Fundamentally, it seems our faith in God is founded on what we believe about who He is... His character... His will and desires... and what He's actually done to realize that. Therefore, I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that what we think about hell has a profoundly dramatic affect on everything we believe about God.
Can one's depravity, if you will, be so powerful it can trump God's original intent and will for mankind's healing/forgiveness/reconciliation/redemption... not just here and now but for all eternity?
My journey into the pits of hell began one day when, almost out of the blue, the startling awareness that if most Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant/Evangelical... Calvinist and Arminian... churches and theologians were correct in their understanding and teachings about hell, then in all likelihood the vast majority of my beautiful family members were going to wind up there, including my own three sons. Seriously. Talk about terror. Stark-raving.
I mean, let's be real... my faith for something as comparatively lame as temporal physical healing left a few folks dead instead of healed, and I was going to rely on that same faith, mine, to get a loved one eternally saved? I... don't... think... so. But that's the truth of it... at least how most of them taught it... outside of the dyed-in-the-wool, hard-nosed Calvinists... that it all came down to MY faith... what I believed. What? Someone's eternal heaven/hell destiny... a beloved family member's... let alone my own sons'... resting on MY faith? How could that be?!
The 'revelation' of that completely dismantled all the defenses I had carefully constructed... all the pick and choose scripture verses and teachings I and those of my kind 'stood on' for our 'household's salvation'. Which many scholars claimed we were using improperly anyway, but we turned a blind eye and deaf ear to that. (Ha, forget about all the households where there was no believer to stand for the rest, eh? ... at least my household was going to be saved, hallelujah!)
But on that day, that dreadful, glorious day, it was as if the reality of what eternal torment in hell really meant finally was able to make it's way into the hidden recesses of my mind... places where fear and denial had previously stood guard. And I was completely undone as all those years of 'standing in faith' dissolved into deep, dark despair. I was utterly defenseless.
As the horror of hell's reality overwhelmed me, I cried out to God, "What can I do?! Is there anything I can do?! Please show me!!" I was desperate. Words could never express. Out of my mind desperate. More than I had ever been in my 44 years of life on this planet.
I found myself almost instinctively knee-jerk responding with the only option I thought was available. As insane as it sounds, it was clear at the time my only hope was to try and bargain with God! So I cried out to Him from the depths of my being, "Please, please, please!! Let me take their place, God!! You have to let me take their place!!"
I mean, how could He not? In my thinking, one honest to goodness Jesus believer for three unbelievers had to tip the scale in my favor. I mean, how in the name of love could such a request be denied? It couldn't. Deep in my mother's heart I knew that. I knew that.
Well, smile, that afternoon was the beginning of a very long and winding road for over a decade through the veritable insanity of the various and oftentimes conflicting Christian beliefs concerning "hell". But realizing that nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than one's eternal destiny, it became the primary focus of my life -- understanding God's intent for creating human beings -- His "faith" concerning humanity -- and if that Faith, that Will, was going to be ultimately realized -- or could it be withstood by man's finite, fallen, carnal "faith" (fear/doubt/unbelief) -- or, even, the devil's.
One of the things that began to trouble me, as I journeyed down this lonely, perplexing road, was the knowledge that everyone who believes in a hell of eternal torment must in some way be operating within the framework of a works-based mentality, whether they know it or not. Simply put, belief in an eternal hell = fear/striving/works/law. It's impossible not for that to happen on some level. Which is why I believe most people can't retain their sense of love, joy and peace, despite all the love, peace and joy preachers out there. Until hell gets 'straightened out', it will always be lingering somewhere, someplace in our minds, tormenting us. Maybe unconsciously, even. Whipping us up into fear-based works which we claim are of 'faith' and 'love'. Talk about terrorism... belief in a hell of eternal torment is the number one of all terrorists!
For the life of me, I don't know how anyone in their right mind and heart could be joyful, for even a nanosecond, if they actually believed there was even one person roasting 'for all eternity' in a place of absolute stark-raving insane terror... and that they would never stop roasting, or being demonically, disgustingly abused... never ever.
This is so real to me and for most folk I talk to it's pretty much just head stuff. "Oh yeah, hell's real... don't really get it, but it's true... you know, God's justice and all... sure, He's powerful enough to save everyone... sure, He wants to, cause He loves everybody equally... it's just that He can't... you know... free will and all. We have to just trust that He knows what He's doing."
And they are able to say this because... somehow, someway... they believe that they, themselves, have personally done something to be saved? That saving faith is not a free gift of God's grace, but a choice one makes... a decision of one's free will... instead of, ultimately, God's? The FATHER? What pride. What arrogance. (Besides, they've got their families covered... too bad for you. Yeah, eternal too-badness.)
Which means that those who don't make the 'correct choice' are exercising their 'free' will to deny the most blessed and life-altering thing one could ever experience... ever, ever, ever... in this life or the next? It's like me handing someone a billion gazillion dollars and them saying, "Get away from me, you idiot! What makes you think I need that?!" If anything, I would call that person insane. 'Lost' is definitely apt. Yes, lost, indeed.
In studying the subject of hell for over 12 years, I found there was SO much to it... translations incorrectly translating the Hebrew/Greek words Sheol/Tartarus/Hades/Gehenna and those for the grave/death as 'hell'... the meaning and context of the Greek words aion/aionion... the words and scriptures where Jesus addressed punishment/judgment/chastisement, be that temporal or eternal/everlasting/forever.
Even a cursory study of the Greek word 'aion' and its adjective 'aionion' would probably throw most for a loop... age/eon in some instances... eternity/eternal/everlasting in others... world in others. Yikes.
Forget the "if you're not part of our church/denomination you're going to hell" groups, of which there are many... most die-hard evangelical Christians believe that gentle, kind Aunt Clare, who everyone so dearly loves, will be tormented forever simply because she never said the 'right' words (the 'correct' sinner's prayer). Not to mention the poor soul who just happens to be unlucky enough to be born in a country where the gospel hasn't quite reached (whichever 'gospel' that would be in order to get 'it' right).
Or worse yet, in my mind, the tender soul who just happens to reach the 'age of accountability' but hasn't yet 'chosen Christ' and then dies. Oops, bye bye little 12 year old child, who might not even have ever heard 'the gospel'... to eternal torment in hell you go... sorry! But not! Because, of course, that wouldn't be honoring to God. And then there's those pesky water baptism issues and the like.
This kind of stuff has a major impact on what we think about God, but outside of the 'fire and brimstone' churches, we rarely, if ever, talk about it... let alone understand it. We just shut our mouths and close our minds and accept it 'by faith'. Some faith.
That kind of 'faith' could find you rotting in a prison cell, out of your mind with innocent blood on your hands. As in the tragic case of Andrea Yates... who did the unthinkable by gathering up her little 'under the age of accountability' babes in her arms... and carrying them, one by one, into the bathroom to the tub she had filled with water... (I wonder if it was warm with little rubber duckies)... where she held them under by sheer brute force until they stopped fighting for their lives. (I hear the oldest fought back tooth and nail.)
I'm sure before that unspeakable day, the bathtub was a place her little ones thoroughly enjoyed... splashing and playing about in the sudsy water. How beyond imagination horrific is it to come to your demise in such a way by the hands of probably the one person you trusted more than any other in a place that held only happy memories?
From all accounts, Andrea had been a wonderful mother. (My God, I'm getting sick just thinking about this. But I have to. Because of the WHY. Why would she, how could she, do such a thing?!)
From her own words, she did it because she was a TRUE BELIEVER. "Oh, yeah, right," some snicker, "she believed." We're so foolish. Her church not only believed what the vast majority of Christians believe, but they actually had the guts to TEACH it. Week after week Andrea was downloaded with 'the gospel' message... TURN OR BURN! TURN OR BURN! GET RIGHT WITH GOD OR YOU'RE GONNA BE TORMENTED FOR ALL ETERNITY IN THE FLAMES OF HELL! And, as we all must know, that IS the message, the ONLY message... IF IT'S TRUE.
In light of this message, which she heard week after week -- and, I would imagine, her own particular state of mind -- how is it surprising someone like Andrea would actually begin to believe the bottom line, especially as far as her own beloved children were concerned, and eventually work up the guts to do the seeming impossible by taking matters into their own hands?
We have to remember, from all accounts she actually believed 'the gospel' that was being preached, it wasn't just talk. Her church wasn't hiding it behind Door #3... out of sight, out of mind. It was in her face. And because her lifestyle didn't tend toward 'worldly distractions', the message became as real to her as anything. More real, I would imagine. Eternity being eternal and all.
In light of this, why would any truly loving mother take the chance of her child not making the 'right choice'... when, if she only had the guts, the incredible, incredible guts, she could do them the blessed, ETERNAL favor of a one-way ticket straight to heaven? Talk about sacrifice. Talk about courage. What a mother.
Seriously! Most Christians (including mothers), believe exactly like Andrea did but can't allow themselves to see the eternal implications as it pertains to their 'under the age of accountability' children. And she's the crazy one?
I tell this tale not to cause anyone pain, thought I know it's extremely painful, but because something has to wake us up! Most of us are insane and we don't even know it. WHO IS GOD? WHAT HAS HE DONE THROUGH CHRIST JESUS? Does anyone really know? I hope and pray we find out before another "Andrea" takes matters into her own hands.
When I've shared this with some, they've quickly responded with the likes of, "The only reason she did it was because she was insane." And so??? Dear friends, you don't get it. It doesn't matter if she was or wasn't. Not in the least. If anything, if she was insane it was her children's blessing! Because, if there's such a thing as 'an age of accountability', as most Christians believe... understandably, to their credit, though unscriptural... Andrea accomplished what she set out to do. The bottom line is, her children are in heaven! Each and every one! For ever and ever and ever, amen! And no one can take that away from her... or them... ever. Not even God.
How many grieving fathers and mothers of sons and daughters who've passed on after 'the age' without confessing Christ can say such a thing with such absolute assurance? How many have to do mental gymnastics in order to keep themselves from sinking into an unending spiral of hopelessness and despair... because, deep down inside they don't really know where their child is? Help us, Father!
And if there isn't such a thing as 'an age of accountability'... well, then what? Have you thought about that?
Though I never heard Jesus or the apostles preach that those under 12 had any special 'get out of hell free' card. Jesus told them to let the children come to Him! Hmmm... is this 'another gospel', perhaps... the kind Paul told us to be on the watch for? Like the one where we don't really need folks to be sent out to preach the word because Jesus is popping up all over the place revealing Himself to unbelievers through visions and dreams and the like?
I think it's high time we, the Church of Jesus Christ, started to get real. I mean, really real. Because, until we do, all we're doing is spinning our wheels. And no matter how grand and glorious those wheels might be, they will eventually, inevitably find themselves stuck in 'eternal torment in hell'. Sooner or later we're going to find ourselves not able to get past 'Go!' and collect our $200.
Until we start to figure this all out, we have nothing to offer the likes of all the B Team Andrea's out there... those who actually believe there's such a thing as a scorching eternal hell of torment... which would be the vast majority of the church... but who can't let themselves know they believe it... at least not too much... not, of course, like poor, sick Andrea did... which would be the vast majority of the church.
Until we can meet the accusation of an 'Andrea' with who the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ really is, can we meet any other? I mean, really?
It seems if those who have tasted the goodness of salvation through Jesus Christ don't/can't understand this, how will anyone else? I mean, we've tasted His goodness! We know we don't deserve a shred of it! Or at least we should. There but for the GRACE OF GOD go we. Each and every one.
Please, God, open our hearts and minds... to the TRUTH of WHO YOU ARE and WHAT YOU HAVE DONE through Your incomparable Son... that it will go forth throughout the entire earth. To Your glory, not ours! Amen.
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The Lord bless you and keep you,