Is God’s Justice Different Than Ours? Hell, No.

Foundational to the reasoning informing Francis Chan’s videommercial for his new book is the oft-presented premise that, when it comes to hell, we mere mortals are helpless to understand the mysteries of God’s justice.

“Sure” goes this anemic apologetic meme, “to us hell seems cruel and unfair.” (And here the person saying this is likely to shrug with an air of amiable haplessness.) “But who are we to try to understand the mind of God? God is for the faithful to worship and obey, not comprehend. All we know is that God is good, and hell is real. How those two things are reconciled must remain a mystery beyond our fathoming.”

The real mystery is why it’s not considered at best absurd and at worst profoundly dangerous to suggest that God has a sense of justice diametrically opposed to the sense of justice that is innate to just about every human being. That God’s entire moral structure is radically different than ours is a horrendous supposition. And it’s no small thing that it keeps legions of non-Christians bemusedly wondering what mind-numbing drugs Christians regularly ingest that allows them to not just accept that idea, but to actively promote it.

And when non-Christians point to hell as Exhibit A for the case that the Christian god is either too helpless or too cruel to take seriously, why, exactly, do Christians cleave to the distinctly unsatisfying response of “Who can know the ways of God?”

Well, here are three reasons why:

1. They believe that the Bible says hell is real—which doesn’t leave them a lot else to say about it besides that God’s justice unfathomable;

2. They get off on being part of the team so winning that the penalty for not being on that team is eternal torture decreed by God; and

3. Asserting that hell is real but that the morality of hell can’t be grasped neatly and absolutely absolves them from any and all moral responsibility for what, to every last appearance, is a grossly immoral cruelty.

So, to sum up those postions:

“It’s in the Bible.”

“I’m a winner; you’re a loser.”

“There’s nothing I can do; it’s God’s will.”

And there we have the blanket, not exactly warm but definitely fuzzy, in which so many Christians contentedly wrap around themselves at night before they go to sleep.

Except that even they don’t really buy that. Have you ever noticed how no evangelical (or at least not one in anything resembling a national spotlight) will ever actually say that Gandhi, for instance, is right now burning in hell? You can sooner get a garden snail to sing the national anthem than you can an evangelical to just once come out and say that upon dying all Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and virtually anyone else who dies a non-Christian goes straight to hell. They simply will not say it.

What they will say (and always with that little shrug that allows the prickly mantle of responsibility to slip from their shoulders) is, “Hey, what can I do? It’s not me. It’s in the Bible.”

Even they choke on the distasteful thing they’ve already swallowed. The injustice of hell is so profoundly anathematic to everything humans instinctively hold dear that even those who believe in hell invariably balk at claiming the objective final truth of hell. Even they can’t force their mouths and brains to override their hearts.

And the moment following that inevitable little skip in their pre-recorded message they’re right back to wondering (insofar as they care) why non-Christians persist in rejecting their theology.

If it’s true that by justice God means something diametrically opposed to our understanding of that word, what, then, are we to make of Jesus when he talks about love? About peace? About altruism? About honor, righteousness, compassion, loyalty, dignity, truth? Is what Jesus means by those words also radically different than what we mean by them?

And if it is, then where in the heck does that leave us?

If we know going in that we can’t make sense of God’s justice, then what grounds do we have for believing that anything about God makes any sense at all? And why do we even have our inborn sense of right and wrong, if it’s so obviously contrary to God’s sense of the same thing? Aren’t we built in God’s image? Isn’t the whole idea that we’re supposed to champion out in the world God’s values? But how can we do that, when we so clearly have zero comprehension of, for instance, justice, which, relative to engaging with others, is arguably the paramount value?

If hell is real, and God is just, then we know squat about justice. If God could shut hell down, but for whatever excellent (and highly secretive) reason chooses not to, then any Christian who goes out into the world meaning to create within it more justice may as well substitute for their goal getting eels to excel at tap dancing. It simply doesn’t make sense for me to fight for something that not only do I not understand, but which all available evidence indicates I have perfectly and exactly wrong.

And what are we doing making laws? If our ideas of justice are so egregiously erroneous that, contrary to everything we think, know, and understand, it is, in fact, morally righteous and just that 95% of people who have ever lived spend eternity being tortured in hell simply for dying non-Christian—even if they died never having heard of Christ—then why on earth would we bother codifying into laws our clearly dumbass ideas about justice and morality? Then we’re like toddlers trying to cook a seven-course gourmet meal. Complete waste—and extremely dangerous. Guaranteed regrettable results.

The bottom line on the whole issue of hell is that if hell is real, then God—and therefore Jesus, who (let us never forget) according to Trinitarian theology is God—must be a sadistic lunatic. And the only way to get around that logically airtight truth is to assert that God’s understanding of justice has virtually nothing in common with all of humanity’s ideas about justice.

I don’t think God is a sadistic lunatic. I think God is just, fair, compassionate, rational, and loving. The Bible’s few words about hell are open to all kinds of scholastically supportable interpretations. To choose to call true the interpretation of hell being a real place, in real space and time, where real people are forever being fried alive?

Talk about crazy.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://mrhackman.blogspot.com Andrew

    Well said. I think though that more evangelicals are conditioning themselves to say “Yes! Gandhi is writhing in flames.” because they feel this belief is under attack. Many of my evangelical friends are posting that Chan video on FB with a touch of “Nyah! Nyah!” thrown in. I am glad for it though, it is forcing people to come to terms with the practical realities of their perceived theology.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    My theory is no one (well, extremely few… like maybe 2 or 3) people actually believe in hell. It would like like a 5-alarm fire with people hanging out of their apartment windows screaming for help and the firemen are down below holding a pot-luck cookout. You see, the firemen wouldn’t do that… right… they know the fire is real and that the people are in real and present danger. There is no time for small-talk. They are on one mission and one mission only.

    Most / All of my Christian brothers and sisters will nod or in some way claim Hell is real. However, our actions belie the truth, we don’t don’t actually believe hell is real. If we did really believe it, there would be no time for pot-luck dinners, dressing up, Easter egg hunts, bible studies, small groups, or even church. We would be acting like the firemen we claim to be. We would not even sleep.

    I guess the first one who comments that eternal torture is real, we should ask him/her why they are blogging and commenting about doctrine. (Why are you sitting on your computer??) After all, I don’t think firemen pull out their smartphones and update their profile pic while people are dying.

    • Suz

      Bingo! And thank you, I am so stealing this! ;)

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com JBen

    I have really enjoyed these posts. You have given me a lot of interesting things to think about even if I’m not sure I agree right away. So I appreciate it.

    I also can’t help but notice that when we talk about God’s ways being higher than our ways we usually use it to describe how we can’t understand his judgment. But the truth is that that phrase comes after God saying how merciful he is capable of being. Why don’t more people point that out?

    Anyway, keep ‘em coming. I like it when people make me think hard about stuff like this.

  • Suz

    Thanks, John, for once again bringing logic into the discussion. The first thing every religion does, is forget God’s divinity. If a divine God exists, His grace, His will, His nature and His glory are beyond our comprehension, by definition. We humans simply cannot know His will, yet we choose to listen to those who claim they do. We serve Him best when we use the tools he gave us – conscience and intelligence.

    If we are indeed cerated in His image, then yes, we do share his sense of justice, just not it’s depth. In the end though, divine justice is a moot point in the face of divine love and His incomprehensible capacity of forgiveness. If Hell exists, there are certainly people who deserve to go there, but no living human can know who will or won’t be forgiven.

    So why do religious leaders keep harping on it? I only have two answers: power over the gullible, and pride in being among the in-crowd.

    • Mindy

      Great post, Suz. I agree, 100% – and have seen it too many times. The power thing, and the pride thing. It’s just not pretty.

  • Karen

    Thanks John! You have written another profoundly logical piece about something I have thought about myself. BTW – a friend invited me to their church several years ago and the whole sermon was on how the Dalai Lama and all those who listen to him will go to hell, which offended me since I feel the Dalai Lama is someone who actually ‘get’s it’ about the whole love your neighbor thing. Needless to say, I never went back.

  • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

    Thanks for another great post.

    You say, “To choose to call true the interpretation of hell being a real place grounded in real space and time? Now that, my friends, is crazy.”

    Is this only crazy if one thinks hell is synonymous with a place of eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians? One can certainly reasonably believe that hell may be a very real state of existence for some people after death without believing that all non-Christians will be condemned to conscious torture for all eternity.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes, as you say. This post isn’t really about what “hell” might be, but only rather what I believe it is most certainly not.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

    Oh thank you John!!! I”ve always been bothered by the teachings about hell, and eternal damnation. I”ve always felt there was something off about it, but couldn’t pin down exactly what.

    Its been one of those questions where a real answer is forthcoming. I grew up thinking that hell was were all the people not in my church would be thrown into a fire then destroyed, never to exist another moment. I then have spent the last 15 years hearing about the more “traditional” views about hell. Neither have held much appeal to me. Why? Because of the reasons you stated.

    1. I have a real hard time connecting a God who adores humans so much, and a God who will destine those adored humans to an eternity of suffering, and go on without a backwards glance.

    2, I have a huge problem with the “we are telling you about fact that you’ll go to hell if you don’t repent, because we love you.” along with “all those who do (fill n the blank of your choice) are going to hell because God hates sin” Huh??? What????

    3.Yes the bible mentions “hell” a couple of times, but there are different frames of reference and intent, as well as what exactly is that particular word addressing,,an afterlife, or that cemetery plot over there?

  • http://www.xpatriatedtexan.com Thurman Hart

    “Have you ever noticed how no evangelical will ever actually say that Ghandi, for instance, is right now burning in hell? You can sooner get a garden snail to sing the national anthem than you can an evangelical to just once come out and say that at all Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and virtually anyone else who dies a non-Christian goes straight to hell. They simply will not say it. What they will say (and always with that little shrug that allows the prickly mantle of responsibility to slip from their shoulders) is, “Hey, what can I do? It’s not me. It’s in the Bible.””

    Eh – You need to go to Lubbock, Tx. or Hobbs, NM. Because I never noticed the sort of reluctance you mention. I’ve heard no shortage of people say exactly what you say the don’t. Heck, I can even take you to several churches who believe that CATHOLICS are going to burn in Hell for all eternity because they pray to the pope (yes, I know they really don’t).

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

      yeah. I almost got into an arguement with a woman at a church meeting because she was convinced that all Muslims where going to hell. I had to open my big mouth and ask” “Are you sure? Do you know they hearts, their relationship with God? What if God had something better in store then what we think?” She was so outraged I feared that I nearly gave the woman a stroke.

      I backed down of course, because there was a sudden uncomfortable silence, and I realized a real minority status. No one agreed with me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You make a good point, Thurman. And so I’ve changed that moment in the post. Thank you.

    • Tammy Lubbers

      I used to attend a “Bible Study” where the attendees said that all homosexuals should be shot and non-Christians should go directly to Hell. Love of Christ there, Baby!

      • David H.

        Ahhh, the real face of American Christianity*. And Christians wonder why they’re not “honored” by society :P Or at least the sane, compassionate portion thereof.

        *(It should be noted that I’m a Christian, of the Episcopalian variety. It’s just that I’m under no illusion that my “progressive” views, for want of a better term, are in any way whatsoever representative of the vast majority of those who claim the mantle of the same name)

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    What I used to believe (that kept me somewhat compassionate yet able to toe the line with the Bapitsts), was that “God speaks to everyone in some way at some point” – i.e. in every life, a person has at least one (and probably several) “moments” in which the Truth is clear to them. They have a decision then of whether to accept or reject God’s Love/Jesus and in that point, if they reject it, it is their own fault, for they clearly knew the truth for that one moment and choose to be out of the prescense of God willingly.

    I also believed that people who hadn’t heard the Gospel (beause they lived in the Amazon or in Feudal Japan or something) had a chance via being “judged for the knowledge they had” – ie. an “innate knowledge of God/spirit/morality/something.” In this sense, preaching to people in the Amazon made less sense to me than preaching to people in America, because America had a lot of “the Truth” floating around it and just lots of people rejecting it. The “ignorant” had different “rules” according to me. The same kind of thinking went for babies/very young children and the severely developmentally disabled.

    That’s pretty much how I could believe in an eternal Hell and still be compassionate – I really thought that God speaks to every soul at some point in such a way that ultimate rejection is true, utter rejection and if someone rejects during their last moment before their death (or at their death), then it’s a final, knowing decision.

    But that line of thinking doesn’t make so much sense to me anymore. I mean, there are obviously people who don’t feel the same “sense of belief” that I do. (While some are right jerks about it, which leads me back to wondering if my old “stubborn rejection” contstruct is correct), some are not-so-jerky people who just don’t seem to feel or get it…. I feel like it would be really unfair if death were a doorslam to grace for them.

    I really do need to believe that there is some kind of bad state for bad people – becuase, you know, a serial killer shouldn’t be allowed fellowship with his victims before learning EMPATHY, possibly in a *painful* way, because, for everyone to get to go to cosmic Disneyland straight-away offends my sense of justice just as much a good person being roasted forever…. but the “forever” thing is what I have a problem with, making me really hope the Universalists are right.

    • Don Rappe

      I think I remember Tillich writing that a never-ending stretching out of this existence would be more like the popular conception of hell than of heaven. Any reasonably old person knows that this life needs to come to an end at some point.

      • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        My problem is that “sleep” is also eternity, that “non-existance” is also a kind of existance. Constant change makes more sense to me, and is much more preferable to me than oblivion. It is also a form of “being stuck in one state/doing one thing forever” – which is probably why I’m so hostile to it.

  • http://richardtgarner.com Rick Garner

    It’s fascinating to me how many posts float around – likely inspired by “Love Wins” – that speak to the reality of hell. Seemingly, there’s an attempt to apply the classic questioning logic of “How could a good God allow evil / allow tornadoes / allow tsunamis / allow massacres / allow hell?”

    The attempt feels like a rationalization. Almost trying to prove that God doesn’t exist or to call him a liar. We seem to think so highly of ourselves that we can interpret God’s ways. We may have some insights and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may have some clarity…but wisdom is from the Father.

    We seem to dismiss that Hell is real. Demons are real. But God is still in control if we allow Him to be.

    For an analysis of this: http://www.gotquestions.org/hell-real-eternal.html

    • Tammy Lubbers

      Rick, do you feel that tornadoes and tsunamis are equivalent to an eternity in Hell? I’m not being sarcastic, I’d actually like to know.

    • Mindy

      Rick, according to your religion, were we not created in His image? Wouldn’t we then, by our very definition, possess the same basic sense of justice as God? Jesus IS God, according to your faith, yes? Jesus’ sense of justice surely defined forgiveness and inclusiveness.

      For all those who don’t believe in God, don’t honor God, pray to God, depend on God – but still experience life rich with love – what of them? Being separated from God is their normal, and they are happy with it. So why would an eternity of the same be a problem?

      To me, too many Christians use Hell to justify Christianity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    • DR

      Actually Rick, while I believe there are things about God that exist entirely out of my reason? My *reason* enables me to understand that.

      I think these are difficult questions. Hell has been used to control and manipulate people for years. To ask these questions, to wrestle with them is critical. Not just for us, it’s not about us, not completely. it’s about what we do and say to other people as a result of what we believe about hell, that’s critical. Parents who believe their child is an abomination for being gay and refuses to allow him or her to live in their home because they are truly motivated out of a fear of that child going to hell? It’s *dangerous*. It is actually dangerous for that child, those parents out of love for their child – to save him/her – will use a little tough love and kick that kid out into the streets where the exploitation is unspeakably evil.

      So I get what you’re saying, I do. But to suggest that we not look at the practical applications, the math all the way down to our behavior as a result of hell is not diminishing God being beyond our understanding. To offer that quickly is for many is to ensure that we *never* think about these kinds of things which is dangerous.

    • Jim

      “But God is still in control if we allow Him to be.”

      If God is in control IF we allow Him to be, then His control is determined by us which then proves that He is not really in control.

  • charles

    I guess it all comes down to redemption doesnt it? Who the redeemer is, how he worked the deal with the Cross- and what it is we are redeemed from…

    I think the issue isnt that Hell is a horrid place, it is that it is a place without God- If God equals love, it will be the opposite of that….right?

    • http://richardtgarner.com Rick Garner

      Exactly. Without love. Without God. Separated from the Father for all eternity.

      • cat rennolds

        What kind of love repays human error – even the error of a lifetime – with an eternity of lovelessness? That’s as bad if not worse as being turned into a permanent shiskabob. If God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, He would always give you another chance. Even 7.5 million years out. If you wanted one.

        Now, you COULD spend eternity going, no, not me, huh-uh. But that would be your free will.

        • charles

          if there is always a second chance- Jesus death on the cross means nothing. It means a perma-pass for sin- which is why he died on our behalf in the first place…. the natural tension is that we are not freed from sin by our witness- we still sin on a day to day basis. But doing so with the knowledge that we always get a second chance means OUR sincerity is the one that is the failure….not God’s.

          • Mindy

            Ya know, here’s my thinking on this. If you commit an egregious sin, you still deserve a second chance – from God, from those who love you, everyone. The hope is that you learn from your mistake, that you make up for it to those you hurt, etc. If you don’t, and you keep making the same egregious error repeatedly because you think you get a free second-chance pass every time, you will lose those you love. You will be left without real love, and with real guilt, right here in this life. You may not feel it immediately. You may be tickled pink to “get away with stuff.” But ultimately, barring a serious mental defect, the guilt will get you and the loved ones and friends will disappear. You’ll be alone and miserable, in a hell of your own creation.

            Not because you weren’t forgiven by God, but because you didn’t use the head and the heart He gave you to make things right. Karma, or whatever you want to call it.

          • Susan in NY

            oh, I love this, Mindy.

      • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

        @charles & @Mark Gardner,

        Your viewpoints are common among conservative Christians. However, the thought that hell is simply “separated from God” or “without God” are not biblically supportable notions. If we acknowledge that God is the creator, he must have created Hell. Also, if God is omnipresent, God is in Hell. To claim otherwise is to limit his domain. The doctrine of hell is (over simplification alert): In Heaven there is only God’s love, grace, and mercy for all eternity; In Hell there is only God’s judgement, wrath, and torment for all eternity.

        Mark Driscoll believes this doctrine and preaches it.

        http://www.jesusneedsnewpr.net/jesus-rules-hell-says-pastormark/

        Your position that Hell is real, eternal punishment comes from a literal interpretation of a few verses. If you follow that same approach throughout all of scripture, you absolutely must arrive at “Jesus rules Hell” (just as Driscoll has).

        To teach “separated from God the Father” requires not only a non-literal interpretation the bible, it actually requires us to limit God … contradicting the bible. So you should either accept the whole “truth” of the doctrine of Hell (as explained by Driscoll) OR reject it all. But (in a paraphrase of the immortal C.S. Lewis) : Do not say Hell is real AND forever separated from God. He did not intend to leave us this option.

        If Driscoll’s version is too pop-Christianity for your tastes, I might suggest Wayne Grudem’s book, “Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith”

        • charles

          I would retort-

          the notion of hell to the believer is of small consequence compared to redemption. That came through one avenue according to the scriptures. I personally have little concern about the details of what hell might be or bring- I have great concern about redemption however. If we take our eyes off of that, I do believe we take our eyes off of God.

          • charles

            as to God being everywhere, including Hell- wouldnt that also limit his power? Wound that not suggest he might choose to NOT be somewhere?….. I do believe God CAN hide from us if He so desires- if that is not the case, then there is many points in scripture, especially in the Psalms where God was seen to be hiding his face from his people…. how would we address that?

            To imply that there is a rule that is bigger than God, that would force his behavior is similarly questionable….

          • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

            I don’t mean to imply I accept this doctrine, merely that this is the doctrine of hell. I don’t have much desire to defend it, to say the least. Accepting the literal interpretation of hell inevitably leads to this conclusion. This is the official church doctrine of hell. The fact that it is unpalatable is why we seek compromises like the one you suggest.

            Grudem explains this in his book much better than any blog discussion I can muster. Suffice it to say it is like geometry: once you accept that 2 parallel lines never intersect then inevitably, we discover that alternating interior angles are always congruent.

            Likewise, if accept that (a) God is omnipresent and (b) Hell is a real physical place of eternal torment, then we are left with God is present there. There is no other logical conclusion possible given those assumptions.

          • charles

            not to fall back on the “Gods’ ways are not our ways”, but again, our notion of logic might not apply in trying to measure where God may or may not be….

            I wish we could more definitely define that, but if we could, we would end up with the Bonhoeffer quote-“A God who would let us prove his existence would be an idol”

  • Don Rappe

    I think Plato wrote a good book about the nature of Justice.

  • http://rewinn.blogspot.com rewinn

    The concept of Hell as Eternal Torture casts God in the role of Extreme Drama Queen. What, after all, is the point of torturing someone for more than a lifetime?

    Let us consider the Worst Person In The World. Maybe it’s Hitler plus Stalin plus Mao plus Torquemada – something like that. And let us consider why God would want to torture them in the afterlife.

    * Retribution. Assume it’s “fair” in some sense to make a bad person suffer a while. Maybe make him suffer for a lifetime for each of his victims. But after 100 Billion years, you’re just piling on.

    * A Warning. Some suggest fear of Hell is necessary to make people be good. But this cannot be true; many people are good who never heard of Hell. And if you act in a good way just because you’re afraid of Hell, you’re not really Good – you’re just efficient at transacting business.

    * Reform. Some argue Hell is a last-chance attempt to persuade the Damned to mend their ways. But after the first million years, if it hasn’t happened, it’s not likely ever to happen. And – more to the point – what kind of ineffectual Deity can’t change someone’s mind given a million years to do it?

    I can’t claim to be an expert on what the Bible claims about Hell, but the eternity-of-torment thing is simply irrational and capricious. No Good God could allow it.

    • Mindy

      I love John’s post, but I think I love this comment more. No offense, John, of course. Rewinn, this is awesome.

      “God as Extreme Drama Queen.” Bwaaahahahahaaa!!!

      • Susan in NY

        I like this line-

        “But after 100 billion years, you’re just piling (it) on.”

        Great post Rewinn.

    • DR

      This is a profound quote:

      “And if you act in a good way just because you’re afraid of Hell, you’re not really Good – you’re just efficient at transacting business.”

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

      Rewinn your deserve as ” serious like” label. It is that awesome.

  • peet

    I’ve been pretty lucky, no major traumas, but trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes: I think that after 100 million years of watching Hitler being roasted like a pig on a spit, even a holocaust survivor might say, OK. That’s enough. And to imagine God saying, No. No it’s not. And then to imagine not Hitler, but some 15 year old Hindu who starved to death suffering the same torments, just for not being Christian?

  • RayC

    It seems to me that the concept of Hell as a eternal prison of damnation and fire is wholly a human one with a long history of development over the years, especially post apostolic era. Of course, it does have its roots in Scripture, but as others have said: there are differing ways to interpret these.

    The concept of Hell as we are discussing is kind of scary in that this idea of eternal torture is not of God at all, but of human imagination, a growing hyperbolic and highly emotive story. It demonstrates one extreme end of the spectrum of human justice that must have went far in justifying Christians burning heretics (in many cases, actually mentally ill people) at the stake, in initiating Crusades of extreme violence and hatred to any one but them, such as the Jews and Saracens, and they seemed to revel, at times, in dark hysteria.

    I don’t think this is simply a Christian problem, but a human one. Along with the light of wise and reasonable justice that humans have been able to demonstrate over the years there is the terrible, dark and perverse sense of justice, as well. This dynamism is in constant flux, whether in the conceptual world of God’s justice or in our own legal systems, as can be seen in the waterboarding controversy.

  • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

    Jesus (AKA God) on Justice:

    38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    Matthew 5: 38 – 48 (NIV)

    Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (AKA Grace)

  • Michael

    And what if we are all physical manifestations of God as the Hindu teach? What if we are hear so that God can experience through us the physical, and educate our souls as we evolve slowly to become more, and more like him/her/it? Wouldn’t then all those people who commit actions we look at as evil be our teachers? Wouldn’t what they do have been a part of our continuing education? Wouldn’t the teachings that there is a hell be something we have to overcome, so that we finally realize we are never without God, since we are in part, God?

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    With all this talk about Hell – If anyone wants to hang out in Hell for a while, there’s a great game for that.

    http://games.adultswim.com/robot-unicorn-attack-heavy-metal-twitchy-online-game.html – Fairly addictive. You run through a landscape of skulls trying to destroy the pentagrams that control Hell to heavy metal music. The original version of the game is sweeter – like playing a Lisa Frank poster.

    Nothing more to add at the moment, just thought I’d share something fun.

  • http://www.heresyofthemonth.typepad.com/blog Bill Sergott

    OK, love your stuff as always, John. You know I am always on your side, but on this post I take a bit of issue.

    What I agree with:

    1) It is a total cop-out to say that “God’s ways are not our ways” as an explanation for everything

    2) Eternal torment in Hell for 70-100 years of life seems cruel and insane

    But, my struggles go deeper. If there is no Hell, then the sacrifice of Jesus is a total and complete joke. There is no value in it. Without the existence of Hell, Jesus is an idiot, and God sending his Son to die is just meaningless and stupid. He becomes even more bloodthirsty and cruel than He would be with eternal conscious torment. There is no grace without Hell. There is no freedom of will for humanity without Hell. Without Hell, human beings are no longer in the image and likeness of God. With a wholesale, sweeping elimination of Hell, everything we hold as precious and dear about God crumbles. We are, ultimately, on our own.

    Again, I agree with all of your objections. I also identify with the emotional undertones of what you are suggesting here. The problem is, you are only focusing on one interpretation of Hell: There is an angry, wrathful God indiscriminately throwing human souls into a place of fire, torture, and eternal conscious suffering to somehow appease his own bloodthirsty, psychotic sense of sadistic justice. To those objections, I heartily say, “Amen!!”.

    However, I believe that, not only for God’s sense of justice, but also our own, there MUST be another choice, other than God, for us to be free, existing human beings. Jesus making a way for us to get to God by his blood, as fulfilled the requirements of the system God, Himself set up, logically must mean that there is “somewhere else to go” other than to God. Maybe Hell isn’t eternal conscious torment and suffering. Maybe Hell is just nothing. Also, maybe God doesn’t send people to Hell. Maybe we choose it for ourselves as the ultimate act of rebellion against God. Maybe there are people out there who would rather choose nothing out of anger, bitterness, shame, or whatever reason that may drive them. Maybe Hell does exist, but it’s our job to make sure it is as empty as possible, not through guilt or shame or fear, but through the compelling love of God. Maybe, just maybe, Rob Bell and I are right, and eternity begins today. Maybe people are in Hell right now, as they walk this earth, and we are to be the hands and feet of God in redeeming them out of that Hell. We don’t do this by pointing out their sin in an act of self-righteousness. We do this by loving them into life. Maybe both Hell and Heaven are temporary states, and Jesus is really going to come back to bring Heaven down here, establish his Kingdom, and eliminate a state of Hell – along with death, disease, war, and sin – once and for all. Maybe, just maybe, the prayers are true, that His Kingdom will have no end.

    Just a thought…

    • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

      If there is no Hell, then the sacrifice of Jesus is a total and complete joke. There is no value in it. Without the existence of Hell, Jesus is an idiot, and God sending his Son to die is just meaningless and stupid. He becomes even more bloodthirsty and cruel than He would be with eternal conscious torment. There is no grace without Hell. There is no freedom of will for humanity without Hell. Without Hell, human beings are no longer in the image and likeness of God. With a wholesale, sweeping elimination of Hell, everything we hold as precious and dear about God crumbles. We are, ultimately, on our own.

      Far be it from me to argue theology, but this statement makes no logical sense. In every passage I can think of in the bible, it does not say that Jesus’ sacrifice was to save people from hell.

      Did I forget how to read? Did it say, in John, “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever so believith in Him, shall not burn in Hell, but have life everlasting”?

      Or Romans 5:12-21, am I reading it wrong? Should Romans 5:21 say “so that as sin reigned in death and eternal hellfire, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”?

      Am I reading the wrong version of the Bible?

      What does your Bible say in Romans 6:23?

      I’m probably the least qualified person to take a theological stand, but I feel like the bible backs me up on this.

      The whole idea that hell offends the sensibilities of self-righteous and pious Christians is merely lip service. Hell exists because men want it to, and the people whose sensibilities it offends are the ones who read the bible with humility.

      • http://www.heresyofthemonth.typepad.com/blog Bill Sergott

        George, you completely misunderstood me. I wish you all the best, in all your cleverness, on your ongoing search for an online fight. I find this endeavor to be a waste of time. You obviously mean well, but you are just wrong. Good luck.

        • DR

          Bill, why is countering your point of view “starting an online fight”? I don’t get it, there was absolutely nothing rude or aggressive about this very reasonable counter. You posted something that was challenged. That’s called conversation. You’re no victim of the response. T

          he frailty of those of you who are initiate strongly-opinionated comments here and then the immediacy with which you run from the counter under the guise of being “attacked” is so weird to me. Buck up. You’re supposed to have the Holy Spirit and the boldness that comes with that. Or at minimum, if you don’t want to be engaged then consider not engaging first.

          • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

            Thanks, DR.

            I can kind of see the possible “snarkiness” of my words though, and in retrospect, I should have communicated better.

            All I am trying to get at is that the bible is littered with references to the fact that Jesus came to offer us salvation from death, that the cost of sin is death:that even if there was no hell there is still a purpose to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

            When someone makes the comment that Jesus is pointless unless we believe in hell, I really want to understand where they are coming from, because it seems antithetical to my understanding of the bible.

            Also, I’m really starting to wonder why people like to discount my arguments because I am “clever”. Is that really a bad thing?

    • http://www.lcweekly.com Margaret Evans

      “Maybe Hell isn’t eternal conscious torment and suffering. Maybe Hell is just nothing. Also, maybe God doesn’t send people to Hell. Maybe we choose it for ourselves as the ultimate act of rebellion against God. Maybe there are people out there who would rather choose nothing out of anger, bitterness, shame, or whatever reason that may drive them. Maybe Hell does exist, but it’s our job to make sure it is as empty as possible, not through guilt or shame or fear, but through the compelling love of God. Maybe, just maybe, Rob Bell and I are right, and eternity begins today. Maybe people are in Hell right now, as they walk this earth, and we are to be the hands and feet of God in redeeming them out of that Hell. We don’t do this by pointing out their sin in an act of self-righteousness. We do this by loving them into life. Maybe both Hell and Heaven are temporary states, and Jesus is really going to come back to bring Heaven down here, establish his Kingdom, and eliminate a state of Hell – along with death, disease, war, and sin – once and for all. Maybe, just maybe, the prayers are true, that His Kingdom will have no end.

      Just a thought…”

      A beautiful thought, Bill. And I concur wholeheartedly. Thank you.

    • peet

      OK, but imagine if hell and heaven were right here and now. imagine if ‘the kingdom of God is upon you.’ and jesus died not as some propitiation of our sins for some future time in which we inherit bliss, but was showing us we could enjoy heaven here and now by being willing to lay down our lives, OURSELVES, for our enemies. That heaven is accessible NOW, and that hell is equally accessible NOW, and that it is up to us to choose. That it isn’t some abstract, theological, woo-woo construct, but the reality that we can experience love and joy and peace because Jesus showed us how, and that we can experience those same things eternally if we keep following Him. And that, should we choose to hate our enemies, should we choose to judge others, should we indulge our hypocracies, then, voila, we’re in hell already. why do we think the afterlife will be any different than THIS life?

      • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        A wondering came to me the other day of what the afterlife (if there is one)* is really like.

        I remembered one of my favorite childhood films. I used to watch “The Neverending Story” all the time. It’s a fantasy-adventure involving another world that is connected to our own in significant ways. (The world, Fantasia, is being devoured by “The Nothing” because Fantasia is a world created by the imaginations of humans and The Nothing signifies loss of imagination in a significant portion of the populace).

        Anyway, there is a point where the hero, Atreyu, must face a series of perilous tasks. He is warned by a little gnome scientist that the worst one is the “Magic Mirror.” The Magic Mirror shows any person who looks into it who they *really* are. “A brave man finds that he’s really a coward. A kind man finds that he is cruel.” Atreyu faces this mirror and almost goes mad and abandons his quest when he finds a human child from our world there (the boy reading the book).

        I just had the thought that maybe in spirit, in whatever state we’re in after we die, it is like facing the Magic Mirror. We no longer have the illustions our bodies (or even our brains) provide for us. Whatever we/souls/spirits are, we are no longer “filtered through our brains” and that means that the little ego things we build up for ourselves are stripped away. Human beings are experts at self-deception. How many times have I seen someone who was big on touting their “rationality” act and talk in ways I found utterly irrational? I’ve known someone who’d yelp up and down about discrimination in others act discriminatory themselves. How many times have I thought of myself as a very kind person only to find myself being rude to someone for no reason at all other than I was having issues that had nothing to do with them?

        Maybe facing that will be Hell on some people. Maybe it will be Hell on all of us, but crying out for forgiveness from a loving God is what heals and smoothes it over.

        *collary: I have my own thoughts on “if there isn’t an afterlife” that is kind of weird – a kind of “even if we don’t have we do anyway because brains cannot process nonexistance so its last concious/subconcious throes might be a form of ‘forever’ for us.”

  • http://www.proclaimthegospel.org/ Mo Johnson

    so true Ric — I often think the same thing. How could anyone who really believed in hell not be going door to door preaching the gospel to every person they see?

    Peet, you make a strong point as well, about Hitler vs the 15 year old Hindu. I mean come on….

    And, it all get’s back to John’s big point that all this stuff we are taught about hell actually comes from a few words in the bible that can be interpreted any of a number of ways.

    Truthfully, I think the church seized on the interpretation of burning for eternity cause it scares anyone to death and people will then do whatever the church tells them to do to avoid burning for eternity.

    Whatever monk first came up with the idea really should have gotten a major bonus at the end of the year. It was an idea that has made trillions for the religion industry.

    Not that it’s completely impossible that it’s true. I think highly unlikely. On the other hand, I always acknowledge that I can’t understand everything about God. BUT — to preach the popular version as the only possible correct one (and on top of that to ignore verses that require we DO the will of God to get to heaven) is a travesty and unbiblical.

    anyway, thanks for another thought-provoking post.

  • Cheryl Hannah

    Is it possible that our sense of justice has been affected by the Fall and that this would skew our views of God’s justice?

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

      ok. going out on a limb here, but I have always wanted to ask…

      What fall? The fall season where the leaves turn all those pretty colors and drop out the trees in your yard, so you can rake all Saturday afternoon, just so the kids can scatter it all in about ten minutes?

      Or

      Is it the fall where you trip over your garden hose at 7pm after a rough day at work and tear a hole in your best work slacks, while giving both hands a case of sidewalk rash? (swear it was rolled up just that morning)

      Or

      Is it the fall of the water kind with all that H2O spilling beautifully into a glorious clear and quite chilly pool?

      Or

      Is it maybe that fall from grace “enjoyed” by politicians with presidential aspirations brought on by the revelation of a certain secret girlfriend?

      You see that phrase “The Fall” with its sense of doom background music (what? you don’t hear it?) has always bothered me. It never has quite made sense.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

      Original sin is a theological construct….a way of explaining human nature. “The Fall” is not necessarily a factual historically accurate account of what happened to two real people named Adam and Eve in a literal garden somewhere in the heart of Mesopotamia.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

        so its just a theory. So what does what they did have to do with us or our views on justice or how God sees it?

        • Don Rappe

          It’s nothing less than a theory.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

            Well that’s what I thought. To me this whole “The Fall” theory is a perpetual game of blame someone else for what you did. As the story goes. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake. And so the trend began. We’ve been blaming Adam, Eve and that snake ever since.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

            then there is this fun little theory…What if that snake had it’s body borrowed by Satan? Surely its possible. God talked through a bush once, why not Satan through a snake.

            So Satan in Mr. Slither’s body has his conversation and fun with gullible Adam and Eve, then vamoosed the premises and Mr. Slither goes on with what he was doing before this whole things started, sunning himself on a rock.

            Then God gets in the picture, tosses Adam and Eve out and turns the snake into a former quad-ped. Mr. Slither, not understanding what has just happened, only being sentient to other snakes who are now also minus legs discovers it takes longer to get to the happy mouse hunting grounds then it used to. He hasn’t a clue why.

            If that is the case, and of course we are talking theories here, wasn’t that rather unfair to the snake and every snake that has been born since?

          • Don Rappe

            Sometimes a snake is just a snake.

          • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

            Snakes don’t fare so bad, actually. They aren’t legless lizards (and yes, those are a real thing, and not just from sadistic kids going around with pocketknives….) Snakes have nice scales on their bellies and an intricate muscular system that allows them to move quite easily.

            Ever have to deal with a rattlesnake in your yard? I grew up in rural Arizona and have. Those things are quicker than cat-poo. Sidewinders are especially facinating in the way they move.

        • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

          Other traditions explain human nature differently. Native American legends describe us as having two wolves inside: the good and the bad, the evil and the Divine. The one that grows is the one we feed. Or yin and yang in Taoism, or the shadow self in Jung’s theory and male and female aspects of the psyche. And this is what many with a more spiritual than religious leaning believe Jesus meant when he told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            O yes, there are many “legends” and “theories” that explain human nature, I personally hold to the orthodox and historical account in the Bble.

          • Christy

            Brian, do you believe that the Bible is infallible….every jot and tittle, to be taken literally, and that nothing has been added through time and nothing has been omitted….that it is the Divinely inspired word of God?

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Taken literally in all statements, no, so a careful, disciplined and methodical hermenuetic approach is most profitable for the most accurate meaning, not automatically literally. In fact that is absurd!!

            I beleieve the BIble and the Bible alone is the complete, inerent, infallible and plenary-inspired Word of God and is the sole source of spiritual truth and practice.

            Now are there some passages in question that may have been added or some omitted? I would say yes there are a few and perhpas even some scribal copyists errors over the years. These are few in number and Bible scholars have pretty solid evidences of what and where they are. NONE effect any major doctrine in any manner.

            Now as to English translations – I like the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NAS95. Personally I think they are the most accurate translations for English speaking people.

          • Christy

            God is bigger than Sola Scriptura and refuses to conform to the shape and size of the houses of worship of our choosing. If I am to trust in the awe and the presence of the Divine then I must reject dispensationalism.

            It is concerning to me that dogmatists have, unadmittedly and in idolatrous fashion, elevated scripture to the level of the Godhead. We have no right to limit the revelation of the Almighty to the written works of mortal men.

            If you ever have the good fortune to travel to Turkey, make sure to visit a carpet dealer. It is a lesson in hospitality as well as the Divine. For not only will they invite you in to sit down and offer you tea – showing a great deal of hesed, not merely salesmaship – but in explaining the quality with which hand made rugs are tied with individual knots, they will point out that even the most gifted weaver will make intentional mistakes. This humbles the weaver in his creation – for, truly, only Allah is perfect.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            I wanted to add that I’m not a dispensationalist.

            Of course God is bigger than the Bible, but the Bible contains His written revelation to his people. Sola Scriptura simply means the “Scriptures Alone”. The Bible and the Bible alone is the sole source of God’s written revelation to us. God however is CLEARLY revealed in His creation. God reveals himself in many ways too, no doubt, but his WRITTEN revelation is limited to the Bible.

            I vistied a carpet weaver in Morroco, does that count?

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            It counts…. =)

            I wouldn’t have gathered you held that position based on your statement here: “the Bible alone …… is the sole source of spiritual truth and practice.”

            Thanks for the clarification. It makes a world of difference.

            Maybe sometime we can talk about mysticism and gnosis?

    • Don Rappe

      I’m sure you’re referring to the fall from grace of humankind as typified in the story of Adam and Eve and the talking snake, who was the most subtle of the beasts of the field. (Perhaps she was named Lilith and was a little jealous that Adam passed her over when God paraded all the beasts before him,) I believe the sense of shame they felt shows that the sense of God’s justice had not left them. Or, perhaps, that’s what “the knowledge of good and evil” they acquired was.

  • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

    I find it quite compelling all the “I think hell…” opinions there are just on this post alone.

    Based on historical orthodox Christian doctrine, all people inclusively and without exception are sinners – yes, even Gandhi – and as such our sin has condemned all of us to an eternal separation from God’s love Through Adam and Eve’s willful disobedience to God, we are right now separated from God. Yet God, because of his Love and Mercy and Grace does give the chance to all people to once again be reconciled to Him, through Jesus Christ. The wage or penalty for our sin still must be dealt with (paid for) and it has through the death of Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, yet became sin for us, even unto death on the cross, paid the price. It is was PAID IN FULL by Jesus Christ

    Some people think it isn’t fair, but God treats all sinners the same, namely all have the same “punishment” if you will. No matter how minor or horrific someone’s sin is, the penalty is all the same – separation from God. No matter how one wants to describe such a spiritual state. To the writers of the Bible it is tantamount to the worse condition imaginable, where the constraints of God’s Grace and Love are not present. A place mind you, that was originally prepared for Satan and his demons.

    God’s Love, Grace and Mercy keeps us away from such a spiritual place, but willfully refusing the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, will eventual result in an eternal separation from God. I realize even atheists can be full of love and compassion and “goodness” in their outward “good works”, but no person is justified by the deeds of the flesh, only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ is one reconciled to God.

    Finally there are many references in the Bible regarding the awful and dreadful condition of the final state of those that die as unbelievers. It isn’t just a “few words” open to some private interpretation that can satisfy some “logical” conclusion of “so many rational people”. There are so many, that there really isn’t any conclusion other than to die as an unbeliever has vey dire and serious consequences and as a previous poster stated, we as Christians do indeed need to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the urgency of a fireman saving people from a fire.

    • Diana A.

      “I just cannot stick my God into a little time-space relationship here, hindered and always working against the impending physical death….Maybe God is in hot pursuit of us; we’ve been thinking of giving our heart to Christ. We’re thinking so hard on it we’re driving along and we don’t hear the whistle of a freight train. And bam…it just smashes us to pieces. And God said, ‘You know, I almost had him. That freight train beat me to him.’ What kind of a God is that? A God whose purposes can be voided by a freight train? I can’t fit that in.”–Southern Baptist preacher Clarence Jordan as quoted by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland in their book “If Grace Is True.”

      This, for me, has always been a major argument against the notion of everlasting punishment. I don’t believe God puts a time limit on his love, nor do I believe that any human being (or any other creature) can outlast the love of God. I believe that one day, all will be reconciled with God–yes, even Satan.

    • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

      Brian,

      These two statements are (perhaps unintentionally) misleading:

      No matter how minor or horrific someone’s sin is, the penalty is all the same – separation from God.

      God’s Love, Grace and Mercy keeps us away from such a spiritual place, but willfully refusing the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, will eventual result in an eternal separation from God.

      If “Hell” is really a “place”, then it cannot possibly be separation from God. It would be more accurate to state it is separation from God’s love, grace, and mercy. The doctrine of hell demands that it is a place where the unbeliever would suffer God’s wrath for eternity; God’s wrath is there because God is there. However, teaching that it is a place merely separate from God does make God seem less schizophrenic and much more palatable.

      I preferred to think of it as you state (separation from God) at one point. However, upon learning the contradiction in that thinking, I had to look into it more and reconcile this contradiction. Either we accept that God is in Hell and pouring out his wrath there forever, while at the same time God is in Heaven and pouring out his love forever, OR we accept that the church (and secular society for that matter) may be wrong about its traditional notions of hell.

      You have pick a lane here, Brian. If you’re going to preach hellfire and brimstone, you should at least do it in a way that is biblically consistent (as have Mark Driscoll and Wayne Grudem … not to mention many others before them).

      I commented first on this here:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2011/06/05/is-gods-justice-different-than-ours-hell-no/#comment-67180

      • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

        Ric,

        I see why it can seem contradictory. You presuppose because God is capable of being omnipresent He must be in hell “pouring out His wrath”. Actually just because God is capable of being omnipresent, it doesn’t mean that He is all the time, everywhere. Also hell is a place where all the goodness of God is not present. Some scholars believe the English term wrath “of” God has more of a meaning of the wrath “allowed” by God so since it is “allowed” by God it is “of” God. Hell is a place where there is no control or restraint of satan, his demons and every imaginable wickedness of all unbelievers. The love of God is absent, therefore all that is good in God, unbelievers are seperated from. I should say hell is a place that unbelievers are seperated from all that is good in God.

        • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

          Brian, I present a popular megaphone for the conservative church in Mark Driscoll and a published professor of conservative evangelical theology in Wayne Grudem to illustrate where a literal interpretation inevitably leads and you dismiss it with “some scholars believe…”

          Hysterical.

          • Brian W

            How is that hysterical? I was simply trying to clarify myself. I wasn’t dismissing what you said

          • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

            I don’t presuppose anything. I accept the teaching that God is omnipresent. Mark Driscoll and Wayne Grudem, both international spokesmen for the staunch, conservative, fundamentalist church , teach that God, a.k.a. Jesus, rules hell. By suggesting that God is willfully absent from hell, you place yourself outside the conservative orthodoxy as taught by that church’s key leaders. To believe otherwise (e.g., God is absent) would be considered heresy to these teachers.

            So it’s makes me laugh a little (sometimes hysterically) when a heresy hunter gets branded a heretic.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Driscoll and Grudem are hardly “spokesman” for all of conservative Christianity. The Trinitarian Godhead (Father -Son -Holy Ghost) are soveriegn and rule (control) over all, even hell, there is no denying that. I said all that is good in God is absent in hell. God controls all things, yes even evil. God is subordinate to nothing, all that there is (visible, invisible and spiritual) is under the dominion of God. How much more clear can you get?

    • Christy

      Brian, nice to see you here again. You’ve done your duty, once again, of presenting the well-known evangelical opinion on the human condition, substitutional atonement, salvation from hell, and conversion through belief. You told me in another thread that you disagreed with the “easy believism” of my fundamentalist upbringing, of simply saying a sinner’s prayer. It would be helpful for me, if you would define “believe” for us, as you understand it to mean in the text?

      You also indicated elsewhere that the way to know if one is a Christian is by their fruits, yet when pressed about those who had fruits yet no belief, you indicated that belief was a necessary measure of Christianity…..could you clarify this point as well?

      Some if not many of us here can agree with you on several of your points: 1) We all have “sin” in our life. 2) Sin separates us from God. 3) Some can hold to substitutional atonement and some can’t, but either way, if you believe we can’t be reconciled to God because of an unpaid debt – then at the cross, the debt was paid….. in full…… for everyone. Done. End of story. The ledger is balanced. No one owes anything and all of humanity will be reconciled back with God. If I go through a toll booth and pay for the next 5 cars behind me as an expression of grace – their debt is paid, whether they acknowledge it or not.

      To interpret it in the way you have presented (the need for belief) – you take the power of salvation away from the Almighty and place the power of salvation with the individual – in our belief. What you are saying saves us is not the gift – but the opening of the gift.

      Would you be willing to address that, please.

      Thank you.

      • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

        Christy,

        “You’ve done your duty, once again, of presenting the well-known evangelical opinion on the human condition, substitutional atonement, salvation from hell, and conversion through belief. You told me in another thread that you disagreed with the “easy believism” of my fundamentalist upbringing, of simply saying a sinner’s prayer. It would be helpful for me, if you would define “believe” for us, as you understand it to mean in the text?”

        ***I don’t look at it as presenting some well-known “evangelical opinion” It is simply the orthodox Christian position since the time of Christ. Biblically, the word believe is to be understood as “a continually active state of belief” In other words it is belief that isn’t a “one time” confession (or repeat after me prayer) it is a belief that is active (has evidences) and continual until one passes on over to the other side.***

        “You also indicated elsewhere that the way to know if one is a Christian is by their fruits, yet when pressed about those who had fruits yet no belief, you indicated that belief was a necessary measure of Christianity…..could you clarify this point as well?”

        ***The essential ingredient of the Biblical term “believe” is faith (the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen). As to fruits (of the Spirit) as evidence of being a Christian, these are the evidences as defined by God, not what WE think they should be. A common list (but not exclusive) is the list from Galatians 5:22 – Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering (patience), Kindness, Goodness, (biblical) Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control. These are fruits that are manifest in the believer through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Now many, if not most, an atheist can even appear to demonstrate. Faith without works is dead, is true but also, so is we are not justified (before God) by our works of righteousness (being uber-good like Gandhi). No person is justified (declared righteous) before God because they are “such a good person”, yet a believer will none-the-less demonstrate “good works” for all to see (not as the cause of salvation, but as evidence of salvation) Christ calls Christians to be the light of the world, not to be under a bushel, their works (and the fruit of the Spirit) should be clearly seen by unbelievers.***

        “Some, if not many, of us here can agree with you on several of your points: 1) We all have “sin” in our life. 2) Sin separates us from God. 3) Some can hold to substitutional atonement and some can’t, but either way, if you believe we can’t be reconciled to God because of an unpaid debt – then at the cross, the debt was paid….. in full…… for everyone. Done. End of story. The ledger is balanced. No one owes anything and all of humanity will be reconciled back with God. If I go through a toll booth and pay for the next 5 cars behind me as an expression of grace – their debt is paid, whether they acknowledge it or not.”

        ***No, this is the heresy of universalism (all people will be reconciled to God some day). Jesus paid the sin debt for His people (the Lamb of God as a pictured in the Old Testament when the Jews [God’s people] sacrificed a spotless lamb for their sins only, not the surrounding nations, only Israel). Jesus paid the price for his people – all those whom believe – because by grace are you save through faith and that not of yourselves it is a gift of God. Faith is essential.****

        “To interpret it in the way you have presented (the need for belief) – you take the power of salvation away from the Almighty and place the power of salvation with the individual – in our belief. What you are saying saves us is not the gift – but the opening of the gift.”

        ****This is a statement that some hyper-Calvinists hold to. Belief can only come from God working on the heart and mind of an unbeliever. God, by his free and sovereign grace saves whom he will’s by bestowing upon the unbelievers heart the needed faith to believe. NO person can believe aside by the regenerative power of God the Holy Spirit. Salvation is truly all of God***

        • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

          Well, Brian, ya know, some scholars believe … um, differently.

          • Brian W

            Ric,

            O yes they do believe differently, especially the more modern, evangelical, liberal ones! LOL!!

          • DR

            That’s right Ric. Always remember your place as a Liberal Christian to people like Brian. You’re here to be taught – he knows better.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            DR,

            Ric is a liberal Christian? I made a simple statment that liberal scholars believe differently than I do in some minor area’s Differently is not to read “I’m right they’re wrong” or that differently is wrong, it means different.

            There is much to learn, I will be a student as long as God allows me to live.

        • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

          Brian, you wrote: “It is simply the orthodox Christian position since the time of Christ.”

          I know that you believe this to be true, with all your heart, but it is a gross oversimplification and overstatement of opinion as fact. This version of Christianity that you present has really only been around for the past 200 – 400 years or so: the Bible as Divine and to be taken literally, faith as believing, centrality of the afterlife, living the Christian life is based in requirements and rewards. (from The Heart of Christianity, 1989, Marcus Borg)

          You are clearly well versed in Biblical reading and evangelical doctrine and theology….and that is wonderful. You are passionate about your faith. A beautiful thing. I respect that.

          But you know what I love about the Amish? They go about enjoying being Amish without feeling the need to try to convert people to living their way of life or insisting that their way is the only right one.

          The gist of the emergent church and New Paradigm Christianity is focussed on rescuing the faith from the dogma of the Old Paradigm which turned the way of Jesus (a way of life) into a religion based on holding the proper beliefs about Jesus (a belief system) and offering as legitimate a different view of scripture and biblical living. It’s a shift in focus from orthodoxy to orthopraxy. If we trust that the way of Jesus brings us closer to the Divine, what does it mean to live a grace filled life? How do we follow Christ’s example in how we live each day? And how does our walk match are talk? The reason the “world” has trust issues with Christianity is because for so many of u who claim this faith what we say we believe on Sunday doesn’t match how we live the other 6 days of the week (and God bless you please don’t tell me that’s why we aren’t supposed to go to movies or drink alcohol or dance.)

          Curious, sometime ago I asked my clergy friends what the original meaning of believe was and looked up the original Greek, myself. My friend who is in her late 60′s and is ordained in the Presbyterian church went to Seminary when women were still relatively novel there. She told me that the most enlightening and enraging thing she experienced in seminary was in her Greek and Hebrew classes where she was taught to read the text in its original language and she said what she discovered for the first time is that what “they” have been telling us it says is not what it says.

          Belief and faith get used interchangeably in our modern lexicon as you yourself did in your explanation. But believe in the Greek has many words for translation and contextually means something closer to follow, trust, cling to, rely on….

          To follow the way of Jesus is quite a bit different than to believe Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, was both fully human and fully divine, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead, buried and rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of the Father and will one day return to judge the quick and the dead (the “right” list of things about Jesus) and hold them as true.

          Thus the frequent debate on “right belief” vs “right living” folks.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            Nice post and a lot of items to respond too, very good.

            The version of Christianity I have noted on here (and what I live) is not 200-400 years old, it is New Testament Christianity as taught by Jesus and His Apostles. Christianity is BOTH proper doctrine AND actions. Christianity is not just a belief (the demons believe and tremble) it is a life, a life to the teachings of Jesus Christ as contained in the Bible, 24/7. I have never denied that nor stated to the contrary.

            Now the Amish, kind, humble and simple people for sure. Jesus, however commanded us to go out into the hedges and byways as the salt and light of the world proclaiming and LIVING His Gospel – the Good News – to a lost, hurting and needful peoples. Amish people seem to miss that point, since like you say, they stay pretty much to themselves. If the early Christians were Amish in practice, Christianity wouldn’t be much today.

            The whole emergent church movement is similar to the Reformation of the 1500′s. The emergent churches are (rightfully) attempting to revive dead churches or churches stooped in unbiblical tradition and orthodoxy and get them back to the central teachings of Jesus Christ – living the Christian life and not just believing it in your head. Since the founding of His church, there have always been faithful local New Testament Christian churches before this emergent church movement

            This statement does concern me about the movement “offering as legitimate a different view of scripture and biblical living”. This seems to allude that for 2,000 years Christian churches around the world have been wrong and the “new” emergent church’s view of Scripture and Christian living is the right one.

            You hit on another very important point, namely biblical hermeneutics (interpretation). For nearly 2 millennia, Christians have been diligent in their study of the Bible to an incredibly meticulous level. You rightfully mentioned how “believe” has more of a meaning of “trust” or “reliance”. Taking it one-step deeper most occurrences of believe are in the present tense, active voice indicative mood so it means “a continually active state of utter trust and reliance”. So a believer (in the biblical meaning) LIVES the Gospel until the very day they die. In the field of hermeneutics the “historical – grammatical” approach to Scripture is most important. Interpreting Scripture in its historical context in the original language meaning, definition, grammar, syntax, idioms etc.

            Finally I don’t see how you can separate “right belief” and “right living”. If you believe it, the evidence is manifest in your life, so you live it.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            You said: ‘This statement does concern me about the movement “offering as legitimate a different view of scripture and biblical living”. This seems to allude that for 2,000 years Christian churches around the world have been wrong and the “new” emergent church’s view of Scripture and Christian living is the right one.’

            No. It does not allude to what you say it does at all and is evidence that you suffer from Dualistic or zero sum gain thought (black and white, either/or, If I’m right you – must be wrong, if you win – that means I lose), a common evangelical shortcoming.

            When I say “offer as legitimate” I mean “also legitimate” not “in place of” what you find legitimate.

            So, if I’ve kept track accurately: Fundamentalists are wrong, Progressives are wrong, and the Amish are wrong. I’m sure we’re missing some others.

            I used to be so sure of myself too – the product of 11 years of Baptist school and 30 years of Baptist theology. I had it all figured out: Convictions are non-negotiable……and full of hubris.

            There’s a great Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy is writing a book about theology and Charlie Brown asks him the title. Snoopy types”Has it ever occurred to you, you might be wrong?”

            Anne Lamott has wisely written that “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”

            I have written here before that certainty, particularly the spiritual kind, is bright and shiny and blinding. It is the largest stumbling block I ever tripped over. For me, there seems to be far more grace and wisdom in embracing the mystery of the ineffable than there is in attempting to nail down absolute truth in the form of finite answers.

            It is wonderful you have come to a relationship and understanding of the Divine in the way you have. I am proposing that those who believe they have a corner of the market on God – do not and advocating that we all be given as much grace as you have been given to encounter the Divine in the way of the Divine’s choosing which may or may not be similar to your own.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            Forgive me for misunderstanding your post, confusion on my part. Also I don’t suffer form Dualism or zero-sum gain as though if I’m right you must be wrong. I do not pretend I know all that the BIble has to teach, even after 30 years of studying it, far, FAR from it. I also believe that God is not the author of confusion and therefore His Bible is not a source of confusion. If there is confusion, it is because of us, not with God nor the Bible. We generally misunderstand it or (mostly) misinterpret it. I too have been and still can be capable of both. I’m always trying to learn more. If someone believes “they have arrived” and have a corner on all truth of God and the Bible, they’re delusionaly mistaken.

            It didn’t know you or I claimed that Fundies, Progressives and the humble Amish “are wrong”. In a strict sense, since no one is perfect everyone is “wrong” somewhere. I really don’t believe I have come to an understanding and a complete relationship with the “Divine”, it is a life-long, on-going, never-ending-until-I-die journey. I don’t know why things are as they are, but I do believe God is in control and knows excatly what He’s doing.

            I do believe that the only way to the “Divine” is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There are not multiple ways, just one. Now there may be many journeys we take to get to Jesus, but to get to God the Father, there is only one.

        • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

          Brian: ****This is a statement that some hyper-Calvinists hold to. Belief can only come from God working on the heart and mind of an unbeliever. God, by his free and sovereign grace saves whom he will’s by bestowing upon the unbelievers heart the needed faith to believe. NO person can believe aside by the regenerative power of God the Holy Spirit. Salvation is truly all of God***

          Me: I’m not sure I’m following. Are you explaining the hyper-Calvinsit point of view here or are you making this your claim as well? Are you in agreement with this paragraph?

          Because one of my favorite things I ever did was tell my very good Presbyterian clergy friend that maybe Calvin was wrong.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            I though that paragraph was confusing. Your statement that said since believing on our part takes salvation away from God and makes us partially responsible, is a hyper-Calvinists view point. I am in agreement with the rest of the paragraph. I know it seems Calvinistic, but the fact is we must believe by faith yet that faith can only come from God the Holy Spirit working in the heart and mind of an unbeliever.

            As to Calvin being wrong? I wouldn’t go there myself. A man capable of writing one of the most historically significant books in Christian History (Insitutes of the Christian Religion) at the age of 25, that has stood the scrutiny of “peer review” for 400 years or so, is not a person I would want to say was wrong

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            Having followers is not the same thing as being accurate. Ayn Rand comes to mind.

            Saying “Maybe Calvin was wrong” is not the same thing as saying “Calvin was wrong.”

            Opinions do not equal facts. The ability to admit this is evidence of humility. So is the ability to ask ourselves, “What if I’m wrong?” It is often the first question on a very fruitful spiritual journey.

            Blessings on yours.

          • Diana A.

            “As to Calvin being wrong? I wouldn’t go there myself.”

            “Servetus lately wrote to me and coupled with his letter a long volume of his delerious fancies, with the Thrasonic boast that I should see something astonishing and unheard of. He would like to come here if it is agreeable to me. But I do not wish to pledge my word for his safety. For, if he comes, I will never let him depart alive, if I have any authority.”–Part of a letter from John Calvin to his friend Guillaume Farel as quoted from Thomas Talbott’s book “The Inescapable Love of God.” Mr. Talbott referenced T.H.L. Parker’s book “John Calvin: A Biography.”

            And did Miguel Servetus show up in Geneva? Yup, he sure did. And did he end up dead at the hands of Calvinists? Yup. “…burned over green wood so that it took three hours for him to be pronounced dead.” (I’m quoting Talbott again.) And why? “He was executed solely for his anti-Trinitarian views and because he disagreed with Calvin on some fine points of theology.” (Talbott again.)

            Could John Calvin have been wrong about one or two things in his life? Maybe.

          • Christy

            Thanks, Diana. I have found Calvin’s writing to be rather pompous and overly pious…..

            Your references show we are all shamefully ignorant of far too many murderous abuses of the Church.

            And, of note, his quote sounds strikingly similar to some “crosshairs” references in our modern day.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            I can’t really speak as to Calvin’s self-righteousness, but perhaps. yes his pride and self-righteousness could have been a factor. One thing is probably for certain, he could have STOPPED Servetus’ murder.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            There is no doubt Johnny Calvin was wrong about a few things (the Servetus controversry being just one), perhaps his whole framework of his theology (“Calvinism” ) is indeed a faulty interpretation of the Bible.

            I should have been more clear, I’m in no position nor knowledgable enough to point out his error on a theological level, so biblically or theologically I’m not going to say Johhny Calvin was in err, now the Servetus issue, he indeed messed-up on that one. All I can say is I suppose he was just a “man of his times” and society was different back then and conflicts were dealt more harshly than today. I’m NOT condoning his actions, just trying to understand them.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            Would you say that perhaps he was blinded by his self-righteousness?

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Hmm. Why am I responding when my instincts say DO NOT ENGAGE? Why am I responding when I’m a loopy fantasy writer and experimental artist generally more interested in “exchange of ideas” than in “being right?”

      “Tradtional” theology on Hell: I honestly have no idea how to make it sound not-horrible to a non-believer. I suppose I came to my believe worrying about this kind of fate and price, a caprcious God, thinking in black and white and being fourteen. It made sense to me for a long time. Black, white, light, darkness. God being bound by his own utter goodness as if it were a physical law. Still, it sounds so utterly horrible to those on the outside looking in. Once talked to a atheist on a videogaming message board about it and part of the reason why they could “never become a Christian” was because they couldn’t imagine even Hitler being punished for *eternity.* I actually agreed with them, but felt bound by my theology.

      I suppose you’re like me – as said somewhere below, I’d always believed that God gives everyone a chance – ie. that he speaks to every individual in some profound way that their soul is given a moment where they know the Truth and must make a decision. Some people get several moments and none of us really know what and when they are – only that if you aren’t able to win a soul, don’t worry about it, because God will deal with them.

      But it still felt kind of terrible, especially when I had to answer the question of an agnostic best-online friend when she asked “Yes, I believe you are going to Hell.” That was HORRIBLE. She’s a good person – better than me! (I think our relationship is better since I’ve changed my mind).

      The thing that really got me thinking was some conversation and references pointed out by another online friend regarding some of the original languages scripture was written in and the concepts of the time – things indicative that the nature of Hell might be more “for an eon/eons” and generally outside-of-timey than what we generally think of as “eternity.” The stuff referring to “Heaven” would appear to be written in different terms (in Greek and Hebrew), indicating that it may be more permenant, while the Hellish stuff might be more temporary. I really don’t know, myself, as I’m not a student of original Biblical languages, but just seeing that scholarship out there was nice and I can totally understand “concepts changing over time.” Lots of non-believers love to accuse the Bible of being one big game of Telephone, and while that always chafed me, I think they may have a point. Why God doesn’t come down from a cloud and correct it all is probably because he wants us to figure it out or because he knows that answers straight from him wouldn’ be accepted because of aspects of human nature. (We really do tend just not listen to things we do not want to hear).

      As it is, the nature of heaven/hell/eternity, I really do not know. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to – “I hope I’ll go to Heaven and that eventually everyone else will, too, but hell if I know.”

      As it is, I’m holding Jesus to his promise to save me if I believe in him. I mean, if I die and he says to me, “Yeah, Shadsie, you trusted in me, but, you know what? You didn’t believe your friends were going to suffer forever and forever, so you go to Hell now too,” I’m going to say “Well, you promised me, so that means you’re a big fat liar, aren’t you? And a prick. If I’m destined to Hell because I loved too much, I’ll go to Hell with my head held high!” — but you see, I can stay stuff like that because I really, truly believe that Jesus Christ is NOT a prick.

      • Diana A.

        I totally love this!

    • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

      Brian your original post presupposes inherited original sin, one theory about the nature of humanity.

      • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

        Christy,

        Yes it does, however it’s not a “theory” if one believes the plain reading of the Bible.

        • Christy

          Not even all Judaic scholarship takes the story of Adam and Eve literally. That is a choice some Christian denominstions and sects have chosen to believe. Celtic Christianity does not hold to original sin. And perhaps if the big C Church had not gone about crusading and inqisitioning and categorically wiping out divergent thought more of us would know more about gnostics and mystics and what pagan really means and about Cathers and Celtic Christians and the idea of original sin might have more visible criticism today.

          If one believes the plain reading of the Bible then snakes can talk and there were people who lived elsewhere on the earth not born of Adam and Eve whom Cain was afraid would kill him. A conundrum if we take the Garden of Eden story literally. And if you tell me that God can do anything God wants like allow snakes to talk then God can reconcile all of humanity back to Godself if God wants to.

          I have a follow up to your point about a plain reading, and I shall return with that momentarily.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            Brian, in another place on John’s page someone asked me the other day: “If the word of God [is] true, then shouldn’t we take it at face value?”

            This was my reply:

            This reminds me of a similar conversation I had with my Christian Union minister uncle in which he said scripture should be interpreted in a way that appeals to common sense.

            I found this fascinating (and disheartening) for having been married as long as I have now, (which is a period of time far shorter than my uncle) I can say with a great deal of certainty that there is nothing common about sense. I have seen many painful examples of this, as well, in my professional field of medicine.

            It seems self-evident that what was common sense in the Mayan and Aztec cultures was not the same as that of Cortez nor in ancient Greece nor the middle ages nor Salem, Mass or even in modernity. Science, knowledge, and wisdom continue to enlarge our understanding of how things work and what makes sense. How far and wide that information is understood limits how common it is. Germs, disease, antibiotics, mental illness, astronomy, reproduction, cause and effect: their understanding has all shifted throughout history. We have evolved, if you will permit me that word, intellectually. Why not also emotionally and spiritually?

            Any house of worship we walk into today has a starting point of bias in how they interpret scripture from the pulpit.

            Without the lens of culture and history and openness we will surely misinterpret whatever form of scripture we are reading.

            I have used the example before in instances like this of MLK Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Let’s say 2000 years from now his letter is found, but we have lost everything else we know about MLK. Would people in the future be able to know with certitude a full picture of the man from this letter alone? Taken at face value? Without the context of the history and the culture of the time in which he lived? Would we trust that he was a good man? After all, he is in jail…..and it is a common perspective that only people who do bad things go to jail….

            A wise teacher I have had the privilege of hearing at the Chautauqua Institution in NY has said it is foolish for us to assume that the same literary techniques that we employ today were not used in the writing of scripture. And would you not trust your very best and gifted writers to record your people’s oral history and myths and conquests and victories and exiles? And given the voraciousness of the Crusades and the Inquisition, et al – how much divergent thought and perspective (particularly of the mystical variety) was extinguished from influence?

            Without open-minded, agenda free biblical scholarship, historical and cultural context we are apt to get at least some of it wrong.

            To me, the idea alone that women were not permitted to participate in scriptural interpretation and church leadership throughout the age shows how necessarily there is bias. How many times did a “young unmarried woman” get translated “virgin” which really means “one unto herself”? How many times did a divorced or unmarried adult woman or Canaanite woman or “pagan” woman get translated “harlot”? How many of us are familiar with the euphemisms of “putting his hand under his thigh” to give an oath as with Abraham and Eleazar or “uncovered his feet” as in the story of Ruth and Boaz? Or the symbolism in the stories of Judith or Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? Or the fact that the Judith and Susanna stories didn’t even make it into the Protestant version of scripture? Or the subtle importance of the order of the books of the Tanakh which was destroyed when the books were rearranged for the construction of the Old Testament? Or that “mites” are not denominations of money found in Jesus’ time but is evidence of cultural insertion into the text from the time of King James? Or that Isaac didn’t have to be literally blind in order to not be able to see which son was the better choice to receive first son status? etc, etc….

            The more we study and share knowledge and wisdom the more it is plain to see that babies don’t come from storks, people aren’t possessed by demons, the sun does not revolve around the earth, women when dunked in water drown irrespective of their witch affiliation, and blood letting by leaches does not cure respiratory infections.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            You are right again, not every sect of Judaism or Chrstianity believe in a literal Adam and Eve, but the plainest reading of the Bible states they were real people. I do find it interesting how geneticists state that all modern humans come from ONE woman, they even call her the genetic Eve………It seems human gentics supports a “literal” Eve.

  • Jesse

    Many times people say we don’t deserve God because we are sinners which I totally agree with. It’s when they claim that since we are sinners we deserve an eternal punishment in Hell that I disagree. Just because we are not fit for a Holy God does not mean we should be tortured day after day, moment after moment, forever and ever, without end… No one deserves that.

    If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent why did He only give us one alternative and one of such drastic and horrific proportions? It doesn’t make sense.

    Props to Ric Booths comment.

    • Brian W

      So if something “doesn’t make sense to you” or is illogical, it just can’t be true. You only believe what is right in your own eyes?

      • Christy

        Logic and reason are talents God gave us that we have no right to go and burry in a field for fear of using them and angering the Master.

      • Jesse

        No that’s not what I said at all. You may want that to be what I meant because it would be an easy argument to defeat but the point of what I said still remains.

  • Don Gollahon

    “Is God’s justice different than ours?”

    I wonder what is our justice? Some don’t believe in the death penalty, some do. Some want the criminal that abused or killed their loved one(s) to rot in hell for eternity. Others will forgive. So what is “our justice”? And who decides whose justice is right? Maybe it should be brought up for a vote and let the majority choose. But then justice will change with time and it becomes relative. Oh, but there are no absolutes so “relative justice” is ok?

    It’s all so complicated! I like the simplicity of salvation by grace and the life rules of the top 2 commandments, “Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.”

  • Don Whitt

    I just watched a young mother discuss on the nightly news the fact that she was not able to throw her body over her 4 yr old and 3 month old sufficiently to protect BOTH from the bullets showering through her car windows. The 3 month old is dead – a bullet through the head – the 4 yr old survived. She is living in hell right now. If you believe in hell, get between babies and bullets. You’ll get to go to heaven, I swear.

    • Don Whitt

      I apologize – I can’t guarantee the going to heaven part, but I do guarantee that the mother is in hell right now. While we’re online discussing Biblical locations, let’s all take a moment to think about the fact that hell is very frequently here on earth and, perhaps, hell plays so large a part in our beliefs because it’s the place we spend most of our time trying to avoid.

  • Matt

    It is very frustrating(on both sides of this argument ) when a person sets up a straw man of the opposing side with the sole objective to completely knock him down; and that without utilizing scripture to support the argument. We look at identity and the image of God we were created in as well as the fall of man and humanities denile of the image we were supposed to be only to try and create one of our own…(Genesis 1,2,3). Then Christ coming to teach is what it looks like to love in a Godly way and just way because our perception of it is wrong (sermon on the mount. Mthw 5,6,7). Then the sacrafice Jesus made for us and who Jesus is (just read the book of John). So if we claim to believe all that the scripture says about who Jesus is and what He says then we must wrestle with the hard scriptures when Christ says he will seperate the sheep and the goats. We must wrestle with what Christ says about Hell. Although we do know about the justice of God our perception of what Godly justice looks like is tainted by our own inadequate nature in comparison to God. Hell may not be a place of fire but seperation from God (complete seperation) cannot be pleasant. His ways are above ours and his thoughts above ours (read Job). What does Godly justice look like? Was it justice for Christ to bear our sin?

    • DR

      t is very frustrating(on both sides of this argument ) when a person sets up a straw man of the opposing side with the sole objective to completely knock him down; and that without utilizing scripture to support the argument. >>>

      Matt, the straw man many people refuse to acknowledge is the interpretation you’re bringing to the table as you say “we must utilize scripture”. That’s often meant as “you must utilize *my interpretation* of scripture”.

      • Matt

        Scripture can be miss used and miss interpeted. It can be taken out of context and used to condemn. Who am I to say who is in hell or who is in heaven? I am not the judge. But I will not ignore the fact that it is said that there is a hell, a place of despair seperate from God. When we contextualize scripture and seek to understand who Jesus or Paul or whomever was speaking to and the issues at the time. You would not talk to a geologist about the issues of the stock market (in typical conversation). Its then we can try to understand what was being said and the message of what was being conveyed. But to ignore scripture all together and not wrestle with even the hardest of scriptures when hell is talked about is to do violence to the message in its entirety.

        • Diana A.

          “But to ignore scripture all together and not wrestle with even the hardest of scriptures when hell is talked about is to do violence to the message in its entirety.”

          True, which is one of the reasons why I like Thomas Talbott’s “The Inescapable Love of God.” That book wrestles with the scriptures but shows how Universalism is both scriptural and the most logical way of viewing our ultimate destiny.

    • Christy

      You asked what does God’s justice look like. I posted Matthew 5: 38-48 earlier in this thread which seems to address that. Thoughts?

      If God’s ways are higher than our ways as you indicate, would this not also apply to love and forgiveness and not simply punishment?

      • Matt

        It absolutely would mean his ways are above ours in the ways of love and forgiveness. Who do you know that loves perfectly and forgives perfectly? We strive to but we are fallen images of God. We seek to love and forgive as God does but all of us have fallen short. We can walk closer and closer to what that looks like but to reach perfection is not something we can obtain within this life. So His ways are above ours in all these areas. We can strive to understandHis love and His forgiveness and His justice but He is greater than we, He is perfect and we are not.

      • Matt

        That scriptur seems to coincide with Matthew 7 and our inability to be judges of others. When Mary was to be stoned it was Christ who called her out of her sin and in to life and called off those who would stone by saying they are not in the place to judge “let he who has no sin cast the first stone”. She then began to walk with Christ. What would have happened had she denied him? We are sinners so who are we to point out the way others fall short except to help them and encourage them and help them to live away from sin. Love your enemy and and reveal to them the live you have that overflows from yourself. Why? Because we are not blameless and would have our enemies treat us with mercy and grace so we are not to be hypocrites.

      • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

        My point, Matt, about God’s ways of love and forgiveness being higher than ours……is related to John’s post RE: those who say “We can’t understand God’s sense of Justice because God’s ways are higher/different/more mysterious as compared to our ways.”

        If one can hold the position that an eternal literal Hell can be real even though it seems to go against our human understanding of equitable and reasonable Justice……then it follows that one could, under the same principles of logic, hold the position that God’s ways of love and forgiveness are higher/different/more mysterious and can defy the traditional conservative Christian understanding that the universalism of heaven is not possible.

        • Matt

          Does it go against our sense of justice? When I read about the trouble in Sudan my blood is boiled and I am infuriated by the fact that the Lords resistance army is raping familys. Turning boys into childhood soilders and girls into sex slaves. My sense of justice would.be that they have no part on this earth much less a place in heaven. This is what my justice tells me. If Gods ways are bigger than mine and he looks into the hearts of men and not just their actions then it seems to me that His ways are bigger than mine and he has a more holy and holisticjustice than mine

    • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

      @Matt, I think you’re the fourth commenter to suggest hell is “separation from God” with your comment:

      Hell may not be a place of fire but seperation from God (complete seperation) cannot be pleasant.

      I commented on the other occurances here:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2011/06/05/is-gods-justice-different-than-ours-hell-no/#comment-67413

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2011/06/05/is-gods-justice-different-than-ours-hell-no/#comment-67180

      The short version goes something like this: The proponents of Hell (a place of eternal conscience torment) cannot demand that all Christians accept a literal interpretation of the passages on hell by forwarding an alternate non-literal interpretation (no fire, no God).

    • melanie

      Please enlighten me as to what, specifically, Jesus says about hell. You just quoted sheep and goats- if hell is full of either one I’d be ok going there. I tend to like animals more than people anyway.

      • Matt

        Logic would point to a metaphor. But that’s just my take on it.

  • http://openmindedconversations.wordpress.com/ Josh Mueller

    For once I’m gonna have to disagree with you, John, although not the way most would expect. I believe that the story through which God progressively reveals “Himself” (for lack of better word) does indeed challenge us to rethink our assumptions. And in that sense it is a call to continual “metanoia” (repentance) in order to get away from our idolatrous tendency to recreate God in our own image. And that includes many of our notions of justice as well. Let me try and illustrate what I mean:

    Human justice says: “May Bin Laden rot in hell forever!” God’s justice says” “No one is beyond the reach of redemption and no one is excluded from being precious in my sight! I gave my life for Him too just to show you that I’d rather go through hell myself than speak the word of condemnation you seek in your hate and desire for vengance!”

    Human justice says: “Justice is all about fairness. Everyone gets rewarded or punished EXACTLY according to the amount of good or bad they’ve done!” God’s justice says: “It is my delight to give the same reward of life in me to those who come to find it late in their lives and can’t accomplish a whole lot anymore in terms of working towards good in this world. I’m beyond your sense of fairness, I’m a gracious God!”

    Human justice says “Victims of horrible violence deserve a sense of satisfaction by witnessing the just punishment of their abusers and oppressors! God’s justice says: The satisfaction you seek is not the kind of satisfaction you need. True healing comes from enemies being won over by grace and forgiveness, and former enemies embracing each other!”

    I think you get the drift of what I’m trying to say. God’s justice is not illogical or beyond comprehension, but infinitely better than ours! He may use (like any good parent) the punishment of allowing us to get deeply into the mess and suffering our choices create, but always in order to learn from it and to find our way back home to sanity and love.

  • Seriously?Y

    I have to say, without reading the other 99 responses currently on here for this entry, that I loose it with folks who say they’re the Chosen People (and this from a Jew). In our Torah, we see the entire creation as Hashem’s work. Even people who torture and persecute Jews (and other folks seen as Other, like the LGBT) because even though they’re wrong, they’re Hashem’s work as well.

    I am reminded of the Talmud story that G*d silenced the Angels rejoicing at the death of the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds by saying: These too are the work of my hands, do not rejoice their destruction.

    In my flavor of Judaism, the Amidah (our most sacred prayer) has been attributed to Ramses II. He says it once his troops are killed; once the hardness Hashem put in his heart is lifted. This is pretty much like saying the most sacred prayer in Native American spirituality was first said by General George Custer.

    If we cannot understand G*D’s mind, when we are IN HIS IMAGE, then we are pretty poor facsimiles.

    • Matt

      W are poor facsimiles because we are not a perfect image. We chose our way over G*ds and decided not to walk with Him. We are to not rejoice in the death of others but that does not mean we can ignore that they die. It was Adam and Eve who chose to turn away from the image of the Creator and seek an image of their own.

      • cat rennolds

        maybe YOU decided not to walk with him. I never wanted to walk anyplace else. If I’da been in the garden, I’da been like, “Pleeese? Pleese? Why not? When can we? Is it ready yet? Does it need watering, or what? Hey look dad, a snake, is he Yours? Did you hear what he said? Pleeeeese? HEY DAD!”

        • Matt

          Wow…you are not helping this position…I promise you that

  • andrew

    Hell is real people. Please do not be led astray by the brilliant writing of John Shore.  John please come to Jesus Christ now.

    In their recent little book What Is Hell?, Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson suinst him. Hell is not even close to a big party. Jesus teaches that it would be better to cut off your hand or foot or toccinctly summarize what the Bible teaches about hell in the following five truths.[2]
    “Hell is punishment” (2 Thess. 1:5–10; Rev. 20:10–15). God justly punishes people as retribution for their moral crimes aga tear out your eye than to use them to sin and consequently suffer the just penalty in hell (Matt. 5:27–30; Mark 9:42–48).“Hell is destruction” and death (Matt. 7:13–14; John 3:1; 2 Thess. 1:9). It’s the ultimate way to waste your life.“Hell is banishment” (Matt. 7:23; 25:41; Rev. 22:15). Hell is the place where God banishes rebels from his kingdom once and for all.“Hell is a place of suffering.” The Bible depicts hell with images that produce shock and fear: darkness, fire, and suffering.

    Darkness. Those in hell are bound “hand and foot” and then thrown into “the outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). “The gloom of utter darkness” awaits them (Jude 13).

    Fire. Those in hell are thrown “into the fiery furnace” (Matt. 13:42, 50), and they burn with “unquenchable fire” (Mark 3:12; 9:43). “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). God’s judgment is “a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27). Those in hell “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger” and are “tormented with fire and sulfur” (Rev. 14:10). They are “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15; cf. 19:20; 20:10, 14; 21:8).

    Suffering. Nothing on earth hurts like hell. The severe conscious punishment in hell hurts physically, emotionally, and mentally. That’s why “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). God warns the wicked who are rich, “Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire” (James 5:3).“Hell is eternal” (Matt. 25:41, 46; Jude 7, 13; Rev. 14:10–11; 20:10). It lasts forever and ever. It never ever ends. There’s no relief in sight, ever.The New Testament—especially Jesus himself—vividly and repeatedly depicts each of these five truths…http://www.9marks.org/ejournal/hellfire-and-brimstone-interpreting-new-testaments-descriptions-hell If God hadn’t created hell then he wouldn’t be perfectly holy.  Since He is perfectly holy and we are not, then we are given 2 choices:  Jesus Christ and Life Eternal with God OR Hell with Satan.  Hebrews  10:10: We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Sin must be paid for by death. The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. . Romans 6:2

    so,  believe in Jesus Christ and call on him to be saved. 
    You may pray if you’d like, but you don’t have to. Salvation is of the heart (Romans 10:10). If you’d like to pray, simply ask Jesus to forgive your sins and tell Him that you’re trusting Him as your Savior. It matters not exactly what you pray, just as long as you realize these two main truths:You may pray if you’d like, but you don’t have to. Salvation is of the heart (Romans 10:10). If you’d like tpYoue a guilty sinner under the condemnation of God’s Law!Jesus is the Savior who shed His blood to take away your sins!
    You might pray something like this…
    Dear Jesus, I know that I am a Hell-deserving sinner. I believe that you are the Son of God, the Savior, who shed your blood to pay for my sins. I now believe upon You as my personal Savior, and ask you to please forgive me of all my sins.  Please save me and take me to Heaven when I die. Amen.Just take God at His word and claim His salvation by faith. Believe, and you will be saved. No church, no lodge, no good works can save you. Remember, God does the saving. All of it!ray, simply ask Jesus to forgive your sins and tell Him that you’re trusting Him as your Savior. It matters nYou are a guilty sinner under the condemnation of God’s Law!Jesus is the Savior who shed His blood to take away your sins!
    You might pray something like this…
    Dear Jesus, I know that I am a Hell-deserving sinner. I believe that you are the Son of God, the Savior, who shed your blood to pay for my sins. I now believe upon You as my personal Savior, and ask you to please forgive me of all my sins.  Please save me and take me to Heaven when I die. Amen.Just take God at His word and claim His salvation by faith. Believe, and you will be saved. No church, no lodge, no good works can save you. Remember, God does the saving. All of it!ot exactly what you pray, just as long as you realize these two main truths:You are a guilty sinner under the condemnation of God’s Law!
    Jesus is the Savior who shed His blood to take away your sins!You might pray something like this…Dear Jesus, I know that I am a Hell-deserving sinner. I believe that you are the Son of God, the Savior, who shed your blood to pay for my sins. I now believe upon You as my personal Savior, and ask you to please forgive me of all my sins.  Please save me and take me to Heaven when I die. Amen.Just take God at His word and claim His salvation by faith. Believe, and you will be saved. No church, no lodge, no good works can save you. Remember, God does the saving. All of it!

    • Jim

      Can you say, “religious indoctrination?” I knew you could.

  • Sonnie

    One mistake I think that most people make is assuming Hell is a specific “place”. Hell is eternal separation from God, though the Bible does speak of different attribute of a place, I think it is the condition that is the focus.

    Secondly, God does not ‘send’ anyone to Hell. Hell is a choice, not a punishment. God wants us all with Him, but he gave us the free will to make that choice. Make the choice to be with God, or make the choice not to. The first leads to communion with Him (heaven), the second leads to separation (Hell).

    At least that’s how I think of it (for now).

    • Jim

      I’m sorry Sonnie (and Andrew too), but this article kind of blew right over your heads didn’t it. The idea of anyone “choosing” to live in eternal torment, though extremely popular among self-righteous “Christians,” is as ridiculous as any other explanation for hell. I trust that someday you will stop believing whatever the pharisees tell you and begin thinking for yourself. Until then you will remain in fear of God, and in awe of your pastor.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

        I’ve never bought that “choose to go to hell” concept either. But then I’ve always questioned the eternal torment idea to begin with. I thought that eternal life was a gift, not a punishment. I don’t see how that whole John 3:16 verse lines up with eternal life being eternal punishment, when it says its a gift.

        But then I tend to look at things oddly.

  • Jim

    John, you are a smart, observant, and articulate man. You are spot on with this article. Thanks for putting into such clear words what most Christians simply choose to ignore or overlook.

  • Allie

    Well… okay. But to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, most available evidence suggests that God (creator of the world in which little kittens die in tsunamis) is indeed a sadistic lunatic with a vastly differing sense of justice from the one we’re familiar with.


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