all honesty, there are many things I wasn’t able to admit until now. I was racist and homophobic (in the sense I was made to be afraid of engaging LGBTQ people) most of my life. I was conditioned to dehumanize those that didn’t look or act like “we” did and shift blame to those “others” for whatever circumstances were about. Had I not left organized religion, I would still be this way. I was afraid to engage most of those who were different than me as they were upheld as “bad” and would corrupt me, causing me to backslide. This upheld the view of a small, powerless god. I was too close and conditioned to realize my own faults, though I knew deep down that I didn’t truly love others the way Jesus presented love. I didn’t openly hate anyone, but I would remain in silent agreement with the prejudices stated while being made to feel superior to others based on my compliance and association. Additionally, I went so far as to laugh at inappropriate jokes as to fit in and not be labeled as one of those “others.”
I keep praying that God would help me love everyone and over time and much pain, he has. I now find it easier to love LGBTQ people and those of other races than it is to love religious people. My definition of love has radically changed and now I have to learn to love those who only want to uphold their doctrines of exclusion. This is somewhat odd ground for me, as though I’m learning to walk for the first time.
I don’t say any of this to exalt myself or demean anyone. I still fail love daily and realize I have a very long way to go. Mostly, it saddens me that those who cry “love” the loudest are the most hateful to those that aren’t conformed to the external standards and those trying to truly love. Many problems, as I’ve come to see them, are based on a misrepresentation of what love is. This, in turn, pushes people away from believing in God because the definition of love has become so skewed. There is also a lot of pride tied to this where traditional views and the need to be “right” are held on to over love.
Perhaps in all of this God let me experience what love is not so that I could more readily accept the real thing.
This is a part of my life that I haven’t discussed in detail with many people. Everything happened over ~a three year period starting around 9 years ago. Over the course of the years, I had so much bitterness wrapped in the memories surrounding this time that I didn’t want to talk much about it even though there were also some good memories. I don’t want to include all of the specific details as to protect the person that I talk about here.
So, it started when my desire to know God began to grow. I had the notion in my head, like many have seemed to have at one point, that there was something major I had to perform physically to prove my desire to know God. I would pray at night asking God what I should do to prove myself to him. At that time, I still didn’t realize some significant things that would have made getting to know him much easier, and I was still stubborn at this point.
Around this time, I began talking to a girl who lived relatively close to me but far enough away that I couldn’t see her often. We played video games online together with several other people and mostly talked through voice chat. She seemed to want to develop a relationship with me. For several months we talked and got to know each other. She had several traumatic events that had gone on in her life which left her mostly isolated from her friends and family.
One day, she disappeared from the online community. I felt like God wanted me to find out what happened to her. She had left me some clues as to where she went and so I looked her up. I got into contact with her again and she seemed very relieved that I had found her. She was dealing with some issues again and seemed to have felt it was an all or nothing proposition to withdraw from everyone.
We continued to talk online for several months. She kept asking me to come to where she was and spend some time with her. I was hesitant, but eventually committed to go see her. Before I got the chance though, some personal things came up again in her life and she had to move much further away. At this time, I kinda figured it wasn’t meant to be. However, we continued to talk online and she continued to ask me to come see her. Again, one day she disappeared and I lost all contact with her. I never saw her online and her cell phone was disconnected. I worried about her some but figured maybe she just didn’t want to talk with me anymore.
After about six weeks, God led me to attempt to contact her one last time. I was a bit frustrated with the whole situation at this point but decided to do it anyway. I called where she use to work and left a message for her. She called me a few days later from a borrowed cell phone. She had gotten badly injured and lost her income. Her landlady at the time let her rent slip for a couple of months so she at least had a place to stay and brought her food and such. Her cell phone had been disconnected because she was unable to work to pay the bill. When I got back in contact with her, she pleaded with me to come see her and stay for a week or so. Reluctantly, I gathered my things and made the 16 hour trip.
In truth, I was hoping that maybe a relationship would ensue. We talked about it and she asked for some time to try to get her life together. The plan to stay a week turned into 6 months as I tried to help her get caught up on bills and such as best I could. I worked a job there many times 60+ hours a week and still was accruing debt just trying to provide the basics. After about 1.5 years, she still didn’t seem to want a relationship with me and she started seeing other guys. I got fairly depressed for a few days and decided I was going to make the 16 hour return trip to go back to my hometown. I let her know and turned in my two week notice. She seemed okay with it but I could tell that she was worried again of how she was going to make ends meet. As heartbroken as I was at the time, God kept hinting that I should stay a little longer. The relationships she seemed to attempt didn’t end up working out and again she was alone. I begrudgingly decided to stay.
Several months passed and she was able to get around like normal again after her injury. We talked again about a relationship, but she didn’t seem to want one with me. She stated that she was too messed up for me and seemed a bit guilt ridden that she had been using me for those past 2 years. I assured her it was okay though I had constantly questioned God of why he had let me get into this situation and why he kept wanting me to stay with someone who didn’t seem to want me. For the most part, God seemed to have remained silent during these years. I was admittedly frustrated and depressed within about the situation.
The job she had wasn’t quite panning out like she had hoped. Mine was about the same. She decided she wanted to move somewhere else in the U.S. and wanted me to come with her. I thought and prayed about it for a while trying to see what God wanted now. He seemed to express that I had done enough and led me to return to my hometown and even directed me to use my GI Bill to pursue an IT degree. She seemed a little disappointed, but understood. I was still angry internally because all the time I had been there seemed wasted. During those two years, my grandmother was sick and eventually passed away. I was only able to leave for a few days to attend her funeral before the bills piled up again.
I helped her pack a U-haul and we chatted a bit as it seemed to be one of the last times we might see each other. I had one final shift I had to work before I left the following day. I was still asking God the entire time before her departure, “Why?”
Why did you have me leave my family God?
Why did you have me come here when it never amounted to anything?
Why did she not like me? Was I not good enough?
Why did you let my grandmother die while leading me far away?
I was angry.
As we said our final goodbyes, she thanked me for all I had done for her. This hardly felt like much of a consolation prize but I begrudgingly accepted. Then she slowly and hesitantly expressed with pain in her voice that I was the only one who pursued her when she continually tried to run away from life. When she got injured and we had lost contact for several weeks, she had decided she was going to kill herself as she just couldn’t seem to ever get her life under control. When I reached out for her again through her work, she had the faintest glimpse of hope that, for the first time in her life, someone actually cared enough about her to keep pursuing when she ran away. She then hugged me and drove away.
As I stood there a bit stunned, God simply said, in response to all the questions, anger, and frustration I had shown him, “That’s why.” I’m amazed that as obstinate as I was, he still did his will through me and allowed me to be a part of his greater plan. I’ve come not to regret any of that time now and have even come to cherish how God has led me. His astounding grace reached out to me and her in that situation.
I kept contact with that girl for about 3 months and she seemed to be doing well. We drifted apart though I occasionally hear of things that are going on in her life. From what I’ve heard, she got a good job that she enjoys and is engaged. I don’t know what her relationship with God is, but, especially based on how he has led me, I believe a seed was planted. Seeing his plan unfold helps me to better understand how his love always wins in the end.