I’ve seen a common theme lately. Possibly, this has always been around, but God has only recently called my attention to it more implicitly. It seems many use the word truth, whether speaking of the capital “T” Truth that is Jesus, or the truth as related to what the Bible states, as evidence that what they believe is factual.
Much of what I’ve seen is the repeating of a common concept, sometimes at length. When we consider why we believe what we do, it most often results in tradition and popular opinion—“this is what we’ve always believed.” Likewise, the Bible is often pointed out as the source. Jesus dealt with the same kind of culture—popular belief (John 12:42) and tradition (Matt 15:3, 8-9). As well, he redefined what the scriptures meant (Mark 12:30-31).
With respect to the Bible, if we are going to even attempt to uphold a concept as fact or Biblical, we first need to test our beliefs to see if they are indeed true. If we just repeat what we’ve been told, we could easily end up guilty of alienating others from Jesus. Everything I’ve written here, especially recently, has been considered and prayed about with the Holy Spirit to see if it holds truth. Am I always right? Nope! But, I make sure I’ve dug for all the facts as relevant to what I’ve written about instead of just repeating what another human insists I believe.
Often, even if I point out Biblical concepts that don’t sync with a specific stance, my thoughts are either ignored or the subject is changed. Sometimes, though I’m use to it now and have come to expect it, I’m threatened with damnation, heresy, blasphemy, etc…However, repeating cliches about a subject that hasn’t been tested for truth can easily cause stubbornness, stagnation, and/or self-righteousness.
I welcome testing of my beliefs because it’s a win-win for my spiritual journey. If I’m wrong, I’m led to understand the truth. When I get comments that challenge or threaten me, my faith in Jesus only grows. However, it doesn’t matter how well I can back my beliefs—if I fail in love, and instead attempt to force my views, no amount of “correct” doctrine will help.
I don’t write any of this to chastise anyone. I’m just tired of seeing God blasphemed to “outsiders” by those professing to following Jesus (Romans 2:24). Then, the blame is shifted to “the world” though it’s the Christians not following Christ propagating the society in large part.
Until we actually start following Jesus instead of just extrapolating random phrases from the Bible to condemn others with, the world will continue to get worse. Until we stop using threats of damnation and finger pointing, we will never reach those in the world that we cast blame on.
Think about it—who did Jesus’ ministry reach the most—the insiders sitting in a church…synagogue on a Sunday…Sabbath or the outsiders who soaked up his love and mercy like a sponge? Who is it that enters the Kingdom first—us with the slick looking morals or the ones we condemn with pointing fingers (Matt 21:31)?
We can go around in circles debating among ourselves what the “truth” is, or we can start living in the Truth and reaching out to a hurting and broken world we’ve traditionally condemned. Our words of obligation, threat, and condemnation continue to fail and alienate. If we truly lived and loved like Jesus, our impact on the world would be unimaginable.
If the title of this scares you, it’s probably because this term has been used to manipulate for so long by casting our all-loving Father into the role of a vengeful, almost maniacal, being. I was always made to fear this expression, most likely to uphold a conformity based religious performance.
So what can everlasting punishment mean if not what we’ve so often been told as burning forever and ever in hell?
This is something I wondered about for a very long time and God helped me understand this from his perspective of everlasting love and his will being fulfilled in the end (Col 1:19-20).
The first thing I came to better understand was the word everlasting. What could this mean other than continuing on and on without end? I pondered this for some time asking myself and God how he could be so cruel as to create humans that he knew would suffer forever. This didn’t quite jive with the claim of an all-loving Father.
As I began to research this more, I saw the word originally seemed to modify what it was explaining. In this case, the word punishment (I’ll get to that in a minute). In another case, it modifies the word life, as in everlasting life. I don’t want to go through all the iterations but I encourage looking into the original word meanings. For brevity’s sake, I’ll state that I personally came to believe the word everlasting, as it refers to punishment, means that it will last as long as we make it last. For example, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man was still presenting himself as being superior to Lazarus, who was at father Abraham’s side in paradise, by ordering him to do his bidding. Even so, it seems his heart was being changed as he was now concerned with the fate of his brothers still living.
So, if everlasting could mean “age during/age of,” or in other words, a time of punishment, then what does the word punishment mean?
The first question to ask would be: Is punishment for God’s benefit or ours? That being, is God’s punishment to sooth his anger towards us or to correct our actions? Is God so fickle that he has to torture us forever?
Any loving parent wouldn’t punish their child just to appease their own anger. God, being infinitely patient with us, his children, likewise has no need to punish us to appease his anger. Punishment is a corrective action for our benefit.
Another situation that drove this point a little further home for me is as follows:
I was at a gathering with a family who had got a new outside dog. The dog kept wanting to come in the house but wasn’t allowed. The husband stated, “If I pop him on the nose one good time, he’ll know not to try to come in again.” As I thought about this, I realized this would have been an “everlasting punishment.” Now, this isn’t exactly how I would view God’s corrective actions towards us, but the principle here is a corrective action meant to permanently end the dog’s stubborn insistence on getting his way on his terms.
Likewise, fire is presented more as a purifying means of burning away our stubbornness and anything else that would be unfit to enter into heaven.
For example, In Daniel 7:9-10, fire is explained as flowing from The Throne. If this corrective fire comes from God, and God is love, wouldn’t this be a means of purifying us? Further, we see Zechariah and Peter talking about God using fire as a purifying agent, just like it is used to burn away the impurities in silver and gold. Some may go through these fires in this life by following Jesus, others in the next.
All of these are my personal opinions and how I’ve come to experience living with God. You can take what is beneficial to your walk or throw it all out. However, is the good news really good news if it has to be sold under threat of eternal punishment?