Friday, March 27, 2009
I get a quarterly christian magazine in the mail called "Ignite" that's aimed towards college students and the like, and in the Q & A section a girl writes:
"Why is there a hell if all sins are forgiven?"
Though the article is rather short, ill just type the part that "grinds my gears".
"[Hell]'s the place for people who want nothing to do with God. Heaven is not for anyone who doesn't want to spend eternity in Gods presence.
God offers each of us reconciliation and forgiveness...but if you spent your whole life ignoring or avoiding life with God, he's not going to compel you to live with him."
And the more Christians I talk to the more I get this type of "they just don't want God" rationalization. They appear to assume that everyone in this life that is not "saved", is simply walking around on earth, holding their "fingers in their ears" and whistling away while they live their sinful lives.
And all the while God supposedly keeps peeking in the door and saying
"Hey uh...wanna come hang out? I got some free tickets to eternal paradise, its pretty much the coolest thing ever". And the unsaved sinner replies
"WHAT? I CANT HEAR YOU!!! I'M TOO BUSY SINNING MY LIFE AWAY! LALALALA".
And quite possibly there are people like that in a sense. There are those people that know in full (well, they think they do) what a life in God through Christ entails, and they claim that they "wanna just live their own way". I'm not debating that mentality. There are also many times where its as though(and this has been true in my life) God has to run over, pile drive you to the ground and "pull the fingers out of your ears" to get your attention. If it wasn't for God doing that I think my months of questioning and struggles would have left me a very depressed agnostic/atheist the rest of my life. If it wasn't for that I don't think I would have ever given my life to Him to begin with. That's just apart of life because of the sinful nature that gets in the way.
But my argument is not that. My argument is the misconception that everyone who isn't "saved" in this life by stumbling upon the "right" things to believe, automatically doesn't want anything to do with God. I don't think anything could be further from the truth. The reason why people "reject" God in this life is either because they haven't heard of Him at all or they don't understand Him for who he really is(and really who can FULLY understand/experience Him til we are with him in eternity)? There are those who just "don't accept him" but they don't accept him because they don't really believe, and they don't really believe because they don't see how it could be true, and they don't see how it could be true because their sin, circumstances and the Devil himself are holding them and blinding them from whom God really is. From the love and forgiveness that he wants us all to have though His son who died on the cross.
I'm tired of this rationalization that choosing heaven over "hell" is this clear cut physical given choice that everyone MUST make. Its not as if theres a celestial airport that every human passes through when they are born. And the two destinations for that airport God announces over the intercom:
"Okay everybody, we have two flight destinations today. We have eternal paradise in Heaven with me, Lord God Almighty your loving creator...and then we have eternal torture in Hell, featuring Satan and billions of burning, screaming people who will choke and die til the end of time. Thank you for flying God Airlines!"
What type of insane person, fully believing and understanding.... would choose "Hell" (at least the mainstream conception of it) over God? its not that clear, its not that simple. Yet the entire christian community, including myself for many years has bought this lie of "people had a clear choice and they just didn't want God" hook-line-and-sinker, to just simply "pass off" any feelings of empathy for those poor hell bound sinners when they die. After all...they made their "choice"
But its that very kind of rationalization that shuts off the brain from probing what verses really mean. Its that rationalization that says "well that's just the way things are, I don't need to question my understanding of it".
Its that rationalization that makes us like the supposed sinner in my first analogy, with the fingers in their ears, refusing to listen and avoiding the question out of fear. Its a filter made by fear and by Satan. And God did not give us a spirit of fear:
15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship."
It doesn't even matter whether you fully believe in the doctrine of "eternal torture" or "ultimate reconciliation", because either way we need to look at the issue for what it really is and not just "rationalize it away". And I feel God has helped me stop rationalizing it away, and helped me lift off of me these types of falsehoods, to help see people for who they really are...His loving creations. Through that I have begun to have more love for others, more of a desire to tell them how to have a life in Christ and what He did for them. And to also think about their questions and fears in depth, as it is those very things that bar us from God. And I really just wish these types of rash generalizations/stereotypes/rationalizations would just dry up and never come back into the world of spiritual debates, because I really don't feel its helping us understand Gods true nature or his Love for people at all. God loves people deeper than "stumbling" across some beliefs, or making a "choice" in this life. While I believe those who don't accept God here on earth will still have to make a "choice" eventually...it'll be one before Him in all his glory at the end of ages, when people stand before him seeing him for how amazing he really is. It'll be an easy, clear cut choice...to be with their loving creator that they were made to be with.
...I believe everyone deep down needs and wants something to do with God, whether they realize it in this life or not.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
One of the things I've quickly re-encountered (very unpleasantly) as I've launched back into the realm of spiritual debates, is how puffed up and righteous people get about their personal interpretations(particularly on God and Biblical context).
I hear things like "Oh well that's not the context, your taking it out of context" and "Well lemme explain what that means"...as if said person has been given the ability to interpret the Bible 100 percent how God intended, to those of us that are just "stupid lil' doubters". They automatically assume that they understand perfectly the context of which the authors of the Bible and God meant. And for you to assume anything other than their "correct understanding" appears tantamount to spitting God in the face (and reading Harry Potter books of course ;-)).
But after hearing the word "context" for the billionth time, you begin to wonder what it even means? Let's be lazy and ask dictionary.com shall we?...
|1.||the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.|
|2.||the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.|
|3.||Mycology. the fleshy fibrous body of the pileus in mushrooms.(maybe some of these people I've been debating with have been dealing with these said mushrooms a bit too heavily before hand? hehe)|
We see here that "context" basically means how a statement is used by the person who states it(most obviously). If you want someone to understand the context of what your saying, you want them to understand what your intentions and situations that surround it. For example, your friend just gets a brand new XBOX 360 given to him, and you have wanted one for a really long time yourself. When he tells you the news, you would say (well, I would sure say) "Dood, you suck! I hate you!!!".
Now you don't really think he sucks(or why are you his friend?) and you don't really HATE him(in fact you'll probably be begging him to play the 360 only moments later). And your friend will probably not run away crying like an emo child because you hurt his feelings by saying so. Why is this? Because of the CONTEXT....the context being that you were saying those things out of a bit of harmless, friendly jealousy. However if his girlfriend walked in the room right as you say "...you suck! I hate you!" she might be confused as to whats going on and possibly think your in an argument with your friend based on the words you said, not understanding the context of your "friendly" jealousy that would have been very obvious probably moments before...and that we would call a "misinterpretation". Makes pretty obvious sense so far, right?
So now that we've (hopefully) cleared the water on what context actually is....why do we as Christians automatically assume we can "correctly" understand a 2000 year old, divinely-inspired text in its entirety? The most common argument I find is something like:
"OH!! Well son if you read the Bible and are TRULY listening to the Holy spirit, you'll get the CORRECT interpretation! My interpreta-...I mean errr...God's interpretation!!! Yeah!"And I can agree with that in part...we should be listening to the Holy Spirit beyond just what we think the Bible is saying to US personally. But if that is all one must do to understand the exact intent of every verse in the Bible, why are there (around) 30,000 denominations of Christianity in the world today? Are 29,999 denominations simply "blind" to the intent of God and the authors of the Bible? Is there only ONE exact way to look at a passage of scripture and ONE exact way to teach it in order to be "in line" with God? I would say, no.
I feel like so many times we Christians are like the girlfriend in my analogy above. Except were walking in on Jesus talking to a bunch of people sitting on a rock. Or were walking in on Paul writing a letter to a Church in a specific time, several thousands of years ago in a particular situation. Not only do we have an issue of understanding the "exact" intention of every verse in the Bible...but we also have an issue of understanding the language usage of a people thousands of years ago, many times translated and modernized.
And so many times we take verses out of that...and use them to mean things they may never have been intended to mean, even though it may be the "established" typical interpretation. At the end of the day...human interpretation is still....human interpretation. And I cant seem to convince myself that a "imperfect by nature" people can fully understand or interpret a "perfect by nature" God. Its not to say that we shouldn't even TRY to understand the exact context or intention...quite the contrary. We should learn from God as best we can through reading the Bible, but also not limiting ourselves to the interpretations of the mainstream Church or other people.
In closing I want to share a wonderful little song by a Christian band called As Cities Burn, called "Clouds". You should buy their album, "Come now, sleep". Basically, the lyrics go like this:
"Is your love really love?
Is my love really love?
I think our love isn't love,
Unless its love til the end. Is your God really God?
Is my God really God?
I think our God isn't God, If he fits inside our heads."
A lot of times we have all these perceptions of God and His Word, and all these ideas we've developed, but if we contain him STRICTLY to the understanding that WE have come to know Him in this human life, then is it really a transcendent God we believe in? If God truly is greater and wiser than us, which I believe that he is(and that means even greater and wiser than the authors of the books of the Bible) then there will ALWAYS be that percentage of Him and his knowledge/workings that remains untapped by our human minds.
So why not be at least open to other interpretations other than your own?
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
First off, Id like to apologize for not updating this blog for a month. I have been busy with school and such plus I wanted some time to think about this subject a little more in depth:
The heart of the debate between "traditional"(the mainstream doctrine we've come to know anyway) Christianity and Christian Universalism seems to center around the meaning of the Greek word Aionios, which is translated to things like "eternal" and "forever" in our modern-day Bibles.
Some say(non-universalists) Aionios means "everlasting...without end". While others say(Universalists) it "only denotes everlasting in terms of God and his realm...for He is all that is everlasting. And in other cases its duration is relative to the subject".
So your probably thinking "so whats the big deal?Who cares? LET ME GO BACK TO PLAYN' MA Wii!!!". Hold on there video game cowboy, cuz the actual intended meaning of such words as "eternal" is crucial to understanding verses that denote the afterlife, particularly concepts such as Hell and Heaven, and how long humans actually go there for. If Aionios does in fact (as the mainstream church operates off of) mean "eternal" in the sense of Hell and punishment for humans that don't accept Christ...then the whole concept of ultimate reconciliation/universalism finds itself in deep doo-doo. Especially so to those who believe the Bible to be inerrant(without any errors whatsoever, of which I am not personally...but that's for another blog)
However if Aionios's intended duration is strictly relative to the subject of which it is applied to, then we find ourselves with new possibilities and deeper meanings to what seemed like black and white verses. We find a new lens upon which we can see God's plan for humanity. Lets look at some examples...
2 Corinthians 5:1*(the Anglicized form of Aionios)
"1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an [aeonian*] house in heaven, not built by human hands."
Here is a case where Aionios, according to the Universalist argument, would mean eternal or without end BECAUSE of its subject, which is pertaining to God and HIS realm...the only one of which can be "everlasting".
"27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to [aeonian] life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."
Here is another case where Aionios applies to the realm of God, particularly eternal life with HIM. Again the argument is that God and the realm of which God dwells can be truly deemed "eternal". Seems simple enough right? Not too much controversy screaming to "change your beliefs to SATANISM!!!", right?
But what about Aionios when used in relation to such things as eternal punishment in Hell...?
1 Thessalonians 1:8-9
"8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.9 They will be punished with [aeonian] destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power."
Now here's where things get a bit more sticky. If Aionios/Aeonian is NOT relative to the subject(here being punishment) and deems eternal across the board, then we can only assume(as does mainstream doctrine) that people go to Hell... forever and ever into an unhappy pit of fire AHHHH!...you get the idea. However, if it is relative to the subject and only means eternal in the sense of God, then this verse seems to denote temporary separation or punishment. I say that because if Aionios is pertaining to "humanity" and "punishment" as subjects, neither are God or within the realm/presence of God(quite the opposite actually if were talking about separation in Hell), so therefore Aionios has to be(for arguments sake) a specific period of time not exceeding said subjects.
And since said subjects are not known to be God or in his "presence" nor "everlasting" we can only assume that the verse is NOT saying that people will be separated from God forever...but for a time.
I realize that this blog may have "hammered the same points into the ground" repetitively, seeing as I am not a Greek scholar. But this is the building block (or one of them) for the theory of all peoples being (eventually) reconciled to God through Christ at some point. Its not tossing away the idea of Hell all together or simply "cherry-picking" verses, its taking an interpretation of the Bible, particularly the original languages it was written in and going, "well now this usage may not mean people are separated from God forever.". It means maybe there is a greater purpose for it all, for Man...beyond some predestination or "stumbling upon the right set of beliefs in this lifetime".
Maybe God will bring all His creations until himself eventually.