The Bible vs. God?

If you’ve been following along (the first post in this mini-series is From Hell to Crazy Town; the second is The Truth isn’t liberal or conservative), then you know that on our quick road trip through Christianity we have stopped in Crazy Town.

I’ve called it crazy because I don’t know how else to describe the idea that a loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God also condemns to hell everyone who doesn’t worship him (or at any rate allows such people to end up in hell, which is exactly the same as condemning them himself: choosing to not throw a life-preserver to a drowning man is the same as holding that man’s head beneath the water yourself).

Such a God simply makes no sense. It cannot be. God cannot be at once honorable and despicable.

So what to do? This is hardly a primary concern for non-Christians, of course: they readily dismiss a God they understandably think so shabbily constructed (and marvel at how anyone could take seriously the belief system in which he is the object of worship).

But Christians have a whole other kettle of concern there. And the strain of that shows: when it comes to hell, Christians are all over the place. Some think that hell is a literal location of super-hot eternal damnation. Some think hell is a metaphor for a place where God is not. (I talk about why that’s no better than the traditional view of hell in The Absence of God: A Kinder, Gentler Hell?) Most think hell is real, but concede that they have no idea what that actually means, or what the criteria is for being sentenced to it.

Basically, at this point the whole concept of hell amounts to a churning miasma of conjecture, best guesses, hopes, and acknowledged ignorance.

The one thing, though, upon which all Christians agree, is that God is fair and just. It’s only at the point where that needs to be reconciled with hell that the thinking of most Christians suddenly gets extremely fuzzy.

Ask any one of the hundreds of millions of evangelical/conservative/Baptist-type Christians, for instance, if Gandhi is in hell, and just watch the fuzz start flying out their ears. I once watched Albert Mohler field that very question, and it was like watching a slow-motion film of Fozzy Bear exploding.

So, again, what to do?

Well, as with any problem, before solving this one we need to be perfectly clear as to what exactly the problem is: an ill-defined problem leads to no answer at all.

For we Christians, the problem with hell is what the Bible says about hell.

The problem with homosexuality is what the Bible says about homosexuality.

The problem with women’s rights is what the Bible says about women’s rights.

The problem with Jews (used to be) what the Bible says about Jews.

The problem with slavery (used to be) what the Bible says about slavery.

So we see a pattern.

If what the Bible says runs contrary to what is obviously moral, then Christians have a problem.

Here’s the bottom line for me: I look at the Bible, and I don’t see God or Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) telling me that homosexual love is necessarily immoral. I don’t see God or Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) condoning slavery. I don’t see God or Jesus (or Paul … oops: never mind!–for now) telling me that women are organically inferior. And I don’t see God or Jesus telling me that after they die anyone is ever sentenced to an eternity of suffering.

When I look at the Bible, one of the main things I see is a mirror. I see a book so dense, complex, long in the making, and defined by its tens of thousands of translators that ultimately it functions for people as nothing so much as it does a reflecting glass. We bring to the Bible who we are—our expectations, experience, convictions, doubts, hopes, fears, desires … all of it—and then in it see all that confirmed.

We do that as individuals; we do that corporately, as a culture.

Do I think that we should dismiss, or in any way diminish, the Bible? Most certainly not. But do I think that we need to take pains to ensure that we don’t ever confuse the Bible with God?

Hell, yes.

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. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Diana A.

    Once again, John, you nailed it. But what else is new?

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

      I appreciate that, Diana. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.roper.9 Craig Roper via Facebook

    Get it John.

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

    “But do I think that we need to take pains to ensure that we don’t ever confuse the Bible with God?
    “Hell, yes.”

  • Connie

    This is exactly how I feel about this whole mess o’ crazy!! Thank you for putting into words the incoherency between my ears! :-)

    I don’t think the Bible needs to be canned by any means. But I would love the cherry-picking of verses to propagate an agenda of hate to stop. By understanding that times have changed and it’s okay to evolve in your faith, Christians can get back to the message of love Jesus was so adamant about, and the rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief. (With the addendum that MOST of the Christians I know think like you and I do.)

  • Lymis

    John,

    Minor point. I think that in the Bible we do see the condoning of slavery. I think it’s more fair to say that nothing in the Bible justifies or excuses slavery. Noting that something exists is not the same as saying that it is acceptable. God doesn’t free slaves in the 10 Commandments, he tells people not to covet other men’s slaves. Paul tells slaveowners how to treat their slaves and slaves how to behave toward their Masters.

    But we also see a similar awareness of things like hunger, sickness, war, and natural disaster. The fact that the Bible takes them as givens and gives advice on how to deal with them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to keep them from happening.

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

      It’s not a minor point; I don’t write stuff like that casually.

      I really don’t want to get into this right here, but I don’t read Paul condoning slavery. I read Paul acknowledging the reality that slavery exits, and speaking to that.

      • Lymis

        I read it the same way. Maybe we use “condone” differently.

        • Nathan

          Try 1st Timothy 1:10. It’s pretty difficult to twist this in a way that condones slavery.

          • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

            KJV is “manstealers” – presumably taking people into slavery by force, rather than buying slaves, from other people who already owned them. Even the NIV “slave traders” is not equivalent to “slave owners” – like money changers versus money holders.

        • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

          I have to agree with Lymis. Condone it does. Hard to oppose slavery and then tell slaves they shouldn’t seek to free themselves.

      • Don Rappe

        I think there is a considerable difference between acknowledging and condoning. There seem to have been slaves in all cultures and civilizations from prehistoric times. My take on the Bible is that it advocates treating the relationship like a family relationship. The first expansion of the thought on the adultery commandment in Exodus explains how to treat a slave girl. I would summarize it as saying treat her like family, and if you can’t, free her.

        • Andrew Raymond

          Don, let’s not kid ourselves. Slavery still exists too.

          • Don Rappe

            I know that, and in addition it has only modified its form somewhat in the employer/employe relationship.

          • Diana A.

            True!

        • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

          Which IS condoning slavery.

        • Lymis

          Don, saying that there are right ways – even wonderful, loving, family-like, friendly, fluffy and cuddly ways to treat your slaves is still saying that there are times when slavery is okay.

          If there can be a flat-out condemnation of eating shellfish, there was certainly room for a similar flat-out condemnation of owning people.

          When I use the word “condone,” I’m not implying a free-for-all or anything goes sort of thing. In fact, I only use the word condone when there are conditions like that. Otherwise, I would use a word like “accept.”

          Frankly, I think the Old Testament flatly accepts slavery at least of non-Israelites. The New Testament upgrades it to condone, with requirements for doing it in a Christian manner.

          • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

            Exactly. And let’s face it – whatever went for owning slaves went for owning all women as well: daughters, wives, conbubines as slaves. Ironically, protitutes were more free. Widows, I supposed weren’t property any longer, but often immediately remarried, and still got no say in the matter. So, the slavery thing in the bible isn’t some sort of abberation, it applied to the majority of people (virtually all women plus male slaves) in society. One person owning another was accepted as the norm and condoned when done “properly”. Freedom not required.

  • mike moore

    John,

    well said and Hell Yes! love you, man. (in an I-don’t-want-to-see-you-naked, non-gay, kind of way)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jos.reyn Jos Reyn via Facebook

    Oh, hell… Sorry thought you meant everyday life, often can’t see a difference!

  • sdgalloway

    That last point, the one about confusing the bible with God is a nbig stickingg point People insist that scripture is literally God speaking then get all upset when you say “uhm. Wait a minute” Its the unwillingness or maybe rather the fear that may keep that defense inthe forefront. 6ear orunwillingness to be wrong. To consoider God as different te assmes, and the whole “what do I do now” problem when perceptions are changed. Apolgies for the bad spelling, tiny keyboard on blackberry.

  • Mindy

    Thank you. As always, you cut to the core of the matter. Beautiful.

  • http://comingintothesoul.wordpress.com/ HJ

    This is totally on target John. The hell concept is a difficult one to tackle, especially when your conclusion is that we have no real conclusion.

    As for your last sentence, I just wrote a blog post about it the other day myself, worshiping the Bible. (I agree too many folks treat it as if it *is* God). http://comingintothesoul.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/worshiping-the-bible/

  • Lisa K.

    All, excellent points! I always liked what C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject in the last book of his Narnia series. In this one particular scene, the children are surprised to see one of their ‘enemy’ in the paradise afterlife with them. Those in the country to the south had always worshiped Tash, who was considered a false idol. The lion Aslan (who I always took to be representative of Christ) says to them that when this particular person had worshiped Tash, in his heart he was actually worshiping him. So maybe that is the case with Buddhists, Muslims, and any other ‘non-Christian’ beliefs? Although I’m sure that the more evangelical believers out there would tell me that sincerity counts for nothing. . .

    • Nathan

      Agree completely. I love C.S. Lewis. He is admired by Christians almost universally. However, he actually espouses views that would make many modern Christians quite squeamish. I always enjoy pointing this out to some of my more conservative friends…

      • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

        It’s worth noting that Christ himself espouses views that many modern Christians would have problems with, too. He befriended the sick and the weak and made their sufferings his own, something we all could do more of.

        As Christ’s life makes plain, to truly follow Him you need to be willing to go where you don’t want to go.

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

        almost universally.

    • Courtney

      Hi,

      Let me first say, I love C.S. Lewis’ writings.

      As a buddhist who was raised christians I find the idea of worshipping the christian god in my heart by following my own belief system somewhat demeaning. I spent years searching for a belief system that I could agree with and I assure you it is not secretly christian.

      That said, I believe all people who truly search for love, truth and light will find it, either through christianity, islam, buddhism or an infinate number of ways.

      • Nathan

        Courtney, I ask this in all seriousness: How is the God you worship different from the God of Christianity? I don’t know much about buhdism. I know that the God worshiped by Muslums, Jews, and Christians are all “approximately” the same. (in His basic qualities) Is that not true for Buhdism?

        • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

          Those are all Abrahamic religions. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. Hardly the same thing. You can’t extrapolate that because the first three are similar, all others must be, too.

        • Courtney

          Nathan,

          Thank you for asking! Buddhism actually does not require a faith in any god. Some branches follow a god or gods, some don’t. Personally, I don’t. My journey is more about being a good fellow citizen of the earth. I meditate. I believe in karma in the larger sense, not like if you run a stop sign a bird will poop on your car…

          Hope that helps,

          Courtney

          • Courtney

            Oh! I can’t believe I didn’t say this too, I/we study and try to follow the teachings of Buddha. Some people think buddhists pray to him, again some branches do, most don’t. He is just considered to have been a wise man.

      • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

        I wouldn’t take it as meaning secretly christian, in the sense of christianity as it looks as a modern religion. The more well-meaning would intend it to mean that you are finding Jesus without knowing it because Jesus is love, truth and light. It’s not meant to imply you hold the same religious views or views of God.

      • Lymis

        Assuming that the view we are talking about is accurate, I know that a lot of Christians take comfort in the idea that “We had it exactly right, but other people get a chance to find out that they were actually doing what we were doing all along without knowing it.”

        I suspect that if the idea has merit, it will be more like each and every person, Christians included, finding out that their belief system was a pale and only partially accurate reflection of How Things Really Work.

        • Diana A.

          “I suspect that if the idea has merit, it will be more like each and every person, Christians included, finding out that their belief system was a pale and only partially accurate reflection of How Things Really Work.”

          Yes! I can totally buy this!

  • Don Rappe

    Good analysis John. I think many people approach this problem by using some sort of lens to interpret the Writings. Martin Luther likes “law and gospel”. The Reformers refined this to the “five solas”. The Catholics, including Anglican, Roman and Orthodox, tend to rely on the “magisterium” of the Church. These ideas are not distinct, but, tend to blend into each other. My own preference is to use the idea of the Covenant as expressed in the thought “God will be our God and we shall be God’s people.” This seems to me to give a structured approach both to the Hebrew Bible, the Greek New Testament writings and the extra Aramaic writings which the seventy rabbis hid and the post reformation Romanists canonized. I arrived at this preference by noticing it deep in the structure of the Torah and the Prophets. I squint at interpretations which seem to have God violating his covenant with us or recommending that his people do.With regard too the question “Who are God’s people?” I prefer the book of Jonah.

    • Don Rappe

      I know you know, but, should probably clarify that “magisterium” is RC Latin for “teaching authority”.

      • Diana A.

        Thanks for the definition. I actually didn’t know!

    • Don Rappe

      The parable of the good Samaritan also works for identifying God’s people. Both stories make clear it has nothing to do with received doctrine or participation in specific rituals or the like.

  • http://www.unchainedfaith.com Amy

    You know what? It’s so refreshing to come here and see affirmed the very same things I’ve thought for a long time. I stopped believing in literal Hell the day my Jewish grandpa died. Some of the Christians I knew told me he was “in the lake of fire.” But one person told me that was a lie. John, you’ve explained it beautifully in these last few posts.

    • Don Rappe

      Yes, and mistakes are one thing: lies come from the Father of Lies.

    • Mike H

      I was at a gathering of Ham Radio hobbyists in Indiana several years ago. There was a woman there who was perhaps one of the most profane human beings I have ever met. She and several others started talking about their Baptist faith and upon learning I was a Jew, started asking me in incredulous tones, “don’t you know about the “points of light”? (I have no idea what the hell this means, still don’t, and don’t want to), and mind you – I wasn’t saying a word other than affirming that I was in fact, a Jew. “The Bible is the Bible from Genesis to the Revelations!” one guy intoned.

      Then, this disgusting and profane woman (the spokesperson of her disgusting and profane confederates consisting of men, women and children – drooling, beer-swilling, stained t-shirts and ripe diapers) proceeded to tell me – to my face – in broad daylight, that “they” had Jews where she worked and they called them, “kikes”.

      And yet Ms Profane did so with a straight face and not a hint of bile or spite. Just pretty as you please, matter-of-fact, with no thought in her tiny little pointed head that she might be seriously offending me.

      I smiled, got up, walked away to another part of the festivities. And the “points of light” thingie – they kept repeating it like it was the most important fucking thing in the universe and I must have been born stupid not to know what it was or believe in it. And I still don’t know and don’t care. I’ve never honestly been curious enough to look it up and forgot about it until I saw your note.

      I’m sorry for your loss and the insults from willfully ignorant human beings who you can bet took great pleasure in telling you your grandpa’s status.

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

        Mike H: Sorry, but I stopped reading after, “I was at a gathering of Ham Radio hobbyists in Indiana.”

        HAR! Kidding.

        What an awful story!

        • Mike H

          I’m a Jewish Ham. Get it? *Jewish* Ham? Aw…forget it…

          It was a childhood interest that I had to tackle and ended up with my Extra Class License. I was young, confused…I had a Ham rig but I didn’t inhale.

          • Diana A.

            I get it. It was worth a snicker.

          • Lymis

            That’s great. There is a bacon pun in here somewhere, too, but I can’t quite pin it down.

          • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

            We love bacon, thus our endless pursuit of trying bacon substitutes made from poultry, soy, plastic, used car parts…someday, they’ll get it right and the day after? Oh sure, a gamma-ray burst and mass extinction.

  • Brian W

    God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. You send yourself there. God’s love has done everything to keep you out of Hell and still leave you as a person with free will and not just a robot. That’s the way He made us–after His image, after His likeness, the power to say “yes” or the power to say “no,” the power to reject our own Creator, and of course to take the consequences. In one sense you can say He doesn’t send anybody to Hell, because across the road to Hell he has placed the cross of Christ and all the other things that God brings into our lives to stop us on our selfish way and to bring us to the Savior. We have to go wandering on past it all and put ourselves in Hell.

    Can a God of love send anyone to Hell? You might as well ask some other question to make just as much sense. Does God allow disease in the world? Does God allow jails and prisons for some people? Does God allow the electric chair sometimes? Does God allow sin to break homes and hearts? Does God allow war? All of these things are the consequences of sin entering into the world, and in some cases the direct result of man’s rebellion, and the result of greed and pride and egotism and hunger for power that doesn’t have any use for people–only the desire to get ahead.

    This is the incredible fruit of sin (especially pride, ego, idolatry). Sin brings suffering into the world. There’s no way of getting around it. And the greatest sin in the world is to reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Did Jesus say, “I’m going to send the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin because they lie”– or, “because they believe not on me”?

    You jump off a high building, the law of gravity will take care of you. You might say, “God is love,” all the way down, but you’re still going to get splattered when you hit the bottom! You break the law of gravity, and it breaks you! You may love your little child, but if he puts his finger up on that hot burner on the gas stove or the electric stove, he’s going to get burned! Fire burns. Gravity kills. Water drowns. Sin condemns. And you can say, “God is love, God is love, God is love,” until you’re blue in the face. But water will still drown you, fire will burn you, and gravity will kill you, and sin will condemn you no matter how much you say about a loving God or loving people, we are all sinners.

    God just set up life that way. He set up the rules. He set up the laws of His creation and the laws by which we are to live. And if we break those laws, they break us, and we pay the consequences. The Love of God is personified in His Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

    • Mike H

      Brian,

      I’m a Jew. I might even qualify to be called a “religious” or “observant” Jew, but God knows better, so I content myself by identifying myself with the Reform Movement and admitting to be incredibly jaded and I’m good with that. No matter, I wanted to reveal myself to you.

      I should like to invite you to read this blog in its entirety before making such an incredibly qualified statement such as you’ve made above. Og Mandino described what he called, “Hand of God” books in his writings. You’ve just stumbled upon a Hand Of God blog. Be careful where you tread: There are people here outside what your comment leads me to believe, is your experience or acquaintence with the process of critical thinking with regards to Scripture.

      This is my very first post here, having devoted hours to reading the various entries and reading the comments of the “regulars” here – I mean that term very respectfully – that I hate wasting it on a dialogue that I know is going to be unproductive, and yet here I am. I just can’t help myself.

      May I infer then from what you’ve written that as a believing Jew who nevertheless has a deep reverence for Jesus The Sage – I’m going to Hell because I can’t worship or otherwise equate him with God?

      • Mike H

        And as far as what God “allows” – I guess I need to save Judaism’s view of the Paradox of God for another day.

        I hear Cheech Marin’s voice in my head saying, “have you read the Book of Job today, Sir? I used to be all messed up on drugs – now I’m all messed up on Job…”. Ok, that’s not how the routine goes but I couldn’t resist.

        • Brian W

          Mike,

          Being you Jew, you of all people should grasp the need of the Messiah for the sins of His people, the Israel of God though not all of Israel are of Israel. The true Israel of God are made up of peoples of all nations, tongues and kindred.

          Christianity at its core is Jewish, the Law of Christ IS the Law of Moses. Jesus fulfilled all points of the Law and sinned not, by His stripes we are healed.

          • Driftwood2K11

            I find it interesting the level of arrogance required for a Christian to tell a Jew that he needs to be a better Jew.

            Brian, an all knowing, all powerful God who fails is a God who has not “done everything” to save you from hell. If you go to hell, then God has failed, and that all encompassing unconditional love is very conditional, which makes God to be either petty, a liar, or a schizophrenic.

          • Brian W

            Drift,

            I wasn’t telling a Jew to be a better Jew – it’s not by works of righteousness that he saves us, nor conformity to the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was the schoolmaster to point ALL to the Messiah. There is nothing we “can do” to merit God’s approval, as hard as we try, we all come short of the glory of God, only through the sacrificial Lamb of God is there salvation.

            As to God failing or lying, He did neother, failure is due to us. The Gospel is the “Good News” of the free and sovereign Grace of God that saves sinners. If you reject the free gift (yes, its unconditional) of salvation through Jesus Christ, that is a willful failure on your part, not God’s. He has provided a road to eternal life, if you don’t take it, that falls squarely on you.

            “……Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world….”

          • Lymis

            It’s a common Christian myth that Jews have ever been consciously waiting for a single Messiah in the sense that Christians see Jesus.

          • Mike H

            Exactly. I see the establishment of the “Messianic Age” as the fulfillment, but don’t have any expectation of a Messiah in human form. But that’s just me.

          • Mike H

            Yeah…yeah…I was afraid of that. I’m probably going to come off as patronizing but since you’re not grounded in the most basic of Judaism’s tenets, I guess I have to start there.

            The “Messiah” that Jews believe in (and not all Jews do) is decidedly *not* the Christian concept of that title. Very (very) basically, the Messiah was to be a great King, descended from the House of David, who will lead Jews out of bondage (or occupation or oppression) and re-unite Israel and establish the Messianic age of Peace.

            The Christian concept, to be brief, is prefaced on the idea of “Original Sin”. Jews have no concept of, or experience with, “Original Sin”. To quote Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who runs another great blog that I follow, “we don’t have the disease so we don’t need the cure”. Otherwise Rami, as well as I, are huge admirers of Jesus the Sage.

            “His stripes we are healed”. Interesting you bring up Isaiah. Thanks to the role exegetical interpretation plays in translating the Hebrew of the “Old Testament”, your English translation of Isaiah 53 and the “Suffering Servant” is written in such a way to speak to make it clear to the Christian reader that the Suffering Servant is to be identified with Jesus Christ. To the Jew on the other hand, it is “clear”, again via exegesis, that the Suffering Servant is to be identified as the People Israel.

            Just noting some basic differences. Otherwise, I’m finding your reply even more difficult to follow than your original post.

            I should address the God-Paradox of Job. I don’t think you’re ready for that yet.

          • Mike H

            Ack…”in such a way to make it clear”, rather.

          • ZAZZY

            amen

    • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

      So, He doesn’t send anyone to hell. But He set up the rules so that anyone not believing would go to hell – the rules that arbitrarily make not believing the greatest of wrongdoing and naturally punishable by eternal torment? Yeah, much different.

    • Lymis

      All of your examples of things God allows – electric chairs, disease, jail, wars – are all human in scale and duration. If you believe in the immortality of the soul, they are all also temporary, no matter how awful they are. The worst thing one human can do to themselves or others can’t last more than 100 years or so at the most.

      Hell is for eternity.

      Your example is like saying that “a hostess has the right to insist on good manners at the table” and then supporting the death penalty for using the wrong fork.

      The punishment is insanely inappropriate for the offense. And utterly incompatible with the idea of a loving God. Simply saying “He makes the rules, and if we break the rules, we pay the consequences” doesn’t change the fact that those rules don’t work.

      • Driftwood2K11

        I think George Carlin put it best:

        “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it, religion has actually convinced people that there’s an INVISIBLE MAN…LIVING IN THE SKY…who watches every thing you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten special things that he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever ’til the end of time…but he loves you! …And he needs money! He’s all powerful, but he can’t handle money!”

      • Brian W

        Lymis,

        I don’t believe that the human sole has natural immortality (the Bible makes no such claim), only God does and he gives that as a gift -”the wages of sin is death but the GIFT of God is eternal life”. Hell is not eternal punishing, it simply has eternal consequences. In other words, after Judgment Day, all are judged and some will be cast into the lake of fire -the second death – which the Bible uses such descriptive words as a place of “destruction”, where people “perish”, are “destroyed” and suffer the “second death”. Those whose name is not written in the Book of Life suffer eternal, everlasting consequences –annihilation – not eternal, everlasting punishing

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

      Brian: You said, “God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. You send yourself there.” That may be. But it doesn’t change the fact that God allowing that to happen makes God grossly immoral. Not stopping eternal torture when you could is morally indistinguishable from initiating or carrying out that torture yourself. If hell is real, God is immoral. There’s no escaping that. If I’ve got a hamburger hidden beneath three different buckets, and I ask a starving child to pick which bucket is hiding the hamburger, and he picks the wrong one, that doesn’t make it all right for me to then allow that kid to starve to death.

      • Mike H

        This and Lymis’ answer above are very close to (a) Jewish perspective (not necessarily “the” Jewish perspective – gee, there are so many….).

        I mentioned Job above to Brian – I don’t imagine he’ll respond to it. For Christians (and I’ll say, “like Brian”), God is all goodness and light and there’s always “Satan” to blame all the evil and darkness on. Except – no one ever explains the process of sending one to “Hell”. Is it like an extradition treaty? Who makes the decision? Does God ring up Satan and say, “I got another one for ya”?

        For Jews – we only have God. He is everything to us. Our “Saitan” and the Christian “Satan” is a false-equivalency – not the same guy. God is representative of everything. The God who persecuted Job is evil. There’s no question of it. And he tortured Job with malice-aforethought. Jews understand that but that paradox is really tough to explain to Christians but nevertheless illustrates some of the basic differences between our respective faiths.

      • Nathan

        John, I know we’ve had our differences on this issue – so I feel that I’m becoming a broken record (as you probably feel the same). You are oversimplifying things. Why does God have to fit into neat little boxes that we can put in a tweet? Book after book after book has been written on this topic. You may be right, you may be wrong — but it is not nearly as simple as you describe. But people on this website don’t seem interested in hearing the other views….

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

          I don’t remember writing anything about God fitting into neat little boxes, or fitting into a Tweet. Pretty sure I didn’t. But if you’re referring to the fact that I insist that God is just and fair–if THAT’S what you mean by “fitting God into a neat little box,” then, yeah, okay, that’s what I’m doing. But that’s one huge, huge box.

          If you’re okay having no answer to how it can be that God could be so manifestly psychotic as to allow hell to exist better than, “It’s in the Bible,” or “God’s too complex for us to understand” then … good for you. But that doesn’t work for me. And it doesn’t have to work for anybody.

          Watch: When Jesus speaks of hell, he’s speaking metaphorically. And even if you don’t think that, at the very least it’s safe to say that we don’t know WHAT exactly he’s saying.”

          See? Problem of hell solved.

        • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

          We’re listening. Just waiting for someone to present something else that makes any damned sense or has any degree of credibility. If you’ve got one of those, fire away.

      • charles m

        hey John- I would offer up this thought…

        (if we believe in the words of the Bible) Jesus is the ultimate act of God changing his mind.

        He set rules up (which I think HE thought were fair and reasonable) and his beloved creation exhibited such monumental FAIL in adhering to them that he was compelled, due to him being a loving Creator, to create Jesus in order to not only allow his “chosen” to be forgiven, but he expanded that grace to All of humanity.

        I cant really think of a more impressive display of compassion in all of history.

        • mike moore

          I say this without sarcasm or harshness …

          is God really so out-of-tune with his own creation as to have not expected the “monumental FAIL,” as you describe it? Is He really so – frankly – dense, that He didn’t see it coming?

          I mean, I know if I let a toddler stand on one side of a busy street and there is pretty ball or puppy on the other side of the street, there’s an excellent chance the toddler will attempt to cross the street without thinking about the traffic.

          You’re making God to be dumber than a bad parent.

        • Diana A.

          Hey Charles–have you had the chance to read the books: “God: A Biography” and/or “Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God” both by Jack Miles? I think he has something of the same viewpoint.

          • charles m

            I havent Diana, but I will check them out- thanks!

      • Brian W

        John,

        I agree, that’s why I don’t believe the Bible teachers eternal punishING, but eternal punishMENT. Hell has eternal consequences attached to it – the second death. The second death is eternal and everlasting.

    • ZAZZY

      Brian, you speak the truth.

  • Andrew Raymond

    John, as ever, you nailed it. I love the imagery of Fozzy Bear exploding in slow motion!

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

      Thanks, Andrew.

  • MarkB

    “But do I think that we need to take pains to ensure that we don’t ever confuse the Bible with God? Hell, yes.”

    Bullseye. Thanks John for writing this series. Excellent so far. Hope there’s more to come :)

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

      Thank you, Mark.

  • Kim J. from Pgh

    “But does it, ever?

    I don’t think it does.”

    Sorry, John, couldn’t disagree with you more. There are all kinds of atrocities that are either sanctioned or ordered by God in the Bible. You either believe the Bible is the Word of God or you don’t. Denying that the Bible runs contrary to what is moral is as disingenuous as bending and twisting scripture to somehow paint God in a magnanimous light.

    I don’t worship or follow the God that is portrayed in the Bible because I believe that the God of the Bible is immoral (as He is portrayed). Either the Bible really is the Word of God (and I choose not to follow or worship a god who would tell anyone to stone people) or the Bible was written by man and is flawed. Either way, I’m a humanist–I behave decently without expectation of reward or punishment after I’m dead (as Kurt Vonnegut put it).

    • Mike H

      I wish I could advise every would-be poster to pour over the blog entries on this site before making any assumptions of what John Shore believes in, how he interprets scripture, how he sees and interacts with his God before applying labels or otherwise trying to pigeon-hole him or otherwise back him or others who read and comment here into a preconceived corner.

      Your comment is as absolute as any hard core Bible Literalist that’s commented previously. Please at least avail yourself to the “best hits” link above and familiarize yourself with the blog’s author.

      • Kim J. from Pgh

        I’ve been following John for a while, actually. What John said, in this post, is that the Bible doesn’t ever go against what is obviously moral.

        I’m allowed to disagree with a blog post, even while respecting his other writings. I would hope someone who is writing a blog would welcome discussion when someone disagrees with one of his points. I think John does.

        • Mike H

          Forgive me for being presumptuous about your experience reading the blog but you still are presenting a very black and white, binary “choice” of his options regarding how he views Scripture.

          Could you give an example of where he’s saying “the Bible doesn’t ever go against what is obviously moral.”?

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            Sorry, my “you” was not specifically referring to John! I was referring in general to the idea that one could either believe the Bible is the Word of God or not believe it. More of a poor way to explain my idea than a condemnation of John’s choices/views.

            This is the example of where I think John says the Bible doesn’t ever go against what is obviously moral:

            “If what the Bible says runs contrary to what is obviously moral, then Christians have a problem.

            But does it, ever?

            I don’t think it does.”

            Here, it seems he is saying that Christians would have a problem if the Bible runs contrary to what is moral, and he doesn’t think the Bible runs contrary to what is moral. Am I misreading this statement?

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

          I do (welcome discussion). And, in fact, I edited out, ““But does it [the Bible], ever [run contrary to what is moral]? I don’t think it does.”? It was just too big a can of worms to open up in that fashion. It’s a fantastic discussion to have–but, as I say, it too quickly covers too much, so I thought I’d lose it, by way of keeping focused on my main point.

          (If anyone’s reading this, those two lines I deleted fell between “If what the Bible says runs contrary to what is obviously moral, then Christians have a problem.” and what is now, “Here’s the bottom line for me.”)

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            Sorry to distract from your main points, John. I think they are good ones and very worthy of focus. Best wishes.

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

            No, YOU didn’t distract me. Just the opposite. You helped me realize how in that one too-quick moment I essentially distracted the piece away from the point I most wanted to make.

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            And you have helped me find a way to explain to my mother how she can be more accepting of gays and understand that it doesn’t go against her faith. So thanks for writing these pieces, John. :)

          • Mike H

            Wow. I love the sentiment.

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

            Group hug!

          • Mike H

            In that context, I do understand, appreciate and agree with your premise, John, and understand Kim’s question now in that light.

            Honestly though – I think you’ve answered that question, and very well, numerous times through-out your postings.

            This truly is a “Hand of God” blog, to borrow from Og Mandino. I so admire your message and what you have to say, the way you say it and the obvious positive affect you are having on modern Christians who are, if I may, “perplexed”, not to mention the rest of us who just enjoy your point of view.

            And I’ll bet you’ve read Maimonides….

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

            I can’t even SAY “Maimonides” ….

            Thanks so much for these very kind and encouraging words, Mike H. They mean a lot to me.

          • Mike H

            My pleasure. And just in case you’re not being facetious, Moses Maimonides (acronym RaMBaM – “Rabbi Mosheh Ben Maimon”), medieval Jewish philosopher. Wrote, among other things, The Guide for the Perplexed, which is still a very relavent work and influenced many other philosophers and theologians and could still be considered very progressive, if not revolutionary.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides

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

            Mike: My knowledge of Maimonides is absurdly superficial; the ENTIRETY of my thought upon seeing his name was, “Jewish Aquinas.” So .. not exactly comprehensive. I HAVE been reading he Wiki article on him, and I’m already obsessed. Might you be able to recommend an edition of … whatever of his you think would be a good intro to him? The Guide to the Perplexed sounds beyond awesome. Edition, translation?

          • Mike H

            I believe I can do just that. I’ll reply shortly.

          • Mike H

            Ok – the Friedlaender translation is the same you’ll find in most editions available for purchase. Those include “A life of Maimonides”, cite references to Torah and Talmud and other additional material, but the translation is in the public domain.

            So – do away with the middle man:

            http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/index.htm

            For now, I’d stay away from his legalistic writings – As much as I enjoy reading aspects of and from Talmud, I can’t get my head around his writings dealing with it.

            However, his “Mishneh Torah” is a must-read. It explains our 613 mitzvot, why we do, why we don’t and (in my opinion), reduces or at least makes comprehensible, Oral Torah.

            http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm

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

        Thanks for this, Mike H. I really appreciate it.

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

      “You either believe the Bible is the Word of God or you don’t.” Those are hardly my only two choices.

      • Kim J. from Pgh

        Thanks for your response, John. What other choices are there?

        • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

          There are lots of ways to view the bible, with varying degrees to inspiration and authority.

          One can believe in the God as discussed in the bible, but accept that the writings of people trying to understand Him will not be perfect, but constrained by their limited, human perspectives.

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

          I can think it was largely inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, but that people, being people, also jammed their own stuff there.

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            Thanks for the explanation, I think I understand your view. In my view, it’s confusing for the Bible to be called the “Word of God” because that phrase carries so much authority and has been used throughout history to defend so many atrocities in His name. My mother and I discuss religion a lot (she thinks I’m going to Heaven because I used to believe, and once you let Jesus into your heart he is there forever–a loophole), and she always says it’s the underlying message, not the actual writings, that are inspired by God. My position has (and continues to) evolve, but for now I’m a humanist.

            Thanks for the honest discussion–it’s always appreciated and I always come away from such discussions with a new way of thinking about things, even if my views don’t fundamentally change.

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

            One thing you hear sometimes that I think really nails it is that the Bible is the Word of God, but not the words of God.

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            I love that! I’ll use that the next time I talk to my mother. She says she prays for my soul every night and she engages in religious discussions with me often (trying to save me), so I know it will be soon!

            And I know that you have posted other pieces that seemed to define your view of the Bible’s origin and purpose clearly, but that statement seemed contradictory to those previous posts. I have my own dirty lens with Christianity (or, at least, the Christianity that I was raised in, which was actually pretty liberal as far as denominational Christianity goes), but I love your view on Christianity so I chose to discuss that point. Anyway, thanks for the clarification and the discussion. Kindest regards–Kim

          • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

            So, what do you mean by “Word of God”? And isn’t it being such a loaded term going to get in the way of whatever that meaning is?

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            I guess I don’t consider the term “Word of God” to mean anything less than the actual words of God. Therefore, I don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            It would be an interesting exercise for someone to take out all the parts that are believed to have been jammed in there and see what’s left…sort of like Jefferson did, but without the removal of everything supernatural.

          • Mike H

            There’s actually been a surprising number of attempts to do just that, at least as far as the New Testament is concerned. The Complete Gospels, by Robert Miller, attempts to highlight the 4 canonical Gospels, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic/Apocryphal material in order to try – well, to do a couple of things: Identify the “Q” sayings source; call out later additions from about the 3rd century on citing textual material, and to attempt to identify “the real Jesus” from all of it.

          • Diana A.

            In all truth, I kind of like the Bible the way it is–flaws and all. That’s not to say that I believe in accepting every single word of the Bible as being directly from the lips of God. I read the Bible the way I read anything else–listening for the viewpoint of the writer (writers in the case of the Bible since the Bible is composed of many writings written over many generations–not to mention severely edited, miscopied, translated, mistranslated, etc.) If it makes sense to me, I buy it. If it doesn’t, I don’t.

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

            That’s exactly how I also feel, Diana.

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

            And of course you’d end up with as many different versions of the Bible as the number of people who engaged in that exercise.

          • Mike H

            Is Phyllis Schafely’s kid still working on the “conservative” version that omits all that “socialist” stuff like…the Beatitudes?

          • Kim J. from Pgh

            “…that “socialist” stuff like…the Beatitudes?”

            Ha!!!

          • Diana A.
          • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

            In my view, that’s not how it works. The human subjectivity is everywhere. It’s not that some parts are completely wrong, but that all of it is somewhat wrong. Can’t exactly “extract” the subjective parts.

    • Lymis

      While YOU may want the only two choices to be that “You either believe the Bible is the Word of God or you don’t,” simply saying so doesn’t make it true. And it particularly doesn’t make it true that either of those choices has exactly one meaning.

      For just one example, you can believe that God actually speaks in the hearts and minds of people, who then do their (flawed, human) best to document where the journey took them. That it is a flawed attempt to document a genuine interaction with the Divine.

      • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

        We’re on the same brainwave today, Lymis. It’s like I’m thinking your thoughts when you are.

        • Kim J. from Pgh

          I’m so sorry if I came across as wanting the only two choices to be that…that’s really not what I meant to say. I don’t think I communicated what I was thinking very clearly. I apologize.

      • Kim J. from Pgh

        To address your example, I think this is similar to the game of telephone, where Person A whispers a message to Person B, who then whispers the message to Person C, who then whispers the message to the next person…in the end, the message generally differs from the original message.

        In this case, I would not say that the resulting message is the Word of Person A, even though she started the game, because the message is not what she intended and became flawed.

        I agree with you that there are numerous ways to interpret the Bible, but (using my own semantics) I would call what you describe as believing that the Bible isn’t the Word of God (at least, that it does not contain the message that He communicated).

        I still think it falls into those two basic categories, but I agree that the categories have numerous possibilities as to the interpretation of the Bible. Peace.

        • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

          Thanks. Agreed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cullen.carter3 Cullen

    For the longest time, when I was a non-believer, the idea of being banished to hell for not believing in an all-knowing God seemed ridiculous.

    “If He is all-knowing, then he know if we’re going accept, or reject, him,” I thought. This made the idea of Christians possessing free will ridiculous.

    After my conversion, I realized that God gave us the power to make decisions. “Heaven and Hell are places we create by the type of decisions we make.

    For me, this made The Lord more of a loving-father type, than an angry curmudgeon.

    • Mike H

      Yeah. You guys got the God who went to anger management training, to paraphrase Lewis Black.

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

      But responding to the unfortunate choices made by his kid of his own free will by sentencing that kid to a lifetime (let alone an eternity) of suffering isn’t the action of a loving dad. It’s the action of a psychotic. (And, again: NOT stopping eternal torture when you could is morally indistinguishable from initiating or carrying out that torture yourself.)

      • charles m

        and hence….. the Cross.

    • MarkB

      Like they say about test taking… Stick with your first thought. In your case you said: “the idea of being banished to hell for not believing in an all-knowing God seemed ridiculous.” is probably the answer you should stick with (resonates with many many Christians). Otherwise, please expand on your comment: “I realized that God gave us the power to make decisions. “Heaven and Hell are places we create by the type of decisions we make.”

      Me personally it’s all about how you treat other people which is Jesus’ main message (the golden rule if you will). I’m confident without hesitation that if there is a judgement day, this will be the criteria we are measured against. Make a decision to stick it to your fellow homosexual brother/sister by denying them the dignity of their humanity – I think not heaven. Teach non-Christians they go to hell for not believing in Jesus – I think not heaven.

      My humble opinion. Your mileage may vary.

    • Lymis

      I’ve always felt that the parable of the Prodigal Son applied to the whole idea of hell. Jesus told us how a loving father treats a son who behaves badly, strays, and squanders his inheritance – and it wasn’t condemning him for all eternity when he realized what a mess he made of his life.

  • Nathan

    Here’s a quote from “Mere Christianity” (CS Lewis):

    “Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse – so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: In fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.”

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

      Yet another way to view the afterlife.

  • Nathan

    Another Lewis quote, sorry!

    “Very well then, atheism is too simple. And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right – leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both are boys’ philosophies. It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: But ask a scientist to tell you want it is really made of…

    Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”

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

      Nathan: If you want to insist that all the “terrible doctrines” to which Lewis here refers are real and need to be wrestled with, have at it. That’s what I’ve done, and I’m pleased with where I’ve landed on such issues. (And I sure don’t have a problem arriving somewhere different than does Lewis. What he calls a “boys’ philosophy” I call discernment and, yes, wisdom.) If you’re pleased with your answers to all those sorts of questions, then, again, good for you. What else can any of us do, but reason, reflect, and pray/meditate our way toward understanding?

      • ZAZZY

        study the Bible instead of what people say about it.

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

          Really. Gee, I hadn’t thought of doing that. Thanks for the tip.

      • Diana A.

        Amen!

      • Nathan

        Agreed John.

        However, you just seem to be “evangelizing” your point of view rather loudly. If everyone goes to Heaven in the end, why do you care that the “truth” gets out?

        Everyone is “pleased” their views. We are busy trying to convince each other that we are right. “Traditional” churches try to convince everyone that they should believe in Jesus or risk going to Hell. You try to convince everyone that this is foolish that they can believe whatever they want and go to Heaven. You believe you are saying “truth” and you call everyone else a hate-spewing fool. But I really don’t understand WHY you care what people think about Hell? So what if they think a bunch of people go to hell who actually are going to heaven?

        It seems to me that both you and the conservative Christians are doing exactly what they sincerely believe. But at least I understand *why* the conservatives are doing what they are doing… So what if their doctrine causes a bunch of people to ridicule Christianity? Everyone (fundie Christians and atheists) are all going to Heaven in the end, right? Why bother writing a book and blog on hell to dispel their “foolish” beliefs”?

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

          Nathan: I said this to you here, but I’ll say it again:

          Except, you know what? Forget it. I just saw in your comment here that you wrote to me, “You try to convince everyone that they can believe whatever they want and go to Heaven.” So you’re not serious, and I’m wasting my time with you. G’bye.

          • Nathan

            No, I’m very serious. I don’t have a good grasp on your beliefs about what impact Christianity has and why it is worth spreading. I guess I completely understand why you care about LGBT issues. The beliefs in traditional churches promotes hatred and oppresses certain people. But this issue is very different. The beliefs of the traditional churches instead compels Christians to go out and spread the “good news”. They act on it. They send missionaries all over the world to spread it. They send doctors, food, builders, and money to the poorest areas of the world to spread God’s love and promote their view that Christ is the way to Heaven. What is your motivation for spreading your message about Hell?

          • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

            Nathan,

            Julie Anne Smith, the target of a $500,000 lawsuit from Beaverton Grace Church in Oregon, has been asked precisely the same question on her blog. She is the victim of Spiritual Abuse by the Pastor of this Church. She speaks up for other victims of this sort of Abuse, along with many other bloggers (such as FBCJaxWatchdog).

            So if I may:

            “The beliefs of the traditional churches instead compels Christians to go out and spread the “good news”. They act on it. They send missionaries all over the world to spread it. They send doctors, food, builders, and money to the poorest areas of the world to spread God’s love and promote their view that Christ is the way to Heaven. What is your motivation for spreading your message about Spiritual Abuse?”

            Because the “traditional” concept of Hell is what motivates people to discriminate against homosexuals, women, children. It is what allows Pastors such as the one suing Julie Anne to convince “his” flock to take his “Church Discipline” beyond the domain of his church organization into the Public and into their private lives. Julie’s “crime”? She and her family left BGC. The pastor told his congregants to “shun” her, which had implications beyond the domain of his organization. They spread lies, innuendo, etc., etc. Julie pushed back publicly.

            These sorts of people cannot be content with knowing that the unrepentant murderer or rapist might not participate in the Kingdom of God. They must use their vision of Hell to promote bigotry, be it spiritual, racial or sexual and to ultimately wreck peoples LIVES, or attempt at least, to do so.

            Promoting the idea of thinking rationally about the existence of Hell (and who is “deserving” of it), is to promote less hatred, bigotry and abuse.

            You seem to be saying that the ends justify the means. It doesn’t.

          • Christelle

            Good for Julie for being BRAVE! I hope she has a support system. The biggest tyrants have always used their religious views as motivation… And they will stop at absolutely nothing to destroy another’s reputation/life/etc. I’m so tired of it I want to scream!

          • Christelle

            OR they need to maintain control and to be right/ to win at all costs and THUS use the Bible/God to help manipulate their “flock” against another… so sad.

          • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

            And what about all those people thinking of their late loved ones in eternal torment? How is that not harm?

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com DR

            You assume meaning and intent, then ask the writer to defend it.

    • Mike H

      Nathan,

      Let me throw this at you: Consider all of the behaviors that the RC Church, the post-Reformation denominations, and specifically, American Protestant Christian denominations have insisted over the past 1,500 – 1,800 years were a one-way ticket to hell. Drinking, gambling/card playing, dancing, NOT being Catholic, NOT being Christian, interracial sex, interracial marriage, homosexuality, women’s equality, minority equality, gay rights, gay marriage, abortion, contraception – not comprehensive but I think I snagged the “biggies”, and then contrast these with the “sins” you’re perfectly well-aware were and are being committed by large religious organizations, their clergy and their staff and then ask yourself:

      Not a lot of biblical material on Hell. Lot’s of extra-biblical material. Christian Apocrypha, Dante’s Inferno – Is Hell “real” – or is it and was it, a tactic to control the faithful whose complete submission to their authority was needed to remain in power and money coming into the coffers?

      Not as elegant as John’s logic but at least another way of considering the question.

      • Mike H

        I forgot to throw in Jazz, Rock and Roll, Elvis, John Lennon and the Bikini.

    • Lymis

      Sorry, Nathan, but as much as I love C. S. Lewis and consider him one of my all-time favorite authors, this is one I think he has completely wrong.

      I’ll agree that “God loves us, so all is fluffy and bunnies with no consequences” is a childish view.

      But I also think “We have to have rigid rules with strict consequences and the main reason to do the right thing is that you will be punished if you don’t” is also a childish view – quite honestly a far more childish one.

      Grownups understand that actions affect our ourselves and others and that doing the right thing to the best of our ability is a good in and of itself. That we don’t have to be punished in order to understand that we didn’t do our best, and that wanting to do our best, help others, and serve God is the adult choice, not fear of punishment.

      You can live in a complex and nuanced world without having someone standing over you ready to leap on you with a baseball bat if you make a misstep.

      • https://www.facebook.com/mike.haas.3914 Mike H

        It seems to me that many of these replies by Nathan, by Brian, by Zazzy – and I’m being very presumptuous of their intentions, I admit – are failing to come right out and say what they really mean, what they really want to know:

        “Why can’t we (yes – “we”, speaking in God’s name) just condemn all those homosexuals and other deviants and sinners straight to HELL without people like you (John and his fans) making us feel guilty (asking us to think rationally) about it? It was good enough for our Grandparents, its good enough for us.”

        If God is “just”, then truly awful people who are abusive toward others, murder, rape, steal, kick their dogs, bear false witness and intentionally fart in elevators and other enclosed spaces will probably not participate in the Kingdom of God. This at least is something most who follow the Abrahamic faiths could probably agree upon.

        I guess I never quite “got” why some folks need to look past the “10″ commandments (its really 613, but who’s counting?) for reasons to “condemn” (I loath that word) one of their brothers, if at all.

        And its always about S E X (other people having fun and they don’t like it). “God will condemn us and destroy the world because of our “Sechs-shull MO-ral-a-tee”. Y’know…if, as a single example of genocide, God hasn’t “destroyed” us by now for the murder of 6 million people in Western Europe and perhaps as many as 20 million in Eastern Europe during the Second World War – maybe S E X is even LOWER on His, “Things to Open a Can of Whipass on Humanity” list.

        • Diana A.

          When I read the Hebrew scriptures in particular, the relationship that’s depicted between God and us reminds me of that between a parent and his/her firstborn child.

          The firstborn in any family is the guinea pig. First-time parents usually still have delusions that they can raise the perfect child in the perfect way. So all these expectations are dumped on this poor first-born child, along with other manifestations of parental inexperience. First-time parents tend to overreact to things that more experienced parents have learned to shrug over. (Think about how often in Hebrew scriptures that God does open the proverbial Can of Whipass on humanity, or at least the Israelites.)

          As time goes by, and especially in the Greek scriptures, God seems to mellow–like an experienced parent who has learned that certain behaviors are just normal for kids and that most kids outgrow such behaviors eventually. Of course, this is pure my viewpoint and I could be wrong.

  • charles m

    deep thoughts John-

    the question I have is this- If God doesnt have a “Hell” then for those who disobey him (if you will) is their any consequences for their actions in life in the Eternal?

    I dont really have much of an opinion on that- but I do believe that fellowship with Jesus in THIS life- is its own reward, and bring its own transcendental rewards….

    • charles m

      I think it provides the slippery slope actually…. why should one believe if they cant see the payoff ?

      I guess it sort of directs one to Bonhoeffers’ comment about a God which can be proven would be an idol….

      • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

        Why should one believe if they’re only doing it for a pay-off?

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

      Charles: You asked, “If God doesnt have a Hell then for those who disobey him (if you will) is their any consequences for their actions in life in the Eternal?”

      I have no idea. I don’t; you don’t; nobody does, can, has, or ever will. What I’m interested in is what that MEANS, really: what, exactly, we do with that information.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

        I grew up being taught that the “damned” did not get everlasting life. That they got a nice roasting and that was it, they were fini, charcoal briskets never to be considered again, and that the “good ones” would be the only ones who got the live forever reward.

        I never quite bought it, just as I have never quite bought the more traditional versions either. I think it is mainly because of the fact that people tend to quickly decide who will be going where, when none of us get to make that decision.

        • cat rennolds

          maybe it’s just the badness itself that gets baked out. it’s the sin that goes to hell and stays there forever while the rest of us goes on home for cookies and a nap:)

      • charles m

        Hi John-

        I guess I’m in weird place with all this- I have made a very connected effort to minimize my Bible to the Greatest Commandment (in practice) And frankly, I am perfectly content to ignore those considerations of what an afterlife might look like… There is simply far too much to consider in the moment if we choose to follow Jesus AND His example.- I guess my lingering concern is how to go about being an example to my children on the “why” of belief, and its benefit- I personally feel that God gives each of us the evidence we need to believe in him- (sort of like “the Oracle” of the film “The Matrix”- but it is very hard to effectively layout a roadmap describing that process to others.

  • Thomas

    That was it. That last comment about not confusing the Bible with God so perfectly encapsulated the concept I’ve been wrestling for years to articulate. I am stunned, humbled and floored. Thank you, John. You can’t imagine the flood of peace you opened the doors to.

  • ZAZZY

    If God is just he cannot let UNrepented of sin go unpunished. If one sin of disobedience in the garden did so much damage then sin is very serious and destructive. Do the unrepentant who thumb their noses at God by the rejecting him recieve the same reward as the TRUE believer who when he sins sincerely repents and seeks to serve/please God? Would THAT be just? You give the finger to God to your dying breath and then think God says at the moment you die “welcome good and faithful servant into the joy of the Lord!” at the gates of heaven?

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

      Ok. I know I’m stepping in it here, but I’ve not had my coffee yet.

      Just what is a TRUE believer?

      What is the true and honest meaning of justice, of mercy, of forgiveness?

      What about the dude caught stealing something by the Romans and executed for his crimes that just happened to be hung right next to Jesus that fateful day?

      How are we so certain we know for sure what goes repented or un-repented in the life of another, when we are quite willing to ignore what hasn’t been repented of in our own lives?

      Who do we think we are? God???

      (Oh crap! I think I just channeled The Church Lady)

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

      “ZAZZY” here–because he’s such an honest, honorable Christian—is posting here by way of ever-changing IP addresses, generated by a program used by spammers (which makes him much more difficult to put on moderation). This sort of creepy cowardice is discouragingly typical–it is on this blog, anyway—of Christians who hold views like his.

      Zaz also sent me a personal email just now, which read only, “u blocked me for agreeing w Brian? wow.” Of course since he’s using a spammer’s email address, my response to him bounced back, so:

      Zaz: I did not block you from agreeing with Brian. I don’t know what you’re talking about; both of your agreements with him are showing on the site, right where you put them. Brian W. is a friend; I don’t stop people from agreeing with my friends.

      • Diana A.

        Cool! Thank you John!

    • Mike H

      I see. So God is like the leader of a street or prison gang. Or a despotical dictator. He must crush the “sinner” as an example of those who dare to oppose him. Its nothing personal – but if He didn’t, why, he’d lose respect. No one would “fear” Him anymore, is that the idea?

      And think of his poor followers and proselytizers. Why, without the threat of eternal HELL, how are we to expect them to win souls, thereby gaining congregants, thereby bringing new confidence mone…I mean funds, into the “organization”?

      Face it, Zaz. You likely care very little for all that “touchy-feely” stuff spouted by that Jesus guy. His words and the example he set for you are secondary: Your faith is a club to beat people you don’t care for – who fail to conform, who get out of line. Without Hell – you’re powerless. Impotent.

      And if I compared you to Satan in Job, would you get the reference?

      • charles m

        to Zazzy-

        James 2:13

        “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”

    • Lymis

      I can agree with the concept that God cannot let any sin, repented of or not, go unaddressed.

      But eternal damnation? How about a “Really? What were you thinking? How do you feel about it now? Anything else we have to sort out? Oh, and by the way, everyone else is here, too, so if you feel the need to apologize, I can arrange that.”

      And let’s be really clear, here. Nobody “gives God the finger with their dying breath.” They may continue to reject a church that hurt them, or deny rules that never made sense. They may have a flawed view of who God is, likely because some other hurting and flawed person gave them reason to view God that way. They may have found a personal path in which doing things that other people disapprove of made more sense than following rules that seemed hurtful or arbitrary. They may have lashed out in their own pain.

      Nobody, though, has a clear, real, present, and working experience of the source of all love, compassion, forgiveness, and joy, and when presented with the opportunity to be embraced by it, says “Oh yeah, up yours.”

      God, being God, knows that. I suspect that, whatever else God does when people die, a lot of it is about soothing hurts and clearing up misunderstandings.

      So, maybe God’s first reaction isn’t so much “welcome good and faithful servant” as it is “Oh, you poor thing. Look what they did to you. Sit here by me and let’s talk about it.” My guess is that He has to do a lot of that.

      • Diana A.

        You are so wise, Lymis. I think you’re absolutely right.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

        Oh wow. I think you may just be right Lymis.

      • cat rennolds

        I love you, Lymis. I think you’re probably gonna hear something along the lines of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

    • DR

      You just don’t get it. The fact that you *lie* about your identity and create multiple versions of yourself to express your point of view is indicative of a pretty substantial insecurity in what it is you actually believe (and in general, a pretty troubled interpersonal make up).

      You need to go get some help – that you’d invest this much time and energy making up different people to express your same point of view is concerning and represents behavior of someone who is pretty unstable. Take care of yourself.

      • Diana A.

        Or maybe “Zazzy” is just a sociopath. According to Martha Stout, one out of twenty-five of us is a sociopath.

  • mike moore

    I no longer consider myself a Christian. The word is too loaded and inaccurate for my ever-evolving faith. I think of myself as a Jesus follower, but I fall pretty short of that goal.

    However, at one time I considered myself a True Believer. The loss of anyone’s faith is worthy of thousands of words. Over the years, however, I’ve distilled my reasons down:

    1) People’s lives, despite all the public declarations to the contrary, were little affected by their faith.

    Even before coming out as a gay man, even before realizing I was gay (girls and I used to have a lot of fun together :-) … I was realizing my relatively liberal faith community (church, youth leader, Westmont College, family, and friends) housed the most judgmental and intolerant people I knew. Good works were in no way exclusive to Christians, and the good works of non-believers seemed to have purer motivations … no deal with God and expectations of rewards in an afterlife.

    In regards to the whole person, in general, Christianity and religion in general seemed to have a negative impact.

    And for those whose lives had seen radical turn-arounds for the better? I was, of course, happy to see them free of their demons. Still, I knew many people who lives had seen equally radical turn-arounds through AA, NA, therapy and/or works of charity.

    2) Politics. With a family heavily involved in national politics, Dem & Rep, I learned something big (for me), first hand. Politics and power corrupt.

    History is written by the victors, and politics and power truly do corrupt almost of the people involved. And then I asked myself, back in 1980, “when I look at the political corruption in both our government and within our churches and denominations … when I look at politics in past millennia … what reasonable person would conclude that the Council of Nicaea – or any other ecumenical counsel or religious power structure – was in any way less corrupt than is typical? (We know Constantine threatened exile to those who disagreed with him.)

    And that pretty much reduced to Bible to political document, in my eyes. Is there wisdom and truth and divine spirit within it? Of course. But can it be considered the Word of God? Not to me.

    3) Hell. The concept was always and remain completely incompatible with any notion of a loving God. And I know this in my heart more than any other conviction of my faith, such as it is.

    We are told Hell is eternal. This means that the eternal God who claims to love us so much that He sacrificed His only Son to save us … is giving us an opportunity so minute a window in time so brief for us to find Him, as to be laughable. Weighed on its own actions, religion comes up as a major evil. And this so-called loving God wants me to look past that and embrace the evil of his self-proclaimed emissaries on earth. Fuck that. And Fuck Him, if that is His expectation.

    Hell. It’s just plain wrong.

  • cat rennolds

    John, just one point: You saying nobody knows what happens after death, and that God has never told anybody, would be like me saying your conversion to Christianity was self-delusion. I don’t KNOW what happened to you in your closet, but I believe you based on what I do know.

    There have been mystics, prophets, and ordinary people throughout history who have said that they KNOW, have experienced or have been told by God what comes after death. We have to rely on our own experience and judgment to decide whether they’re right or not. All you can say with complete honesty is that you don’t know. Don’t be a deep sea fish telling the dolphin he hasn’t seen the sky.

    that in itself does not negate any of the rest of your points:)

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

      Cat: Your criticism fails to take into account my very careful distinction between subjective and objective knowledge, which I unambiguously affirm, even with regards to my own spiritual experiences. A dolphin doesn’t see a sky; it sees the sky. Huge difference–which, again, I’ve noted.

      On a separate but related note: I don’t have a problem with anyone claiming/thinking my conversion was self-delusional. At the very least it’s pretty hard to imagine how/why any non-Christian wouldn’t think that. I don’t even care if it was “delusional.” It was real to me, it stuck, it’s proven its validity to me over and over again. I get to have that truth–for me. What I don’t get to do is tell others they should share my worldview and schema of both this life and the next.

  • sayla1228

    People need think about too is not just why people have to go to hell but also the flip side: why should anyone go to heaven. Both sides have to be thought about.

    God in general seems to be more into ‘scandalous’ mercy than ‘retributive’ or even ‘restortive’ justice. No one can determine whether anyone else has been condemned. We need not get into the habit deciding whether Hilter, bin Laden, Stalin or a serial killer should be in damnation either when subject Hell and justice comes up. However, it’s true that not all wrongdoing and sin are equally wrong/hurtful. Too many American evangelicals bought into the idea that all sin/wrongdoing is the same in God’s eyes yet paradoxically are willing to be so eager to judge one’s eternal fate, declaring that this or that person isn’t really saved by their standards. We need to resist the urge to judge someone’s soul even if that person’s overall way of life and actions are dehumanizing and hurtful to others.

    • Lymis

      I’ve always felt that “perfect justice” would require God to set aside anything that played into bad or sinful decisions that was beyond the person’s control, and that God would only judge someone based on the decisions that they made fully freely.

      Emotional scars from abuse? Bad brain chemistry? Social conditioning? Inadequate understanding? Peer pressure?

      We as humans have to make rules and set human standards of justice by what we are capable of evaluating. God isn’t limited to that. Hitler’s salvation or damnation may have been based entirely on how he treated someone in his kindergarten class or how he overlooked some minor slight by someone. The same could be true of Mother Theresa. We simply don’t know, because we can’t possibly know which choices that anyone else makes are actually free choices.

      That doesn’t mean we can’t respond and take action to prevent harm here on earth. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a legal justice system, even one with severe penalties. It just means we cannot know how a just and loving God is going to evaluate anyone else’s choices.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rene.pasquier René Pasquier via Facebook

    Well, dear John, allow me to agree to disagree with you on two elements: 1) It’s not because YOU reject Hell that HELL is false. 2) To divorce the Bible from God is saying we don’t know God (or his Son) thus, we have no Revelation and consequently, our Faith no longer stands… Might as well be atheists.

    Having said that, Hell is an issue that exceeds our understanding, just like Eternal Life. Also, God is God. He is not like us. His “mind” is beyond anything we can ever truly comprehend. So why not just let God be God, the Judge. Hell was created for fallen Spirits, not men or women. In fact, Hell is empty and will only be used in the future. Heaven is not only for Christians so hello Gandhi. And contrary to your article, Jesus does speak of an individual that is “the son of perdition”… so he did speak of Hell… Hell yes!

    I like your stuff a lot but I wish you would simply leave Hell to God and forget about it. You can’t do anything about it and you can’t expect to grasp all the mysteries that are beyond us. Leave it alone. Leave it to God. With my deepest respect and affection. (Publisher: OkChrist.com)

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

      Rene: If you need hell in order for God to be real to you, then, by all means, keep hell. I wouldn’t think of interfering with that.

    • mike moore

      If hell is for lost souls, then I would say we’re living in hell.

    • Soulmentor

      *****To divorce the Bible from God is saying we don’t know God (or his Son) thus, …..*****

      John did NOT divorce the Bible from God. He simply suggested that the Bible is NOT God. If you can’t or (more likely) won’t make the distinction, there is no point in further discussion with you.

      And one other point….making a god of the Bible, a human produced object, would be idolatry. Surely you wouldn’t recommend that. Never mind responding. We all know that you apparently do just that.

      • Kim J. from Pgh

        “If you can’t or (more likely) won’t make the distinction, there is no point in further discussion with you….Never mind responding. We all know that you apparently do just that.”

        Really? Is it necessary to take this tone with someone just because she disagrees with a blog post? Sheesh.

        • Kim J. from Pgh

          Or he… ;)

      • Brandon

        John 1:1 bro. In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    ******But do I think that we need to take pains to ensure that we don’t ever confuse the Bible with God?******

    There you nailed the problem with our national dialogue on the place of scripture in our controversies. The Bible has become God in the minds of too many Christians. That is nothing less than idol worship.

    And, regarding your statement that, “If what the Bible says runs contrary to what is obviously moral, then Christians have a problem,” here’s something to ponder, spoken by one of the Chaplains of the US Senate many years ago, and who’s name escapes me now. He suggested that, “If what we think is right further divides the family of man, there must be something wrong with what we think is right.”


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