Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story


Once upon a time, during a particularly difficult economic down turn, the president of the land of Make Believe decided to use his own money to help his people.

“I’ll build an industrial plant,” he told his economic adviser, “a huge complex, big enough to employ anyone who needs work. First we’ll hire people to do the construction. All kinds of people. No experience necessary. What they don’t know, we’ll train them to do.”

His adviser consulted with the necessary PR personnel and soon word spread: anyone who wanted a job could begin to report to the designated location, effective immediately.

People came slowly at first, hardly believing the president really meant what he said, and some stayed away, convinced the offer was a sham, or worse—a trick to bilk the people of the little they still had.

Eventually, however, as those first folk went home tired each night after a full day of hard labor, gold coins clinking in their pockets, more and more people decided to sign on for a job too.

One day, a nicely dressed young man named Warren Wingate showed up at the application center.

“Would you like to apply for a job?” the receptionist asked him.

“Oh, no, no. I don’t need a job,” Warren said. “In fact, I’m here to help out.”

“Help out? In what way?”

“I have money, lots of money, more than I can ever spend in my lifetime. I want to give it away.”

“To everyone?”

“Well, I could do that, but the amount would be so small, it might not make much of a difference.”

“So you plan to divide your wealth with just a few people? How will you decide which will receive your gift and which won’t?”

“I’ll figure something out—maybe based on need. You know, the poorest of the poor.”

So Warren set up a table and sat with his checkbook open. Whenever a poor man with a torn shirt or holes in his shoes came to the application center, Warren called him over, wrote a check, and sent him home.

“Warren,” the receptionist said, “you should be sending those poor people in to sign up for their job.”

“They don’t need it any more. I gave them enough to last a lifetime.”

“You don’t know that. What happens if inflation rises or our currency is devalued? These people need jobs. It’s the only way they can have a secure future.”

“That’s certainly a narrow-minded perspective. Look at me. I invested wisely, and I’m wealthy beyond measure. I don’t need a job, and in fact I can help shoulder the burden for all these other folk.”

With that Warren passed out checks to the next one hundred people who showed up at the application center, regardless of need. Each person was so happy, they shook Warren’s hand, said how grateful they were, how much they owed him, and headed back home.

The next day, all the people with checks hurried out to the bank. But instead of open doors and a lighted building, the shades were drawn and the doors were locked.

“What’s this about?” one person asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” a man on his way to work said. “The bank closed its doors yesterday. Those checks you have aren’t going to buy your groceries.”

“But Mr. Wingate said he had more than enough money for us all.”

“I’m sure he thought he had plenty. But he’s not buying groceries either, not unless he has some gold. And the only place I know where you can get gold is from the president. You all should come with me and put in your job application. They’re taking anyone willing to work.”

As the worker hurried toward the plant, a few folk trailed after him though most stayed in front of the bank.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” one man said. “They’ll open the bank in an hour or so, you’ll see.”

When those who went with the worker arrived at the application center, who did they see but Warren Wingate, handing out more checks to the poor.

One of those who had just left the bank, stepped forward. “What are you doing, Mr. Wingate? The bank is closed, and we can’t cash the checks you gave us.”

“Well, isn’t that sad. Would you like another? I can make this one for a good deal more if you like.”

“That won’t help. We need to buy groceries for our families and we need money, not a check we can’t cash. You need money, too. They say the only place to get any is here at the president’s industrial complex, so we’re going to apply for a job. You should too.”

“Me?” Warren said. “Why would I need a job? I have plenty of money. Take a look at my last bank statement.”

“But the bank is closed.”

“I’ll simply show this statement at the grocery story. I’m sure they’ll give me the food I need. You can show them your checks too. They’re bound to give you the food once they see how rich you are.”

– – –

So what do you think? Did the kind man giving out checks to the poor get the food he needed?

This story is an edited version of one first published here in October, 2010.

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Published in: on October 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hell And The Postmodern/Post-truth Generation


When I was growing up in the middle of the twentieth century, at times I felt out of step with my culture. After all, I and my Christian college classmates helped rescue books from our school library, when across town students in the secular university were burning a nearby bank and sending bomb threats to their library.

As I see it, those beginnings of a cultural divide are nothing compared to what Bible-believing Christians growing up in today’s postmodern/post-truth culture are going to face. Think about it. Discipline, even among Christian parents, is nearly a thing of the past. School is to be tolerated or, for the bright students, to be used as a means to a good job. It is definitely not a place to develop your ability to think and reason. Fewer and fewer of the postmodern/post-truth generation attend church.

Consequently, a teen growing up with parents who discipline, homeschool, and take him to a Bible-believing church, will be an anomaly. More and more, he can expect “the world” to believe differently than he does.

The discussion over books like Love Wins by Rob Bell that calls into question the doctrine of hell is, I suspect, indicative of how great the divide has become.

There are a number of root issues. For starters, postmodern/post-truth philosophy does not believe in absolute truth. What’s right for you might not be what’s right for me. And what’s true isn’t as important as how a person feels.

That leads to tolerance, the word of the day. All people and their lifestyles are as acceptable as all others. It’s only OK to hate hateful people. Of course, by hateful people we actually mean people who disagree with us.

The biggest issue, though, is that postmoderns/post-truthers believe ardently in Man’s goodness. Society, nations, corporations, religion, of course, are all evil, but Man is good.

How then, could this generation possibly believe in hell? They have not experienced just and loving punishment. They have no belief in absolute truth. They discount sin.

As a result, they do not believe anyone (except maybe mass murderers, as long as that doesn’t include abortion doctors) deserves to be shut out of heaven, let alone suffer for eternity. And any God, should he actually exist, who would do such a thing, would be too cruel to have as a god.

In addition, they think, since spirituality is something personal and individual, anyone can re-image god according to his own conscience, which by the way, is bound to be a lot nicer than the God of the Old Testament. Jesus, now he’s another story. He’s alright. All those cool myths about him walking on water and stuff—it’s almost like he’s a superhero. And love! That guy had it figured out—love, love, love, and stick it to the religious bunch! We like Jesus!

You see the divide. The Bible contradicts each of these points.

Man is not good; he is sinful.

God is a real person, sovereign and infinite, loving, righteous, just, good, merciful, and true. (And His Son is exactly the same).

Man’s sin is an offense to God because it is rebellion.

The payment for rebellion is death, first physically, then a second “death” that is eternal punishment in a real place we know as hell.

Despite what postmodern thinkers say or believe, these absolutes don’t go away with a wave of the mantra, It might be true for you, but it’s not true for me. True is true. What’s more, God “has granted everything to us pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him.”

Peter wrote that at the beginning of his second letter, but he went on in the next chapter to explain some of that “everything”:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority … But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong.
– 2 Peter 2:4-13a (emphases added)

What does a long passage about coming judgment have to do with life and godliness? For one thing, it reveals God’s nature. He is a just judge. No one is going to suffer wrong as the wages of doing right.

He also has spelled out as a warning, replete with examples, what the unrighteous will face.

And He has made it clear that there is a way of escape.

This article is an edited version of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

Published in: on September 28, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


This post first appeared here in May, 2013.
– – – – –
I read two intriguing articles today, and yet when I put them together, the picture I see is rather murky. The first, “Why so many people–including scientists–suddenly believe in an afterlife,” is a lengthy look at the attitude of western culture toward the afterlife.

In a poll taken in the US in 2011, 81% said they believed in heaven and 71% believed in hell. Honestly, that second number surprised me because it was so high. A 2010 Canadian poll indicated half believed in heaven and fewer than a third believed in hell. That’s closer to what I expected.

Apparently, with the increase in the number of near-death experiences–a result of advanced technology that brings people back after their physical functions qualify them as dead–there have also been an increase in reports about those experiences, the majority recounting details we normally associate with heaven.

More and more people are convinced, apparently, that heaven does actually exist. Even Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote Proof of Heaven, the account of his own near-death experience, has defied his scientific community, declaring that his anecdotal account is evidence of the afterlife.

And not just any old afterlife. It seems the majority of these experiences show a peaceful, loving place, without judgment.

Segue to the second article, one discussing another trend–that of stories with anti-heroes instead of heroes: “The Rise of the Anti-Hero.” In this piece, the author, Jonathan Michael, identifies a new love for characters in our entertainment who are flawed. Some, such as the protagonist in the TV show 24, do bad things for a good end. Others, however, are drunks or cheats or vengeful, and the audience doesn’t seem to mind, or is willing to forgive. Michael explains this:

Characters who shine as morally pure and upright don’t ring true to us anymore, because it’s not who we see around us in the world. Neither is it what we see when we look in the mirror.

My first thought was, When have we ever seen morally pure and upright around us or in the mirror? However, I think we used to be ashamed at these moral failings, our own and our society’s. Now we seem to have a higher value–that of authenticity. You can be the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but good for you, you admit who you are! The only shame is in trying to pretend you’re better than you are.

Now, I’m left with putting these two articles together. From bottom to top this is what I find: we acknowledge and even embrace the fact that none of us is morally pure, but we believe in heaven, more than in hell. Which implies, no matter what happens in this life, there’s happiness waiting in the next one.

This view dovetails with the beliefs of such universalists as Rob Bell and Paul Young. It also fits in so well with the popular message going out to kids: Everyone’s a winner. You show up, you play. You play, you get a trophy.

So why wouldn’t we think we’re all going to heaven, no matter how we lived our lives?

Of course, the real secret is that how we live our lives isn’t the factor that determines our destiny. So by completely missing the target, most people have actually knocked away a false premise that haunted Western culture for a good long time: that by doing good we can earn our way to heaven.

However, today’s popular conclusion–that we don’t need to earn our way because heaven will be ours even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it–is equally false.

Unfortunately, metaphysics isn’t like algebra in which two negatives make a positive. There really is a right and no amount of positive thought can change it, no number of witnesses glimpsing into heaven, can undo it.

Honestly, I find it encouraging that so many people believe in heaven. I even find it encouraging that apparently people recognize themselves to be morally flawed. That’s the perfect set up actually for the critical question: how do morally flawed people end up in a morally perfect place?

But that immediately creates the question: do people who believe in heaven believe it to be a morally perfect place? If not, then I wonder what makes it heaven. I mean, if people can still lie, cheat, steal, and kill, what makes it a desirable place to spend eternity?

And if morally flawed people can’t do those morally flawed things, what keeps them from it? I mean we haven’t been so successful at stopping rape and murder and war and slavery in the here and now. What will make a difference then?

But lets say we agree that heaven is a morally perfect place, how is it that any of us deserve to be there? I think that’s the going assumption–not that we’ve done anything special but that by our very existence we ARE special. We deserve heaven . . . morally flawed though we may be.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of thought?

The problem is, until we get rid of this “we deserve” attitude, we won’t be interested in the solution to the dilemma of squeezing morally imperfect people into a morally perfect place. Oh, yeah, with a morally perfect God as the sovereign ruler.

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The God Who Spanks


In my lifetime the US has moved from being a culture that believed in corporal punishment for children to one that looks with serious mistrust at anyone who would lay a finger on a child to discipline him or her.

At the same time, we’ve moved away from God, and in particular we’ve moved away from belief in God as a just and righteous judge who also disciplines for our good. He is actually our loving heavenly Father and yet He disciplines His children for our good.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Heb. 12:3-11)

In some ways I feel like I should bring this post to a close with an Amen and a period. Another part of me wants to launch into the positive effects of discipline on children and the Biblical admonition to parents not to neglect the same.

But the real issue, I think, is that we as a culture no longer like a God who judges, who disciplines.

Recently I’ve seen various people respond to portions of Scripture that identify God as a judge, as a God who brings upon an oppressor the consequences of his own acts. The best I can say is, people—Christians—are uncomfortable with it. In one instance, a person ignored the point of the passage and turned it into something that was not there, something related to God’s forgiveness.

God is forgiving. We can never forget that. But one way He brings us to a place where we ask for forgiveness is by applying the rod of correction to our derrieres. God lovingly, kindly, and with our good at heart, allows us to suffer the consequences of our own actions.

Why? Why would He not rescue us from all trouble, even the trouble of our own making?

Because God has greater things in mind for us than our immediate comfort and ease. God wants good things for us, no doubt. But the highest good is that we become conformed to the image of His Son. That’s what Romans 8:29 tells us: “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (emphasis mine).

“Become conformed.” How does that happen?

The same way silver or gold is refined—by the application of heat. The same way an orange tree produces abundant fruit—by being pruned.

God disciplines, not because He’s angry or wrathful, out of control and intolerant of those who don’t see things His way.

He disciplines because He loves us. He knows what we sometimes ignore or can’t see—that our wayward path leads to death. That we’re headed for destruction.

What kind of parent would allow his child to sit down with a knife beside an electric outlet? Or unsupervised, play with a pile of matches?

We would consider parents that turn away from danger and let their kids “learn the hard way,” neglectful and even abusive.

The great danger before us as humans is what is ahead of us in eternity. The fire we want to play with is the fire of hell. God in his great love calls us to Himself. When we turn away, He pursues us and disciplines us and judges us so that we will know Him. So that we will turn from our wicked ways, see Him as the Savior our hearts long for, and call to Him in repentance and trust.

Yes, God spanks. But like all loving fathers, He also holds us as we cry against His shoulder, as we tell Him we’re sorry and that we will amend our ways.

He spanks and He comforts because He wants us to grow up to be like Jesus.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Problem With Salvation


In the previous three posts (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), I addressed the reality of sin and the need each of us has for the good news, that God has rescued us from the mess of our own making. But that’s only part of the story. More than what God has saved us from is the reality of what God has saved us to.

I addressed this in a post a number of years ago, and I want to reprise that article today.

– – – – –

When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school regularly. My first recollection of an explanation about sin and salvation is tied to heaven and hell.

Later I attended a Bible club and received a Wordless Book that reinforced the concepts.

Clearly, I did not want to go to Hell. If Heaven was the only alternative, then that’s where I wanted to go, and if Jesus could get me there, then I wanted to accept Him “into my heart.”

I had to get past the idea of a shrunken version of Jesus fitting into my heart, and one Sunday school teacher was able to explain, the Holy Spirit was actually the One who would live in my heart.

Why didn’t they just say so, I thought. I had a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit because a lot of hymns called Him the Holy Ghost. Ghosts didn’t sound holy to me, so I had already asked my parents about that one. I don’t remember what they told me, but it must have been adequate for a child’s understanding because I wasn’t troubled by further questions until much later.

But I digress. From my own experience, from listening to others tell their testimony and to some venting about unhappy religious backgrounds, I see confusion when it comes to the issue of salvation.

In part I think this is because some of us never grow up in our understanding of God. But another contributing factor, I think, is that I had an experience of being saved from Hell rather than an experience of being saved to God.

Any teacher, coach, and most parents will tell you that part of training involves laying out consequences. God deals with us the same way. He tells us what the wages of sin is, just as He warned Adam what would happen if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So Sunday school teachers who spoke of Hell were not inventing something or using scare tactics. They were telling the truth.

However, escape from Hell isn’t all that great in and of itself. For years I worried about boredom sitting on those clouds, playing a miniature harp for all of eternity.

Eventually my understanding began to grow and my relationship with God began to develop, but it took years.

I had one friend in college who had serious questions about God, in part because she had questions about eternity. My answers were woeful and unbiblical, and she dismissed Christianity in the face of them.

That experience drove me to ask more questions.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. Salvation seems to be less important to some people than their efforts to earn it.
  2. Salvation is much more about being in God’s company than anything else. The real terror isn’t Hell. It’s separation from God. Conversely, Heaven is only great because God makes it great.
  3. Christ provides the only access to God.
  4. Because salvation is really a relationship, it is dynamic.
  5. I don’t have to wait for “later” to experience the joy of my salvation.
  6. The relationship I now have with God grows like any other relationship. If I spend time with Him, I am close to Him. If I don’t, I’m not.
  7. Right now, my relationship with God is more like an Internet friendship. I know Him in part, in the ways He’s revealed Himself to me. Someday, I’ll know Him in person.

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August, 2009.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments Off on The Problem With Salvation  
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Refusing To Listen


Evils_of_the_cities_-_a_series_of_practical_and_popular_discourses_delivered_in_the_Brooklyn_Tabernacle_(1896)_(14591198780)

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD;
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions.

So said Isaiah to the people of Israel when their nation was facing a crisis (30:9-10). But his assessment of God’s chosen people sounds uncomfortably similar to the things people are saying today about and to pastors and teachers:

Don’t talk about sin and especially don’t go on about hell, that imaginary place a bunch of sadistic legalists invented. No one wants to hear that outmoded “fire and brimstone” preaching. After all, people shouldn’t be scared into accepting Jesus. That’s a horrible tactic. Cruel. Kids will have nightmares. Why, it borders on abuse. They should outlaw such preaching.

Tell us instead how God wants us to be healthy and wealthy and how everyone is going to heaven. That’s what we want to hear. Tell us how good we are to try so hard to be good. Tell us how we’re all winners. Tell us that we can do it, we can do it, we can, we can. That if we just look inside ourselves, we’ll find we’ve had the strength all along to be the best we, we can be.

Sadly, that kind of false teaching is becoming the basis of our culture’s belief system, and religious leaders—pastors, priests, evangelists, itinerant preachers seminary profs, authors—have smoothed the road, if they haven’t marched at the front of the line.

The truth is, we don’t want to hear the hard things of Scripture. We don’t like the verses that tell us God is wrathful, even vengeful. Or jealous. Our culture has told us that tolerance and love are the highest values, so of course we expect God to exhibit those qualities too, all the time. He’s patient; he’s kind. He teaches love for your enemies.

So don’t go on about punishment, about judgment, about God separating goats from sheep and wheat from weeds. God is a uniter, not a divider.

Uh, not according to the Bible.

Of course Scripture does say God is love; but it also says He is a just Judge who brings people under his judgment

Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place;
Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke;
His lips are filled with indignation
And His tongue is like a consuming fire;
His breath is like an overflowing torrent,
Which reaches to the neck,
To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve,
And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin. (Isaiah 30:27-28)

In the same way that the people in Isaiah’s day wanted to hear only pleasant words, people today don’t want to hear such harsh words about God’s indignation and burning anger. The result is, people have built an idol they worship—a caricature of God, not the Holy God whose ways are not our ways.

With idols firmly in place, people today have no need of a Savior. They have no need of forgiveness. They’ve been told all their lives that they are extraordinary, that they can do whatever they set their minds to, that they are winners. They’ve been schooled in tolerance and politically correct speech. So certainly they don’t want to be told that the wages of sin is death, that no one is righteous, not even one, that Jesus is the way, the Truth (what is truth anyway?), and the life.

Hear no evil_gargoyle_06Stop with the negative gobbledygook. We don’t want to hear recriminations and accusations. We’re okay and they’re okay, so why aren’t you religious freaks okay? And if you MUST believe your nonsense, just don’t shove it down our throats.

So no more of this hate preaching—telling people they’re destined for hell. You all are haters and you believe in a hateful god-God, but we don’t have to listen to your list of what’s right and what’s wrong. In fact, why don’t you just stop speaking! That’s what we really want.

Yes, Isaiah tends to say it like it is, and that makes some people want to cut his book out of the Bible. It’s already been deconstructed and discredited by scholars who dismiss the idea of God inspiring the prophets. Which makes it easier to ignore.

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD;

Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions.

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on Refusing To Listen  
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Do Nice People Go To Hell?


gas_craterIn the Facebook atheist/Christian group I’ve mentioned, one person asked, “Who here is going to hell?” The question was glib and the answers ranged from a Christian’s bemoaning the message in a picture of someone holding a sign that said “Going to hell and PROUD,” to a couple people who either echoed the sentiment or said they weren’t going because there was no such place. One person who embraced the idea that he’d be going to hell said, “The company will be amazing.”

In light of those comments and some of the questions that arose in another post here this week, I decided to revisit an article that originally appeared here in March 2011.
– – – –
What a question: Do nice people go to hell? There are a couple things we have to define, the first being “hell.”

In the New Testament, Jesus used the word we translate as “hell,” more than anyone else, which kind of shoots the ideas that some professing Christians have—that Jesus is loving and the Father, as the Old Testament reveals Him, is wrathful.

Even a casual reading of the gospels shows that Jesus made a clear statement about the judgment of those who reject Him. But how does He characterize this judgment? Sometimes as a place of darkness. Other times as a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In one parable, Jesus says the evil servant will be assigned a place with the hypocrites. In Luke’s account of Jesus sending away those who claimed to know Him (“I never knew you”), He said they would be put out of the kingdom of God. And, yes, sometimes He made reference to a furnace or a place where there will be fire and brimstone.

Interesting that we camp on the image of fire, when all these other descriptions are also in Scripture. One pastor I recently heard believes we have formed our opinion of hell more from classic literature than from Scripture. For example, he pointed out that hell is the place created for Satan and his demons—spiritual beings. Consequently physical fire, it would seem, would have no effect on them.

What we know for sure about hell is that it is the just judgment God will assign to the wicked. “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:39).

So that brings up the question: Can nice people be “wicked”?

We know that there is none righteous, no not one. If we aren’t righteous—and what makes us “unrighteous” is that our own righteousness is nothing but contaminated tatters—then we are all, at our best, sinners.

Can sinners be nice people? Actually, yes. Before we were sinners we were made in God’s image. We have that about us still, though His glory is marred by our love of and commitment to ourselves. We are still a nice bunch … as long as I can be nice and receive credit for it. Or as long as I can be nice without going out of my way too much. Or as long as I can be nice and receive the same in return.

In short, we might look nice, but we come back to what Scripture says about our very best—it’s not pretty. And it most certainly is not efficacious for that which we need most—an answer to our sin condition.

Published in: on January 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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Hateful, Mean Christians


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoMore than once I’ve read the charge that Christians are hateful and mean. It goes along with the idea that God is a wrathful tyrant. The concept started with the idea that He is, and therefore we are, a kill-joy. But it’s gone far beyond that notion.

Now Christians are considered hateful because we who adhere to the Bible’s clear teaching, oppose same-sex marriage. How unkind to deny people a meaningful, loving relationship that everyone else gets to enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation.

Christians are also haters because they want to deny women the right to choose for themselves what they do with their own bodies when it comes to pregnancy. This language is, of course, euphemistic speech for the right to have an abortion.

Christians are haters because they send people to hell for the smallest things, like telling little white lies or drinking too much at the New Year’s Eve party. In fact, they assign people to hell if they don’t believe in their Jesus as if there’s only their way or the way to hell. How hateful can they get?

The thing that people who take these views don’t realize is that Christians don’t send anyone to hell. God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell. Rather, hell—or death, not just physical but spiritual and relational—is the consequence of the sin God warned Adam against.

Furthermore, God put into motion His plan of redemption to rescue us from hell. But telling people about this bailout, this merciful deliverance from the destiny we’re heading toward, is considered hateful.

It makes no sense. Would a good neighbor see a fire across the street and do nothing? Would a good parent watch his child drink bleach from the cleaning supplies and not intervene? Would a good citizen watch a kidnapper force a young girl into his car and not at lease call 9-1-1?

In all these circumstances, the minimum action a person would take is likely to raise the alarm. And if possible, the person might even step in to stop the harm that’s underway. Parents are even expected to do this and would be considered negligent if they didn’t prevent a child from ingesting that which is harmful.

But when it comes to raising the spiritual alert, Christians are considered hateful. It makes no sense.

Western society has gotten to this place in part because we’ve moved from instructive action to preventative action when it comes to the next generation. By that I mean, we are less likely to show young people why and how than we are to pass rules against.

For instance, when it comes to abortion, we’re quick to preach abstinence until marriage and to reinforce the fact that the product of conception is life and therefore should not be killed. These are preventative measures.

But how good are we at coming along side unwed pregnant women and helping them financially or emotionally? What kind of counseling are we giving to the scared and confused teen caught in her own sin? Are our actions and attitudes the equivalent of picking up stones in judgment of the sinner?

Except, in that situation the one who dies is the baby, not the mother whose sin resulted in the little life she thinks she has to terminate.

The Church should come along side sinners and offer the same grace that has been offered and is being offered to us. And the next generation should be involved in the process. This kind of modeling is instructive.

Yes, we should talk about purity, but a healthy marriage will instruct young people in a far more effective way than telling them when to start dating and how much or little sexual activity is OK.

Christians should not stop shouting warnings to a world sliding away from God. Life without Him is dark and riddled with instability and insecurity. It’s meaningless and fraught with conflict. We most certainly should charge across the street and shout fire or rip bleach bottles out of little hands or scream for someone to stop the kidnapper as we lay hold of the young woman to wrestle her out of his control.

We see the danger awaiting our friends and family and neighbors. We know what they need in order to move from darkness to light. Why would we stay silent, even though any number of bystanders may misunderstand and mis-characterize us as haters?

Which is worse, to be misunderstood and slandered or to do nothing to point others to Jesus Christ? When we tell others about who Jesus is, we are doing the most loving thing possible. But in this day when evil is called good, and good, evil, it’s no wonder that our loving actions are misunderstood as hateful.

Of course pretenders who claim the name of Christ, but who live as legalists, don’t make things easier. They accumulate negative press while the thousands upon thousands of Christians who go about serving their neighbor, loving them as Christ would, receive very little recognition.

We don’t put legs to our faith in order to gain accolades or to create good photo-ops. But perhaps we should be more vocal—giving God praise for what He does through His Church. In the Old Testament, the recurring motive for what Israel did was so that the people would know that the Lord is God.

Maybe that needs to be the motive behind what we Christians do—not on the sly, but openly, boldly. “I’m spending time at the homeless shelter, not because I’m a nice guy, but because Jesus is Lord, and I wanted the opportunity to tell you that”—that sort of thing.

Hateful? Christians ought not be hateful. It’s a test, in fact, according to John, a measure of who is a Christian. How can we say we love God and hate our brother? The two are mutually exclusive.

But maybe we’ve forgotten how to show our love. Then again, maybe our love will look like hate in the eyes of those who have rejected Jesus. The first, we need to fix, the last we need to let go.

Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


1395122_sunburst_in_cloudy_skyI read two intriguing articles today, and yet when I put them together, the picture I see is rather murky. The first, “Why so many people–including scientists–suddenly believe in an afterlife,” is a lengthy look at the attitude of western culture toward the afterlife.

In a poll taken in the US in 2011, 81% said they believed in heaven and 71% believed in hell. Honestly, that second number surprised me because it was so high. A 2010 Canadian poll indicated half believed in heaven and fewer than a third believed in hell. That’s closer to what I expected.

Apparently, with the increase in the number of near-death experiences–a result of advanced technology that brings people back after their physical functions qualify them as dead–there have also been an increase in reports about those experiences, the majority recounting details we normally associate with heaven.

More and more people are convinced, apparently, that heaven does actually exist. Even Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote Proof of Heaven, the account of his own near-death experience, has defied his scientific community, declaring that his anecdotal account is evidence of the afterlife.

And not just any old afterlife. It seems the majority of these experiences show a peaceful, loving place, without judgment.

Segue to the second article, one discussing another trend–that of stories with anti-heroes instead of heroes: “The Rise of the Anti-Hero.” In this piece, the author, Jonathan Michael, identifies a new love for characters in our entertainment who are flawed. Some, such as the protagonist in the TV show 24, do bad things for a good end. Others, however, are drunks or cheats or vengeful, and the audience doesn’t seem to mind, or is willing to forgive. Michael explains this:

Characters who shine as morally pure and upright don’t ring true to us anymore, because it’s not who we see around us in the world. Neither is it what we see when we look in the mirror.

My first thought was, When have we ever seen morally pure and upright around us or in the mirror? However, I think we used to be ashamed at these moral failings, our own and our society’s. Now we seem to have a higher value–that of authenticity. You can be the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but good for you, you admit who you are! The only shame is in trying to pretend you’re better than you are.

Now, I’m left with putting these two articles together. From bottom to top this is what I find: we acknowledge and even embrace the fact that none of us is morally pure, but we believe in heaven, more than in hell. Which implies, no matter what happens in this life, there’s happiness waiting in the next one.

This view dovetails with the beliefs of such universalists as Rob Bell and Paul Young. It also fits in so well with the popular message going out to kids: Everyone’s a winner. You show up, you play. You play, you get a trophy.

So why wouldn’t we think we’re all going to heaven, no matter how we lived our lives?

Of course, the real secret is that how we live our lives isn’t the factor that determines our destiny. So by completely missing the target, most people have actually knocked away a false premise that haunted Western culture for a good long time: that by doing good we can earn our way to heaven.

However, today’s popular conclusion–that we don’t need to earn our way because heaven will be ours even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it–is equally false.

Unfortunately, metaphysics isn’t like algebra in which two negatives make a positive. There really is a right and no amount of positive thought can change it, no number of witnesses glimpsing into heaven, can undo it.

Honestly, I find it encouraging that so many people believe in heaven. I even find it encouraging that apparently people recognize themselves to be morally flawed. That’s the perfect set up actually for the critical question: how do morally flawed people end up in a morally perfect place?

But that immediately creates the question: do people who believe in heaven believe it to be a morally perfect place? If not, then I wonder what makes it heaven. I mean, if people can still lie, cheat, steal, and kill, what makes it a desirable place to spend eternity?

And if morally flawed people can’t do those morally flawed things, what keeps them from it? I mean we haven’t been so successful at stopping rape and murder and war and slavery in the here and now. What will make a difference then?

But lets say we agree that heaven is a morally perfect place, how is it that any of us deserve to be there? I think that’s the going assumption–not that we’ve done anything special but that by our very existence we ARE special. We deserve heaven . . . morally flawed though we may be.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of thought?

The problem is, until we get rid of this “we deserve” attitude, we won’t be interested in the solution to the dilemma of squeezing morally imperfect people into a morally perfect place. Oh, yeah, with a morally perfect God as the sovereign ruler.

Published in: on May 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm  Comments Off on Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?  
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The Problem With Salvation


When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school regularly. My first recollection of an explanation about sin and salvation is tied to heaven and hell.

Later I attended a Bible club and received a Wordless Book that reinforced the concepts.

Clearly, I did not want to go to Hell. If Heaven was the only alternative, then that’s where I wanted to go, and if Jesus could get me there, then I wanted to accept Him “into my heart.”

I had to get past the idea of a shrunken version of Jesus fitting into my heart, and one Sunday school teacher was able to explain, the Holy Spirit was actually the One who would live in my heart.

Why didn’t they just say so, I thought. I had a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit because a lot of hymns called Him the Holy Ghost. Ghosts didn’t sound holy to me, so I had already asked my parents about that one. I don’t remember what they told me, but it must have been adequate for a child’s understanding because I wasn’t troubled by further questions until much later.

But I digress. From my own experience, from listening to others tell their testimony and to some venting about unhappy religious backgrounds, I see confusion when it comes to the issue of salvation.

In part I think this is because some of us never grow up in our understanding of God. But another contributing factor, I think, is that I had an experience of being saved from Hell rather than an experience of being saved to God.

Any teacher, coach, and most parents will tell you that part of training involves laying out consequences. God deals with us the same way. He tells us what the wages of sin is, just as He warned Adam what would happen if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So Sunday school teachers who spoke of Hell were not inventing something or using scare tactics. They were telling the truth.

However, escape from Hell isn’t all that great in and of itself. For years I worried about boredom sitting on those clouds, playing a miniature harp for all of eternity.

Eventually my understanding began to grow and my relationship with God began to develop, but it took years.

I had one friend in college who had serious questions about God, in part because she had questions about eternity. My answers were woeful and unbiblical, and she dismissed Christianity in the face of them.

That experience drove me to ask more questions.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. Salvation seems to be less important to some people than their efforts to earn it.
  2. Salvation is much more about being in God’s company than anything else. The real terror isn’t Hell. It’s separation from God. Conversely, Heaven is only great because God makes it great.
  3. Christ provides the only access to God.
  4. Because salvation is really a relationship, it is dynamic.
  5. I don’t have to wait for “later” to experience the joy of my salvation.
  6. The relationship I now have with God grows like any other relationship. If I spend time with Him, I am close to Him. If I don’t, I’m not.
  7. Right now, my relationship with God is more like an Internet friendship. I know Him in part, in the ways He’s revealed Himself to me. Someday, I’ll know Him in person.

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August, 2009.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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