“I reject a God who would let this man into heaven.”

Where was God when my 9-year-old son was drugged and raped? generated a lot of very moving and compelling responses. Reader Karen Miller wrote one I thought I’d take a moment to address:

My previous job exposed me to the most horrible, vile, evil things in the world. My morning meetings consisted of viewing all the photos of fatal accidents and crime scenes from the previous day. The photos of a vicious rape and strangulation of a 17-year-old girl made my blood run cold. No movie, no books, nothing, can prepare you for the horror of a violent rape and murder. I wanted to kill the perpetrator. I really and truly wanted to kill him. As I was driving home a sudden thought flashed into my head: this man, this horrible man, could go to heaven if he asked for forgiveness.

I could not reconcile this. I did not want anything to do with a God that would let this man into heaven. I was a mess, a total mess. I have a preacher friend and sought his counsel. He told me that God alone would be able to determine the man’s sincerity if he truly asked for forgiveness. And my friend told me that yes, if indeed God judged him sincere, the man would go to heaven. I still have a hard time accepting this. I have a hard time accepting that a sin is a sin is a sin. I have a hard time grasping the idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin. I no longer work at this job, as it caused me a lot of emotional turmoil. Some people are able to distant themselves from the victim. I, unfortunately identified with the victims, and brought their sorrow home with me. Sorry this went off topic but after reading John’s original post, this young girl has been on my mind.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a murdering rapist who asks for forgiveness is guaranteed by God a place in heaven. The Bible is extremely, dramatically, frustratingly, resolutely, entire-denomination-creatingly unspecific about who gets into heaven, or how, or why, or when—or what it even means to be in heaven. Does it mean being a chubby winged baby who plays the harp? A perpetually delighted spirit floating around all day with the giggles? Does it mean sitting beside God, 24/7-trillion, reveling in the awesomeness of his … fabulous feet?

Many Christians are deeply enamored of pretending they know the rules of getting into heaven. But they don’t. No one does. And using the Bible to determine who gets into heaven is like using the IRS code to determine what size hat you wear. Except what size hat you wear probably is somewhere in the infernal IRS code. But pointing to virtually any Bible passage as “proof” of who does and doesn’t get into heaven is like pointing to a flock of two hundred crows passing overhead, and saying, “That one right there is the one that crapped on my car.”

Specificity fail.

So what can we know about God, and heaven, and the ultimate fates of any of us?

I have no idea. But one thing I do know is that I, a Christian, am absolutely, one hundred percent comfortable with the idea that God is nothing if not fair.

It’s not fair for a Muslim baby to go to hell because he or she died not being a Christian. It’s not fair to create gay people—and then insist they spend their lives celibate. It’s not fair for a murdering rapist to be ushered into heaven just because he said the right words before he died.

I believe that ultimately God is nothing if not just, equitable, and fair. And so I am comfortable leaving up to him/her the ultimate fate of anyone whom I personally can’t imagine God or anyone else forgiving what they have done.

* * *

See also my Is God’s Justice Different Than Our? Hell, No!

And if you Google “Who gets into heaven?” one of the first things you get is this thing I made/wrote:

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. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Austin Newberry

    I love your writing and very much appreciate your perspective and the important role you play in the blogosphere. I totally agree that we do not have a clue about what “heaven” is much less, who is there. I do think, however, that the preponderence of scriptural evidence suggests that God is not fair.

    • vj

      Well, maybe not ‘fair’ in the sense of every-child-gets-the-same-number-of-cookies, but I do believe that God is JUST, and that His justice is perfect, taking into account all the many details that we may never know nor understand.

  • Karen H.

    One of the hardest things for me to accept at one time was the notion that God could love Hitler as much as He loves me. But I did come to accept that. I don’t understand how it all works, but I know that God’s mercy is more profound than human mercy could ever be. Everything about God, I believe, is greater than we can comprehend, and I also believe that God doesn’t have the petty human emotions like hate and jealousy that many humans have ascribed to him over the centuries. No, that’s us.. So it’s possible to me that if someone was a horrible rapist and murderer in this life, if they truly, TRULY repented, they might be granted grace. However, they would also have to live with the intense remorse that real knowledge of their actions would bring.. But, like you said, John, it’s all moot because we don’t KNOW.

  • Sarah Strong via Facebook

    “Specificity fail.” great words. being reminded of that is comforting. sometimes I almost drown myself in the Text looking for the answers, the why of this wretched story I’ve lived. Maybe backing up and just letting go of this draining intensity, leaning into the fact that death didn’t win in my story is all I really need to know. faith…not always easy, eh?

  • Nick K.

    John-You constantly amaze me with your responses. I have been reading your posts on this website for a few months now and you continue to impress me. You have answered some very, very, very difficult questions about the idea of a loving and just God who doesn’t lift a finger to help those who suffer horrifically. These questions posed to you stump me and I still have no answers or explanations myself. However, your answers have been insightful, thought-provoking, helpful, but most importantly they have not been condescending or simplistic. Being simplistic or condescending in one’s explanations can do a lot to drive people away from the faith. That is something many religious leaders should take to heart.

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

      Thank you for this, Nick K.

      • Brena

        What Nick said. Seriously, it is refreshing to be where questioning and not knowing and still sharing beliefs and still not being sure is a sign of active faith.

  • Karen Miller

    Thank you for your response John. And thank you for addressing the issue of other religions not getting into heaven or gays not getting into heaven. These are both issues that trouble me. I hate not knowing the answer. If, per chance, I make it heaven, I won’t be the quiet one in the corner. I have a lot of questions and I’d like some answers. Thanks again.

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

      I think, actually, that we NEED to know that we cannot possibly know the answers to the questions to which we THINK we desire the answers. If we really knew all the things we think we want to know, we’d kill ourselves out of boredom. We’d HATE being alive.

      • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        Pretty much my attitude toward people who think they know it all (religiously, scientifically, whatever). “If you think there’s an explaination for everything and you know what it is right now, aren’t you really bored?”

        • Andrew Raymond

          Well said, Shadsie. I’ve always held that if we learn anything from science it is that the more we know, the more beautiful The Lord’s plan appears, and the more we realize there is that we Don’t know. I think that’s paraphrasing Einstein though, but I can’t remember the quote.

    • vj

      “I hate not knowing the answer.”

      Me too! I don’t understand people who imagine what Heaven will be like etc (even if the answers they come up with are solidly based on Biblical revelation) – my ONLY thought about Heaven/Eternity/what-happens-after-I-die is that AT LAST I will KNOW for sure all the things I am not sure about here…..

  • Singer Muse via Facebook

    This is one of those questions that makes me believe in both Heaven for Everyone, and Karmic Justice. If this question were asked of an “unconventional” say Unitarian or Quaker or even another religion/philosophy, the answer would vary between them. If you were to ask ME, my answer would be “Yes, eventually”. I believe that God/Goddess/Source is just, therefore I believe in the Law of Karma. My own personal beliefs do not include an eternal “Hell” of ultimate damnation, so what remains for me to believe in are two alternatives: Heaven, or Non existence: to become as if they never were by their own choice. I am not a Catholic, so I do not believe in “degrees” of “sin”. Sin is sin be it a “small one” or a “honkin’ huge” one. If that is the case, then EVERYONE would go to Hell (according to conventional christian belief) But I believe EVERYONE goes to Heaven, as well as spiritual evolution: from ignorance, brutality, hate, processing eventually to wisdom, kindness and understanding, and love. We think we are not capable of doing the horrific things we see others do and condemn them for. But we are all capable, as human beings, of “the evil that men do”…so it becomes a process, a daily process of learning over and over to understand our own shadow selves our own capability for cruelty and brutality, and daily work (with God’s grace) to evolve our selves into beings capable of loving kindness.

  • Kara

    My pastor describes this life as the training ground, a spiritual womb of sorts, where we develop as souls. Where we can become more and more in line with who and how God made us to be. After this? The body and the wickedness stay. Our soul, whether well-developed or shrivelled, is what goes on. And in a place of perfect justice, radical equality, and complete understanding of the effects on our actions? Even something like heaven might look something like hell to the racist, the murderer, the exploiter of the poor, the brutal rapist.

    That said: I live my life by the belief that God is absolutely, completely, deeply fair. Never less than fair, to be sure, but often more than it. That’s what mercy is. I believe God will reconcile all things in time. For some it may take more time than others. Eternity is good for that. I reject the idea that God ever gives up on us. That doesn’t mean there’s no punishment, no consequences. But I, for one, will continue to risk erring on the side of making God’s love too big.

  • http://www.hurricanes-and-trainwrecks.blogspot.com Amy

    This Sunday at my church the sermon was about the story of Absalom and David (If you don’t know it, go read it…2nd Samuel, starting at chapter 13). A little back-story: Absalom was the third son of King David. Absalom murdered David’s first-born son Amnon, his own half brother (justifiably, some might say, since Amnon raped their sister Tamar), but David still allowed him to come home and have a place in the kingdom. Absalom was proud and began trying to take over the kingdom, and finally led a revolt and started sleeping with David’s concubines. In the end and after horrific battles and the loss of tens of thousands of Israelites, Absalom is killed against David’s orders. When David learns this, despite all the evil things Absalom has done and has caused to be done, he goes to his room alone and weeps, saying, “Oh Absalom, my son, my son…would that I had died instead of you.” David – as we know – was a man after God’s own heart.

    God loves us this much.

    Each and every one of us.

    Even the ones among us who choose to do horrible, soul-rending things to each other.

    Like many people, I sometimes cannot reconcile forgiveness of those who are evil with my idea of justice, but I know I have to accept that this God I follow is the forgiving, loving kind of God who would do just that; the kind of God who would weep and mourn for me if I fell away (when I fall away), the kind who would say, “would that I had died instead of you…” As hard as it is to think of murderers and rapists and tyrants being forgiven, I don’t want to follow a God who will not forgive no matter how sincere the repentence. Maybe it stems from the notion of justice and retribution being intertwined. Maybe I should start thinking about justice and restoration rather than justice and retribution. One thing I do know – I trust God to get it right.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      I don’t think it means that God won’t forgive them — but true repentance comes from taking responsibility for what you have done. Any person who has done such horrible things, if they experience true remorse for those things, is going to suffer incredible emotional pain, and if you’ve ever been depressed you probably know that severe emotional pain can actually cause physical pain. I wonder if that’s not what hell is. But I think perhaps that the person who truly repents does suffer for their sins, and that they are forgiven if they truly do.

    • Molly By Golly

      David commits evil (Bathsheba/Uriah), harbors evil (Amnon), and first purposefully pushes away and later inadvertantly destroys what he loves (Absalom) as a result. David weeps for his own pain. How do we know? David never repents and continues to sow human misery (imprisonment of the concubines, Gibeonite hand over) for his own gain.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    Oh thank you John. I was having a conversation last night that danced along those lines. I decided long ago, that I can determine the eternal faith of another human being with the same aptitude as I can determine why one of my cats has an obsessive fascination with my bathroom habits.

    None of us is God. None of us have a clue as the totality of his intention for humanity, how God works with people individually or collectively. We like to think we do, but we don’t. Religious history proves that rather pointedly. As the last posting proves, even mastering the concept of Free Will is something we have been trying to figure out for eons.

    We ain’t God. We don’t get to choose who goes where on the eternal plane. We aren’t even 100% sure, despite all protestations to the contrary what exactly will happen when we die. I really don’t understand the obsession with it personally, as there is to much in the now we should be focusing on.

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

      “I can determine the eternal faith of another human being with the same aptitude as I can determine why one of my cats has an obsessive fascination with my bathroom habits.” LOVE IT!!!

  • Connie Roberts-Huth via Facebook

    I rarely comment, but I wanted you to know that my heart skipped a beat when I read your response! I’ve always had a difficult time reconciling that same issue, even after leaving organized religion. That’s exactly how I’ve always felt about God! I detest the country club rules some people insist are the only way in! Aren’t they going to be surprised to see me up there! ;-) THANK YOU, JOHN!

  • Lorelei

    I don’t know who ‘gets in to heaven’ and who doesn’t – I can’t even say for sure what I think heaven is all about. So I imagine. And what I imagine is that, at the moment of our death, we enter God’s presence. In the presence of pure love, every crappy, horrid, vile, or even simply unwitting thing we have done to hurt another creature is revealed to us in God’s truth – here is what you might have done, here is what you did. And we get it. I mean really and truly GET it – what we did, how it hurt. The traditional word for this is ‘repentance.’ It is at that moment that God steps forward, offering us a chance to sincerely express our guilt, shame, grief, and regret to those we have harmed. And in that moment, they have the opportunity – having received a fully sincere apology – to forgive. This is only what I imagine, but I’m holding God to it. I want the chance to know, and to repent of, my rotten self. I hope fervently that God will give me that opportunity. I trust God to help those I have hurt to process their own pain and to do what is appropriate for them. But if I have any hope for my own forgiveness and healing, I must hope it with all of my heart for EVERY other being. Period.

  • http://www.knnyc.com Rhys

    I realize you don’t know the answer to this, John (and others) – none of us do. But, if you might humor me and just give me your opinion… what do you think heaven IS? And hell?

    Just curious.

    -Rhys

    • Andie

      Heaven is an eternal game of beach volleyball against Jesus. You don’t keep score, you never get sunburned, and the soda stays cold all day.

      Feel free to ridicule me; I realize this is ridiculous :)

      • Andrew Raymond

        Andie, I’d get creamed. How about chess? :-)

      • http://www.knnyc.com Rhys

        I like that. A lot. Except I hope mine is tennis and Gatorade instead of volleyball and soda. :)

    • mike

      I was writing a video in my head this morning (just got some animation software and I’m itching to use it. Not that I actually know how…) and it went somewhere along the lines of a guy in Heaven, being warned by Jesus that when you play D&D with Dad as the DM, He sometimes gets carried away and you end up playing for like 70 years, and you start thinking it’s real…

  • Marcey

    Wow John, what timing. You are fearless, and a hero of mine.

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

      That’s kind of you to say, Marcey; thank you. But it’s not so much that I’m fearless as it is … well, this:

      Church Authority, Schmurch Smaschmority

      • Marcey

        Haha.

  • Tim

    John, I like what you say in a couple of comments about if we knew all the answers we would loathe being alive.

    Knowing such things is something only God could possibly know. Then there is the question about whether he does or not. All I know is that if God is Love–if the two are synonymous to the level that every book with the word “John” in the title in the Bible seems to demand, that it isn’t impossible for anyone to get to whatever Heaven is. I also know God is just and fair, so there has to be a reason. Beyond that, I am clueless on this. Gradually, I am learning to like it that way.

  • JH

    Over the course of my years of study, I’ve come to much the same conclusion. The verse says that nature itself proclaims the glories of the creator so that no man is without excuse… which got me to thinking that if one can find God by observing the glories of his creation, how can I judge whether or not someone’s sincere faith in their religion is enough? I can’t. The only faith I have any hope of judging is my own, and even there it’s more of a “I’m doing my best and hoping my father in heaven is as forgiving as I need him to be.”

    As for Heaven and Hell… again, after years of study… I think it comes down to the nature of sin. Sin, in my opinion, is anything that separates you from God. Anything you do that takes you out of his will for you. Sin is different for each person… for me, smoking a cigarette or taking a shot is fine, but for the man who is addicted to nicotine and alcohol who lets those things rule his life, if he takes a hit or a shot, he’s letting something displace God in his life. For him, that drag of smoke is sin because it takes his focus, his center, away from God and the things God has planned for him.

    Obviously, murder, rape, and genocide are things that will take anyone away from what God has planned for them.

    When I sin, I recognize what I did was wrong, that it’s taken me from God and I take steps to repent and repair what I did. If I lied to someone, I admit the lie and tell the truth. If I was cruel, I admit my cruelty and try to build that person back up.

    I don’t know how you could repair the damage to a family, to a community, if you took one of theirs.

    I don’t think it is as easy as saying words and being sincere. Yes, Jesus died for all of our sins, and his death paid the penalty once and for all, but I don’t think that means you get out of all of the consequences, because like John said, that wouldn’t be fair. Our God is a God of Justice, not just a God of Love.

    Personally, I think that hypothetical rapist/murderer/Hitler would need to genuinely repent from their sins and try to make them right… and if they died without having made things right, I think they might still have something that holds them back. Their sin could still be on them.

    This isn’t because Jesus didn’t do enough on the cross, but rather because they didn’t fully accept what they needed to do.

    After writing all of this, I’m not sure if it says everything the way I mean it, but it’s the best I can do for now.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    I have a very dear friend who is a spiritual medium. Right off the bat: I’m not going to debate whether or not mediums are for real or not, that’s not my point. But what this post reminds me of is something he told me a couple of years ago. He says that from what he can piece together, it seems (in his opinion) that when we die, the “judgment” we experience is actually an opportunity to experience every feeling – good or bad – that we caused in others by our treatment of them. So every person is made to understand their full impact on other human beings. I imagine that most of us have done and said things we were not proud of, things we would take back if we could. Some of us have done things unintentionally and mindlessly. Others of us have deliberately been cruel to other people and then there are those who have physically harmed or killed. Imagine going through all of the emotions and experiencing firsthand what you did to others. He says for many people it is a very difficult experience. He also says that since time is sort of a different animal there than here that it seems the length of time a particular individual spends processing this stuff can seem long or short, but it is a soul-transforming experience for everyone. At least, that’s his take on it.

    I’m not inclined to disagree. I certainly don’t know for sure, but if I wanted to believe that God didn’t just let us get away with doing horrible things, I would want to believe as well that true repentance could only come from fully understanding the result of our actions on others. Of course I have no way of actually knowing whether this is true or not and when I die I won’t be able to come back and tell you about it — unless my friend’s abilities are really true and you wish to go look him up to have a chat with me about it. :)

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      That sounds remarkably like something I put into one of my fantasy fiction stories. Seriously.

      In one of my stories, I have a part late-on where the protagonists stop in a little mountain town. The people of the town warn them not to stay for long, because they are overdue for one of their “Events.” Once (sometimes twice) a year, every person living in the mountain town experiences a psychic/mental pain – they experience all of the painful experiences of everyone within certain radius (the town) that they’ve had since the last Event. As a result, everyone in the town is super-kind. They that have decided to stay in the town do so because they are strong enough to handle the Events and want to enjoy the benefits of a truly kind community. Everyone is kind so as to minimize each other’s pain. They go out of the way to make each other happy.

      Those that survive it, of course. Some people (particularly newcomers to the town) experience an event and promptly go to the forest to commit suicide.

      That’s just stuff that happens in a novel that’s not published and one that needs a good-edit-tornado working over by me before I’m ready to submit it to agents again (or consider Kindle or something).

      As for psychics in real life, they go into my mental “possiblity bin” but I’m skeptical of them in general. I just thought the idea you shared was kind of cool, and was all “I wrote that. Sort of.”

  • B

    I am a big believer that anyone who feels the urge to do things that are harmful to themselves or to others have some degree of psychiatric disorder. That’s not to say that anyone can turn around and say “meh, not my fault – I’m ill”. Not at all! But we need to recognise that events cannot be isolated from the journeys towards them. We need to break out of this Hollywood “bad guy/good guy” mentality, because the world simply isn’t like that.

    The examiner who took me for two driving tests and one motorbike test was a lovely, sweet, warm and funny guy. He helped me out through the tough bits when he could see that I was horribly nervous, or when my stumpy legs were too short for the motorbike. He was really loved in the community, and a month after my motorbike test we were all shocked to learn that he had turned himself in for sexually abusing several children 30 years earlier.

    My wonderful grandfather, who taught me so many things about life, sexually abused my mother when she was a pre-teen. She still loved him, attributed his behaviour to the sudden death of her mother, and I did not learn what he had done until I was 18. I have a generous and kind father in so many ways – he takes on waifs and strays and finds them jobs in his company whenever he can. But one night, during an argument, he punched my mother in the fact and broke her cheekbone.

    People and life just aren’t as simple as good and evil.

    When my husband and I were preparing for confirmation, our minister explained to us that he feels that sin is not the violation of a list of rules, but distance from God that we create by ourselves, and that’s something I really feel makes sense. We can never know what was actually said by God and Jesus, and what was simply added by the various writers and translators according to the cultural trends of the time. All I feel we can really be sure of is that God is Love, and when we take ourselves away from that message, we are sinning.

    My uncle is a 9/11 survivor and yet I prayed for Osama Bin Laden when I heard that he had been killed. I am not a pious person – in either sense of the word – but I just felt that I couldn’t wish hell upon anyone or celebrate the death of a human being, no matter what that human being had done. To be so twisted up inside that you want to cause others pain cannot be a place that anyone would reach easily. I want everyone to have a chance at redemption. We must not forget that every rapist and murderer is still God’s child, and He loves them without limits.

    • Marcey

      The dialectic (dualistic) process of finding truth, I believe, has proven futile. The world is full of grey. I agree with you B.

    • andie

      Beautifully said, B.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      You’re downright saintly.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Beautifully said. And simply because it seemed so conspicuously absent by the ‘Christian’ pundits and president of the time, thank you for praying for Bin Laden. It is, from what we see in scripture, what Christ directs us to do.

  • Mark Hull

    Thanks! Bible not cosmology for creation of the earth in the Adam and Eve story and dissecting it and using it as god is well, idolatry.

    My true spirituality is elsewhere but you are the closest remnant to Christianity. I never left Christ. Just his silly followers and their make beliefs. When we die what use is there for all the negativity, resentment, blame, shame? Human’s created this need for guilt punishment. I know many have to believe every word of their holy books is literally true. Good luck with that.

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

      “Humans created this need for guilt punishment” is maybe not exactly what you’d want to call adequate. All humans DO feel and suffer guilt; it’s absolutely inherent to every human. And that justice is necessary and right–that the wrong DO deserve and need punishment—feels like an innate, organic truth. Neither is readily dismissed; asserting they’re simply the “creations” of weak-minded humans is … untenable, yes?

      • Marcey

        I think doing evil is its own punishment. When we turn our backs on God “good”, we punish ourselves, whether we make the connection or not. Just my opinion.

        • Diana A.

          Yeah, I’m inclined to agree with that.

        • Brena

          Evil may be it’s own punishment in the long run but there is a lot (really a lot) of scripture directing believers to the defense of the weak and oppressed. There is long term justice but Jesus defended the woman they were going to stone and whipped some other people. I think we have to engage to the best of our ability in this world if we want evil to stop and let the powers that be provide justice after.

          • Diana A.

            I agree that whatever punishment may result from evil does not erradicate the believer’s responsibility to defend the weak and the oppressed. We are called to do the good we can do and then leave whatever is beyond our capabilities to the powers that be (the Power that Is?)

      • andie

        I think there are people without conscience who do not experience guilt. Luckily we both know that it’s ok to disagree!

        • LVZ

          Every day of the two years that I lived with him, my stepfather told me that I was the stupidest, ugliest fool on the face of the earth. He thought his cruelty was the funniest thing in the world. I was a pious, devout Christian honor student who volunteered at church. He was an unemployed deadbeat who went out of his way to make my life hell. He passed away a few years later without ever feeling an iota of remorse. He went to church regularly, but was one of the most unChristian men I’ve ever met.

          The reason he did those things was that HIS stepfather treated HIM that way when HE was young. My stepfather was trying to make himself feel smart by making everyone around him look stupid.

          This explains his actions. It doesn’t excuse them. When he was an adult he always had a choice — to love his neighbor as himself, or to be cruel to people. He always chose the latter. I think that sadistic part of him is in hell.

          Before he was that evil man, before he was himself abused, he was an innocent child, the person God meant him to be. I think that person — the innocent baby whom I never saw — is at rest in heaven.

          I don’t have any Biblical grounds on which to justify my belief — that the evil part of us is burned away and the innocent part is liberated to proceed to heaven. It’s just what I personally think happens.

          • Diana A.

            I tend to agree with you on this as well.

          • Andie

            What a beautiful way to picture the afterlife. I have never believed in a Hell, because I don’t think a God worth paying attention to would send His people there, but you have really given me something to think about!

          • Susan in NY

            I like your ideas, LVZ.

      • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

        A couple of years ago I posted something along the following on my old (now imploded) blog:

        Punishment is pointless. Punishment is not, can not be restitution. Restitution is a separate issue entirely.

        Punishment = you hurt me so I get to hurt you. If I hit you and break your nose, throwing me in jail in no way restores your nose to its original condition. Further, if I feel (rightly or wrongly) that I was justified in hitting you, then punishing me only increases my anger and animosity.

        Punishment is different from preventing a person from committing more harm by either imprisoning them or otherwise isolating them from the chance to commit more harm. Locking me up for breaking your nose will do nothing to convince me of the rightness or wrongness of that act, but it will prevent me from breaking another person’s nose while I am incarcerated (yeah, I suppose I could break a guard or prisoner’s nose, but even then I could still be further isolated in solitary confinement).

        I believe there are two afterlives facing us, one where we have accepted God’s grace, and one where we have rejected it.

        I do not believe God punishes in the human sense of the word. I believe he allows unrepentant humans to opt out of paradise, to spend eternity isolated from Him because that is their selfish desire.

        • Diana A.

          The doors of Hell are locked from the inside? (idea borrowed from CS Lewis.)

  • Marcey

    I never heard God described as “fair” before. For my sake, I hope he is not. The story about the good master paying the late-coming laborers the same as the ones who worked all day bothers some people; not me. It comforts me. I know people who can be described as “fair”. I do not think of them as “good”. When I think of God, I think “good”, not “fair”. The book “The Shack,” I believe, provides one acceptable answer to the tough question posed in the letter. If God is “fair,” does that mean we have to earn our place in heaven? Did he not do that for us when he died on the cross?

    Please, no one take this to mean I am condoning rape or murder. We just had an eerily similar tragedy in our small community where two sisters were raped and murdered. The perpetrator was only twenty years old. My heart aches for both families, but I cannot believe this young man thought this up on his own. He must have experienced something terribly evil in his own life.

    • andie

      I think you and John are using the word ‘fair’ differently.

      • Marcey

        At first I thought John must have had an awfully “unfair” life. But then I thought, gee, life has not been fair either. I agree, Andie. Looking back at it, it is probably my ideas about mercy that compelled my writing. Maybe I have never encountered true fairness.

        • Marcey

          *(my) life has not…

  • Tracy Smith via Facebook

    I’m a universalist, so I believe everyone gets there.

    • Brena

      I am something of a universalist in that I believe reality and God are both real so what words you use is not as important as choices and thoughts and actions. I am primarily Christian though. The concept of Christ being both divine and human and without sin and a sacrifice and ressurecting work so well for me and how I organize my beliefs and philosophies. Since we are talking about something that cannot be proven (John Shore I truly enjoyed your response) I feel comfortable sharing what I believe informed by the Bible, history, and whatever else works for me.

      I will not discuss repentance. It is beautiful when it is real but too often even nice people forget it is supposed to be based on changed thinking and not on a prison conversion or on the more popular choice of “acting like everyone wants me to act.”

      I believe that there is a trinity of the Divine: The Source God which is all the power and reality of the universe (and behind it) and is distant and close and immovable and does not play favorites and is based on what works and what doesn’t work. The Spirit womb-like nature of success and effort being rewarded. It is worshiped in the synergy that comes from the forces of the universe (the way things work in physics) showing quantum patterns (the way things really work in physics) and being enhanced by moments of success, truth, and life. And the God of relationship that leads us and enhances us. The God of relationship shows the eternal power of the whole of God in how we relate to this existence. (Romans 1:20)

      It is the Relationship God (good) we commune with and that is the one we can turn our back on. The other cannot be escaped from. (Stop the universe I want to get off?) There are different heavens and different punishment realms spoken off in many religions, including the Judeo-Christian Bible. So, how does one get to a higher heaven or worse hell? What if Relationship God is Success, Truth, and Life? What if the soul is a something not yet discovered behind the quantum realm? What if Relationship God attracts soul and when we die our soul (mind, will, and emotions) are returned to the absolute reality of what Success, Truth, and Life is? How comfortable would we be with unfaltering reality if we have nothing to distract us? How comfortable would just our mind, will, and emotions be? (“The tick tock of the clock is painful; all sane and logical. I wanna tear it off the wall…” Eve6 Inside Out) The more we can learn to “be real” and not just be what other people want then the happier we will be alone (or grouped) with REALITY unwavering and more comfortable = more heavenly. That is custom fit justice and completely within our own control so we are without excuse for…all of our own reality. We say that good people go to heaven but maybe really good ones do. (Not more good, good with reality.) Might as well face it now and get the practice in. With this view I think we see why Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is within us. I bet hell is too. And the scripture that says the kingdom of heaven allows violence makes some justice sense too. Reality is hard. I won’t hide from it and then claim I follow a real God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson via Facebook

    awesome answer. i always say, it’s not my place to judge, it’s God’s. and on a tangent, i suspect that murdering rapists are not the only people who cannot count only on “saying the right words”. in fact, i’d go so far as to say that i don’t believe you can get into heaven by wanting to get into heaven.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    If I may link to another blog, I really like what Ranicorn once said on this general ballpark of subject (was more about Hell than Heaven). For those who want a preview before clicking the link, it’s about self-awareness, about the pain that comes with being truly aware of the evil one’s done. http://gaychristiangeek.blogspot.com/2011/09/hell-of-self-awareness.html

    Sometimes I wonder if matters of Heaven and Hell are kind of like something in an old favorite childhood movie. I don’t know how many of you are into Fantasy genre films or remember the 1980s, but one of the VHS tapes I wore out watching as a little kid was “The Neverending Story.” For those for whom that vaugely rings a bell – it’s the one where the kid gets to fly around on a big fluffy white dog-dragon. It’s live action and costuming and Muppet-shopping, not animated. As I recall, there’s a part of it where the adventurer is warned about the Magic Mirror – a device he must pass in order to continue his journey to save his world. The Mirror “shows you what you truly are” – and, according to the goblin who warns our hero; “Kind men find that they are cruel. Brave men find that they are really cowards.” The protagonist reaches the mirror and finds out that his life is connected to a boy in another world (the kid reading his book), he has a bit of what TVTropes calls a “heroic blue screen of death,” but eventually accepts it and moves on.

    I wonder if Heaven/Hell are the same place, or if just at the Kairos-moment of death, we realize who we really are. Some of us may find that were are better and stronger than we ever thought we were, some of us will find out we suck harder than we ever thought possible. Maybe then is where that self-awareness comes in. Those that have done great evil and think they can get away with it by saying a few magic words will be in for a nasty surprise when that realization hits them. At least, I would hope that.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Oh. I want to clarify with my last words there…

      I don’t really *like* the idea of a forever-Hell, I’m just talking about how I don’t like the idea of people getting a free-pass without a gate of self-awareness, either. I like the idea that each of us has to cross that threshold before “getting into the party” as it were.

      And, as always, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong about anything. I don’t think anyone has answers – we all just have ideas.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    I’ve seen a number of interviews w/death row inmates. Almost all of those interviewed claim remorse & to have found Jesus (old Dennis Miller joke: depending on the make-up of the prison population, half of ‘em might actually be named Jesus…).

    There’s no way of knowing a person’s heart. God’s grace has extended in the past to murderers (Moses, David), thieves, and adulterers. Only He knows if a person is genuinely repentant.

    That being said, of all the death row interviews I’ve seen, only two or three struck me as genuinely remorseful. Those murderers did not want to die, but were willing to die if it would somehow grant peace to the families of their victims. (Interestingly enough, I can’t recall ever seeing a family that found peace or closure at a murderer’s execution; even if the murderer admitted his crime & was repentant they believed he was gaming the system, mocking them, and somehow getting away with it).

    I can’t post on death row inmates & repentance w/o quoting Carl Penzram’s last words: “Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re fooling around!”

    • Andrew Raymond

      Add Elijah to the murders (a mass murderer in fact.)

  • Ric Booth

    Your recent posts are hard too open. I’m fearing (Pavlov’s) dogma I suppose.

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

      how do you mean, hard to open?

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

        Sorry, John. I was trying to type on my phone and got frustrated and finally just hit submit.

        Hard as in scary. Difficult for me. I remember sharing about the horror of child molestation with a good Christian once. When the feelings toward the perpetrator came up in the discussion, I was ‘gently’ reminded that we (Christians) are called to love them, too. Proper Christian dogma. Inappropriate time to lecture. (I don’t know when I will feel it is appropriate to rebuke victims’ feelings.)

        So when I’ve read the titles of your recent posts, I am reminded of other Christian responses / rebukes and I hesitate (Pavlovianly?) before clicking. Even though I know in my head I’ve nothing to fear on your blog.

        • Molly By Golly

          Why do so many insist forgiveness be contingent upon the Christian faith of the injured but not the remorseful apology of violent? There is a difference between holding a toxic grievence in one’s heart and moving through and past the unforgivable so throughly that one is grateful for the experience. Neither scenario requires forgiveness nor does one preclude the other. We Christians miss the mark when we fail to differentiate between these states, contingent forgiveness and God’s grace.

        • Courtney

          I am so sorry for what you have experienced, both in childhood and from theology.

          If there is a god, I think s/he MUST understand your anger and pain. I believe there are no “wrong” emotions, just wrong behaviors. ie: I am filled with rage toward my sons rapists, and I believe if god is just he understands. I also (at times) would like to hunt them down and turn their heads into yogurt with a baseball bat…this action would be unacceptable.

          As I have come to recognize that I can experience an emotion without labeling it as “bad” I have found much more inner peace and much less cravings to become a yogurt machine.

          Emotions (including love, or the lack thereof) cannot be labeled as “good” or “bad” especially if we believe emotions were created by god.

          I too, hesitate to subject myself to certain teachings because of having been burned in the past, but I have to say, John’s blog has been a safe place so far.

          Again, I’m sorry for your experiences,

          I hope my ramblings have helped you,

          The 9 year old’s mom

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

            Thank you, Courtney.

            I am so very sorry for what your son has had to endure. I don’t know your son’s pain so much as I know yours. My daughter was 6, as was my sister. At the urging of my therapist, I wrote about some of my experiences. Writing connects me to my emotions. http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/in-my-dreams/

            And, btw, your “ramblings” are affirming and encouraging. Your strength is inspiring.

  • Cyndi Kramer via Facebook

    I believe there is no such animal, this is all there is. I try to live my life so that what lives on after I shrug off my mortal coil is a positive memory for those who knew me.

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    I’m a Lutheran. That means that I think that if God was fair, no one would get there. Rather, God is love, and love finds a way even for rapists and murderers. That’s not to say there isn’t something difficult to face for them before it’s heaven. The ones they harmed will be there, and because God is suffering love, they will face the suffering they caused, without any place to escape that realization. Forgiveness may ultimately feel good, but it’s not denial. It’s a very tough thing to receive, when you need it.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Well said, Kirsten.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    great post John- the first thing that came to mind was does it matter who God chooses to allow into Heaven- I know I need to concentrate on my relationship with Him before concerning myself with others whom I have no control over….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cindy-Wood/1130734009 Cindy Wood via Facebook

    I guess I look at this issue a bit differently. I don’t mind sharing heaven with others who have sinned. If we start to rank certain sins as “heaven-acceptable” and others as not, we will all fall short. All of us. I am glad to worship a God whose Love is so expansive that any who comes to God, whenever they come, will be welcomed as a precious lost sheep…..if God welcomes all, God will welcome me….

  • vini

    Sorry, your explanation is a lazy playbook platitude and doesn’t do much. You might as well have crossed your arms and said, “He’s just fair so shut up, stop thinking about it and let’s hope for the best”. “I don’t know” is also perfectly acceptable – and frankly, more honest.

    • Melody

      Viny…he SAID he has no idea, but he gave Karen the courtesy of saying what he believes. What’s so lazy about that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rainbowgoddess Iris Gray via Facebook

    I really think that’s up to God, and not up to humans. We can’t say who will and will not go to heaven.

  • Robert Wood via Facebook

    The only heart we truly know is our own. How can we, in our limited scope, expect to know the hearts of others and pass judgment on their eternity?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrijana-Smith/1608256037 Andrijana Smith via Facebook

    The content of your heart is what matters… everything else is just a noisy, annoying distraction from the truth. Never judge anybody, feel sorry when they fall… and if (by Grace) they change, feel happy for them. Help everybody you can. “Saying the right words” means nothing, following specific set of rules and rituals means nothing… just live your life with honesty, dignity, compassion… walk in Love. And then, maybe, you’ll finally stop thinking within that Hell/Heaven, black&white frame.

  • Andrew Raymond

    I think Barnmaven put their finger on one of my issues with a lot of contemporary Christianity here. Having been raised Catholic, there are two other factors which always play into discussions like this for me.

    First, and arguably the most important, is the concept of penitence. For many of today’s Christians, it certainly appears that simply ‘saying the words’ is enough (with which I disagree completely.) Apparently this sneaked in when Luther rejected the sacrament of confession. But what I was always taught, and what I fervently believe is that there is no forgiveness without penitence.

    Second, from a Catholic point of view, heaven and hell are not the only outcomes. There is always purgatory. Personally, I know that I have sinned and done harm for which I will never be able to make complete amends in this life, however strong my penitence. I absolutely do not believe that I will be able to repent enough to be expected into heaven, and if The Lord chooses to surprise me pleasantly, so much the better.)

    • Christy

      Thanks for this perspective, Andrew. I know the realms of Fundamentalism from whence I came (but am no longer a part) would refer to the exchange of the thief on the cross with Jesus as evidence of a “profession of faith” receiving an instant reward in “paradise” without any further hoops being necessary. Perhaps one could argue, though, that his penance and punishment were being exacted in that very moment.

      • Andrew Raymond

        Christy,

        My inner Jesuit would probably love to debate that with you, but I’m trying hard to keep him buried these days.

        In the case of the thief on the adjacent cross being forgiven, I like your parallel. But then, that thief wasn’t the one dying for us, was he :-).

        • Marcey

          oooh I think that is missing from so many discussions here. I don’t really know if it a given among “Christians” anymore that Christ died for our sins, so punishment is not necessary. He saved us. Do I assume too much here?

          • Christy

            No, I don’t think you do. I am not at all versed in Catholic theology. Most Protestants I know would agree with you, Marcey. I think. In fact, the whole purpose, they might argue, of the atonement is so that we would avoid (eternal) punishment and be reconciled to God. Though many in the same group do view God as retributive and have a sense of Karma about God (with which I disagree) that God still exacts blessings and punishments here in this life upon us based on our behavior: the well behaved and faithful are blessed and the misbehaving endure hardships. Is this not part of the concept of American Exceptionalism (and what is wrongheaded about it)?

  • http://www.aarondtaylor.com Aaron D. Taylor

    First time commenting here. Sorry I don’t have anything profound to say, except to give my regards to John for this line:

    “I’ll just be, like, “Oh, really? They only serve green tea here? Oh. That’s great! Does this harp music ever stop playing? It doesn’t? Great!”

    That cracked me up!

  • Brian W

    One important evidence of a sinner receiving Divine forgiveness for their sins is repentance – a change of heart and change of mind and a change of action.

    • Diana A.

      Yes. I agree with this.

    • Christy

      Could I shift the nuance just a tad by saying: One important evidence of a sinner understanding they have Divine forgiveness for their sins is repentance – a change of heart and change of mind and a change of action.

      • Brian W

        Yes, that is better

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryterry17 Mary Knox via Facebook

    There are some things we have questions about that will NEVER be answered (here in this life). I have always felt, like John, that the God I seek & trust is completely fair & just. I will leave the sending of people to heaven up to him…..

  • Greg Mulkey

    As a victim of childhood sexual abuse my heart cries for justice. This being said I’m not sure if there is a consenses as to what that justice should look like. while many will discuss, as John pointed out, what heaven might look like and who will live there, there is also many words given to alternatives to heaven. Is there a hell or perhaps degrees of heaven. Ultimately these many words have never brought me the comfort or justice I have sought. The place of refuge that has been my source has been found in the still , quiet, perhaps mystical presence before the creator. It is there that I sense the nature of God. A nature that is at the same exact moment compassionate, just and not willing that any should perish. So for me there is no answer to this question, only the glaring need for me to seek Gods presence and in so doing experience the comfort and strength to journey onward.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Greg, know simply that my heart goes out to you as a victim.

  • Kimberly Moser Musci Phillips via Facebook

    The broadest vague answer is found somewhere amid the thief on the cross, separation of sheep from goats, and all of us ultimately having to give an account of ourselves before God. Worrying and debating the issue of who is definitely (not) getting past StPeter @ the pearly gates only distracts us.

  • Hannah Grace

    Hey, but the Bible also says “without faith, no one can please God.” I’m not saying I like the idea of anyone going to hell. I would wish that no person would go to hell, even someone horrible- people are so ignorant and flawed, and capable of so much evil so easily, while good is so hard to do. But I can’t use your naive argument in my Theology classes, for example, John, because it only takes into account one ambiguous passage from the Bible, while there are many specific ones which say faith is required.

    Please tell me I’m wrong, because I’d like to be. :)

    • textjunkie

      Faith is required: Define faith? Faith in what? Or whom? Where’s the verse that defines faith? And given that, how is anyone here to judge whether someone else has “faith”?

      Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith–isn’t that how it goes? And required for what? Does “pleasing God” refer to pie in the sky by and by, or your relationship with God now in this lifetime, or something else?

      Like John said: flock o’ crows. Certain lack of specificity… Have fun in the Theology classes but don’t take any definition for granted. :)

    • Lymis

      Three flaws in what appears to be your argument:

      First, that the Bible (or any given translation of it) determines who goes to heaven, rather than God.

      Second, that faith is a set of beliefs or intellectual assertions or emotional allegiences rather than a ground of being or an openness to trust. As one bumper sticker said “Faith is not belief without proof. Faith is trust without reservation.” And that whatever faith is, it has to be engaged in as a living human through living human awareness, rather than something that is done by the soul, independent of human time.

      And third, that getting into heaven is a matter of “pleasing God” so that heaven is a reward for toadying behavior rather than a participation in being one with God in unity for all eternity.

    • Brena

      Faith in NT is knowledge from experience or beliefs based on that knowledge. Evidence and substance of unseen or hoped for things. Is there another type? Really, I am asking if another type is in the Bible because I have never taken theology classes.

      I base mine on the Greek meanings that King James English translated as “faith.” I do not believe that describing faith like this is simple. If God is real then following based on knowledge, experience, evidence, and substance does not seem like it would displease him and doesn’t seem different at all from what John said. Having no evidence for what happens when we die…it can’t displease God to base our answers on our personal experience, which for me is: ???????????

  • Floyd Miller

    I was shocked, confused, bewildered as I entered Heaven’s door,

    Not by the beauty of it all, nor the lights or its decor.

    But it was the folks in Heaven who made me sputter and gasp–

    The thieves, the liars, the sinners, the alcoholics and the trash.

    There stood the kid from seventh grade who swiped my lunch money twice.

    Next to him was my old neighbor who never said anything nice.

    Herb, who I always thought was rotting away in hell,

    Was sitting pretty on cloud nine, looking incredibly well.

    I nudged Jesus, ‘What’s the deal? I would love to hear your take.

    How’d all these sinners get up here? God must’ve made a mistake.

    ‘And why’s everyone so quiet, so somber – give me a clue.’

    ‘Hush, child,’ He said, ‘they’re all in shock. No one thought they’d be seeing you.’

    Poem By Rod Hemphill

    • Diana A.

      Thanks Floyd. Reposting on my facebook.

      • Marcey

        Love This!

  • Susan in NY

    I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I believe that this is all there is, so I’d better get it right the first time.

    My mom is Buddhist, and she is quiet sure that her mother was a Buddha. As I understand it, Buddhists believe that you get reincarnated over and over again until you get it right, and you reach the state of being a Buddha. If there is such a thing, my grandmother certainly seemed to fulfill the requirements. She died, but her memories are alive in my mind every day. I don’t know if it is her spirit, or just my mind, but she helps me and guides me to do the right thing by showing up in my mind every so often.

    My grandmother believed in heaven, so for her, I think heaven exists. I think she is up there hanging out with her husband, laughing and having all sorts of fun.

    I hope that when I die, I will have done everything I can to have a positive influence on the world.

    How is that for a convoluted personal philosophy? And let’s not get started with my Jewish significant other, my sister the Mennonite, or my dad and brother, the atheists.

    You should see Christmas at our house. snort.

    • Diana A.

      “You should see Christmas at our house. snort.”

      Are you all able to have fun at Christmas in spite of the variance in beliefs or do you guys end up fighting?

      • Susan in NY

        Diana A, we are very fortunate that we are not yellers. In fact, we all sort of go our own ways, but if there is ever a crisis, I am proud to say that we are all there for each other. I wish my family was closer, physically and emotionally, but what we have is really OK.

        (well, I don’t really have much tolerance for my Mennonite sister, but I hold my tongue.)

        • Diana A.

          I’m glad to know you guys are all able to get along–even tolerating the Mennonite sister ;-)

    • Courtney

      Just for clarification, not all Buddhist sects believe in reincarnation, and some are unconcerned about it, seeing it as unknowable and therefore irrelevant to day to day life.

  • J M Green

    @ John Shore, what basis do you have for your belief that God is fair, just, and equitable?

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

      maybe i’ll do a post on that.

      • Marcey

        I look forward to it!

      • J M Green

        That would be great (when you get a chance). From the actions of God portrayed in the Bible, I just don’t see it. I know that some will assert that divine justice and fairness is completely different from human definitions of those terms. And yet, if there is a God and that God has self-revealed to humans, then that communication must be in terms coherent and understandable to humans, otherwise it would not be a communication/revelation, but incoherent gibberish, using words to mean completely different things.

      • Courtney

        Please do! :-)

  • Marcey

    No answer seems to satisfy. Perhaps it is good we are leaving the age of Pisces and entering the age of Aquarius. New paradigm, anyone?

  • Lymis

    I know that the question “Do murdering rapists who ask for forgiveness go to heaven?” is deliberately crafted to push just the buttons that it is, and probably for good reason.

    But it seems to me that a different way of asking the same question would be “Are murdering rapists still children of God, and is God capable of showing them compassion and offering redemption?”

    It seems to me that the answer to the second phrasing of the same question is an unequivocal yes.

    And the reason for that, it seems to me is that the first phrasing of the question seems to put the agency on the human – “Is some lying bastard allowed to game the system and force God to let him into heaven just because he asks?”

    The second phrasing puts the agency where I think it belongs, with God – “Can God, who is all knowing, and all-loving, and who has far more ability to know all the various factors that are involved in the human heart, mind, and actions, offer mercy and redemption to someone in whom even other humans can see nothing worth saving?”

    Or in other words, do even well-meaning people get to tell God how to run His universe?

    Or in still other words, “Do murdering rapists who ask for forgiveness go to heaven?” I sure hope so, because otherwise there’s not a lot of hope for the rest of us.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      (Or in still other words, “Do murdering rapists who ask for forgiveness go to heaven?” I sure hope so, because otherwise there’s not a lot of hope for the rest of us.) – quote

      I was thinking yesterday about how… I would never blame somene for never forgiving their rapist, or the murderer of their child. It happens occasionally – the sacchrine story you hear as some kind of Hallmark special or whatnot, but it’s not exactly “normal.”

      Yet, at the same time, I remember… we are a species where some people will hold onto petty things of Seinfeldian proportions. I know people I said something thoughtless and stupid to five years ago that I know I cannot apologize to or say “I was thoughtless and stupid” because I know they don’t want to forgive me. For some people, first impressions are everything and if you screw up once, you’ve screwed up for life – even something petty, like a few careless words.

      This leaves me to think… can we really expect something as mysterious and incomprhensible as “God” to run on human capacities?

    • Karen Miller

      “I know that the question “Do murdering rapists who ask for forgiveness go to heaven?” is deliberately crafted to push just the buttons that it is, and probably for good reason.”

      I am the writer of the original post. I can assure you it was not deliberately crafted to push buttons. It was a sincere question that has troubled me for some time. The question came to me as I was driving home from work after dealing with the horrendous crime. I left out a lot of facts about the case due to privacy issues. If you witness, first hand, the atrocities man commits against another man, woman, child or infant, you begin to question your beliefs. I posed my question to John because I felt he might be able to shed some light on the subject.

      • Lymis

        Karen, as presented to us, the question was in John’s original headline, not in a quote from you, or I wouldn’t have phrased my comment quite that way. My point was not to question your sincerity or your pain or frustration, nor even, really, to question John’s choice in writing it that way – had he headlined the article the way I rephrased it, in context, it would have come off as very patronizing and dismissive of your point – which is part of why I said that posing the question in the human terms was a good choice, or at least an understandable choice, to create this very discussion. Because we usually do see things from our own human viewpoint, and most of our deepest spiritual crises come from having that experience – of being human in the face of God.

        Whether he chose to use something that is an exact quote from you or phrased it himself, I think it is (was, as it turns out, since it has been changed, now) the right way to pose the question for this kind of discussion.

        I don’t question or condemn anyone who sees horror and reacts with horror, or anyone who has experienced the worst other humans can do to each other and comes out hurt. I have no reason to believe I would react any differently – as Shadsie says, I know I hold onto far, far pettier things without being able to forgive.

        And some things are truly unforgivable on this side of eternity.

        But mapping our inability to forgive onto God is, I think, an error. Refusing to consider that God might see things differently does a disservice to us, to other people, and in the end, to God, or at least, to our ability to connect to God.

        And, it one’s view of hell is eternal torment, eternal suffering, eternal inability to ever make things right, repent, and be redeemed, it’s hard to imagine anything that any human could do that would justify hoping that God would inflict that on someone else. To hope that they hurt as much as the hurt they caused, with maybe a little extra thrown in to twist the knife? That’s certainly a very human and understandable thing. To hope that someone is punished for all eternity with no hope of it ending? Sorry, I think that’s just wrong. And, as others have said, I’m glad God doesn’t give me the right or responsibility to make such choices.

  • http://anziulewicz.livejournal.com Chuck Anziulewicz

    This post reminds me of an essay on the purpose of Hell (and, by extention, Heaven):

    http://jessiegirl.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-is-divine-purpose-of-hell.html

  • Josie

    Having grown up fundamentalist, I’ve unfortunately spent a lot of time considering heaven and hell–and have come to the conclusion that I am GREATLY relieved that I don’t have any responsibility for deciding who goes where.

    I’ve contemplated that I may well see the man who raped me in heaven…assuming, of course, that I get there. I may also see the pastor who emotionally devastated me after the rape. I don’t know how I feel about that. But I agree with John that God is ultimately, unequivocally fair–and loving. To me, the whole idea of “undesireables” ending up in heaven makes more sense to me since I became a parent 20 years ago. There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING my daughter could do to make me stop loving her. Be disappointed in her, sure. Frustrated with her? Absolutely. But stop loving her? Never. And God loves us as his/her children infinitely more than I can even conceive of.

    But, I gotta’ admit…the thought of seeing “certain people” there still ticks me off!! :-)

  • Brian Orrock McHugh via Facebook

    If Heaven exists, they do go there if they ask for forgiveness AND sincerely REPENT! ANd remember: God knows who’s lying!

  • Chris Balduc via Facebook

    If I was on my deathbed and scared to ‘death’ of going to Hell, why would I lie? Where is the motivation to decieve God?

  • Ken Leonard via Facebook

    God’s grace is sufficient. God’s capacity to forgive exceeds mine, so … yes.

  • Christienne Miggas via Facebook

    I have always had trouble with this concept…what’s to prevent people from being horrible and cruel and then at the end repenting and getting in the door? I ask this as an agnostic.

  • Gary

    If the answer were no…then God’s character would be like mine. Where is the comfort in that?

  • Todd Gibson via Facebook

    If Jesus dies for our sins, he died for all our sins, even the most repulsive.

    • Brian W

      Todd,

      This does lead to a logical theological conundrum – did Christ die for all the sins of all people (essentially universalism) all sins of some of the people (the elect – Calvinism) or almost all the sins of all the people (Arminianism)? If all the sins of all the people, then all are saved because even the sin of unbelief, faithlessness and an unrepentant heart are all paid for. If all the sins of only the elect, then the Gospel is of none effect to the non-elect, then the least choice makes salavation potential for all, Christ died for all the sins of all people EXCEPT the sin of unbelief and faithlessness – that is your part in salvation, to believe by faith.

      Theologinas have grappled with this for 2 millenia, I doubt it can be settled here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fivecatsownme Elizabeth Montgomery via Facebook

    As a Christian, I believe redemption and forgiveness are possible for all of us. I don’t necessarily believe in Heaven as the reward for us for being “good” as it puts God in the role of Santa Claus with his naughty and nice list. Christ died for all sinners.

  • Angela De Benedetto via Facebook

    I love this post, Mr. Shore but egad zooks if I make it there, I hope they serve more than green tea in heaven ;)

  • Zach Powers via Facebook

    Just as surely as God stands ready to forgive anyone sincere enough to ask, He will also not be played for the fool — besides, anyone cheating the “game” and playing till their last card, may find themselves trumped with an early death and no forgiveness.

    • Gary

      I believe forgiveness eventually comes to all…whether in this life or the next.

  • Christy Caine via Facebook

    @ Brian: when you say repent what do you mean by that word?

    • Brian W

      Christy,

      Repentance is a result of (not the cause of) salavation which in simple terms is a change of heart, change of mind and a change of action. Upon salvation, there is always evidence of that salvation – like repentance.

      • Andrew Raymond

        Brian, your response confuses me. Is penitence a cause or an effect in your mind?

        • Brian W

          Andy,

          The evidence of God’s saving grace upon a sinner is repentance in their heart, mind and action. It is a conscience action for sure, but beacuse of God’s saving grace. It is the result of salvation, not the cause of salvation God saves sinners by His free and soveriegn grace, through faith. If I’m not clear, forgive me.

        • Diana A.

          Also, there’s a subtle difference between repentence and penitence.

          Penitence is feeling sorry about what you have done. Repentence is the actual turning away from doing it again. One can feel very sorry about a particular misdeed and yet continue doing it again and again. But true repentence is making the decision (and then following through on it) that “I will never do this again.”

          At least, this is the explanation that I’ve heard so many times. I may be wrong.

          • LSS

            I thought penitence was doing good acts like mitzvot to make up for what you did?

          • Andrew Raymond

            Thanks for the clarification, Diana.

      • Christy

        I was responding to another Brian on John’s Facebook page. Those comments cross post here. But thanks for the comment, BW. I understand and agree with what you are saying about repentence, though I’m not sure you and Andrew are talking about the same word or concept.

        • Andrew Raymond

          I wasn’t sure either, Christy, which is why I asked for clarification.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jkivlehen Jessica Smith-Kivlehen via Facebook

    I’m fairly certain that the Christian God is smart enough to see through the BS and tell when someone is trying to save their skin. If they didn’t honestly, truly regret doing it, onyl regret that it will get them in trouble, I don’t think he’ll be convinced. Just thinking out loud… in text. On Facebook. :/

  • Benjamin Sullivan via Facebook

    I think we should all focus a little less on who is and isn’t getting into heaven and focus a little more on what Jesus told us was the greatest commandment – LOVE.

  • Benjamin Sullivan via Facebook

    I think we should all focus a little less on who is and isn’t getting into heaven and focus a little more on what Jesus told us was the greatest commandment – LOVE.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

      i couldn’t agree more. i think the concept of “heaven” is a bit insidious really… we’re urged to do right by God so we can be “saved”… but if the only reason we’re doing right is to save ourselves, then is it really right or just an unusually elaborate form of self-service. we need to do right, simply because it is right… or for love. i’m sure God can figure out the “heaven” stuff with no input from us.

      • Diana A.

        Totally!

    • Eirin H

      ~and to work out our OWN salvation with fear and trembling. Too often that’s not a fun idea, so we like to work out our brother’s salvation instead.

      Good word, Mr. Shore. I admire your thoughts and read while nodding my head most of the way through. The church has too long ignored the REAL pain that comes with life. Thank the Lord for people like you who can not only address it, but try to make some sense out of it and reconcile it to our Creator.

      • Diana A.

        “~and to work out our OWN salvation with fear and trembling. Too often that’s not a fun idea, so we like to work out our brother’s salvation instead.”

        So true. Thanks for saying it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    It’s good to know that He doesn’t reject those who say that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Otto-Christian-Beyer/1764265676 Otto Christian Beyer via Facebook

    God can’t be both merciful and just. At least not consistently. And isn’t consistence one thing you would expect form God?

  • Mariah DiPlacido via Facebook

    Perhaps God works above your understanding- and IS both merciful and just.

    • Marcey

      Agreed. Our simple, dualistic thinking is just not adequate.

  • John

    Funny.

    Someone should tell this woman that how she feels about the rapist…is precisely how God feels about her – and all us sinning humans.

    • Melody

      Shame on you. The “sin is sin” philosophy is nothing more than an excuse for blaming the victim and going easy on the perpetrator. God does not hate her like she hates the rapist. This may be one of the most disgusting comments I’ve ever read here, and why I’ve been on hiatus from reading here.

    • Diana A.

      God is not a hater. God is the one who loved us all into existence and who continues to love us even when we are completely unlovable. Ultimately, we will all be made perfect in love–though this may take awhile–and we may have to “go through Hell to get to Heaven.”

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Bullshit.

      • Marcey

        forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us…. pretty sure it was the only time Jesus was very specific in instructing us how to pray

  • Barbara Rice

    “I reject a God who would let this man into heaven.” I believe God understands exactly why she said that, and loves her through and through.

  • Christina Prier Steffy via Facebook

    To quote one of my all-time favorite professors: What if justice IS mercy?

    • Christie L.

      I like that…

      • Marcey

        Love that

  • Luke

    While I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, it is absurd to equate “justice” with “fairness.” The whole point of the gospel is that it is better than fair. Heaven and hell are not karmic. There is no great scale weighing your good against your bad to decide whether you should enter heaven or be fed to Anubis’ dog.

    Fairness, man’s justice, is cheap justice. Tawdry and finite. A mercantile philosophy as outdated as Hammurabi. Under that method mercy is outside of justice; an exception. A write-off for people in good with the judge. With God mercy seems more like the rule than the exception. Mercy wherever, whenever possible to whomever is willing to take it and to give it out themselves. God’s justice is clearly different from man’s justice. Just not in the way Francis Chan describes in his book.

    Please never imagine that God might be unwilling to usher “a murdering rapist . . . into heaven” solely because it’s “not fair.” Think about how meaningless that makes the crucifixion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/velma.mears Velma Poteet Mears via Facebook

    We expect God to forgive us–but not “that” person—God’s forgiveness is for all who ask–

  • Katherine

    Maybe this has already been posted in the comments, but what about Luke 23:39-43.?Granted, it just says that the man next to Jesus at Golgatha was a criminal, not a murderer or rapist, but he could have been. Who knows what he did? And he showed that he feared God and was remorseful for his actions, and Jesus told him that he would be seeing him in Paradise.

    That seems to me to be the precedent that most Christians use to justify saying that anyone who truly repents can get into heaven.

  • Heather Lantry via Facebook

    And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sebastian-Avery-Morris/607944067 Sebastian Avery Morris via Facebook

    I’ve been reading these comments with some interest. I think it is important to remember that, paraphrasing Isaiah 55:8, His thoughts are not as our thoughts, and His ways are not as our ways. We see only a very limited view of any situation. Our time in these earthy bodies and pains suffered here are infinitesimally small compared to the eternity we will spend with God. We hardly understand our own motivations and actions, how can we begin to understand or judge those of others? Vindictiveness and judgmentalness can play no part in the heart of a Christian, we must actively battle against those very human inclinations when they rear their ugly heads. For if God were to judge iniquity, who could stand? Our duty as Christians is to pray that God in His infinite mercy and wisdom will forgive others as he forgives us. For we have all fallen short of God’s plan. St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Issac of Nineveh, Origen, and many other Church Fathers write of their belief in Universal Reconciliation and Restoration. Just as we pray, hope, and work towards our own salvation we must also pray, hope, and work towards that of all mankind. But not only of all mankind, of all creation, even the fallen angels. If we pray for the salvation of Satan how much more should we pray for those men who have wronged and hurt us?

    • Melody

      I’m just wondering, because I’ve only ever heard the suggestion from a Unitarian friend: Who, or what Christian sect, rather, prays for the salvation of Satan? Just to be honest, it’s more or less a foreign concept to,me, so I’m interested to know.

      • Diana A.

        I’m not sure that there is a Christian sect that prays for the salvation of Satan. I think that this is more something that is a function of Universalism in general–which is not a sect, so much as it is a viewpoint.

        I don’t pray for the salvation of Satan but I do believe that ultimately, Satan will be saved as will be all those who come to understand the Love of God. Ultimately, like Rob Bell, I believe that Love Wins. However, this may take awhile.

        • Marcey

          I have a Mormon friend who believes Satan is Jesus’ brother, and she says she tries to love him as well, but finds it difficult. This woman is a sweetie, not a weirdo. I have always thought of her as a Christian. This particular thing I found odd and uncomfortable, and did not discuss it with her further, but I am curious….

          • Christy

            Interesting. I’ve never heard of that either, but…

            1) It sounds a great deal like many of the Greek myths

            2) It sets up an interesting polemic

            3) In light of that concept, makes me look at the parable of the Prodigal Son in a whole new way.

            Thanks, Marcey.

    • Christy

      Yep, that’s a new one for me too.

    • Christy

      So maybe this bears asking: how many and which groups still believe in the reality of Satan and demons and “dark forces”, let’s say, outside evangelicalism? I’m curious.

      • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

        I do.

        • Gary

          As do I.

          • Christy

            In a literal way or as a force?

          • Nicole

            I don’t have a problem believing in the existence of angels, so literal. But not literal in the sense that Lucifer is some kind of opposite of God, or that he sits on our shoulder tempting us. He is simply a fallen angel that got a lot of angels to follow him in his rebellion against God. How active he and other fallen angels are in the world today (we are perfectly capable of our own evil) I don’t know, but I do think they exist…another one of God’s creations.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            I’ve had some pretty direct experiences with evil. I believe them to be actual beings as well as a force.

      • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

        I believe in a balanced universe, therefore if there is good in the universe then there would likewise be evil. As evil could not come directly from a benevolent God, it only logically follows it must come from somewhere else. After that, I’m borked. I remain open to the evidence.

        • Christy

          I’m likely borked about the whole thing….thus my curious question. I’m wondering, for those who don’t take the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story literally but rather as a way of explaining human origin, how one would take literally the fall of Lucifer rather than in the same light? An explanation. A way of making sense of something without it needing to be literally true. As in the truth of myth. Could not life on earth be full of joy and sorrow because that’s just the way it is. It’s the nature of things. It’s the way we evolved/are built/were created?

          If God is a spirit and doesn’t have a body like man – as many of us learned in catechism, whether Protestant or Catholic – is Lucifer a spirit too? What are angels? Messengers of God. Are they beings? Do they take human form? Or are they metaphors for humans that participate in the synchronicity and serendipity that is so common in our daily lives? Are they a way of explaining mystical knowledge? (How did Mary know that she was carrying the son of God and not to be afraid? An angel came to her in a dream.) Or is it allegory? A concrete story to explain the happenings that are noticed in our living but are difficult to explain? I don’t know. If they are real – like creepy crawly aliens sneaking through the ductwork of the universe – I’m definitely borked.

          • Brena

            This is just an imaging I have thought about to account for a possibly real satan that is not equal to God but bigger than us: Reincarnation+evolution could account for animals before us evolving into spirit beings- even though there is no evidence of civilizations before ours because if they were not primates they would not evolve to use tools. (a little reality for this imagining is that the human brain is the evolving part of us right now and science-y people say if we were more philosophy oriented than industry oriented we might have been a completely different creature by now.) Dinosaurs had brightly colored scales and feathers (real.) One type of angel described in many ancient religion was dragon-like with scales and wings or serpant-like: seraphim = fire serpant. So, what if Elohim (plural word) were big brothers and sisters helping primate human (adam means human) and some of those big brothers are jerks?

            I hope you are not “borked” (great word!) It still boils down to this: real evil spirit or just the evil that thinking and actions produce, still the only way to deal with it is to grow and evolve in our own good strength and knowledge!

  • Jack

    \As I was driving home a sudden thought flashed into my head: this man, this horrible man, could go to heaven if he asked for forgiveness.

    \

    Forgiveness does not change the past into a record of successful moral achievement.

    Eastern Christians (and Roman Catholics, as far as I know) believe that there are degrees of glory and reward in Heaven–and of punishment in Hell. This is a concept that Protestantism in general and pop-evangelicalism in particular have lost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iLeland Leland Baker via Facebook

    Hopefully there’s a special place in Heaven for child rapists. Like an eternal jail, but with harps.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Harps and painful, weeping pustules in tender places.

      • Brena

        Of course they are playing the harps, right? That really hurts the fingertips.

  • Richard Lewis via Facebook

    I have been troubled by the question of who gets into heaven. As a person of color, I am well aware of what violence the KKK has done to us. But a lot of them are evangelicals who murdered Af-Ams each Saturday and attended church the next day. And if they were Baptists with the eternal security doctrine, they believed that they could sin enormously and their salvation was without doubt. Then as a Christian I always wondered if I would have to spend eternity with such an unrepentant muderer.

    • Andrew Raymond

      Good Lord I hope not, Richard!

  • Peet

    How many times have I thought the exact same thing: “Green tea? Great! Whatever thou hast in the cupboard oh great, magnificent, powerful, omniscient Lord. And did I mention how awesome that beard looks on you?”

  • Lee Walker

    I think, John (Shore, …not the other john who said basically God hates her as much as she hates the rapist….sheesh), you are right about the fact we can never know. It’s not up to us. We’re not God. And yes, maybe justice (in God’s eyes) is mercy. The thief on the cross cried out, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom”, to which Jesus replied, “This day you shall be with me in Paradise.” He apparently didn’t need to walk the aisle or be baptized first. He honored Jesus and in his remorse (“we deserve what we’re getting but this Man never did anything wrong”) asked Christ to remember him. The thief on the other side cursed Jesus.

    It also struck me recently that Jesus’ words of forgiveness towards his executioners — spoken from the cross — were offered while the evil was being done to him. Not after they properly repented first. Not after they saw how mistaken they were and begged for forgiveness. But Jesus asked the Father to forgive them anyway.

    To me, this illustrates that indeed there is no cut and dried formula for giving/receiving forgiveness. It’s totally an act of grace mercy on God’s part whether we “deserve” it or not. We can’t know who is ‘saved’. God only knows. We CAN make choices about how to live our lives, and how to love God with all our being, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s hard. Forgiveness is hard. It does NOT mean excusing, condoning, enabling sin or “trespass”. But Jesus was very clear on this topic… we forgive, God forgives. How much?? 70×7.

  • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    I am sure that there is Fair Trade Coffee in Heaven.

    Yet I do wonder how a person who has not been born of the Spirit will go any place when they die since they do not have a spirit to take them there.

    • Courtney

      My understanding is that in Christianity it is taught that everyone has a spirit (soul) and that at salvation or a personal Pentecost the holy spirit comes to inhabit the believer. So, I want to understand your thought process…unless I am inhabited by the holy spirit my soul cannot reach heaven? Or do I not have a soul (spirit) unless I have a salvation or Pentecost experience? Or are people born without souls? Or are souls and spirits, (which for me are interchangeable terms) not the same thing to you? If not, what is a soul and what is a spirit? I am very curious to hear your opinions on these questions…

  • http://ordinarymind.com Robert Martinez

    I am not a Christian; I am a Buddhist. The two religions would seem to be very different from each other, yet they both hold out the hope of forgiveness through repentance. People here say they reject a god who would allow such a vile person into heaven, but he’s already admitted such people. Wasn’t David an adulterer and murderer? Didn’t Samuel hack Agag to death? Didn’t Paul actively pursue and help kill Christians? If these people could get God’s imprimatur, how much more so someone who repents his sins?

    In Buddhism, there is the story of Angulimala. Angulimala was a serial killer who’s name literally meant, “Garland of Fingers,” after his habit of taking a finger from each of his victims. To protect them from the birds, he wore them as a garland around his neck. He had killed 999 people, and was about to kill his own mother for the 1000th finger when the Buddha intervened. On seeing the Buddha, Angulimala changed his mind, and decided to kill him rather than his mother. Drawing his sword, he ran after Gautama. However, the Blessed One willed a psychic feat, such that even though Angulimala was running with all his might, he couldn’t overtake the Buddha who was walking calmly. In much the same way that Saul of Tarsus was overcome by Jesus, so Angulimala was overcome by the Buddha. He left off harming sentient beings, became one of Gautama’s monks, and achieved enlightenment.

    Holding out the hope of salvation is central in both Christianity and Buddhism, the idea that one can transcend even these most vile of circumstances. If people such as Saul and Angulimala can find salvation, then so can the rest of us, who have “ordinary” transgressions, and “ordinary” suffering.

    • http://ingridspeak.com Ingrid Moore

      I agree with this in the context that both Saul and sought redemption and not just a magic get out of jail free card. I believe therein lies the difference. We cannot know a persons heart nor can we know God’s mind. The hope for redemption is always there regardless of the faith or belief. I just believe our actions speak louder than our words and there is more to it than a magic catch phrase to cover our bases at the end. Our life, our heart, and our actions mean more than our words ever have.

      • http://ingridspeak.com Ingrid Moore

        ^Saul and Angulimala

        Auto correct disappeared his name.

    • Otter

      I also enjoy the juxtaposition of buddhist and christian concepts, although in deciphering the illusion of good snd evil, I find buddhism much less confusing. And Angulimala must have already accumulated great merit in previous lives to have encountered the Buddha Siddartha Gautama.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kate-OHare/1192609053 Kate O’Hare via Facebook

    I know a lot of Christians who truly believe that people can lead lives doing horrific things– child rape level horrific— and in their dying breath can accept Jesus and that’s their ticket in. I have a really, really hard time accepting this. About me, these people know that I give my life to others through my work with abused children. What they don’t know is that I’m not Christian- if they did I’m sure they’d write me off as heading to hell. I’ve always had a really hard time wrapping my brain around that one.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Kate, I’m as certain as I breathe that there is a big difference between professing Christ on one’s deathbed and truly repenting a life of evil toward others. In fact, a person who was truly repentant of a life of evil would probably be so wracked with guilt and remorse they would be begging for more years of life in order to make amends to their victims rather than reaching for the welcoming arms of Jesus. I’m not a big fan of deathbed conversions, I tend to believe that’s someone covering their bases JUST IN CASE than an actual profession of faith. Not that I or anyone else really knows what’s going on inside another individual’s heart and mind.

    • Brena

      We also have a lot of belief that has been shaped by humans wanting power over others so some (most) of our theories over who is going to hell are based on the concept of getting people to gather with us and be with us and share money with us. And the threat of being excluded not just in this life but the next is a powerful thing (so glad for social media connecting like-minded people who still are comfortable disagreeing on points.)

      The following is personal opinion only:

      Most deathbed conversions are embraced by clergy to apease the grieving family and provide them with comfort.

  • http://ingridspeak.com Ingrid Moore

    John, I commented on FB, but I wanted you to know that this is the definition of ministry. I have struggled against Christianity being taught as an exclusionary, cliquish club, that requires of its members nothing but John 3:16 (as interpreted) and no action of compassion or love my entire life.

    I was always taught, if on your death bed, you professed Jesus as your savior, it cancelled out every bad thing you have ever done. You just got a pass. No such thing as big and little sin. Murder, Rape, and mayhem in general was the same as lying to get out of a ticket.

    This is why all my life, though I kept coming back to Jesus, I have been searching for a spiritual path that fit what I KNOW about God. And what I know for sure is this…

    God is Just, God is equitable, and God is fair. I understand that I will never know God’s mind . Its too big, but if I know his character I have to know he has made a path for those who walk the way of Jesus, even if that is not what they call it.

    Thank you! My heart is full and I feel blessed to have read this post today.

    • Nicole

      Lovely comment! Agreed!

  • Bryan

    First:

    “Please never imagine that God might be unwilling to usher “a murdering rapist . . . into heaven” solely because it’s “not fair.” Think about how meaningless that makes the crucifixion.”

    Exactly.

    • yelena

      How meaningless that makes the crucifixion? It doesn’t. The truth is in the act itself. Christ must have seen that the man was truly repentent, or he wouldn’t have forgiven him. Surely, when one asks to be forgiven, God can tell if we’re actually mean it or are just kissing his heinie. The gates to heaven would be slammed shut until and unless that request came someone who truly understood what he/she had done. As for someone who rapes and murders, incites people to horrible acts or any other vile thing you can think of, chances are, that admission will never happen. However, the fact that it could and that there is hope for one who makes that deep recognition, hope that they can be saved, THAT is what is promised by Christ.

      How much more fair can one get than that?

  • Bill Serrani

    Get real, there is no heaven as you imagine it.

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

      If you’re talking to me, how would you presume to have any idea at all of how I do or don’t imagine heaven?

      • Marcey

        So Bill, what is heaven like as you imagine it?

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      Thanks for clearing that up, Bill.

      John, time to shut the blog down. This has been really awesome., thank you!

      • Marcey

        DR Did you really just say that? How about more blogs faster, please; we love your thought-provoking articles but need to move on? Either I took it wrong or you know John way better than I do because I have really appreciated your contributions to this page as well.

        And John, we caught you imagining heaven. Green tea or coffee? lol Just sayin. Love your work!

        • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

          ’twas sarcasm, I’m fairly certain.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          (I was being sarcastic). :)

    • Marcey

      So Bill, what is heaven as you imagine it?

      • Marcey

        Please ignore the previous post. Time for me to shut down. lol

        • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

          Maybe the Heaven he imagines that is sooo much better is the one I read once in a stupid fan-fiction story – wherein there was this one guy continually eating cheesecake and being happy just eating cheesecake, and new cheesecake would appear on his plate whenever he was done eating one. I can’t remember the title of it and it really wasn’t a very good story… the protagonist, a new arrival to Heaven, didn’t like it and kept making cherubs explode with his death-glares, which is out of character for him because he was supposed to be a pacifist.

          Then there’s that one story I read about characters having a talk-show in Heaven and trying to sneak ciagrettes under the noses of their angel-programming supervisors. That one was a lot funnier.

          Eh, maybe our guest means that we should stop imagining Heaven because he thinks there’s no Heaven at all? Well, I actually have complicated views on that – in that I think even if it’s not “real” that it does exist for some people simply because it’s where their dying brains make them think they’re going. My complicated views aside, though, bring on the coffee and green tea!

          • Andrew Raymond

            My favorite depiction of heaven in fiction would have to be ‘The Man Who Traveled in Elephants’. Heaven as an eternal unlimited county fair.

          • Brena

            *shudder* Let’s hope it’s a personalized experience! lol

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

            Andrew: I don’t know if you saw this quote from a recent piece of mine (When Etta James had her way with me), but in there I wrote: “If I go to heaven, and it turns out to be nothing but small town county fairs, I am going to be one extremely thrilled after-lifer.”

          • Andrew Raymond

            I hadn’t read that post, John, so I will be going back to it. Brena, I think the way Robert Heinlein depicted it, you could find pretty much anything you would want out of a county fair, and little that you wouldn’t.

          • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

            I’d be fine with a county fair. They’re fun.

  • Lynn Galliano via Facebook

    I am so grateful for your work. Thank you!

  • Scott McDaniel via Facebook

    In that sense, planning to repent on the death bed after a lifetime of horrific sin is not repentance.
    Even when I was a Baptist, they never were Magic Words you just said. An omniscient deity wouldn’t be duped by that sort of trick.
    Not that I think a Hell for humans in any circumstance is anything but barbaric.

  • Diana Avery via Facebook

    @ Kate: I don’t believe that you have to be a Christian in order to be saved. I also believe what Scott McDaniel said just below your comment. God looks at the heart. I believe that God saves all (eventually) but that some will have to “go through Hell to get to Heaven.”

    • Gary

      @Diana

      I have very similar views. I find this to be the most accurate with the whole of scripture as I understand it. And it also resonates deep within my spirit as to the true “Love Wins” nature of God.

  • Robin

    What does it take for a person to truly, sincerely repent of something they did? Not fear. Fear only spurs the fake confession, crocodile tears, and an Oscar-winning performance.

    True regret, true repentance occurs when the person realizes the truth of what they have done. They weren’t becoming one with their soulmate; they were cheating on their loving spouse. They weren’t making their power or putting a b*tch in her place; they were committing a vile and cruel act of sexual violation. They weren’t saying something clever and witty to impress their friends; they were putting a sword through an innocent person’s heart.

    Once that realization hits, once that empathic connection is made, that soul cannot feel anything but remorse and regret, cannot want to do anything but repent and beg forgiveness. The shame felt on realizing my own transgressions is one of the most painful, destructive emotions I’ve ever experienced. There was no solace until I knew that I could be forgiven (by the person I harmed, by those I’d disappointed, and ultimately by God). That forgiveness, once given, was what allowed me to look at myself in the mirror again.

    I wonder, sometimes, if what many religions describe as the destinations of Heaven or Hell (or Limbo or Purgatory or the Elysian Fields or whatever) isn’t just one place: the absolute and utter comprehension of what your life and all your actions have added up to. No one ever got to make Hitler face the millions he killed, but what if the transition from life to death is actually that? What if returning to God is being reconnected so thoroughly to the All That Exists that there is no way to deny the sins we’ve escaped in life? Imagine if, the man who raped and killed the girl Karen saw, understood – relived even – the experience from the girl’s point of view. And her parents’. And her friends’. And Karen’s. That . . . sounds like Hell to me.

    And maybe that’s the point. I can’t believe God cares if I worship in a cathedral, say a prayer in a meadow, or regularly forget that it’s the Sabbath. It’s how I treat my fellow brothers and sisters in His Creation during my life that determines how I will experience rejoining Him afterwards.

  • Justin Boyer via Facebook

    In general, we need to stop ascribing God with human traits. Personally, I think Karen Armstrong has it right here. All our ideas of God are arid because they’re limited. To force the “unbelief” of these things to become something “unpardonable,” is one of the stupidest religious ideas that humanity has ever crafted.

    My “belief” isn’t stoical. Its always undergoing change, and it is filled with innumerable doubts. I aspire to know God, engage in the harsh endeavor but I refuse to just believe as if to stop the contemplation of God’s mystery, and believe in something far less wonderful.
    For this reason, I have to be an “agnostic.”

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

      “To force the ‘unbelief’ of these things to become something ‘unpardonable,’ is one of the stupidest religious ideas that humanity has ever crafted.”

      Wow. Way to live out your conviction that nothing we say or think makes any sense whatsoever.

      • Christy

        If I may, John, I don’t believe he’s saying that.

        What Justin seems to be saying is that to base a religion on belief (holding as true a list of things) with eternal reward for “proper” belief vs. eternal punishment for “incorrect” belief is “one of the stupidest religious ideas that humanity has ever crafted.” He, as well as others, suggest “proper belief” is no substitute for “knowing God” and pursuing God and nurturing a relationship with God which includes an ever evolving understanding of God in which, from a place of humility and thoughtfulness rather than laziness, one admits there is no way to have all the answers in order to proclaim an irrefutable belief. Yet, what one knows they have experienced as God surely is God even if they cannot explain it. This is to understand God as ineffable. He sees it as a practice that is distinct from proclaiming as true, complete and finished a list of beliefs about God and, thereby, stopping the process of pursuing God. To be “agnostic” in this way is not to throw one’s hands up in hopeless defeat and make a claim that there is not enough evidence to prove the existence of God, but rather to refuse to limit who and what God is to a proscribed list of beliefs.

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

          But … I didn’t say he was saying anything at all. I simply quoted him.

        • Christy

          I don’t believe he is implying what you are implying he is implying by quoting what he said. Perhaps I misinterpret what you are implying, but I have explained what I believe he is implying. Nevertheless, I care about you both.

          • Christy

            And I care about making the distinction between a religion based on right belief and knowing God.

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

            Um … so, again, I wasn’t implying that he meant ANYTHING WHATSOEVER. My sole, isolated point was that what he said was (to me) utterly indecipherable. But … never mind.

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    My problem w/ not believing in Hell, is that their is seemingly no accountability. If there is no Hell, than why can’t I be the most miserable sociopathic asshole ever? Does that mean that the folks who bully gay kids into suicide get to share heaven w/ Mother Teresa and Dr. King? I guess this is the same reason people struggle w/ the idea of grace. I’m not making a statement so much as looking for some moral guidance here.

    • Lymis

      Why would a loving parent let one of their kids win at Monopoly while the others all go bankrupt? Doesn’t that scar the kids for the rest of their lives?

      Maybe there’s more to “being in heaven” than just a reward for good behavior on Earth, and maybe God is a better judge of that than we are.

  • Kajikit

    There are no magic words to get you into God’s good books. Simply saying ‘God I’m sorry’ is not enough. Anybody can say the words. If the person who commited such terrible deeds really and truly repents and means it from the bottom of their hearts, God will know. That’s why I don’t believe in the death penalty – if somebody does something terrible enough to deserve life behind bars, they can still learn and change and make amends. But not if they’re six feet under. And there is no worse punishment than that we deal out to ourselves when we fully realise the consequences of our actions, and have to live with them for the rest of our lives.

  • mae

    I don’t believe in fairness. I’ve personally never seen it exhibited in my life ever, so why should I believe its enacted in the afterlife? The rain falls on the good and the bad and the rain falls down on me.

    I believe in God. Faith is much more about how I personally live my life today and the overall condition that my heart and soul exists in, than focusing on some vague “heaven” in the future. I do believe there is life beyond death, but I don’t think its my business right now to be worrying about it. And I don’t believe God wants me pre-occupied with who does or doesn’t get into heaven. I find this just as judgmental as those people who get angry at social programs and are pre-occupied about who does and doesn’t receive government assistance and “do they DESERVE it!” or not because “They didn’t EARN it!” And then fret and fume about it because they’re so pre-occupied with judging who does and does not deserve to eat if they’re not working hard enough to “deserve it”.

    Also, Jesus specifically told Peter not to worry about John’s future when he was walking with him on the beach. We need to be more concerned with our own faith and choices, and not be so worried about who else does or does not get into the vague and unknown afterlife.

    I believe deciding who does and does not deserve entrance into heaven is outside of what I’m responsible for in this life. My faith is personal, between me and God. If a murdering rapist wants to pray to God at the end of his life, his fate is between him and God as well. Not my problem. And that decision has no bearing on my personal relationship with my own savior.

    I choose my faith and I choose my God. And I don’t allow questions like “who else gets into the exclusive heaven club” affect my faith. Because its about how I choose to live today and the state of peace that is in my soul. Not how many brownie points I can rack up to be fairly admitted into the better afterlife party.

  • Sheri

    I once heard Dannion Brinkley speak, a man who has written about his extended near-death experience in Saved by the Light. Now who knows if what he experienced when he was brain-dead for over 20 minutes is what we all experience at death, but he wrote of the tunnel, light, etc., and then what he called the “life review.” In that review, he said he felt the presence of an ultimately Loving Being as he (Dannion) watched a review of his entire life and every episode of pain he’d inflicted (and he’d not been a nice guy). At every incident (probably of both good and bad), he fully experienced it from 3 perspectives: as the one watching, as himself doing what he did, and as the person on the receiving end, feeling everything he did to them, said to them, etc. Can you imagine what such a life review might feel like to the rapist in question? To Hitler? I can’t think of a Hell worse than that. And yet, throughout it all, there was no judgment, just learning.

  • Kelly

    I’m not sure that I agree God is fair. Grace is inherently not fair because it’s not deserved. That’s kind of the whole point. But grace also doesn’t allow for a Muslim baby going to hell because he didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior (or a Muslim adult for that matter), either.

    • Michael

      True words, man I am loving this thread, lotta good points made in here.

  • greg

    ..i did not read all the comments, just a few, so i apologize for any redundancy…

    …there are so many good questions here…what IS God like? I mean really like? Jeremiah says that God delights in Justice, righteousness and kindness…but the world’s sense of those words makes me wonder if I’ve ever seen any of the three…

    and like Kelly stated, grace isn’t fair…it is unmerited, unwarranted, undeserved– favor…

    Jesus sees the thief of the cross…the raping, pillaging, stealing, murdering thief…and pardons the one that realizes he deserves the cross, and asks to be remembered IN the kingdom…and Jesus says yes…

    One of the greatest issues as well is the fight between our worldly perspective and God’s perspective…one i may have met when my son was born…my son, who is now 9, is the joy of my life…from the moment i saw him, i loved all of him..He steadily grows and changes and inspires me…my heart swells at the thought of him…it goes without stating that the story of a 9 year old being drugged and raped immediately caught my attention…the problem that God has is not just that his beautiful 9 year olds get raped and drugged… it is that beautiful 9 year olds grow up–and rape.

    I don’t know what my son will become. I love all of him, but he gets to choose. In God’s world, everyone does. Some bring heaven to earth. Some bring hell. the question for me isn’t so easy..it isn’t ” what do i do if my son gets raped?

    …it is what do i do if my son is the rapist? how do i redeem my precious, precious child? how does God redeem his sons, his daughters…im sure the families hurt by the thief on the cross wondered the same thing..

    the gift of God’s grace, the gift of the cross, the gift of solidarity with the hurting, lonely and poor…the gift of hope that God gives is for all of us…the terrible ones and those that are much, much worse…He just promises that He will fix it…that He will restore…and that He will one day wipe every tear from our eyes….

    great article, great questions, thank you–G

    • Jim

      “He just promises that He will fix it…that He will restore…and that He will one day wipe every tear from our eyes….”

      Beautiful.

    • Michael

      Love>Fairness

  • Jim

    “I believe that ultimately God is fair, just, equitable. And I have no reason whatsoever to believe that he (or—fair is fair—she) is anything less.”

    Absolutely. And that is why I believe that God will treat every single one of us exactly the same… with grace. He will heal, restore, redeem…. SAVE … every single one of us. Anything else would be discriminatory.

    • Michael

      Amen brother. Universal justification FTW. Boo to faith+works and Sola Fide.

  • http://rindle.blogspot.com Lyn

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, so maybe there’s someone who’s already expressed this thought, but my thoughts on heaven took an odd turn when a student at my church asked what Jesus meant about saving up treasures in heaven instead of here on earth. How could we do that?

    Now, first, let me say that I think Heaven is a twofold existence. I think the Kingdom of Heaven is a present-tense, right-in-front-of-us thing. Jesus said “… Theirs IS the Kingdom of Heaven.” The things we do right here, right now, that are loving and kind create heaven here and now for those touched by our lives. The things we do right here and right now that are hateful or indifferent create a very real hell right here and now for those touched by our lives. Heaven and Hell aren’t just distant, theoretical places we spend eternity some day. They also exist in the here and now.

    On the other hand, I also think there are places that are prepared for eternity– the place prepared for us, our Father’s house with its many mansions; and the place prepared for the Devil and his angels. Those places are substantially, incomprehensibly different than our four-dimensional existence of space and time so that they are literally inconceivable to our limited minds. But we understand our spirits go there and inhabit new bodies– bodies appropriate to that very different existence and yet, somehow, still we are recognizable as ourselves.

    So, here was my thought: what can a spirit take with it to a spiritual realm? And the only answer I could come up with is the memories we have made, the good deeds we have done, the relationships we have built, the love we have shown. Those are our treasures. Every moment we spend in the pursuit of greed and selfish aims and hurting or ignoring others to build up our positions here on Earth is a moment wasted, a moment that will be burned away in eternity leaving nothing but emptiness. But every moment we love, every moment we spend with God, every time we build someone up, every hour we toiled for the benefit of others? We take those moments with us.

    If Adolph Hitler goes to Heaven, he’s going to know the horror of what he’s done. He’s going to mourn and weep and grieve. And then God will burn all that away. He’ll dry Adolph’s tears– as He will dry all of ours– and all that will be left is the treasure that Adolph built for eternity. I don’t know what that will be. Perhaps his love for Eva Braun. His passion for art. But there won’t be much treasure there, I don’t think.

    And so each day, each moment is a choice. Am I building my eternal self or am I loading my soul up with dross that will be burned away leaving me with little? And, in keeping with my earlier thought, am I making this existence a Heaven for those around me or a Hell?

    • Will

      “If Adolph Hitler goes to Heaven, he’s going to know the horror of what he’s done. He’s going to mourn and weep and grieve. And then God will burn all that away. He’ll dry Adolph’s tears– as He will dry all of ours…”

      Lyn, I was with you right until after this point.

      “goes to Heaven” Yes “know the horror” Yes. “mourn and weep and grieve” Yes. “God will burn all that away. He’ll dry Adolph’s tears– as He will dry all of ours..” Yes, yes,yes.

      But after that, how can we be certain that God doesn’t give another chance for total redemption?

      I believe that once all the ugly ignorant foolishness is burned away, what is left is what God created, in its original perfection.

      I do NOT say this to give a free pass to those who do evil in the world.

      Those who do evil in this world do not change heaven, but they make this world a living hell for all of us.

      Would you agree that Jesus’ instructions on how to live in this world, would in fact make this world a heaven on earth for all of us, if we were to follow them?

      • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

        I suggest that Hitler will not survive death as he was never spiritually born and therefore did not have a spirit that would survive death. More dialog on my blog. http://www.kansasbob.com/2011/08/are-all-humans-immortal.html

      • Lyn

        I don’t pretend to know whether God will give another chance for total redemption. I can only know what has been revealed and speculate from there. There are a whole lot of completely valid interpretations to be made of Christ’s words. I choose to live as if I have one life and then lean a whole lot on God’s grace.

        • Michael

          well said lyn, no form of faith is higher than doubt. only the doubtful admit their ignorance as to the divine.

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

            Wow. Do I ever utterly disagree with the proposition that no form of faith is higher than, of all things, doubt. (And that’s not why Lyn said.)

          • http://rindle.blogspot.com Lyn

            I look at it this way. Given the thousands of sects of Christianity that exist and have existed, the odds of me being absolutely, 100% theologically correct are pretty infinitesimal. Thankfully, that isn’t how God decides who’s in or out.

            I strive to understand the will of God for my life and to do what I’m called to do. Some of that is going to be what all Christians are called to do– what the sheep did and not what the goats did, obeying Christ’s direct commands to love and to be witnesses and to disciple others (which isn’t the same as the evangelism we see today– a witness isn’t there to convince the jury of innocence or guilt, but merely to report what they have seen and heard).

            But my actions are based on faith, not doubt. Not blind faith, which is an oxymoron, but the faith that comes of saying, “This evidence is sufficient for me to believe.”

            Having said that, I recognize that I am imperfect, that I see through a glass darkly, and so I strive to find out what others have glimpsed and adjust my understandings based on the testimony of upstanding witnesses. That isn’t doubt, but at the heart of the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. It’s the basis of the scientific method. And it’s the basis of Christian life, of working out your salvation, of studying to show yourself acceptable. Or, at least, it should be.

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

            Lyn: wonderfully said.

          • Christy

            Yes. Just lovely, Lyn.


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