No Christian, We Don’t Deserve Hell (And We Probably Needn’t Worry About it)

FireWalker3Edit

So there I was on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the local dog park, gingerly tiptoeing through an eclectic minefield of canine care packages and discussing the eternal destinations of our souls with a complete stranger—as one does.

And I was about to step in it.

I’d only a few moments earlier met this young woman and her husband, and after a  brief smattering of small talk I told her what I did for a living and we began chatting about our shared Christian faith.

Almost immediately into our conversation she smiled widely and said to me, “I’m just so grateful to God because He loved me when I deserved Hell.”

Hearing those words out loud like that caused a reply to launch immediately from my lips without giving me time to edit or soften it:

“You did? You deserved Hell… just for being born?”

“Yes, the Bible says that I was born sinful and separated from God.” she matter-of-factly responded.

I pressed her, “So God lovingly made you and gave you life… but despised you out of the chute?”

“No,” she tried to clarify. “God loved me so He sent Jesus to save me from my sin.”

“But, couldn’t He have just forgiven you (all of us), without needing Jesus and his death, and without you needing to believe this?” I asked. “And Isn’t He just saving you from Himself then anyway?”

Things got awkward. The kind of mess you can’t easily scrape from the bottom of your shoe with a stick.

There are moments when the faith of your past is deconstructed in real-time; when your own heart sends an alarm that something is not right and you realize you have reached a fork in the road and things will never be quite the same.

This was such a moment for me.

It wasn’t a total surprise as it had been a long time coming, and yet it still felt seismic in its scope, jarring loose the bedrock of my religion and bringing with it aftershocks of guilt that I’m still feeling today. (Turns out guilt is a crippling addiction as tough to shake as any ever concocted.)

I’ve been a Christian for most of my four-plus decades on this planet, a pastor for nearly half of those and largely during that time, quite sure that Hell was real and that many people were going there or presently roasting. It was simply something I accepted as part of my Christianity Starter Kit and incorporated into my religious worldview, my default theology, and my working spirituality. It shaped my understanding of me and it guided the agenda I approached others with, often turning me into an oxymoronic self-hating, yet overconfident jerk.

But with each passing day over the past decade or so, I started to feel it eroding little by little; the unwavering certainty of something that had once seemed so critical and non-negotiable to my belief, yet which had grown more and more paradoxical in my mind: eternal damnation at the hands of a supposed Loving God.

At this state of my spiritual journey and in my current understanding of the character of God, I simply no longer can reconcile these two things.

As hard as I have tried to (and believe me I have), I do not have peace with a Creator who would give us life and force us to spend much of that life looking for a spiritual needle in a haystack to avoid torture for eternity. This is not a conscious decision, so I can be argued or proof texted out of it, rather it’s more of a yielding to the involuntary response of my heart as I have walked in faith and lived life seeking Jesus.

I’ve certainly wrestled with these issues before, but meeting this young woman and hearing her confession of faith there in the park, framed it all in a way that finally called out in all caps, bold type what I’d had so much unrest about:

She believes she’s inherently dirty.

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

This is one of the central pillars of our faith story: Our depravity?

There’s something so very sad about that.

Imagine this was also the heart of your parents as they raised you. Imagine growing up with the first seeds sown into your young spirit; that you were afflicted with a vile moral birth defect, unfit to be in their presence and unworthy of intimacy with them unless you confessed your inborn filth.

I’m not sure we would find this anything but horribly abusive, and yet this woman walking her dog and speaking with me that afternoon had lived this very God story quite passionately—one centered around her own sickness. I had lived it too. Millions upon millions of Christians have and are living it right now. I just can no longer be one of them and be honest at the same time.

And yes gallant Christian Soldier, before you cavalierly launch the sacred grenades of favorite Scripture quotes into the comments section, know that I have already read them all, studied them, unpacked them, taught them, lived with them for twenty years—and literally bought the t-shirt.

That the concept of Hell is part of a great many Christian’s orthodoxy and a staple of  recent Church History isn’t revelatory—and it isn’t going to alter my conclusions either. I once heard it said, that there is a truth that you cannot argue us out of once we have experienced it. This is the spot from which I speak and believe now, even though there is unsteadiness.

In the quiet places where I seek and pray and encounter God, the deep that calls to deep says:

“There is no fear in Me. You are beloved. I delight in you.”

You can mount all the violent assaults of systematic theology and doctrine and dogma and they will not be louder than this voice.

All the finger-wagging and threat-throwing and pulpit pounding will likely fail to scare the Hell into me.

You can label me a false prophet and prodigal rebel, and I will rest in the reality that I am simply an honest disciple trying to find the truest truth and live it.

And if my heart is mistaken in all of this, I trust that the One whose voice I so strain to hear will know more than any, the depths to which I have been seeking and the earnestness of my desires, and will give me safe passage to Glory. If Perfect Love is real, this is what it looks like.

Yes friend, you and I are most certainly flawed and fractured and all sorts of jacked-up—but I do not believe we are inherently horrible.

We are not born wretched.

We are not enemies of God upon conception.

We are not filthy from the womb.

And we do not deserve Hell.

 

Read more about this subject on the blog here and here and here.

 

 

525 thoughts on “No Christian, We Don’t Deserve Hell (And We Probably Needn’t Worry About it)

    • thank you. I struggle with this daily. My heart doesn’t buy that God condemns me for who I am but I do feel and see that most Christians do. It is most difficult to navigate on some days
      .

      • I share your experience and sometimes long for the days I was so secure in my born again status. I know now I am headed in a better direction, but the struggle is real and intense

      • Like Jesus, real Christians do not condemn you. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, but He has provided a way of bridging the gap…the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who loves us. All we have to do is accept it and follow the example set by Jesus. When we are confused, we need to “seek” and “ask” and “knock”.

        • The theology of atonement was largely a creation of Anselm, as a way of trying to deal with this – but it is greatly lacking. In fact, all of the ways in which we try to explain the meaning of the cross as some kind of transaction are similarly lacking – they explain some things, but create more problems than they solve. Atonement theology, though popular among evangelicals, ends up with a God who is pretty nasty – always ready to send these creatures he made right to hell unless they shape up and either do or say the right thing or believe the appropriate thing. It makes God’s grace to be a cruel joke. The reformation idea of the judge “”declaring righteous” with Jesus taking the penalty is similarly flawed – God cannot forgive unless someone is killled? So his grace is limited by his need to put the blame on and punish someone to “”prove”” he is righteous? Seems to me that God doesn”t have to prove anything or answer to anyone – isn”t that his answer to Job? It seems to me that a better answer to all of this is Girard”s reflection on the crucifixion – that it shows, simply, how we all find a need to project our faults on to, a “goat.” In this case, the goat was God himself – and we killed him. That’s what we do. Pretty crappy of us, but that”s what happens when we are controlled by our egos. The grace in it is that that”s not the end of the story – God makes alive that which was dead – including us. It”s not about how we were born to be sent to hell – but abut the way we tend to act in the world, and how God loves us anyway. “”While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Yep – loved us even when we were at our worst. We can be good – sometimes wonderful – and perhaps it”s easy to love us then; but sometimes, I”m sure, God would really like to give us a good slap – which, seeing that he’s all-powerful, and all that – could be a pretty messy thing. But he doesn’t. It”s not about knowing the right words, saying the right prayer, knowing the right things, being good and keeping your nose clean – but about a love greater than we can ever imagine, in which we are held – no matter what.

          • I love that you have cited Rene Girard here, if only more Christians and people in general knew about his theory. Makes so much sense that we are born to imitate each other’s desires, leading to unrest, tension and ultimately violence towards a scapegoat to offload all of this junk onto. Unfortunately much of Christianity just primes the scapegoating pump with racism, sexism and various other persecutions of anyone who isn’t ‘moral’.

      • I found a way to stop worrying about this when I was about ten. I figured, God is all-powerful. He controls everything. God is all-knowing. Nothing is secret from God. God is good. He wishes us well.
        Therefore hell is inconsistent and does not exist.
        It was a lot later that I realized the whole shebang is inconsistent, and rejected it all.

    • For those who completely disagree with John’s “coming out” about this, allow me to share with you part of my own coming out. I was raised as a Baptist’s preacher’s kid, went into ministry fulltime at 18, and left it just over 2 years ago.

      This from a blog post I’m working on (and recently shared with John):

      “It really doesn’t matter what gift wrapping you put on the box, the box is still a box. In this case, Christianity is a religion; it’s a box.

      There are so many different varieties of religion–let alone varieties of Christianity–but what I’ve discovered is that it’s impossible to put God wholly inside a box.

      Fear and manipulation are also found in religion, and I don’t believe God to exist in those places either; therefore, I cannot be a part of it.

      Belief in hell, a place of eternal torment, is fear driven and anti-Love. It’s also a man-made idea that is only found within the confines of religious traditions passed down. I don’t believe it to be an inspirational writing given by God–ever.

      Sure, there are great things we can learn from sacred texts and teachings passed down, but I don’t view them as I used to. I see them now as man’s attempt to explain God.

      Taking the Bible as ‘God’s literal word’ is bibliolatry, and no different than idol worship. Even the authors noted that their writings were inspirational. It’s an attempt to gift wrap God between a front and back cover, and he doesn’t fit.

      …I’m leaving God in a new place I’ve never known before. I’m choosing to leave him in a place of mystery.

      In this place, there’s no need to define heaven, hell, or sin. Honestly, there’s no need to have anything concrete. God is God, I am not, and I cannot possibly begin to define him or his character outside the frame of Love.

      Outside of Love’s frame is wonder and mystery. It’s like exploring areas of space that haven’t been seen. Inside of Love’s frame is the beating heart of God. It’s all the security I will ever need.”

      • I am so glad I do not follow you. Your thinking is flawed and not certainly not scriptural! Shameful to say the least. God’s word us all truth and irrefutable! I will pray for you and your misconception. You need discernment

            • I went to a church when I was younger that seemed to preach more on he’ll and the devil than God and Jesus His sacrifice His love His grace and the fact that being saved meant if you messed up tomorrow you went to hell it was wrong and as a child I knew it was wrong bc that is not what God spoke to my heart….yes I blv in hell and sin I don’t blv innocent babies are just thrown into he’ll bc they were born bad and then had the bad luck to die young I do blv we all sin as it is in the world and from the beginning Satan is set on our corruption and I do blv we have a choice to make we either thank God blv in Him that He came to save us from the sin in this world and delight in Him or we choose to delight in the sins of this world and very much so choose he’ll in doing so…..so no sin doesn’t send you to hell…..the love of it over the love of and belief in our Savior does…..you choose hell or you choose to live for Him and therefore live in His light and love forever but some forget whichever the choice His love never dims for any soul……He died for us all and He will love us all even unto the end….He loves us but cannot love sin and neither can we….we are not meant to love this world at all but love Him more and above all as He has loved us putting us even above the angels…..do you think He would set us above the angels to have angels serve His beloved children if we were considered dirty filthy and deserving of hell….it was that jealousy I blv that drove the devil over the edge His love for us even though we were flawed not through His making but through the devil wanting us to fall wanting us to lose the love of our Lord ……and yet He loved us more….and so sent His Son to correct the terrible thing one of His fallen angels had done to His most precious ones

              • And just to add a little to this that child sitting in church at least 4 times a week more if there was a revival all week…..I thought……I don’t care about hell……I don’t plan on going…..feed my soul! I screamed inside!!!! Tell me of the great love of my savior tell me about God for this is His house is it not…..yet every week we lend credit to His enemies the devil and his angels……then sing the most pitiful mournful songs as praise…..thank God for a father who showed me the wonderment and miracles of God and didn’t just try to scare the he’ll out of me but instead taught me why it was better to follow the rightness of the Lord ….and low and behold if you missed a service you were obviously back slid and in some kind of sin in need of prayer bc how could you survive out in the world like God only existed in their words from their church and it was true that they didn’t preach a thing about how to live for God just that you had to come to church give every sinful dollar to them so as to keep you from your weaknesses …..have mercy…..I was always amazed the place didn’t catch fire!

            • “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

              I’ve always considered myself a believer, not an atheist, although I struggle with God’s salvation and your responses prove my point. Your judgement… it’s something I want no part of. I love my children more than life…although they do plenty I disapprove of…never would I disown or reject them. I imagine I am incapable of loving them more than God loves me or them…but I think humans are incapable of comprehending a love without conditions…which causes all this unnecessary guilt and confusion. God bless you.

        • Sister, with that comment you might want to remove that woman of God title until you start loving people like He does.

        • Rather than attacking him with ephemeral arguments, how about a point by point refutation?

          Yeah, thats what i thought.

        • womanofgod2017, If you do not follow John, how do you know what he has written? That statement is comparable to the child who tells another child that he is going to hell because he did not close his eyes during a prayer…how did the first child know that the second child did not close his eyes? You know that there is something faulty about your beliefs, or you wouldn’t be reading what John has written. Your teacher has arrived.

      • Woman of God 2017 I certainly think you need a lot of help in comprehending the better part of scripture. You surely don’t speak for those who are knowledgeable.

      • I applaud your exit from the world of Baptist paternalism. When one steps away from long-held beliefs as false one enters the road toward intellectual maturity. That said many jettison all beliefs from a sullied source as false. This is actual the root of the genetic fallacy and equally unhealthy as the paternalism in our church culture today.

        I suggest a close, rather than quick, read of the text in favor of how the original audience would have understood Jesus’ teaching on punishment. Instead of a mystery defense, I might try for, “This is my current best understanding of the scriptural data I have, in the context of what the original author(s) and audiences would have understood.” It’s a mouthful I know, and will get you no point for being esoteric, but it is how objective scholars and an occasional disciple respond. Good luck on your journey.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more and you also have helped me to now see God in a different way that
        I can understand thanks for that. Your words were beautiful and message so enchanting to me.

          • Exactly. A quick study of the Gospels confirms that. Working on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, etc.

          • “The Pharisees he chastised took them literally.”

            Hi David,
            This statement is actually in direct contradiction with the words of Jesus Christ himself. — he chastised them for placing their own traditions above the scripture.

            Mark 7:5-9 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

            • I am sorry Bartholomew but I believe those are the words of Mark from his book. He may have heard them from Jesus but how many translations through how many languages have they gone through? What has been changed by man whether by choice or accident. I believe in God but scripture is not fact especially when it contradicts itself sometimes. I pray-read-pray and hope the sweetest spirit gives me inspiration on what is true. If I took everything as fact I would be already lost. Bless you.

              Love Eve ????????????

        • We don’t actually know that because the Bible is not without error. But, even so, I’m pretty sure that people who are at the point in their journey that John Pavlovitz is, probably believe that Jesus was not the literal “son of God” and was not inerrant, so it really doesn’t matter. In those days people who had a lot of wisdom were called Sons of God, btw.

      • David, Over the last two years I have evolved closer and closer to the position in your March 7th comment. Wonderfully written.

      • Thank you for your post. It is thinking like yours versus the
        “Woman of God” that encourage me to keep searching for this God of only Love. It is so interesting, that you and folks like John are only promoting love, yet you are constantly attacked by so called Christians. Why must they be so angry and so self-righteous. They should support anyone who is looking to know God in a deeper way. Blessings

      • Davidsdietz, you are a poet and your words speak life to my heart and spirit. You articulate my journey ( raised Baptist/Brethern ) The glimpses of spiritual freedom I now enjoy have been hard fought for as guilt and fear are tenacious foes. Your beautifully written words are food and you are family . Thank you !! ????

      • I’m trying to wrap my head around your concept of how there is no hell. In pretty much any place you look, even the church, you can see the works of Satan. If what you are saying is true there would be no need for Satan, otherwise saying he doesn’t exist. If that were true then why are we born to a world full of sin; why aren’t we living with God in heaven right out of the gate. However, if you believe Satan does exist, then there must be a need for hell. Where else would he reside? Certainly not heaven. Jesus did come to bridge the gap between God and man, he is definately not a needle in a spiritual haystack. He is the most widely known figure in all of history. More books and history has been written about him than any other man. This post is pure garbage.

        • Evil needs to exit so that we can truly know God’s love for us. Without evil what would could we compare his love to? Satan lives in death. Jesus came and died on the cross and conquered death. Go back to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (many online resources available to you) and you will see no reference to the word/concept of hell. It is a farce made up by the Roman Catholic church in order to gain control over its people. Why don’t you do some research before you so blatantly insult someone’s beliefs.

        • Evil needs to exit so that we can truly know God’s love for us. Without evil what would could we compare his love to? Satan lives in death. Jesus came and died on the cross and conquered death. Go back to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (many online resources available to you) and you will see no reference to the word/concept of hell. It is a farce made up by the Roman Catholic church in order to gain control over its people. Why don’t you do some research before you so blatantly insult someone’s beliefs.

        • He didn’t say there was no Hell. He fully accepts when other Christians tell him that that is where is going. This is his response to that.

        • Without getting into specifics, your beliefs are simply not as evolved as John’s are. And, I do not say that in a condescending way (or at least that is not my intention.) You question the reason “we’re not living with God right out of the gate,” for example. Oh, but friend, we are, if we choose too, because God is Love. End of story. We make it way too complicated.

      • Davis…I don’t understand this viewpoint. I don’t understand John’s viewpoint. In essence, what you’re saying is, “I want to be a Jesus-follower, but I only want to proclaim the teachings that sound good to me.” You’re not worshiping Jesus in this case. You’re worshiping yourself and your desires and your feelings. Jesus spoke many times of hell. If you want to say he was speaking in some type of strange metaphors, then you’re clearly just wanting to justify your feelings and ignoring the truth on the page. He clearly said that nobody will come to the Father except through him in a number of ways on a number of occasions. It just blows my mind that John wants to follow Jesus and yet, if I believe his views, I can assume Jesus was obviously an egomaniac if his death didn’t not provide the saving grace for a world that deserves hell. Why in the world did he give himself up to die if we didn’t need his blood? It’s sad to me that some people like John are gifted with the ability to think deeply and to communicate through written word are clearly deceived and lost and they’re helping to continue to deceive the lost.

        • Brandon: my problem with your line of thought is that your literal interpretations allow only one understanding, and that is the one you state. I see all writing and language as symbolic of the truth it attempts to represent. Words are symbols. What truth would you believe if there was no language?

      • “God is God, I am not, and I cannot possibly begin to define him or his character outside the frame of Love.”

        Hi David, I’m guessing that with your years of fulltime ministry I’m sure you already know that this leads straight back to scriptural living.

        1John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

      • Yes! Commented before reading this but have had to undo the backwards teaching from my childhood as well……and our God is not meant for a box for sure!!!!! 💖

      • What if hell is real? Then wouldn’t believing in it and trying to keep people from it be loving?

        • The fear created by the gotcha question of “What if hell is real?” has been the evangelistic motivator of my lifetime. To my knowledge, belief in hell or Satan is not an essential for faith, nor is it an appropriate motivation for relationship with God. If fear of a hypothetical depiction of hell drives people to faith, then it’s not love, and it sure won’t look like Jesus.

      • Thank you. I really like this. And, I agree. I, too, went through a realization and “came out” regarding my beliefs, and lack thereof, but the reception I received from family and friends led me to pretend to backtrack. I wish I had more courage, but it was causing problems that I just didn’t want to deal with, so now I keep my true beliefs secret.

      • Now if we can just stop giving the “Source” human form (he) the transformation will be so much greater. God is a loving source of which we are all part.

      • All of it many times over. I’m guessing most everyone commenting here has. It is quite a collection of writings, written by many different men search for explanations and God.

  1. Ok, so Christianity is garbage and unnecessary, is your point. I suggest you need to start looking for a different line of work, because without the possibility of being separated from God forever (and no, God doesn’t hate sinners, God loves sinners, hell is mercy for those who hate God), then there is no reason to have a church, no reason for Christianity, no reason to even believe in God (the atheists do social justice MUCH better than any Christian ever did, after all; the Freedom From Religion Foundation that wants to close every church in the United States runs soup kitchens and homeless shelters).

    I sure wish liberals would take their arguments to the logical conclusion.

    May I suggest that instead of becoming an atheist, you listen first to St. John Paul The Great?

    https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

    • it’s the age old mistake. Like most Christians you think we have to have a reason to believe and worship God…to be threatened with failure in some way. God only wants our hearts. if we give it to him we are blessed, and if we don’t, then it’s our loss…and that’s hell. Lotsa love though. Wendy xx

    • Theodore, may I suggest you go back and re-read what John posted. If anything, there is an even greater need for churches to help the children of God understand that they are beloved, that God IS love and that they were created by love for love. We learn so much self-hatred that it is a wonder any of us have valid relationships with each other or our Creator.

    • If being saved from hell, is your only use for God, and your only motivation for wanting to be in relationship with Him, you have some very severe issues to deal with in your own faith life. So deal with the sorry excuse for a relationship you call yourself being in with Jesus before you even try to critique someone else’s relationship with Him.

    • Any God who would purposefully create a being and damn them in the same instance is a sadistic prick. People such as you who continues to damn mankind are part of the reason that I left the Church after 45 years of faithful service. Hate motivates the hateful. Look that up in your book of damnation. I don’t have time for your misplaced aggression. I have a beautiful and loving life to lead.

    • How in this whole wide world could one possibly be separated from God? The very definition of unconditional love would involve a love for us that no “condition” could separate. I will always be a part of The One for there is no other.

    • When you say such twisted things such as, “hell is mercy” you’re not gaining any points on the logic scoreboard. Your idea that hell is mercy is nothing more than Orwellian doublethink.

    • You missed his point, but I understand. You cannot rush these things. Until you’re ready to let these old beliefs go, any argument will be met with rejection. I would have made a similar argument 15 years ago. I do not mean to be condescending. I just can’t find any other way to say it. And, maybe you are happy with your beliefs, and would be happier keeping them, and that’s okay too, as long as you don’t use them to hurt or exclude others.

  2. Nice, thoughtful piece! Your honest heartfelt spirit comes through..keep preaching the good news.
    Your writing style is also impressive.

  3. John. Agreed! I’ve been a Christian for four years after getting yapped one day when i was least expecting it. I think God got fed up with me denying him so he zapped me with the holy spirit and suddenly my life became super enriched. I attend a baptist church, and from the word go i have staunchly denied the existence of hell, saying, isn’t our God a just and loving god? Why would he send us to a place of eternal misery just because we are too ignorant to see he’s there? My mother used to say ‘heaven is a place you go when you die and hell is right here on earth’. She was disabled and ill all her life, so I reckon she was justified. To me, hell is a state of mind. It is the polar opposite of heaven, which is what we gain when we take Jesus into our hearts. When we don’t have heaven, we have hell. My church family don’t agree, but I can’t see me changing my mind any time soon. Wendy xx

    • Well done for remaining true to your own senses on this. I am of a similar opinion and found the book Raising Hell by Julie Ferwerda really helpful. She examines all the scripture etc and comes to some great conclusions.

  4. John, this is where I am in my faith journey. Some of the things you write, I have said (yet not so eloquently). In recent years I have become repulsed by the eternal hell idea and the promise of “streets of gold” if you say the magic words. It’s tough… Most of my southern friends do not believe as I do. It’s hard to love those who think I am damned. Thank you for your words!

  5. This struck me to the core. I have spent most of my life feeling unloved, dirty, and unlovable. I was molested as a child and have lived with the quilt and thinking there was something wrong with me for this to happen. My father has never been around so again, it had to be me. Thank you for your words today, “We are not enemies of God upon conception”

  6. I’m at a point where I don’t know about Hell and I don’t know about my inherent goodness (or lack of it), but I’m also at a point where I trust God (as you do) with my today and my forever.

    Here’s my present favorite quote:

    “Would God be diminished if I lived a question, rather than a statement?” — Cynthia Langston Kirk

    • I think your quote best sums up my feelings, too. I believe, in that experiential place in my heart, hell can’t be real. But if I am proved wrong, that wouldn’t affect how I live. I can walk in this uncertainty trusting Jesus like I always do.

  7. Well said, as usual! So wonderful to have found you and Rob Bell and the Religion for Life podcast, and realize that I am not alone, that there are so many other Christians out there who don’t see the world in the black-and-white terms of the Christianity I grew up with. Thanks for all the great work that you do. 🙂

  8. Go John, go! Some of us have been saying and believing what you are now saying for some time. God is far bigger than any of this systematic theological nonsense, most of it dreamed up by men to cow tow the general populace into submission of the church’s authority. Keep preaching the good news, a prophet is never welcome in his own town. Blessings.

  9. Super wording John! I’m glad you “stepped into it” with that young couple otherwise this fine blog of today wouldn’t have existed. Thing is, how to expand your message and repeat it until it is truly “heard”?
    It is so astounding that millions and millions of people buy into the power, control and money message of ‘scaring the Hell out of people’ especially in this day and age of understanding when everyone intrinsically deep down knows all of that is all about money, control and power over others.

  10. Good stuff. Similarly, “I don’t follow Jesus in order to go to heaven when I die — or conversely, to avoid going to hell. That’s a cheap form of faith that is really nothing more than fire insurance. I follow Jesus here and now for the sake of experiencing salvation (which means “wholeness” and “healing”) here and now – and to help others do the same.” See” “To Hell with Hell” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2015/03/to-hell-with-hell/

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  11. Loved this post. The song Amazing Grace was written by John Newton a slaveship owner who repented of the evil he did in the slave trade. It’s interesting that mainstream Christianity have latched on to this song and people think of themselves as wretched when they never shackled people in the dark belly of a ship and made them lie in thier own vomit and piss. Newton saw his wretchedness and when God forgave him He saw the beauty of Gods grace. Like the man who was forgiven many sins he walked out of the dark cave into a brilliant light that burned his eyes. He was overjoyed once freed from his chains of guilt. This is the inspiration of the song. It’s not so much we are born in sin but what we do in this life that makes us sinners Most people possibly like this woman you met (I don’t know what kind of life she led) and many many many good decent people who live normal simple lives are simply not wretched in this way. They are most likely lost, unconcerned, beaten down, cynical, weary, self absorbed, chasing after things, living the good life and don’t see thier need for God or have not encountered God experientially. So the message of grace meets everyone where they are the wretched torturer who pleads for mercy, the blind man who needs healing, the rich man who lives in comfort, the lazy servant who buries his talent. I agree with your post. The most appalling message in Christianity is telling the twisted lie that you are wretched when you are not, that hell is everyone’s destination unless they recognize Christ’s sacrifice It’s dishonest and fake and produces shallow converts who constantly self flagellate over the smallest of sins. It turns most people off. God meets people were they are and shows them a Jesus that loves. Love becomes the standard and then we see how much we fall short. That motivates me more than any threat of punishment.

    • Love is not the standard by which we fall short, righteousness is. Love is the means by which we gain that which we cannot acquire ourselves.

      • Are you saying this according to scripture, according to doctrine, according to denominational teaching, according to reason? Give me something to back that up. I am interested in hearing how you came to that understanding

      • Kathy, short answer; the bible (Romans 3, for starters), no specific denomination, not my reasoning at all.

        Let me ask you something; how much love do you have to show towards others in order for you to get to heaven? Is that a quantifiable amount in any sense or fashion? Someone might give to the poor once and say they have done their bit. Someone else may volunteer their entire adult lives, giving up valuable resources to the needy and or a good cause. Which one deserves heaven? Does just trying get you in the door? Is it even possible to deserve heaven more that someone else? If so, don’t you think heaven will be full of prideful boasters who will undoubtedly make the least of the do-gooders feel bad? God forbid!

        So where is the playing field completely level according to God? The reason people feel burned out is they are chasing a moving goal line, always either doubting themselves or comparing themselves to others. But really, what good will it do you if God rejects what you have set in your heart to do for him because it didn’t satisfy what he needs from us? Have you ever done what you would call a good deed for someone only to have them not accept your efforts? It happens. Doing your own thing your own way may make you feel better about yourself towards your fellow man but what if that is not what God wants from you? What if he wants you to accept him for who he is before he asks us for anything? To really see who God is we must also look at who we are in light of God himself to see the true picture. We need that outside perspective of looking beyond our own reasonings (bible). Enter righteousness.

        Perfection. It’s the standard of heaven. Achievable by no man. A level playing field. This is where God calls everyone to. The 10 commandments are not a list of rules to keep so you can claim heaven. It is a standard by which we need to measure ourselves by to really see just where we stand against God’s holiness (perfection). Here, no one can claim a foothold, but this leaves us on the outs with God. Enter the cross, the perfect sacrifice.

        Love is a sacrifice, period. Love works on needs, not on wants. Our greatest need is righteousness, God’s righteousness. We want it, but have no means to acquire it or achieve it. This is the love of God at work for our sake. The selfless sacrifice of Jesus himself for us to meet God in his requirements. We cannot partake of it, only accept it because it it so pure. Our form of righteousness looks like filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. Our “love” is a cheap imitation of what the real stuff looks like. It carries no value. The best we can do is exchange it. God paid the ultimate price for it, but doesn’t sell it for a profit, only gives it away to those who see the true value in what they are receiving. No greater gift was ever given. Our hearts yearn to give back what we can’t give. Sin for God’s righteousness, what an exchange. Our gain, His glory.

      • Edward, thank you for responding in a well presented manner. I appreciate it. One thing I long to do when interacting on this blog is to connect with other believers and find out how they came to understand their point of view. This is like a meeting place for me so despite all the bickering that may go on in some of the comments I hope there is also an exchange of knowledge and mutual respect.

        Okay, so for someone like me who has not studied theology and who has not spent very much time in a formal church this passage is extremely challenging and a little over my head. But what stands out in Romans 3 is verse 28 that says, ‘We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ’. But that verse connects me to 1 Corinthians 1:30, “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God (righteous); he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” Oh boy! I thought. That is amazing. But righteousness and faith often go hand in hand don’t they. Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith. So Edward, I agree, righteousness is the standard. But it is not our standard it is God’s standard which is what I think Paul was saying. And being made righteous is what God did for us not what we can do for God. Therefore the standard of purity, holiness and freedom as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 1:30 is of no value to others or even to God because righteousness comes from God given to us. So it is I who benefits from His righteousness. It gives me the ability to encounter someone as a Christian. It’s like having that stamp of approval that no one sees but is between me and God. So the standard is already met by God and I don’t need to live up to it. Except, now I am accountable to a higher standard than a non-christian.

        Edward, I think you’re exactly right! Keeping God’s law is critical to that standard. The Ten Commandments is something I have always kept in high regard even when I wasn’t going to church. It’s interesting because when God got my attention three and half years ago I dusted off my Bible and tried to read it again. As I flipped through I landed on Galatians 5 where it says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” That blew me away. What are you saying Lord, I don’t need to keep the law? I do not understand that idea. I thought keeping the law was what we needed to do? Then I read on in verse 6 which says “ The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” wow, LOVE! This is where I got my idea of love as being the standard. But how Lord? How does expressing love mean keeping your law? I was nervous and shaky. Then I read “ You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Big pause as I contemplated that….

        …and this is how you do it. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But this is the best part— this is what the labor of love produces, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Ah, I get it! It’s a new way of thinking. Walk by the Spirit, love your neighbour as yourself, lay down your needs, put away your desires and concentrate on loving others as yourself.

        The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through LOVE. according to Paul. God bless.

      • Kathy, I think you are on a good track. I still see some areas that may need work, but I feel that you are open to hearing the truth, and that is a great thing. I encourage you to keep digging and always question what you read and pray for wisdom.

        I do want to address one thing that you wrote about following the ten commandments. As I stated, the ten commandments are not a list of rules to keep, but rather, they are a measuring device to help us judge ourselves according to God’s righteous standard. We will always fall short and we should feel that we never have a chance of attaining that standard apart from the help of God himself. That is where the hope of the cross comes into play. Always remember that biblical love is always portrayed as an act of sacrifice (not a feeling). Remember, God doesn’t need anything from us for him to be God. The only thing he asks of us is the one thing we own outright, our own free will, our obedience, our sacrifice to of ourselves.

        I leave you with one final thing. Don’t take my word as final authority. Do your own research. The web is full of recourses both good and bad. You mentioned that Romans 3 was a stretch for you and there is no shame in admitting that at all, there is a lot to digest there. Please, please, please use the resources available to you to find the truth. If anyone proclaims truth by their own accord, red flags should be going up left and right. Some good websites are Grace to You, Stand to Reason, Got Questions.org. I would question anyone who does not support the bible as a source of authority. God Bless

  12. Thank you for writing this so eloquently. I’ve been wrestling with the same thoughts, and was concerned I was a heretic!

  13. I have never felt unloved or dirty or inherently bad……I always felt that God’s Love is so big we can’t or don’t even fathom it. It has all been taken care of by the Blood Of Jesus. I feel God all around and in every thing…….I think we are going to see more people in Heaven then we even imagined. I worry more for the self-righteous who really, deeply, believe they have it all figured out and by their actions keep people from Jesus. I know people who can quote scripture at the drop of a hat, know the Bible better then I, and yet their actions to people do not match their Christianity……that speaks volumes. God sees and knows all, I am letting him handle it. We need to bring people to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will work. We need to be doing our work as disciples and Christians and not so much of judge, jury, and executioner….not our job.We should be showing Love, Mercy, and Grace….to ALL people.

  14. So there is no misunderstanding, I am not writing to try and convince John to change his beliefs. I don’t know that I ever respond to him, but instead to his readers, because of the damage that can be done to those who do not know any better. So, here goes.

    I simply don’t understand how someone who is learned of Scripture can come to the conclusion that something referenced so often as existing doesn’t exist. ‘Hell’ is not a concept or principle; it is spoken in terms of being. It is promised with equal reality to that of its avoidance.

    Folks, at some point your blogger – if he ever truly believed in the Scripture – fell as many leaders do. For whatever reason or purpose we don’t need to analyze. Just know that it is so apparent in many of his teachings on this post that John is espousing interpretation of Scripture that runs contrary to what is fundamental to Christianity. I write in response to his posts so that I can sleep at night in the belief that God knows my heart and considers that I am fighting the good fight on behalf of those who might otherwise be led astray.

    I had a junior-high coach that for fun would make us march during recess. I would purposefully be out of step just so I could hear him mock me as, “I suppose everyone else is out of step?” You never want in leadership the guy who is out of step with everyone else this deep into the parade, and when it comes to this point of whether Hell exists, it will serve you well to understand just how out of step John is. There is a reason the Bible tells us that leaders will be judged more harshly. Leadership is important, and John has an opportunity with thi blog to lead in accordance with his blessings, but he is failing you.

    Hell exists. Trust Scripture as your source on this issue.

    • I have very little faith in scripture. I’ve come to understand that the Bible is a collection of writing from authors giving their perspective of who God is. It’s really no different than John or myself writing our perspectives through our blogs.

      This from a blog post I’m working on (and recently shared with John):

      “It really doesn’t matter what gift wrapping you put on the box, the box is still a box. In this case, Christianity is a religion; it’s a box.

      There are so many different varieties of religion–let alone varieties of Christianity–but what I’ve discovered is that it’s impossible to put God wholly inside a box.

      Fear and manipulation are also found in religion, and I don’t believe God to exist in those places either; therefore, I cannot be a part of it.

      Belief in hell, a place of eternal torment, is fear driven and anti-Love. It’s also a man-made idea that is only found within the confines of religious traditions passed down. I don’t believe it to be an inspirational writing given by God–ever.

      Sure, there are great things we can learn from sacred texts and teachings passed down, but I don’t view them as I used to. I see them now as man’s attempt to explain God.

      Taking the Bible as ‘God’s literal word’ is bibliolatry, and no different than idol worship. Even the authors noted that their writings were inspirational. It’s an attempt to gift wrap God between a front and back cover, and he doesn’t fit.

      …I’m leaving God in a new place I’ve never known before. I’m choosing to leave him in a place of mystery.

      In this place, there’s no need to define heaven, hell, or sin. Honestly, there’s no need to have anything concrete. God is God, I am not, and I cannot possibly begin to define him or his character outside the frame of Love.

      Outside of Love’s frame is wonder and mystery. It’s like exploring areas of space that haven’t been seen. Inside of Love’s frame is the beating heart of God. It’s all the security I will ever need.”

      • –the bible in English, is directly translated from original ancient hebrew, ancient greek & ancient aramaic texts. Bible translators, always use copies of the original texts. A copy is not a translation. A copy is verbatim.

        If you take the time to learn Hebrew, Greek & Aramaic, like some scholars do, then you can read the bible as it was originally written.

    • Hi David. I bet the Republican primary process is driving you just plain nuts. Did you read about the Ted Cruz supporting pastor who was shot multiple times over the weekend? You can read about it on my blog at the following link:

      https://faith17983.wordpress.com/

      As for Hell, if a person is a Christian, it does not matter whether Hell does or does not exist.

    • In that case, Hell existing, it means that rabbits are cloven hooved animals, the sun can stop in the sky, snakes can talk and other ridiculous Biblical “truths”. Man destroyed god as soon as he could tally up money and lie for power. Hell is a tool used by the wicked.

    • David, I’m curious as to how much training or experience you have in reading and interpreting Scripture, particularly from the original ancient languages. Those who have studied the history of Scripture know that the narratives we love were originally shared via the oral tradition before being committed to writing. When they were written down, they were subject to translation errors and omissions from the original narratives. God did not sit down and dictate our current canon of Scripture composed of 66 books into a scribes ear somewhere. This is the word of God, not the words of God. Actually, Jesus is the Word according to the Prologue to the Gospel of John. The bottom line in this is that we have received a sacred group of documents that were collected over the centuries from Hebrew tradition and then Christian tradition. Our current Bible was the result of a council of Nicaea where a vote was taken as to which stories/books were to be included and which were not. Really good narratives about our faith didn’t make the cut. And quite frankly there’s some stuff that should never have been included.

      We often view Scripture from an English language perspective, forgetting that many concepts and terms do not have English equivalents. A good example is Jesus conversation with Nicodemus about being born. There is no exact English equivalent to the terms, but the closest is being “born from above” and not being “born again.”

      King James paid to have his version of Scripture translated into English – the English of his day. Others have translated that version, which only perpetuates any errors it might have. It seems the NRSV might be the closest thing we have at the moment, but it too was the work of translation and interpretation. So to use Scripture as a guidebook or a manual for being human or anything of the sort is misuse of that treasure. We tend to worship Scripture rather than the God who is revealed in Scripture.

      The only way I have found to reach the positions many take on the more fundamentalist side is to pick and choose verses and to take them out of the context of the culture when they were written and to take them out of the context of the entire narrative of which they are a part. These are stories, narratives, and they stand as individual bodies but they fall apart when used piece meal and out of context.

      Our brother John (Pavlovitz, not John of the Revelation to John) calls us to live into right relationship with God and each other and spend less time beating each other over the heads with a book many worship rather than read. Am I a sinner? Of course. My sin is anything that places a barrier between me and my relationship to God or anything that places a barrier between me and my relationships to my fellow sojourners on this earth.

      Do I believe in Hell? No I do not unless we are already in it. I see Hell as a mechanism someone concocted to manipulate and control people through fear and it has worked well. But God does not operate out of fear, God is of love and operates accordingly…..His mysteries not all yet revealed.

      So thank you John and I urge those whose knickers are in such a twist to spend more time on loving than condemning. We are not here to save anyone…..Jesus took care of that. We are hear to witness to the saving work Jesus has done in our own lives.

      • –the reality of Hell (that you don’t believe of) has NOT deterred people from evil deeds, and unfaithfulness to God. That’s painfully obvious. It’s not a deterrent, it’s a consequence. (of unbelief). As you know, once one is a believer he is seen by GOD as white as snow, sinless, blemish free, righteous, redeemed, saved for eternity.

  15. I am so grateful for you John; your writing and your insights are so like my own.
    I would like to thank your readers also; I have learned a great deal from them. I appreciate so much their generous grace in sharing personal stories.
    Where do I go from here? Where are y’all & what are you doing, you readers who live around here?
    I deeply appreciate the thoughts here, thank you.

  16. Nurturing father vs. stern father. Cooperation vs. Subordination. Crimes and punishment vs. mistakes and corrections. Order vs. infinite possibility.

    Classic cognitive framework differences at work in your head, John. You are not from the stern father mold, and do not see the world as Noir. Neither is your conception of God so dark. But so many Churches arise from the need for order built in to their founders and followers. They will never see what you see, and will never stop, and will never listen to your appeals, for their world, and the faith they created out of it, is wildly different, though it looks exactly the same.

    Humility cuts both ways. I prefer your brand.

  17. Thank you for this. I’ve been wrestling lately with whether Hell is even real. I wonder if there’s either eternal life with God, or eternal death (i.e, we cease to exist) if we choose to turn our backs on him.

  18. I like your words of experience. I believe hell is where we place ourselves when we listen to the adversary and hearken. God is a loving God who has laid out every opportunity for us to be happy and have joy in this life. We start this mortal life ‘fallen’ which means not in the presence of God and with physical bodies that will die but we do not start out dirty. We can stay connected to him through prayer, and His Spirit can help us if we so choose. He knew we would make mistakes that is why we need the Savior. We can never be perfect in this life but we are still commanded to be. I know I am rambling a bit but I know I am his daughter and he doesn’t make mustakes☺

  19. Sir, I beg to differ with you and for lack of time may I encourage you to read again the book of John the Revealator. It most certainly gives a different picture as does the book of John. My prayers for you dear pastor is that God will open your eyes and the ones who follow you will not be led into bell.

  20. Some commenters are freaking out at your words, but may I make a suggestion that I believe honors both your concerns and their concerns?

    I suggest that there is a hell (not an endless one, though, and not a torture chamber) we construct on our own when we are consumed by fear, violence, self-righteous contempt, domination, unforgiveness, indifference to God and neighbor. This hell may be set on fire in our gossiping tongues or hateful hearts, and originates as part of the wounded brokenness of human life and relationships: “the sin of the world”. If we die trapped in such internal misery, we may find ourselves in a kind of prison — though Christ is known as One who preaches the Gospel to the dead and releases them from their prisons (1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6).

    On the other hand, we are not born “deserving hell”, and Jesus loved the little children, blessed them, and said their angels always behold Abba’s face. Yes all of us do end up snared in some disobedience, but even that is a gift, so God may have mercy on everyone (Romans 11:32). Children, and people in general, are not dirty or shameful, but we are easily caught and need to be released, which Christ is more than happy to do.

    I agree with you that certain dogmas like original sin, penal atonement, and so on, need to be reformed; and others like endless hell fire need to be reformed and/or rejected. But there is the baby of some truth even in filthy bath water. Yes, we are beautiful to God, *and* God is our Savior.

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