Who WOULD believe in Hell?

I can’t imagine wanting hell to be real.

Because I believe in a God of compassion, self sacrifice, and forgiveness
Because I accept an omnibenevolent God as truth

For those reasons I find the concept of eternal suffering distasteful at best.
Maybe downright gruesome.

Of course I do believe in hell.

Without a doubt

Even though I don’t like the idea

I’ve come to realize that many things I find to be distasteful are none the less true.

I don’t pretend to know who goes to hell

I don’t have a whole lot to say about it in general

A few broad strokes

And to be honest, a silly movie I’ve loved since I was a teenager sums it up best:

“Do you know what hell is..? It’s not lakes of burning oil or chains of ice. It’s being removed from God’s sight”

-The Prophecy

Amen

I know Christians grapple with this all the time

What gets you a spot in heaven vs hell?

Do you earn it?
Earn God’s favor?
Earn God’s condemnation?

I’m a Protestant for sure, so that’s not what I think

But I’m a Baptist too
And as a more extreme one, I believe in total free will

So I guess you’d say I’m a weird mashup

I say God didn’t pre-condemn certain individuals to hell. God’s omnibenevolence pre-condemns to hell those that choose to hate, subjugate, & degrade

Those that walk the road of life and upon seeing someone robbed and ravaged, walk over to the other side of the road

These are the people that find themselves removed from God’s sight.

No one’s perfect of course

And God doesn’t expect perfect omnibenevolence from anyone but himself.

This is where we’d get into talk about justification and sanctification

But I don’t want to bore you to death.

You can investigate those technical arguments in the links if you want

For now, I’m just going to explain my take

I say it’s not about earning God’s favor. The message of Jesus is that our imperfections are already forgiven in him

And maybe they always have been

This is where our gift of free will intersects with God’s sacrifice for us:

We have to chose forgiveness

We have to chose the omnibenevolent God

Just as he has chosen us

We have to accept that redemption is real and let it work it’s way into the nooks of our person.

We have to love the God that is omnibenevolent

When we do, we have to also love our neighbors

For love of God and love of neighbor are entwined
Intimately
Permanently

They are part of one great commandment

The greatest commandment

Love of the omnibenevolent God will lead to love for our neighbors

I do understand that some Christians find it hard to believe that a God who loves us all could condemn us to hell

I think that to a degree those Christians are influenced by one of the many traditions that spurns the idea of true free will

But I also think more liberal thinking Christians have rejected the idea of hell because they couldn’t believe that there are people who truly reject the idea of loving their neighbors

Even if they believed that some actively reject the idea of an omnibenevolent God

They relied on this quite beautiful idea:

“Speaking of younger people today, some really are unbelieving: that is they have recognized that the God of Jesus, this God of tenderness actually exists – and they refuse Him.

Others are not really unbelievers as such since they have rejected only the picture of God they have seen portrayed through certain Christians now or in history.

If you are running away from a wrong picture of God, does that take you further away from Him or closer to Him?”

Celtic Book of Prayer Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community

I do agree with this
On many levels

But I believe some focus so much on the second part of this sentiment that they ignore the first

The mistake some Christians have made is believing that all who reject God are doing it because they are running from the wrong picture of God

And forget that some see the right picture

The omnibenevolent God

And they choose to hate it

In light of some recent events, I think those liberal Christians may be changing their minds about what people are capable of choosing

In the public sphere many have been emboldened to say with pride:

I do not love the stranger bleeding on the side of the road

And I’m not just crossing to the other side. I’m also building a fence so they can’t crawl near to me

Even if they had one last breath to gather their strength and try

I don’t want to give them the opportunity

Now I don’t want you to misunderstand you who might read this

Just as I know that God has given us enormous power by creating us in his likeness

Creating us with the power to choose

As omnipotent as God may be, he is restrained by his omnibenevolence

God cannot do what is wrong

Because God is Love, he can only chose love

He can’t save those that choose to hate
Because they don’t let him

It seems weird I know

We like to think God can do anything

We’re told that all the time

But God cannot performa an evil act

To be clear,

God still loves those that choose hate
He loves them with all his being
He loves them without reservation

And by their hateful choice he weeps
As Jesus wept on the cross for those who choose hate
He knows that hate is always born of ignorance
Those who chose it can’t see past it, they can’t see what they are doing to others
And what it does to them
They are blind in their hate

They remove themselves from God’s sight
It’s cold, dark, and empty

And they stay there

So why give us a choice? If God is omnibenevolent, why not make us incapable?

The answer is one of the core attributes of love that we do often fail to define.

Love means sacrifice
Love means putting someone’s needs before your own
Love means choosing that self sacrifice
Just as God chose to sacrifice himself in Jesus

Sacrifice requires pain and hardship that is knowingly embraced

Parents do this for their children
Children do this for their parents
Spouse for spouse
Sister for sister
Friend for friend
Even stranger for stranger

That’s why evil comes into the world, because we selfishly reject our neighbors

Because we hate and abuse and abandon them for our own comfort

Our own decadence

Even in modern politics we see this in nationalism.

When someone loves only those that look like them

If I were to only love those that

Look like me

Dress like me

Talk like me

Then I’m not truly loving others, I’m loving myself. I’m worshipping the image of myself.

And as much as we hate the idea, some take the opportunity for self sacrifice and instead chose themselves

Choosing Selfishness
Viciousness
Malice
Hate for the “others”

For sacrifice to mean anything, then there must be forces that cause pain and suffering

They give us the reason to sacrifice
The impetus to put ourselves in danger

Recognizing self sacrifice can be difficult though
It’s not always clear to those outside the situation

To be clear I don’t think I get to judge who goes to hell

It’s like loving God
No one can ever truly know if you love God
Despite all external signs, love is internal and impossible to observe with certainty. Our motivations can never be discerned without ambiguity.
Same thing with love for your neighbors
It’s looks different for each person
Different for each context

Even our actions can be hard to discern

Sometimes the action itself is so small in our own eyes, yet enormous and unfathomable for those whose lives are touched by it

Only God knows

Although, if you look deeply at yourself
You may see both

Both the motive

And the action it should lead to

At least, you’ll see enough to know:

Am I choosing love?
Or hate?

Sacrifice?
Or selfishness?

Gospels and War Stories

If you were going to tell the story of US involvement in Iraq, where would you start? The invasion in 2003? The Gulf War that started in 1990? Or would you go back farther?

You could go into detail about US, French, Soviet, and British support for Iraq through the course of the Iraq/Iran war that took place between 1980-1988. You might even want to go into detail about Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the 9/11 attack because of its impact on the worldwide war on terror.

Or you could skip all that and tell the stories of the individual soldiers themselves. Both sides even, giving an utterly different and far more personal account.

It would probably be best to touch on all these topics to some degree or another, just placing emphasis on a few of the events while being briefer on others.

The same could be said of the 4 Gospels. When reading these biographies of Jesus’ life many notice the differences in the way they are told. And the differences are notable. One author may leave out details that the other authors emphasize. They may have events happening in slightly different order. Some contain the same saying but worded in a slightly different way or told in a different context.

They even start in completely different episodes in Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ family genealogy as well as the events before and during his birth. Mark and John start in adulthood and scarcely mention his birth at all, although John includes a preamble which explicitly states that Jesus existed before the beginning of creation. In fact John tells us that Jesus was the agent of creation, through which all things were made.

So which of the Gospels is telling the story “right”? Whose timeline is “right”? Whose testimony should we trust? Luke doesn’t even claim to have witnessed anything at all. Luke claims that he investigated the different eyewitness accounts and carefully constructed the best & most orderly account based on his investigation.

I recommend thinking about the Gospels the way you would think about the war in Iraq. It’s not about whether the story is wrong or right, it’s about where a particular author puts the emphasis, what information they found most pertinent. If you were going to try to learn about the war in Iraq you should read a multitude of accounts to take in as many perspectives as possible. By comparing the different accounts you will find details that one author casually glossed over or ignored, that a different author spent more time on. Through the different accounts a more complete understanding will emerge. Each narrative will converge on  a more decisive & complete story that is more complete than any one book alone.

That’s why we have four Gospels
That’s why we shouldn’t be worried about the differences
The differences make the Gospels stronger.
The differences reinforce that we are getting multiple, real accounts

Everyone sees and experiences the world differently

The Bible acknowledges that
The Bible canonizes that

I trust the Bible because it brings me the same diversity of experience I see everyday in the world around me

The Theory and the Revelation

There is one sure way to completely shut down an argument: show the person you’re trying to sway that you haven’t done the background research to know what you’re talking about.

In the realm of religion and science there are 2 perfect examples

Evolution
&
Revelation

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Christian Bible. It can go by a number of different names:

The Revelation to John
The Apocalypse of John
The Revelation
Revelation

I’ve even seen a long form of it spelled out as The Apocalypse of St John the Apostle

But it’s never called “Revelations”.

And anytime a person who’s trying to argue with a Christian adds an S onto Revelation there is a good chance that the Christian checks out.

The thought being:

This person isn’t taking this argument seriously enough to go do the tiny amount of research necessary to even argue with me.

Why would I listen to them, then?

The same in arguments about science.

The book The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin can also go several names:

On the Origin of Species
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

But it is never called “The Origin of the Species”

That’s not the name of the book and the same thing happens when people call it that in an argument.

The opponent checks out and doesn’t take the rest of the conversation seriously.

If you want to convince someone of your argument or even get them to take it seriously you have to understand the terms and sources they use. At least casually, so they’ll respect your thoughts on the subject.

In both these cases I’ve even seen works published with the wrong title. That shows that even editors of texts meant to be taken seriously haven’t done their due diligence to know the title of the book in question.

But these are just good examples

There are many more

The point is, before trying to persuade others you have to spend the time to know what others believe.

In all productive conversations I’ve ever had, it’s only when I try to see the world through beliefs that are not my own that I can approach someone to try to change their mind.

THOSE people are destroying society

Whoever they are. I’m not sure who it’s supposed to be anymore that’s unstitching society. Uprooting our morals, our standards for what is acceptable. I really don’t know because so many of the arguments are silly

And so many don’t care to make an argument at all. They just care to identify a scapegoat

It’s

The Gays
The Jews
The Rednecks
The Latinos
The Blacks
The Scientists
The Atheists
The Catholics
The Mormons
The Millenials
The Capitalists
The Socialists
Hillary Clinton

THOSE people

Whatever

I don’t care about the scapegoating and labeling that obviously has nothing to do with what’s actually driving our society into darker and darker places

I did come across a great example of what’s destroying our society that has nothing to do with a scapegoat

The example is an incident that distills popular sentiments into a simple act

This young man knocked on a door for assistance and was met

With a gun

That my friends, is what’s destroying our society

I was a stranger and you welcomed me
– Matthew 25:35c NRSVCE

Nested Hierarchy

Finally, I wrote about Nested Hierarchy

I’m trying to keep this intro post as short as possible

…probably not doing a very good job though

Nested Hierarchy is the way I read the Bible. There are a number of ways to approach the Bible and many of them overlap

I’m just going to make a basic comparison here though

To contrast my view I’ll talk about a narrative hierarchy

That’s how we read most books

You start at the beginning of a book and read to the end, a straight line through the text

It’s an easy way to read for sure

That’s why most books are arranged this way; the beginning chapter creates a foundation and each chapter slowly builds on that foundation

I can’t read the Bible this way for one simple reason:

The Bible is not a book, it’s a collection of books

Some of the individual books have a narrative hierarchy, some don’t

But the collection as a whole definitely does not

So I have to look elsewhere for the foundation

I believe that foundation is Jesus

Jesus is the center of a nest, with the other layers in the nest built around him

Jesus is like an egg

The egg is the point of the nest
The egg gives the nest purpose
The egg is the reason the nest was built
Everything about the nest has to be viewed through the object at it’s center

I believe Jesus is the center of the Biblical nest

All the books of the Bible are read through the lens of Jesus

His teachings
His life
His death
His resurrection
His return

The books of the Bible have their purpose fulfilled by Jesus
Jesus is the reason this collection of books was built
Jesus is the point of the collection

The center of the Nested Hierarchy

This is a theological nest I’m talking about, others may use a similar nested approach but with a different goal.

A good example would be a historical approach. Instead of trying to find the theological center of the biblical texts you might try to determine which books were written first. Then you could look at the Bible in terms of how each book is related to those that came before it.

You could do the same with language or culture as the center around which everything was built

To be honest most of us use some combination of these different different approaches

Me included

But the most important to me is the the theological nested hierarchy

My theological perspective is definitely Christian. There are others as well.

Jewish theology for example. You could say that Jewish theology places the first five books of the Hebrew Bible at the center and builds theological interpretation of the other books around them. Those first five books are also know as the Torah or the Pentateuch.

Even Muslims revere the Bible, though they view it with the lens of their prophet and their holy book at the center

My lens is Jesus
Every book points to him
Every conundrum and question that the diverse writers of the Bible attempt to address are fulfilled by him

All of my beliefs, my faith flow from this method of understanding the Bible

The Nested Hierarchy of the Bible leads me to a number of different conclusions, many that other Christians don’t share

About history
About neurology
About physics
About human sexuality
About any aspect of life that I relate to by way of the Bible

All these conclusions and more are the result of reading the Bible as a Nested Hierarchy

The term nested hierarchy is used in a variety of contexts

Brain science

Genealogy

Those Russian dolls that fit inside each other

Reading about these examples might help illustrate what I’m saying here better than I can

I know that thinking this way has led me to many conclusions that other Christians would disagree with. I certainly disagree with many Christians as a result of my nested approach to the Bible.

I guess that’s one point of this blog

We can’t find common ground if we don’t understand each other. If you want to understand my religious beliefs whether you’re Christian or not

Nested Hierarchy is my staring point

For someone you love

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It’s hard to talk about love & suffering

they don’t seem to go together well

especially when it comes to the idea of a God who loves but allows suffering

So my thought for this Easter is something I think parents will understand better than I do

If I asked:

What would you do for your children? How far would you go? To protect them? To keep them safe?

Most of the parents I know would have the same answer:

Anything
I’d do anything for my children

I think maybe that’s why suffering exists, because love means you’ll suffer for someone you love.

You’ll place someone’s needs above yours

Above your own life

This is My commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends

John 15:12-13 NLT

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A’ Chàisg sona
Ka hari Aranga
Kristos sotonnheton;
oriwiio tsi sotonnheton
hyvää pääsiäistä
M’shee ho dkom!
Happy Easter

Links to

the images above

Bridging the Gulf & The Argument for Altruism

George Price*
 
created a simple and elegant equation to explain altruism as an evolutionary strategy
 
Basically, life is a game

You can use different strategies
There are different players
As well as alliances and teams
 
All with similar goals
 
Live long
Have babies
& try to make sure your genes get passed on
 
A lot of strategies exist to accomplish those goals
 
One of them is altruism

Sacrifice for your reproductive partner
Scarifice for your child
Create social networks that support your family & make sacrifices for the group

So the group will protect your child
So the members of the group want to reproduce with you and your children
 
Altruism is a good strategy that can work very well
 
The others can work too
 
But many of them are based on dominance and violence and fear
 
The Bible is a complex argument about the right way to play this game
 
The authors of the Bible are players in the game trying to find the best strategy, arguing with each other
Sometimes arguing with themselves

And out of those arguments comes a clear answer
 
Altruism
 
The Bible is an argument that Altruism is the best, the correct strategy
 
Self sacrifice and loving your neighbor are the best way to play the game of life
 
And the Bible adds something else
Another reason to play the gam without judgment
To play the game with love
 
The Bible argues that Altrusim is the strategy that pleases God
Altruism is God’s strategy

That God became human and gave his life for us

because self sacrifice is the only strategy a loving God can use
 
When we choose a strategy based on dominance and violence and fear
A space between humans and God is created
And a space between you and your neighbors
  
God’s sacrifice in Jesus closes the gap
Bridges the gulf between humanity and God
Bridges the gulf between us all
 
Faith in Jesus
Faith in his life and death and resurrection
Means accepting the sacrifice
Answering the call to make altruism our strategy
Answering the call to make sacrifices in your life
As individuals
As socities
 
There’s no expectation that you’ll be perfect
And no one answer God’s call the same way
Your sacrifices will be different from mine

God’s strategy isn’t based on performance
You don’t have to earn God’s love

God’s sacrifice is absolute

But if you accept the strategy
If you accept the sacrifice

The strategy will begin working through you
 
The call to this strategy has always been here
It’s God’s call screaming from the books of the Bible

And it is now fully revealed in Jesus
 
Embrace the strategy of Jesus

Bridge the gulf

*The conclusion of George Price’s life is very sad. I recommend reading about it and thinking about why I’m encouraging everyone to think👆this way

George Price, the man who gave himself away