Monday, March 23, 2009

Heaven, hell, history, and other light subjects

Last night Enzo was kind enough to give me a ride to iF, where Isaac talked about the incarnation. If you read my post from January (the 13th), you know that I have felt that the God of the Bible is contradictory to what I believe, and that logically I couldn't make it all add up.

I am the type of guy that has to make everything make sense. If I can't make some logical sense out of something, I reject it. It was under this pretense that I abandoned my walk with God. Last night at church, Isaac said something that was peripheral to his core message: there are things that go beyond human logic, but don't contradict it.

I need to preface this next part by saying that I have been absolutely overjoyed with life for several weeks now. Every day I wake up, happy to be alive, and the smile I wear as I step into the shower usually lasts all day long. Thats why I was so surprised and confused when I was brought to tears by Isaac's message last night. I don't know what it means, I know I was moved, and I know some of the things that he said resonated with me but that doesn't explain my reaction.

While I don't fully understand where I am spiritually, or what it was about last night that so deeply moved me, I know that it's time that I confront some of the things that I wasn't ready to a couple of years ago.

After the service, I asked Isaac if he would grab a cup of coffee with me so I could pick his brain on a couple of things. Met up with him today at 1st st. coffee and dove right into the biggest issue I think I've ever wrestled with: hell.


What is hell? In the evangelical church, hell is generally accepted to be a lake of fire, or some other state of suffering, that lasts forever. More liberal Christians hold that hell simply means the end of existence, that when someone dies and "goes to hell", it just means they cease to be.

As I wrote in my previous post, I have a hard time rationalizing how a loving God would throw literally trillions of people into a lake of fire forever simply because they didn't believe in him, especially considering the fact that many of them had slim to no chance of ever receiving the truth and finding salvation. But it's also impossible to ignore the passages in scripture that clearly describe hell as an actual place of suffering, a form of punishment.

So maybe it's something in between the two extremes. After all, it seems that while some of the scriptures about hell clearly describe it as unending suffering, there are others that describe it as temporary, referring to it as "the second death." So maybe hell is a punishment for the wicked deeds performed on earth, a punishment that fits the crime. So, for example, a rapist or a murderer would be punished more severely than someone who simply rejected God because they didn't have a good relationship with their dad, or because they were angry, blaming God for their own suffering in this life.

I had thought at one point that hell just meant ceasing to exist, after all John 3:16 says "for whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." Maybe going to hell really does just mean the story ends at death, and the punishment is the fact that we miss out on heaven. But I am now starting to think that perhaps hell is a form of punishment, a place of suffering, which precedes that end of existence, but doesn't necesarily go on forever.

Also, Isaac talked about how he thinks that maybe God planned the entire course of human history so that anyone who WOULD accept God would be given a chance to. He referenced a passage from Acts to back that up, where Paul talks about how God disperesed different nations around the world in order that his will would be done according to a specific plan and timeline. That really clicked with me, since thats how I believe God created the universe to begin with, by orchestrating an unbelievably chain of events that would lead to the evolution of life on this planet.

This concept of a symphony of human history, orchestrated by a loving God, plays right into the next issue we discussed at coffee. I have always struggled with the apparent change of God's nature from the old testament to the new testament.


In ancient times, most people groups were polytheistic, in fact the Israelites were one of the only nations to worship one God as opposed to many. Another characteristic of spirituality in ancient times is that guilt and fear were the predominant aspects of religion. Not only did people worship many gods, but more importantly they were deathly afraid of them.

Perhaps it was for this reason then, that God chose to reveal his wrathful nature to the people of Israel, they simply weren't ready for the gospel as we know it. They were so conditioned by their time in slavery and the cultures around them that the only side of God's nature they were ready to see were his wrath and jealousy. This would make sense as far as the sacrifices required of the Israelites as well, the only way they knew how to relate to God was through guilt, and as such, the most spiritual and meaningful way they could relate to God was through a sacrifice that symbolized the cleansing of their guilt and fear.

After all, many old testament passages point towards the coming of Christ, and as time goes on it becomes clear that it's not about the sacrifice, it's about Love, Mercy and Forgiveness. Even when Christ became flesh on earth, even when God tabernacled himself among us, we weren't ready for his message.

So it isn't that God's nature changed, but rather that God was leading the Israelites towards a better understanding of who He is, and what He wants for them and from them. It gives a whole new meaning to wandering in the desert.

While I won't presume to know whether or not any of these ideas are right, or even close to being right, I am now at a point where I understand that these are things that surpass human logic, not contradict it. That one statement that Isaac made on Sunday night made me rethink everything more than I have in more than two years.

If anyone ever wants to talk about stuff like this, just let me know. For now I will be thinking and reading and prayerfully considering these issues as well as many others and would appreciate your prayers as well.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support and friendship over the past several years. The symphony has just gotten started.

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