Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


This post first appeared here in May, 2013.
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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.

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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.
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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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God And Those Who Haven’t Heard


Support for Rob Bell (Love Wins:A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived) and his brand of universalism seems to be fueled by a great concern for the “billions and billions” of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ — the same concern, I might add, that fuels much of the missionary movement.

Rather than prompting prayer for the unreached or evangelistic endeavor, however, this concern from Bell supporters turns into … Bell support as he “explores” the idea that all people get a mulligan, a do-over after we die, until we eventually get it right.

The problem, of course, is that this position is not Biblical. Many who disagree with Mr. Bell have said they themselves wish his view was true because the thought of people suffering for eternity is unthinkable. But the fact is, it isn’t their decision any more than it is mine or Mr. Bell’s. The decision is God’s.

Some bloggers, then, have postulated that what we believe about hell exposes what we believe about God. If we see Him as loving and kind, the thinking goes, we will lean toward universalism, whereas if we see Him as a harsh, vengeful taskmaster, we will embrace a “hell for eternity” view.

Again, I think this have very little to do with “my view” of God. The reality is, He has told us about Himself in the Bible and He’s given us His Spirit to guide us into all truth. Consequently, I see no reason why we shouldn’t search the Scriptures and see what God says about His role as judge and what Jesus says about coming judgment.

All that as background for the issue — what about those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus Christ? What does the Bible say about their eternal destiny?

First, what does the Bible say about anyone’s eternal destiny? Here’s one clear statement:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
– John 3:14-15

The reference is to the bronze serpent God used to save the lives of the Israelites dying of snake venom during their exodus from Egypt (see last month’s post “The Way Of Escape” for more details). The bronze serpent served as an intermediary between God and the dying Israelites. In the same way, Jesus is the intermediary between God and sinners dying spiritually.

In fact, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

But that still leaves the question on the table — what about all those who haven’t heard of Jesus?

Scripture has more to say about Salvation and this, I believe, answers the question.

In Romans 1 Paul builds the case that God has revealed Himself in what He made. So we can conclude that even people who don’t have the Bible can know God and are responsible for what they do with what they know. Here’s the key passage:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
– Rom 1:18-21

So here’s my conclusion. If someone suppresses the truth and does not honor God as God, then he has no interest in Jesus who is the way to God. Simply put, that person does not want a way to God. Consequently, by turning away from God, he is also turning away from Jesus (though he may not have heard of Jesus by name). And doesn’t that seem undeniably true, given the fact of the Trinity?

On the other hand, isn’t God capable of sending an Elizabeth Elliott or Hudson Taylor or William Cary or Cameron Townsend to a previously unreached people group whenever the time is right? Can we not trust Him, the Great Shepherd, to search for the one lost sheep? Of course we can, even as we can trust Him to one day separate the sheep from the goats.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm  Comments (6)  
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If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?


Rob Bell, author of the controversial book Love Wins, is doing the news show/talk show circuit. I saw him on ABC yesterday, only to find out that he also appeared on MSNBC, and apparently the video of that latter interview has gone viral.

I can understand why. Martin Bashir, the MSNBC interviewer, asked pointed theological questions Mr. Bell struggled to answer. His talking points on the ABC appearance had to do with the kingdom of God being here and now, while people can create a hell for themselves because of their hateful attitudes and actions.

All of which does not address Man’s eternal destiny or God’s role as a judge or where He is in the midst of the suffering so poignantly playing before the world in Japan.

Tell the father who watched helplessly as his family washed out to sea that Love wins. Tell that to the nine-year-old who watches the bodies of his parents unearthed from the rubble that had been his home. Tell the people fleeing the radiation cloud that Love wins.

God wins, that is a fact. But the idea that in the here and now, love conquers all, seems naive.

The fact is, ever since sin entered the world, God never promised that love would win here on earth. Rather the opposite. He said the ground would be cursed and Man would survive by the sweat of his brow. What’s more, Man would die because the wages of sin is death. And in the here and now Man must grapple with this knowledge of good and evil, deal with Satan, and live with gender conflict. (See Genesis 3.)

Love wins?

Indeed.

Love wins because this world is not all there is.

Love wins because God didn’t abandon or forsake fallen Man.

Love wins because God so love the world.

Love wins because Jesus bore the sins of the world.

Yet, just as surely as Love wins, God will not be mocked.

Sadly, Rob Bell wants to make a case for love winning because Man can make a better world for himself here and now rather than the hell of hatred so many have locked themselves in.

This way of looking at heaven and hell sounds so good, but is so incomplete. And hurtful to the people who had no control over the shaking earth or surging water.

Their hope, according to Mr. Bell, is his speculation that after death they will confront Love and be won to Him. Never mind what the Bible says.

How can we not shout out to the watching world that God gives a greater hope because His Son took on the suffering due sinners, if only we believe? How can we cry peace, peace unless we make it clear that Jesus is the only source of peace?

Undoubtedly, the conversation about Love and heaven and hell is just getting started. It’s important and relevant and necessary. But if the hard-hitting MSNBC interview is any indication what is coming, I hope we all find a good Solid Rock on which to stand. 😀

Published in: on March 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm  Comments (13)  
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