When Your Heart Gets Out Of Hell (Finding A Fear-Less Faith)


open-bird-cage

Hell is a pretty terrible thing to build a faith on.

Living each difficult day here in a fire and brimstone spirituality rooted in your own moral filth is a fairly tragic way to spend your few short decades on the planet, yet that’s what far too many Christians do and have been doing for hundreds of years.

And if they haven’t necessarily intentionally constructed such a religion based in fear and punishment avoidance, they’ve certainly inherited one; growing up from birth firmly planted in the belief that God is out to squash them—because He loves them.

This is the paradoxical heart of the bulk of our traditional* Christian orthodoxy:

God so loves us, that he sent Christ to die in our place, saving us from the correct penalty of death for our sin (a penalty by the way, that He alone demands). Yet this gracious reprieve from eternal punishment only comes with us acknowledging both our depravity in utero and our need to be exonerated from a guilt we acquired simply by being born.

(*There are certainly other ways of understanding the Christian story, but this is by and large what you will hear preached from thousands of pulpits and in countless Twitter feeds and strewn across billboards all over America: “God is royally pissed off at you and you need Jesus to appease Him”).

And the whole thing runs primarily not on love, but on damnation—at least in the hands of the preachers and the Pharisees and those who peddle the heavy fear that millions of people of the faith become hopelessly saddled with:

fear of believing the wrong thing,
fear of not praying enough,
fear of joining the wrong denomination,
fear of not exegeting Scripture correctly,
fear of not evangelizing our neighbors enough,
fear of Muslims and gays and Atheists,
fear of beer and Harry Potter and cuss words and yoga and mandalas and voting Democrat,

fear of a God who is holding Hell over our heads—
fear as our default setting.

I lived this story for years. I preached it. I fully bought into this narrative of an angry God needing to be placated. I understand the reason it works and the crushing effect it has on us when be embrace it and I know how disorienting it is to be compelled to cling to a loving Creator while simultaneously being taught to be terrified of what that Creator wants to do to you if you don’t cling correctly.

It hasn’t happened in an instant and I can’t quite say how I got here, but I am simply living in a different story now.

I still have God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit—but I don’t have fear anymore the way I used to.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have “the fear of the Lord” that the Bible speaks of; that awe and wonder that recognizes my smallness and God’s indescribable scale and beauty. In fact my view of God is as expansive and reverent and breathtaking as its ever been. It just isn’t defined by the rigid Christian narrative of my childhood that says I am an enemy of God at birth.

This new understanding isn’t about the Bible, as much as it’s about parenthood.

Let’s say that just before the birth of my first child Noah, I had told you three things:
– One, that we discovered Noah had some inherent genetic flaw while still in the womb.
– Two, that I find this flaw so offensive and distasteful that it causes me to see him not
as my child, but as simply a “product”, and furthermore as an enemy.
– And three, that I have created a puzzle for him, and that unless he solves this puzzle
in the exact and specific ways I desire, I will refuse to adopt him as my own and send
him away to be tortured forever.

It’s safe to say that using this criteria, any rational person would deem me at best to be a cruel, negligent parent—and at worst an unparalleled sadist.

Yet this has been the primary narrative of Evangelical and Mainline Christianity, with Scripture and Church History and orthodoxy all fueling the hellfire. Yes it’s one of Grace, but Grace necessitated by our filth, our sinfulness, our inborn immoral defect, and God’s wrath about it all.

I’m just not sure I can ever claim that view of God again and really embrace it. I’m not saying that Hell isn’t real, but I am saying that its existence doesn’t quite ring true if God is as loving as I’ve been led to believe.

Because the truth about my son, is that before he was born I waited expectantly, preparing for his arrival with breathless joy.

When he was born I cried and rejoiced and gave thanks and danced.

And since the moment he took his first breath outside of his mother’s body, my greatest desire has been to lift and encourage and carry and support and teach and care for him. He has certainly failed and will fail again. He has rejected my advice and missed the mark and made incredible messes, but despite it all my son doesn’t have to crack some code to earn my love for him. It is fixed and set and unwavering and not dependent on his conduct. He never has to fear for a second that I desire to squash him or that my anger is a ticking time bomb that he needs to somehow diffuse. Yes, I want him to respect me and listen to me and love me, but ultimately more than anything else, I want him to know that I adore him and that I am for him.

I want my son’s understanding of me to give his heart wings. I want it to yield hope, not fear.

And if I as a flawed, falling, petty mess of a man feels this way towards his child, I cannot conceive of a God whose love for me is anything but hope-giving; not if and when I get everything right or believe everything right or do anything or realize anything—but just because I am.

That kind of faith frees me to fly and to fall without fear. It is changing me for the better.

I pray that kind of faith for others too.

I pray it for you.

God is not out to squash you.

Be encouraged.

 

 

 

82 thoughts on “When Your Heart Gets Out Of Hell (Finding A Fear-Less Faith)

  1. I’m with you.
    Great article.
    How about that, “Jesus is coming soon, are you ready?” mindset that generates fear also.
    Most Christians live in an underlying fear that they are not good enough, not doing enough, not believing enough, not ready enough. . . And yet Jesus died for us. How much more ready can we be than that?
    Thank you

  2. JOHN, FANTASTIC. I USE TO SIT. AS A CHILD IN CHURCH (REVIVAL) AND TO MYSELF QUESTION EVERYTHING THAT THIS MAN WAS THROWING AT US ..I WAS NOT WRONG THEN. AND NOW, TODAY, HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF MY MODERATE FAITH.

  3. This is terrific John. I was raised to be in fear of God like many, but like you I just can’t look at God that way any longer. What kind of god would demand his children to worship him because they are afraid of being struck down for their inherent frailties. We all sin, I would bet daily in one way or another, and I have to believe that just because of this we wouldn’t be committed to eternal damnation.

    I prefer to be in awe of God, thanking Him for all that I have and loving Him with all my heart and beyond this the only thing I can do is trust that God loves me back. I really think that this is all that any of us can do.

    • You would take away God’s right to one day choose to grant all human beings mercy? The law here on Earth says many things, and it prescribes many punishments—but even the lowliest human judge has the right to be lenient on the defendant. Why would you take away from God a right that even flawed men have in the context of Judgement? God can and will do whatever He wishes. God’s fundamental character might always be unchangeable—but He changes his mind about things in numerous places in the Bible.

  4. I have been (and still am) afraid of Hell all my life…why would Jesus be ripped to shreds and basically lynched if there is no Hell that humans need redemption from? Lately I’ve struggled with church – with the same rituals, theology, dogma…it would be easy to dismiss this crucial question as ‘end-times’ falling away, ‘wanting to have ears tickled’, ‘apostasy’ or the like – but Hell is a factor for many nonbelievers, and I’ve not seen it really confronted

    • Jesus did not die to save you from Hell. Jesus died to reconcile your soul with God’s soul out of his love and grace. The evil in men killed Jesus. Jesus did not kill Jesus. The other two members of the Holy Trinity did not kill Jesus. They may have foreknown that is was going to happen, but that is different from intentionally placing Jesus on an altar and cutting him up as a sacrifice. The sacrifice was God’s refusal to intervene when God had the power to do so. Indeed, Jesus himself had the power to save himself if He had wanted to do so. If He had wanted to do so, He could have popped down off his cross and destroyed Jerusalem and everyone in the blink of an eye if he had wanted to do so—-but He did not. Again, God can be merciful under the most difficult of circumstances. This is why all of the fundies on this planet are still alive.

    • Hey love,

      Why would you need to go to Hell to pay for your sin if Jesus was “ripped to shreds and basically lynched”? I’m not going to pretend I understand the Bible and the concept of hell completely, but it’s a good question right? Jesus paid for sin on the cross. Jesus accepted the punishment for sin on the cross. Past, present and future. Why would you need to be tortured in hell for them? Is God not just? Does he punish sin twice?

      People, the bible is very clear that a spirit of fear is not from God. (2 Timothy 1:7) I don’t believe any “Christian” teaching that causes genuine fear and terror is from Jesus.

  5. It’s not puzzle at all. It’s a very simple message. Only people like you make it more complicated. You make those who are new Christians and those who are seeking Christ to stumble based on your new age teachings. You remind me of the middle and high school kids I see every day who lash out at the teachers and the rules in their schools yelling, “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my father!”. It’s pathetic, really.

    • “It’s not puzzle at all. It’s a very simple message.”

      If it were that simple, everyone would get it instantly and the world would all be Christians.

      You don’t have to deal with the questions I’ve raised here or the many complexities of the Bible’s 66 books written by at least dozens of writers (many who identities are unknown) over hundreds of years, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

      If the message is that clear and simple, no one will “stumble” simply because I ask questions.

      It’s really pathetic to be afraid of rational dialogue, honest questions, and differing interpretations of Scripture.

      Take care.

      • It really is not a puzzle. If reality is simply this: God created humans with free will because without it we would be nothing but robots, unable to love, think, create and have relationships. But with free will comes the possibility of choosing other than God, which happened. And that evil cannot survive in the presence of the goodness and holiness of God and if we have all done some sort of evil (which we have), then we will be banished from God’s presence in some way, shape or form. The reason we don’t have to fear, in any circumstance, is that God himself subjugated himself to the limits of his own creation in order to suffer horribly, in order to die, in order to save us from this reality. If such a gruesome death were not necessary for our reconciliation, why would God the Father have led the Son to the cross? This would indeed be cruel.

    • To add to what John says: “Those students at your school are merely expressing their own unique generational culture. Every knew generation does this—and it does it in its own way. You did the same with your parents and teachers , probably without even knowing it. You might have disagreed with your teachers and gossiped about it with your friends behind your teachers’ backs. Nonetheless, I bet your teachers felt the same about you that you do about the students today. Kids today are just more open and honest about what they really think and feel inside. As long as there are kids and as long as there are schools, this pattern will go on for 1000s of years—as it has in the past.

      No, I do not think these are the “end times.” The very fact that idiots like Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye think they are is all the proof I need. And that bloated-up hog in San Antonio is even more proof. All of them are engaging in behaviors that Jesus cautioned us against doing, and they are laughing all the way to the bank with your money. Whenever God the Father decides the time is right, that alone is fine with me, and I have no need to know when that time will be.

      Then the fundies say: “Oh no!!! Don’t you understand? These end times speculations is one of the greatest “evangelistic devices” ever invented.” (Note: You have to pronounce the “ist” part through the gap between your middle, upper incisors to say it right. Give it a try.) Sigh-hh-h-h. Just another carnival sideshow gimmick to avoid doing what Jesus said about the end times and embarrass him among men in the process.

    • Frankly. I do not know. That is God’s choice. I know three things for certain:

      1) The “Noah and the Ark” story of a worldwide flood that killed off the planet never happened in the actual human history of the past 6,000 to 10,000 years. It is a parable. If you believe it was actual history, that does not change the fact that it did not happen. It does mean that God decided to reek all that destruction on the Earth—and then decided (totally his option) not to do it.

      2) God has the option to show mercy on the soul of every human being who ever lived. The Bible makes it clear that mercy is one of his biggest priorities when dealing with humans—and he expects us to be the same way and believe the same way as his mind on the subject of mercy.

      3) A number of scriptures in the New Testament clearly provide God and Jesus with the option to do this blanket mercy if they so desire—those being the ones the universalists often cite. Those scriptures cannot be ignored.

      The Bible indicates that God is perfect and wants to see perfection done. If he fails to retrieve his entire creation (including all human souls who have ever lived —and even Satan and his demons—then one could argue that his creation remains imperfect and at odds with who He claims to be in his perfect state. Perfection is all things resolved and reconciled in perfect love. However, any such move is entirely up to him—his call—not mine—or yours.

      4)

  6. I just came across this BLOG last night and I am so glad I did. You write the things I have been thinking. We seem to have left Christ out of Christianity. I was so uplifted last night reading your pieces and also the comments. There are others out there that still believe in a loving God and the loving message of Jesus. I’m not alone.

    • Wonderful!!! I think Jesus is in the process of reforming his church in our times. Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism have taken the essence of Jesus Christ and his love out of the church over the past 100 years—and Jesus is putting it back into the church in front of the whole world. That a pretty good slogan: “Put Jesus and his love back into the church.”

  7. And if I as a flawed, falling, petty mess of a man feels this way towards his child, I cannot conceive of a God whose love for me is anything but hope-giving; not if and when I get everything right or believe everything right or do anything or realize anything—but just because I am.

    I love this!!! I pretty much have always had a peaceful,hopeful, forgiving, Faith.
    Maybe it is related to denomination????? IDK
    Jesus meets us all where we are, we just have to seek him.
    He seeks us as well, but we have to have our hearts open to him.
    Maybe I am lost….:)

  8. Sometimes I wonder if you can’t peer directly into my head. I so want to be the Christian I want to be but most of the time I don’t dare because of what I deem my own unworthyness and those personal characteristics deemed sin by this world.

  9. There are things I am learning about the Father, about Jesus and Their decision that the only thing They could do to show the depth of Their love for creation was to Incarnate, live our life and die…

    I am learning this in the crucible of transition and the horrors of gender dysphoria.

    Gender Dysphoria influenced every last thing about my life…everything. It was as inescapable as skin color except it was inside, and it influenced and tainted all things…and that included my children when they arrived.

    Words fail in expressing how I love them, how I would do ANYTHING for them, and I do mean anything. And now, for all kinds of reasons, the crucible of transition is revealing such woeful inadequacies, and hurts, and sorrows and griefs and sufferings…and it is no one’s fault…it is everyone’s fault.

    What I truly wish? Really and truly? I wish that I could die and in my death put paid to all the things owed, all the perceived lacks and all the perceived burdens…just wash them all away with my life blood…just because I love them and they could live free and full and in joy.

    I think this is far closer to the heart of God in the death of Jesus…to fill that break relationally with love.

    I could be wrong…but this is what I see when I watch Jesus and talk with Him about these things…I see Him smile, and I know that whether it is with my own children, or with any of God’s children I meet, I want to exude love like blood, and wash each one I meet in the grace of God.

  10. Wow! I find so much of what I am thinking or even struggling with, written in your blogs. I always felt somehow ‘sinful’ because I questioned so much of what I was taught and expected to blindly believe because a couple verses were thrown in that at best only sorta made sense. Many sermons seemed twisted and if I questioned the pastor, I never got a straight, believable answer that even came close to a real explanation…not ever. I have been struggling with these very things you spoke of and appreciate knowing it is not just me who questions these things. Thank-you.

  11. The child analagy? We are the children of God upon the second birth- the birth that comes from the Spirit. We are not born the children of God from our “water”, or first birth, and you’d know that if your theology was right.
    You are literally teaching “damnable herecies” with this post.
    Furthermore you are bluring the lines between the doctrine of Salvation and the doctrine of sanctification. We *are* born, the first time, enemies of God. The remedy? Jn. 3:16.
    When we are born again/the second time/of the Spirit, we become his children, and then (and only then), your parent analogy applies.
    Then, we don’t have to fear Him when we don’t get everything right, because we are His beloved children flaws and all.

    You know what I think- I think your theology has been off for a long time, and because your beliefs were wrong to begin with, you’re now rejecting what little you did believe to embrace worldy wisdom.

    Thank you for being a very good example of why I do what I do. . . Teach sound doctrine so that others are rooted and grounded in their faith and don’t end up being a blogger teaching herecies that someday he’ll give a fearful account for before God. So, enjoy your “fearless” “love”fest now, cause I wouldn’t want to be you in the here after. *If* (and that’s really looking like a BIG if to me) you are a saved man, you are his child and you don’t have to be afraid of damnation, BUT you will give an account for setting yourself up here on earth as a pastor, a leader of the flock, and the teaching you are putting forth on this blog.

    • “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” 2 Peter 2:1
      I think there is a pretty good reason why this is where you’re coming from: “This new understanding isn’t about the Bible, . . . ”
      Because if you were in your Bible you’d read the parts about love and damnation. Damnation is real-sorry you don’t like, sorry it doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but it’s a reality whether you want to embrace it or not.

      • Because telling people they’re heretics and that they’re heading for Hell always gets them to change their mind…

        • I didn’t say anything about him heading to hell, but I stand by “heretic” and it’s not really a matter of getting him to change his mind- I couldn’t do that. It’s a matter of calling it what it is and hoping that others see it and think about it rather then this false teacher running on and on unopposed.

      • sir! i think you are fear based not faith based. why all the hub-bub bud? ..:(((|))):………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………_O..O_’…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….*(0)/

      • If it’s real, then prove it. It shouldn’t be hard to find objective evidence for your claims. But ah! Let me back up a minute. You actually need to show the following so you’re not just engaging in one of those “begging the question” fallacies by making an argument whose assumptions are not proven first. To show me that Hell is a real live threat that I must worry about, you must show me that these are real:
        * A supernatural realm of any kind (this will require you to come up with an acceptable definition of “supernatural”, since most Christians have no clue what they mean by it much less by the term “God”)….
        * … with beings in it who are sentient…
        * …. and who desire to and are able to reach into this world…
        * … to influence people and events here.
        * A part of humans (“soul”) that lives on after we die…
        * … and can feel pain and comprehend what is happening to it enough to suffer in any way…
        * … and is still materially “us” even though none of our organic bodies or brains are present to interpret the stimuli and release the hormones we know make us feel emotions.
        * A supernatural entity…
        * … who is ultimately powerful and in charge of that realm…
        * … who has set up a Nice Afterlife and a Nasty Afterlife…
        * … where people’s souls go after they die….
        * … according to specific rules that this being has set up long in advance…
        * … that he or she or it has communicated to humans…
        * … that you can demonstrate objectively to have received in complete form…
        * … that you know for sure are more correct than the rules that every religion claims that it has received from its own ultimately-powerful supernatural being….
        * … who is ultimately worth worshiping even though he/she/it has apparently set up a punitive, eternal, inescapable, painful (or at least tedious or lonely), non-rehabilitative punishment realm for people who weren’t gullible or terrorized enough to find some way to at least pretend to believe nonsense for no good reason….
        * … and who is tricked by proclamations of love that are prompted by terrorist threats of punitive, eternal, inescapable, painful, non-rehabilitative punishment.

        Get crackin’. Billions of souls hang in the balance here, if you’re correct. Good luck with that first one. 2000 years after Jesus’ ghostwriters have him declaring he’ll be back before his listeners had “tasted death,” and nobody from any religion’s managed that one yet. You’ll probably win a prize or something.

        • John, do you see this. This is the group that takes up your defence. Not the faithful who love and try to fallow Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind, but the godless who don’t beleive even basic truths.
          This is your fruit.

          • There are millions of the “faithful who love and try to follow Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind”, and who do not agree with you or your theology.

            This is the Pharisee’s blind spot.

          • Are you hoping I won’t notice that you didn’t engage with a single thing I wrote, much less even try to find plausible answers for any challenge I’ve raised to your childish, oversimplified, and misunderstood doctrines? Because oh buddy, I noticed.

            You’re wrong again though. (Actually you’ve been wrong about every single assertion you’ve made. I wish that bothered you.) I defend him because it’s not okay for you to abuse him in the name of Republican Jesus. I’m not converting to your religion either way–but if you fail to love me, then you are in violation of your Savior’s direct command. Mr. Pavlovitz is not going to convert me either, but he is at least in compliance with that command while you are not. I know that fundagelicals often believe that non-Christians have no idea what love is, but that’s hardly true. What we don’t have any idea about is how Christians can be so hateful and nasty and still label themselves as “loving.” I’m glad I’m out of the religion, because I had no idea what love even was till I deconverted. I learned so much about love since leaving that I can hardly even tell you–because I know you don’t speak the same language I do, metaphysically speaking. Well, good luck with that, and enjoy your religion’s race to the bottom. I’ll be over here loving my life and being happy.

      • The use of the termanology “I used to believe” and then the whole rest of the post telling us what he believes now, denotes conclusion- you know it and I now it. And, he’s teaching. He has listed himself as a pastor, he’s writing in a way to teach what he believes and why. AND, lets not ignore the fact that it’s a public blog. If you don’t want to influence others you don’t “think out loud” by creating a blog with your name sake and ask others to support you monitarily because what idiot would pay someone for “thinking out loud”? No, we pay pastors and teachers to lead and teach, and the very least we pay people to continue to pump out material that we agree with.

      • Ren. I bet you think the principal purpose of all books, poetry, magazines, recorded music, television shows, radio shows, movies, etc. is to teach people HOW they should live their lives. Most fundies i have ever met do. What important educational lesson is Lady Gaga teaching to the ABC television audience in this video:

        I once asked Bruce Gerencser why nearly all fundies believe that the purpose of all media is to teach people HOW they should live their lives. As a former IFB pastor, he responded that IFB fundies do not so much think that the purpose of these media is to teach people HOW to live their lives—but rather—they believe that all such secular media items are sinful because they FAIL TO TEACH all people lessons on HOW to lead a prim and proper fundie life. In other words, they believe that the Lady Gaga video above should be burned and replaced by a video of John Hagee ranting and raving about the merits of unconsidered Zionism. Go figure.

  12. I really loved your blog. What really hit home was the part where you compared your own feelings when your child was born. I was raised in a strict babtist upbringing and I could relate to hell fire. I was so afraid or guilty and full of shame for a very long time until I finally talked with a Christian counselor and he had me read the book of John over and over. I realize now that God is love! Thanks again, Roni

  13. yes!!!!!! I guess I am in a sharing mood tonight… yesterday I got in my car after making rounds at East TN Children’s Hospital. It was about 1:00 pm and Here and Now was on on our local NPR station. The headlines made note of the president and Mrs. Obama going to meet the Pope later in the day. As I listened I was feeling so excited for my 92+ year old precious grandmother, a lifelong Catholic, knowing she will be following the entire Papal visit from her chair in small town, TN. Likely, Francis will be her last Pope before she meets the true Bridegroom of the church. And she is cherishing his message of forgiveness and tolerance in a way I truly really never dared to dream. When my husband and I began the adoption process for our Haitian daughter, she was mystified at us adopting a black child. Then her priest told her she could be proud of us, she should be proud of us. and, so, she is. This from a woman whose late husband (and my grandfather) was once mayor of this small town, TN, and likely a klan member. Right after the headlines, the folks at Here and Now shared an interview with a sexual abuse [perpetrated by a Catholic priest] survivor, who reported he felt like he’d been “punched in the gut” when he found out the Pope was coming to America. and I get that. I really do. I still feel heartsick for him and the trauma he endured. But that is the thing about the REAL Gospel. the REAL Good News… we, ALL of us, every single blasted one of us is created in His love and with His heart yearning FOR us, from the least (or worst) of us to the very best ( thinking, perhaps, of Mother Theresa, here). Keep writing, Jon. We are listening.

  14. Oh, John, you have seen my own heart as it took wings and flew from that hell! And once the scales fall from your eyes you can never go back. That price was waaayyyy above my pay grade. My hope I built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Keep up the good work. I love your writing and look forward to every morsel!

  15. Your description of your love for Noah was so beautiful and, yes, how much it was a picture of God’s love for us. So inspiring. Thank you!

    Missing from your list of the things feared was homosexuality! Lol! Fear of going to hell because of being homosexual and yet not able to overcome the feelings and attractions and being more and more caught up in a bind that seems unresolvable (and in a sense, so it is). It is only resolved by coming to accept that God made one this way and so one should rejoice in it. Yet Christianity of this hell-orientated nature would condemn one to a living nightmare here on earth which is inescapable.

  16. Consider This:

    “And [Jesus] said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as LITTLE children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

    “And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.…”

    Let us all stop for a moment and take some time out to ponder and meditate on what the nature and characteristics of a “little child” (not a big one) are in this world. I think a child age 3 is about right to define this little child. I will let all of you do the pondering.

    Now before this even starts, I am going to head the fundie party crashers off at the pass just as they begin to act like Gomer Pyle and start yelling: “Citizen’s arrest!!! Citizen’s Arrest!!! Citizens arrest!!! You didn’t see the word “converted” did you?

    Yes, I see the word “converted” there, and I do not deny its importance. Neither does John Pavlovitz. The problem with you fundie guys is that you want to focus down hard on the word “convert” alone, as if the entirety of the Christian faith is about that one thing alone and nothing else. In other words, you want to pretend that the “become as little children” part is unimportant and does not really exist in the Bible—giving only mild lip service to its presence in passing—but not DOING IT. This is the way you fundies all play your sick game. You accuse everyone else on the planet of not following the Bible, yet I can point out numerous places like this in the Bible that your faith tradition will not even give the time of day to—much less make it an active part of your lives. You accuse others of being hypocrites when you do the exact same things as those you accuse. I am a hypocrite. All humans are hypocrites Your problem is that you can never admit that you are too. It is now time for you people to go take a hike while the rest of us here ponder the full and diverse meanings of BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN. What is a child age 3 like?

    I will start simply by saying that the age 3 child automatically assumes THE BIG ONES have their best interests at heart and that they can come to the BIG ONES in complete faith and trust—and with no fear whatsoever—because the BIG ONES LOVE ME, ALWAYS HUG ME, AND ALWAYS HELP ME. They also know that the big ones really are the BIG ONES, and they know that they are little children who need them to survive. Put another way: YOU ARE GOD—AND I AM NOT. This extraordinary faith and trust in adults is why a warm little bundle will run straight into the arms of a child molester without even thinking—or an IFB Preacher—take your pick. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit want people to trust them in the same way. Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are nothing like our age 3 child. They come to God in abject fear (as of a monster) when they walk the aisle at their first altar call to “get saved.” (Notice that it is all about “them getting” and not about loving God like a small child.) And they spend their whole lives “shot through” with the same abject fear that God is the monster living under their bed. The attitude and perspective John Pavlovitz takes in his main post above is the attitude and perspective of our age 3 child—exactly what Jesus had in mind in these Bible verses.

    YOU FOLKS TAKE THE THOUGHT PROCESS FROM HERE.

  17. Pingback: When Your Heart Gets Out Of Hell (Finding A Fear-Less Faith) | oshriradhekrishnabole

  18. Amen! well said! What a great way to demonstrate the love of God. How indeed can God’s love be any less than the love we have for our own children and if that love we feel in our own hearts for our own kids is more important to us than anything else how much greater must God’s love be for us.

  19. Very beautiful. Thank you for sharing this as it does in a easy describe my journey of faith. I know God and am amazed by his creation. I just don’t think the God I know is the same God that these fundamentalist preachers preach about.

  20. I totally believe hell isn’t real. Study of the early church, it’s history and scripture lead to God’s redemption plan for all. I am sorry I was caught up in the false teaching of hell like so many others. I thank God for opening my eyes to the truth and I know that some day soon the truth will be revealed to all. It is very freeing to give up this doctrine and my love for God has grown tremendously.

  21. This issue (atonement theory) is what wrecked me for so long until I rejected it…and found that there are other theologies…one that goes back to the Franciscan John Duns Scotus. Thank God I discovered Richard Rohr and other writers/theologians as well as a local priest who all helped change my life for the better. We need more people espousing what you wrote today because I think…sadly most “Christians” have never heard a different interpretation. Thanks!

  22. I really wish I could sit down and talk with you in detail. You mention so many “Christian” beliefs that I have found answered by my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), this idea of a literally burning hell that a loving God would throw us into if we don’t match up to a, b & c items being a HUGE one.

  23. It really is painful to read what you put to words. To be so close to the truth, but yet so far. I know because I was once there as well. Once it all lines up, I can tell you it does make perfect sense.

    I can tell you that what you wrote here; “I want my son’s understanding of me to give his heart wings. I want it to yield hope, not fear.”, is exactly the kind of reaction that God wants from us when we do figure this all out. And when that happens, you will see God in a totally different light and your reason for living will change and your reasons for doing what you do and how you do them will be for His glory and honor.

    There are some things in your analogy about your understanding that are off base. Your analogy is not 100% correct in some aspects. God is not out to “do you in” but rather to “raise you up” despite your understandings. Yes, we have a “genetic flaw” as you call it, but it is necessary for us to expose this flaw (sin) and how it relates to God. In order for true love to exist, we must be capable of choosing one thing over another. Our free will is the catalyst that determines which side of righteousness we chose to live on. We all get it wrong, maybe not in every case, but we get most of it wrong (Rom 3:23). Hence, our dilemma. The thing we are seeking is salvation, and luckily for us, it is a free gift from God. Not something we have to earn or figure out, like a puzzle. It just is. Minimizing sin in our life hides the gift. Us seeing God as a mean and cruel God, hides the gift. Not seeing the truth of who we really are, hides the gift. All these actions or attitudes are based upon our view of God and how WE handle the truth, based upon what we find in his Word. God is not hiding anything from you that is not in open, plain sight. This gift is only seen as a gift when we see ourselves and God in the correct light. This gift is freely available to everyone who wants it, who realizes that they need it, and when the do receive it, they cherish it, forever. Because they realize the cost, not to ourselves, but what it cost God, and the fact that it was their choices that put Christ in that position of sacrifice. A position which he chose willingly for you and me, and the rest of the world. To step on that kind of sacrifice is the greatest of all sins.

    • We are not seeking salvation Ed. We are seeking reconciliation with God and to be one with him in love, joy, and peace—in body, mind, and spirit. If He chooses to save us—all the better. The Christian faith is not about saving your hide—and nothing else. That is selfish, self-centered, ME FIRST thinking—and leaves God as nothing by an insurance agent.

      • Accepting salvation is being reconciled with God. He is not the one who chooses to accept us, He already has, it’s us who has to choose Him. Since God initiated the plan of salvation and it is we who must be accepting of it, logically its not us who want to save our own hides, it’s God who wants to save us, if we let Him. And God is an assurance agent. He assures us that we are his once we are reconciled.

  24. Hi John,

    I like reading your blog, because it’s so rare to find progressive Christians these days. But as a Jew, I do have to take issue with one thing you wrote here.

    I really get twitchy when people use “Pharisee” as a synonym for “Small-Minded Bigoted Black-Letter Legalist,” considering that the Pharisee movement was the movement of the “common folk” Jews that became what most Jews today call “the rabbis,” who essentially saved Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple, when there was no longer a physical focus where the Jews could perform their mitzvot.

    You see, the Pharisees were the social and religious progressive radicals of their time (compare them to the Sadducees, who were the rich folks and aristocrats, and who wanted nothing to change). One of the main sticking points at the time in Judaism was whether the teachings of the rabbis about the Torah should be included as part of what was taught as Torah – what was known as the Oral Torah. The Sadducees said “absolutely not,” while the Pharisees said “we should at least consider that it has merit.”

    Many of the conversations depicted in the Christian New Testament between Yeshua ben Yosef (aka Jesus, who was probably an Essene rabbi), and the Pharisees and Sadducees, that Christians interpret as “bad people attacking Jesus,” were nothing of the kind – they were simply rabbinic debate about the Law and how it should be interpreted and applied. Were these debates legalistic? Of course they were – they were about the Law. It’d be idiotic for them not to be. That was the essence of those conversations.

    But saying that the Pharisees were peddling fear shows a startling lack of understanding of context.

    Here’s some context for you.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/sadducees_pharisees_essenes.html

    I wish you well.

    • I understand your argument, but every religion has its fundamentalist corner. What I hear you saying is that the Jews of 1st century Judea had no people with an anal, uptight, fundamentalist mindset. It was all one big, happy, Jewish ice-cream party, the Sadducees being yummy vanilla and the Pharisees being delicious chocolate. As a professional anthropologist, I quite frankly find that hard to believe. I have some Jewish friends who never cease without fail to leap to the defense against the way the Scribes and Pharisees are portrayed in the New Testament—always saying that they could not possibly have been anything like Jesus (Matthew 23, the disciples, etc. described them in the ancient writings. I think this is more a Jewish ethnic defense thing than anything else because Europeans for centuries persecuted the Jews under the “Killer of Christ” slogan. While the Scribes and Pharisees might not have been all bad, there can still be isolated pockets of really badass dudes in any religion. Therefore, I am more inclined to believe the ancient Christian writings as first hand accounts of—at a minimum—a pocket of badass Scribe and Pharisee dudes who were misbehaving badly. I seriously doubt that Jesus turned himself over to the romans and said, “Here!!! Nail me please.”

    • Thanks for the note on the Pharisees. I too cringe when fellow Sunday school Christians misuse the word. And it is slightly surprising how resistant they are to give it up by learning history.

  25. Not trying to be funny here, embedded in the humor is an honest question. If I get to heaven and it’s only populated by the pious and high-minded keepers of morality a la Kim Davis…would I be in heaven or….someplace else? Never understood the teaching about how a “loving” God chucks people into hell because they just didn’t happen to go through the correct religious motions while living.

  26. Well said, John. Well said.

    I had never heard the example of a child being born with a genetic flaw but it parallels perfectly what so many fundamentalists preach and teach. A God like that would not only be unloving but would be a cruel and hateful deity. Thank God that his love is bigger than that kind of short-sighted nonsense.

  27. Thank you so much for this. I was raised in a particularly Hell-centric sect of Evangelical Christianity, and the damage it did to my family, especially my relationship with my parents, is incalculable. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a parent who sees God as a being out to squash humanity because he loves them will behave in a similar way toward their children. My parents certainly did.

    I know leaving that mindset behind was best, and I don’t regret it at all, but now I’m trying to figure out what I do and don’t believe. I don’t believe in a God who sends people to Hell on technicalities, but I’m not sure what all I DO believe yet.

    What I do know is that your compassion for others is real, and it’s very much welcome. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  28. Yes! Indeed! I am encouraged!

    “This new understanding isn’t about the Bible, as much as it’s about parenthood…”

    Thing is: It *is* in the Bible. Everything that you have said and more. At some point I want to write about it on my own blog, but I’m only just getting to the place where I can.

    After years of struggling with this very question, I’ve come to the conclusion that the religion you describe isn’t one of fear so much as of shame. I thought it was fear at first, too. But I think it runs deeper than that. Jesus’s words in the New Testament are all about challenging the honour and shame dynamic in the society of the time – the dynamic which saw the Jew, the male, the rich, the well and the law-abiding as honourable and the Gentile, the female, the poor, the sick, the slave and the sinner as dishonourable or shameful; less than fully human.

    You find the same with Paul. If you read him without the Reformers’ spectacles, it becomes clear that ‘sin’ is seen as seeking to protect that honour/shame dynamic and redemption from sin as no longer allowing it to rule you, hence following in the footsteps of Jesus who:

    Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
    Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
    When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
    Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
    (Philippians 2:6-11)

    One way or another, we all seek to protect our honour. That’s sin: The many defences we put up against being shamed. These divide us from one another and from God because that’s what trying to protect your own honour does. It diminishes the honour of others. But Jesus didn’t do that. He allowed himself to be brutally shamed and held it against no-one. In other words, he did the precise opposite of what the society of the time would have been expected of a person of honour. And God honoured him.

    Interestingly, there is no mention of guilt and moral failure in that hymn. In fact, the words ‘guilt’ and ‘guilty’ hardly appear in the NT. And that makes sense because, ultimately, punishment is not about moral justice, it’s about defending one’s honour. It’s about shaming the other in order to put yourself above them.

    God didn’t need to do that because s/he is above. End of. S/he didn’t need to prove it. So punishment wasn’t necessary. But s/he did need to cover *our* shame, so as to stop us from trying to cover it ourselves. So that’s what the cross and the gift of righteousness and the Holy Spirit is all about. Making us the people we were always meant to be, without this consuming need to ‘cover’ ourselves as Adam and Eve tried to do. It’s about setting us *all* free from the slavery of sin (as Paul wrote). It’s about changing us and it’s about changing society – totally and completely.

    From our perspective, that looks to be pretty much impossible. Jostling for position seems to be part and parcel of who we are: this all consuming need to prove ourselves and damage others in the process. Can it really be possible to change that? Well, apparently, yes. God ‘is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think or even hold in our heads.’ (Ephesians 3:20) Or ‘All things are possible. But the impossible might take a little longer…’

  29. Truth is what you discover when you peel away all the layers that have been imposed on you from the outside. What is real is buried deep within. Once you discover it, there is no greater joy, no greater freedom, no greater love. Your outlook becomes like the sun, radiating to the world and lighting up the darkest of fears.

    Parenthood can do this to you!

  30. Thanks for the insight. I grew to reject the idea of a post-breathing hell more than ten years ago. When I share my new perspective with other Christians I am often asked “How do you know there’s no hell?” Here’s what I tell them:

    In Christian circles it is often said that Jesus is our best example of who God is. He said:
    “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” John 14:7

    But get this: after being betrayed, disowned, wrongfully accused, slandered, mocked, beaten, and sentenced to a torturous death, Jesus forgave them. His executioners, betrayers and judges didn’t repent, they didn’t ask for forgiveness. They didn’t believe in him. The religious leaders were convinced of Jesus’ imminent threat to the Sacred Word of God. Of all the things Jesus could have done or said, his last dying act was to forgive. Even if someone believes Jesus was just a man or a prophet, how can anyone imagine God could be any less gracious than Jesus?

    “It is finished,” Jesus said. There is nothing more that needs to be done, nor can be done for anyone to avoid damnation. No atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, Jews, nor fundamentalist Christians will ever experience the Hell we were told about in Sunday School. God has already forgiven them. If it ever were real, Hell no longer exists. For centuries before we we born, the hell we heard about was a myth. It has always been a fabrication, a lie, a tool, and little more than a nightmare. The only hell that ever existed is the one we create and live in while we still breathe. And if you ask me, that is very good news indeed!

    —–> If God is good, Hell is false. <—-

  31. Thanks for the insight. I grew to reject the idea of a post-breathing hell more than ten years ago. When I share my new perspective with other Christians I am often asked “How do you know there’s no hell?” Here’s what I tell them:

    In Christian circles it is often said that Jesus is our best example of who God is. He said:
    “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” John 14:7

    But get this: after being betrayed, disowned, wrongfully accused, slandered, mocked, beaten, and sentenced to a torturous death, Jesus forgave them. His executioners, betrayers and judges didn’t repent, they didn’t ask for forgiveness. They didn’t believe in him. The religious leaders were convinced of Jesus’ imminent threat to the Sacred Word of God. Of all the things Jesus could have done or said, his last dying act was to forgive. Even if someone believes Jesus was just a man or a prophet, how can anyone imagine God could be any less gracious than Jesus?

    “It is finished,” Jesus said. There is nothing more that needs to be done, nor can be done for anyone to avoid damnation. No atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, Jews, nor fundamentalist Christians will ever experience the Hell we were told about in Sunday School. God has already forgiven them. If it ever were real, Hell no longer exists. For centuries before we we born, the hell we heard about was a myth. It has always been a fabrication, a lie, a tool, and little more than a nightmare. The only hell that ever existed is the one we create and live in while we still breathe. And if you ask me, that is very good news indeed!

    —–> If God is good, Hell is false. <—-

  32. thank you for this very articulate and incisive article. i have come to this belief also, and it is the very reason, ” church ” is such a turn off – ” church” came to a fork in the road hundreds of years ago and is still taking the wrong road,i.e., fear, hell, damnation — and this from a loving creator? I think not.

  33. As a childless adult, I have often wondered how people could bring children into this world if they truly believed in hell as understood by most evangelicals. There is such a significant number of children raised in Christian homes who do not embrace the gospel, isn’t the risk too great that one’s own children would go to hell? Since evangelicals, in fact, have lots of children, I conclude that, deep down, the notion of hell is just that…a notion that is not truly believed in.

  34. Pingback: When Your Heart Gets Out Of Hell (Finding A Fear-Less Faith) | Social Stigmas

  35. Thanks again for another thought provoking read.
    As a standing firm in my faith, following Jesus with my heart and soul Christian, I enjoy all your posts. You spread compassion to ALL, and you have the difficult conversations. 🙂 🙂

  36. I made the same discovery about God’s love several years ago while dealing with my grown son and his drug addiction. When I realized that even though he was using drugs and living a life that I didn’t approve of and which I feared, both for his sake and for those around him at times (myself included), even though he had squandered the opportunities of being born healthy and intelligent, even though I had to separate myself from him because of that addiction, I loved him being measure. I answered the phone when he called I helped him when he asked. I prayed for him every day.

    He died of a drug overdose two years ago, but I’m certain that our loving God remembers the sweet boy we both loved who made a profession of faith before the world pulled him away.

  37. Thank you for this! I have landed at a similar place in my faith shifts. Anything else, it seems to me leaves us with a paradigm that “Jesus died to save us from God.” now that will take you down some mind-twisting paths.
    I also believe that this system attracts people who have already learned shame, either in their childhood or along the way, and so when they hear a system based on their depravity, it sounds true, it is written in their native tongue. Once my general life-shame began to lift, and I could see myself as worthy of love and belonging just by being human, the whole thing began to deconstruct in the best possible way.

  38. Reblogged this on insofewwordsblog and commented:
    I tried to touch on some thoughts similar to what John expresses in this post in my blog “Clutter” ….

    I am reblogging this particular post because he articulates very well what I and so many Christians and non believers alike wonder about. I’ve wondered in silence- maybe sharing with a friend or two over the years. I’ve had non believing friends express the exact same concerns verbatim. There has to be a better way. Wrestling with this still….

  39. John, have you researched the differences between hell in our modern bibles verses the original bibles? According to a book i read the words hell and eternal were added when made in english. The original supposedly only referred to hell as a place of death or an abandoned city of garbage. Fire was only referenced as a cleansing temporary process not eternal torture. Hell was also referred to a prison sentence. Curious to know how factual that is.

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