Today’s lesson in Bad Christianity

jesusc2On one of our posts over at Unfundamentalist Christians, a reader left this comment:

God gave us free will so we would love Him by choice and not out of fear. He hates the sin but loves the sinner. However, sin cannot live in Heaven. A person who loves to sin would not be happy there and there would be no harmony. So God will have to destroy those who have not chosen to love and follow Jesus.

So the reasoning there is this: We are free to choose not to love God, but if that’s the choice we make God will destroy us.

That’s like a waiter saying, “For lunch today you have a choice: a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup, or a bucket of acid poured on your face. Shall I give you a moment?”

The “choice” offered by the reader’s version of the Christian God is no choice at all. “Love me or I’ll light you on fire forever” is … the world’s worst Hallmark card.

Any God who would say that—let alone do that—can be nothing but a sadistic, megalomania sociopath. At the very least it’s safe to say that such a God is immoral.

And yet Christians of a certain sort want their God to behave in this manifestly immoral way.

They desire a God who, in the most horrific way possible, physically tortures forever anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe what they themselves believe. That’s the God they want. So that’s the God they fashion from the Bible—despite everything that Jesus said and did.

And how do they manage the feat of creating a God who behaves immorally yet remains forever moral?

The construct, very nearly thin air, a system whereby God has no choice but to act immorally.

No choice! That’s the key!

To quote our commenter: “God will have to destroy those who have not chosen to love and follow Jesus.”

So today’s lesson in Bad Christianity? If you want God to act out your will, first be sure to rob him of His.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • JennieSignUp

    Eddie Izzard has you covered:

  • charles

    what awesome looks like….

    “The “choice” offered by the reader’s version of the Christian God is no choice at all. “Love me or I’ll light you on fire forever” is … the world’s worst Hallmark card.”

    I may be going to hell, but I a still going to be trying my damnedist to follow what Jesus did….

  • Charles! We showed off your NALT video today on the NALT Facebook page and Twitter! I like yours so much, because it’s so simple and to-the-point. Fourteen seconds! I love it.

  • Matt

    I’m honestly not getting their sentence referencing “a person who loves to sin.”

    Who loves sinning? Who enjoys causing pain to others? The only people I know of who fit that bill are both rare and very far gone; it’s debatable whether they actually know that they’re doing wrong. Man, that is a depressing way to go through life, never having any faith in other people!

  • Matt: Weirdly (and frustratingly), I spent about 13 hours today writing this piece; I just could NOT get it right. And for ten of those hours I was writing about exactly the moment in this note that most caught your attention! Here’s the slightest bit of what I wrote, which so accords with what you’ve said:

    So here’s the thing about sinning: Nobody (save, you know, clinically deranged sociopaths) loves to do it. Nobody. It’s not possible. A person who loves to sin is like a fish who loves the desert, or a cockroach who loves RAID. To say there are people who enjoy sinning is to prove you wouldn’t know a human being from a gum ball dispenser.

    Next time I’m stuck in some writing thing I can’t seem to get out of, I’ll just call you!

  • I know this routine so well; Izzard is one of all-time favorite stand-ups. Thanks for sending me this link! (“I’m watching it now. “Do you have a flag?” Just the best.)

  • Todd Reeder

    There are many sins that I can think of that people love to commit. I can’t think of ways they may cause harm to others. Like gambling and fornication. And people do these things because they get pleasure from them. And if the win gambling they get a financial reward.

  • Anakin McFly


    /Godwin’s Law

    Also, well, porn and/or sex. Lots of people seem to enjoy that. And over-eating, that’s fun and enjoyable too. As is sloth, whereby I just spent the entire morning playing video games. Pride is also fun. Most of the stuff in the 7 sins list could be pretty enjoyable in their way, actually.

  • Well, here’s another excerpt from The Post I Didn’t Finish today:

    I define sin as the willful violation of the free will of another. If you willfully violate the free will of another person—especially a weaker person—then you have sinned. If you haven’t, you’re good. Without intentional harm there is no foul. I’ve found this definition of sin to be useful and satisfactorily comprehensive.

  • Recently I’ve been wondering what is meant by “God’s glory” (as in “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”). Clearly one cannot be blamed for something one is incapable of doing, so God’s glory must be some attribute of God we can emulate. The only such attribute I can think of is perfect selfless love.

    So if by “loving sin” one means “acting selfishly”, yeah, it’s possible.

  • charles

    hmm- very interesting John- I think you need to flesh that idea out further….

  • Lyn

    I think those probably fall under “All things are permissible, but not everything is profitable.” There are some categories of unprofitable things, actions or inactions (think of the difference between child abuse and child neglect)– things that harm others, things that harm yourself, things that harm your relationships with others, and things that harm your relationship with God. We generally think of the first category as definite sins (though there are times where even these must be considered in context, like killing the guy who’s shooting up a school). Sex isn’t sinful. Firing a gun isn’t sinful. Eating, even over-eating, isn’t sinful. They only become sinful when they cause harm or lead to a pattern of addiction that causes harm.

    But people don’t like to think that deeply. They just want a list of rules that they can slap down and insist everyone follow. “Everything is permissible” is scary. And it doesn’t allow us to pridefully judge others, because we can’t judge an action outside of its context, and to know someone’s context, you have to know them deeply, to know where their spiritual weaknesses and strengths are. You can’t just go, “Well, listening to secular music is bad for me because the lyrics get stuck in my head and cause me to meditate on wordly things, therefore, secular music is bad for everyone” or “I’m an alcoholic, so you shouldn’t drink, ever.” A lot of bad theology comes from people applying the spiritual rules they developed because of their own spiritual weaknesses onto everyone.

    At the heart of a truer theology is love, expressed through thoughtful application of the Golden Rule– not simplified as a child might (I like to be given Transformers, so grandma will like this) but with discernment (What would cause grandma the same kind of joy that I experience when I receive a Transformer as a gift?)– What harms this other person? What would harm their relationships with others? What would harm their spiritual walk with God? What would harm me or my relationships in interacting with them? What will bless this other person? What would bless their relationships? What would bless their spiritual life?

    It takes work. But that’s Christianity in all its simplicity and complexity.

  • Matt –

    I think it’s even deeper. The Calvinists’ doctrine of total depravity teaches that all of humanity is fatally flawed in this life and therefore not to be trusted. In their view, God calls us to check our hearts and minds at the womb. We can’t trust our emotions because “the heart is easily deceived”. We can’t trust our intellect because “our ways are not God’s ways”. It’s a doctrine that engenders both a dim view of humanity and self-loathing (and/or self flagellation). I can’t fathom internalizing that message – it’s got to be a really difficult way to go through life.

  • Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of CBST here in New York once said something I’ve really come to appreciate. (Paraphrasing from memory…)

    “I don’t believe in a God who cares if I believe in Him. The God I believe in isn’t that petty.”

  • Lymis

    I think they are deliberately crafting it that way. I’ve never been able to figure out whether it’s done consciously or unconsciously, but it’s creating a cartoon version of evil, and it has the same effect that bad fictional super-villains have. They are people who actively LIKE being evil, and do things specifically in order to be evil, because, they’re evil.

    Bad people, the people that God is going to destroy, the people I’m allowed to hate, judge, oppress, and ignore, are some other kind of person entirely – different from me, and because of that, because they are entirely different, I don’t have to worry about my own failings, or, probably more accurately, I can worry a bit about them without actually making any effort to change.

    Because a bad person, the kind God hates, actually loves to sin. When they fall short, it’s a conscious, deliberate, and intentional act of spitting in God’s eye and begging for eternal damnation, for the fun of it. Of course, when I fall short, it’s merely a reflection of my flawed humanity, or because of the corrupt influences of those bad people, or because my blood sugar was off, or because I was misinterpreted.

    I’m saved, so anything bad I do is automatically forgiven. I don’t actually love sinning, so my sins are just occasional aberrations in my otherwise blameless life. The bad people, on the other hand, love to sin, so even the things that they do that might be acceptable, or even admirable in someone who didn’t love sinning (for example, gay people who love each other and form loving families) doesn’t count. It’s not actually admirable, it just looks that way if you are so sloppy that you can’t see past it to the evil that lies underneath.

    In other words, they admit that they have to love their neighbors, but they get to live in a restricted gated neighborhood. God didn’t mean they were supposed to actually love other people. At least, not those other people.

  • Lymis

    I think that’s a really good working definition, John. It needs a tweak to include situations where you knowingly harm someone else who chooses to participate in that harm of their own free will. Giving the alcoholic a drink he wants and letting him drive home plastered doesn’t violate his free will, but I wouldn’t think of it as blameless.

    But that’s a fine tuning, not an objection to your point.

    One fiction author I love had one of his characters define evil as “treating people as things.” That there were all kinds of evil, but they all started from that fundamental idea that other people aren’t real people. I think that’s essentially just another way of saying what you said in your quote.

  • Lymis

    Todd, I think your idea has a hidden circularity to it.

    Things like gambling and fornication are sins precisely because they cause harm to someone. The sin involved doesn’t exist in isolation, and when the harm isn’t present, neither is the sin.

  • Lymis

    Lyn, I agree. A lot of it does fall into the “not everything is profitable” category.

    What’s left, as far as I can see, almost never fits into the “loves sinning” idea, but rather into the idea of people doing what they think is the best idea at the time.

    Nobody loves sinning. But if you’ve convinced yourself that other people don’t matter, than all your moral choices will be based entirely on self-interest and selfishness, no matter who they hurt.

    If you are in such pain that the only choice is a bad choice, or if you have such a poorly developed moral sense that even tiny existential pains are intolerable, then doing what deadens the pain, causes a momentary distraction, or keeps you from thinking about it may seem like the better choice than continuing to deal with the pain.

    Pleasure that harms someone else or does harm to onesself is some form of coping mechanism or based on a flawed moral sense. Pleasure that doesn’t harm anyone is not a sin.

  • Lymis

    I agree – but the people who actually operate from that sort of sense seem to be rare, and increasingly rarer. What I see more and more of is people who feel that everyone else is totally depraved, but they (and those they consider like themselves) are in good with God, and exempt from the repercussions of total depravity.

    The good old-fashioned Calvinist who applied their standards to everyone equally, and often, themselves more severely, has largely been replaced by the smug, self-righteous, and hypocritical. That doesn’t seem a nice way to go through life, either, and it’s one I have even less respect for.

  • Lymis

    What amazes me – or rather, used to amaze me until they wore me down over time, now it just saddens me – is the fact that the people who most vehemently say that God cannot allow sin or sinners into heaven are the ones who can’t seem to conceive of the idea that God might have a way of clearing up the sin without nuking the sinner.

    I don’t agree with the old Catholic concept of Purgatory – eons of punishment without actual damnation (sins must leave really stubborn stains) – but I heartily approve of the underlying concept. That God has the perspective to understand everything that underlies our moral choices, everything that was a consequence of them, and all the mitigating and associated factors that played into it.

    God doesn’t need to destroy the sinner. God needs to comfort the sinner and help the sinner understand, and if necessary, repent of the sin.

    I’ve long felt that, rather than God barring the gates of heaven and pointing the finger of shame at the groveling wretches that have suddenly realized they are damned and can never be allowed into heaven and are about to be cast into the fires, what’s far more likely to happen (if heaven is anything like our insanely limited human conception of it in the first place) is that God is standing at the open gates waving people in, and those people are unable to let themselves feel worthy.

    It’s like unexpectedly being invited to a formal party – you look in the door and see all the gloriously dressed, beautiful, graceful, elegant and articulate people inside having such a wonderful time, and you look down and say “I can’t go in there dressed like this. I’m all dirty and besides, I’d never fit in. I don’t know what fork to use, and I’d feel completely ignorant in those conversations” – and then God says, “You’re fine just like you are, but if you really need it, we have a whole team that will clean you up, give you a makeover if you want it, help you pick out clothes and do whatever else it takes so you feel comfortable and can enjoy yourself. Take all the time you need. No effort or expense will be spared. This party is as much for you as for them.”

    For a long time, I’ve felt the only people in hell are the people who refuse to let themselves be in heaven, and that hell will only be in operation until the last Prodigal realizes they are free to come home.

    A God who can’t help a human understand just what went wrong, sort out their feelings on the matter, come to terms with it, and move on to what comes next is hardly omnipotent, much less all-wise and all-loving. Or, by any sane use of the word, just.

  • Today is one of the days I feel less aligned with y’all.

    The heavy dualism implied by, “A person … would not be happy there…”, goes unchallenged.

    And much less so: “God gave us free will so we would love Him by choice ….”

    For me, attachment to the “small i” self is a force like gravity. The greater the attachment to me and mine, the further from “heaven” .

    Clinging to individual “personhood” perpetuates the diaspora.

    Christ is the “Capital I” Self. The True Self of sinner and saint alike.

    To know this completely in the Here and Now, as Lyn has said, “…takes work.” and yes, “…that’s Christianity in all its simplicity and complexity.”

  • Gambling isn’t a sin as long as it doesn’t involve using money or resources someone else needs. Fornication depends on one’s definition of the word: Sexual relations in & of themselves are not inherently sinful, only their context.

  • God loves everybody, Lymis. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

    That includes EVERYBODY. You, me, John Shore, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Adolf Hitler, even the worst mother-kicking puppy-raping Internet troll you can think of.

  • God doesn’t hate anyone, Lymis. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten so so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

    This means EVERYONE. You, me, John Shore, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Adolf Hitler, even the worst mother-kicking puppy-raping Internet troll you can think of.

    God doesn’t hate, God refuses to hate, God is incapable of hate: It is simply not in His nature.

  • Didn’t mean for this to float to the top. There were about thirty comments that contributed to the mood in evidence.

    A grain of salt if you will. Thanks.

  • Matt

    Based on what I know of Lymis, I think he is quite clear on the depth and breadth of God’s love. He was outlining the attitude of the Christian who feels others deliberately turn away from God to sin–but they do not, and so they are “better.”

  • Matt

    Thank you! What a kind thing to say.

  • brmckay –

    I’m always glad when you join the conversation.

    Where I agree: I believe that selflessness, community, and inclusion (and ultimately shalom) are all hallmarks of the kingdom. That requires a focus on others and not self (…you know, following Christ’s example). I, too, believe that self-centeredness distances us from God (and, BTW, it keeps us from living into the fullness of life).

    Where I disagree: No one knows how salvation works. Talk of heaven and hell is little more than theological folly. It’s entirely possible that, when all is finally revealed, our proverbial selfish sinner will be reconciled to God and perfectly content in the kingdom.

    If your discomfort is that the comments are downplaying the sinful nature of man and our need for God, I disagree. There’s a balance to be struck. Yes, Christ was sinless, but he was also fully human and stood in solidarity with broken people like me. We need to honor both His divinity and his humanity. I think any doctrine that engenders self-loathing can seriously impede our ability to love our neighbor. Instead, I think that a doctrine that emphasizes redemption (instead of sin) fully acknowledges our human fallibility and more appropriately celebrates God’s grace.

  • Dave

    Came across this (slightly tangentially) relevant bit of exegesis on Patheos:

    TL;DR: These big anti-homosexual “clobber verses” (which echo the “people who love to sin” nonsense of your correspondent) may not represent the voice of Paul at all: he may be quoting Gentile-haters and calling them out for it.

    Thanks for this blog entry, and I hope someone finds some value in the Patheos piece.

  • Early this morning I put that piece on that blog! How fun! (I’m the founder of Unfundamentalist Christians; the blog you’ve linked to is our UC group blog.)

  • I don’t really get the fervent desire some people have to make sure that people are condemned, or how graphically they need it to happen and be described. It’s really weird. I guess it’s the fundamentalist version of torture porn.

    I don’t know … But, yes. Their god can’t be free to love everyone. He can’t be free to forgive. Or to show grace. Or to … you know, … be omnipotent. Because if I decide to reject Him in my mortal incomplete understanding, then I call the whole thing off. I’m more powerful than the fundamentalists’ god because I can thwart him.

    I’m glad that my God loves me even with my imperfections, and that I can’t screw it up just because sometimes I shake a fist and tell Him I’m mad at him.

  • Jill

    Of all the great commentary happening here, I choose to jump in about Eddie, who is one of my top 10 favorite human beings.

    John, I could see you and Eddie collaborating on… a comedy tour, perhaps?

  • Veronicadiall

    I was told that the proper definition of ‘hell’ means complete seperation from God.

  • I think it was Rob Bell who penned, “you shape your god, and your god shapes you.”

    When I see all the rejection I have experienced from “Christians” for sharing my thoughts on spirituality… it’s not hard to see why it is SO EASY for them to do that.

    I’m thankful that the God I have HOPE in is NOT like that…

    although… I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s hard to believe. 🙁

  • Hi Veronica,

    There are MANY definitions for the word “Hell”

    There is a fascinating book if you’re interested in looking into the ACTUAL definitions.

    It’s called Raising Hell by Julie Ferwerda

    A very interesting read.

  • I was posting under difficult conditions (as evidenced by the double post) and so may have misconstrued Lymis’ intent and context. My apologies.

  • Lyn

    I think that’s what Lymis is saying– gambling and fornication are sins when they cause harm. If no one is harmed, then it isn’t a sin.

    I do think, however, with gambling that sometimes there’s a better path– it isn’t that using your entertainment budget on gambling is sinful, but that there are other ways to entertain yourself using those funds that might be more relaxing, or would build up a relationship, or would be less likely to tempt you to overspending or a gambling addiction.

    The same thing can apply to fornication. Even if you’re both clear this is a casual and/or temporary thing and there aren’t other partners to feel betrayed, and you’re both STI-free, and you know what happens in case of pregnancy, etc., etc., your brains are still wired to see the joining of bodies as a marriage of sorts, with all the tangle of emotions that happens. When one partner decides to end the arrangement, it can still deeply hurt the other person in ways that wouldn’t have happened without the sexual component, even though that was never anyone’s intention. And that hurt can negatively impact future relationships. So, you do the best you can, but I do think it’s worth being more intentional and aware of possible negative consequences when it comes to sex, because we can’t always know, understand, or predict all our own feelings where sex is involved.

  • Lymis

    I was taught that same definition, until I thought about it. For someone to experience complete separation from God, then they are independent of God and God’s creation. You can’t even exist separate from God – which means that anyone in hell is still connected to God, at least enough to exist.

    Where there is a connection to God, there is a chance at redemption. And since Jesus told us how prodigals are treated when they wise up and return home, there is hope of salvation for anyone who exists.

    Either God is a complete sadist, or hell is a temporary (and I maintain, a chosen) condition.

  • Lymis

    Thanks Matt. That was my point exactly.

  • Chris J

    Doubt and questioning are actually good things. It can keep one’s faith and hope alive.

  • Chris J


  • Lymis, I must say I agree with what you stated 100%! I have believed Hell was a separation from God, but I appreciate your insight and understanding on this and think it makes much more sense! THANK YOU!

  • kimberly_r

    I remember a story:

    A man asked ‘what’s the difference between heaven and hell?’ He was shown a room – inside, there was a gathering of people seated around a large pot of soup. However, everyone inside was crying and miserable: they each had 2 foot long ladles attached to their arms, and could not feed themselves. He was told that this was Hell.

    He was then shown another room. Same table and pot of soup, same ladles attached to everybody’s arms. They were not hungry – they were feeding each other. This was Heaven.

    Hell is what you create for yourself.

  • Allie

    You’re far from alone in believing that; I believe C.S. Lewis makes such a suggestion. However, it’s not supported by the Bible. See psalm 139 (the psalmist is addressing God): If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

    Kind of toasts that notion of hell as separation from God if the Bible specifically says that God is present in hell.

  • Linnea

    That makes sense, Lymis. It makes a lot more sense than the idea of God being a picky, snooty character who will only let people into heaven if they believe the right things.

    God absolutely does not condemn anyone. We condemn ourselves.

  • Lyn

    Good thought, but keep in mind the OT passages referring to “Hell” are translating the word “sheol” which can simply mean “the grave” as well (Hebrew only had 8000 words in OT times, so knowing if sheol also had a broader meaning for an afterlife of punishment for “bad” people can be tricky to either prove or disprove).

  • Lymis

    A shorter version of my own post – which would you think was a more Godly human pastor, someone who sat down with a sinner, helped them understand the love of God and welcome God into their life and their life into God, or a pastor who made sure the person really was a sinner, and then shot them?

    If we can see that about a human, why do we think God is incapable of all that and more?

  • Eric Newport

    [I love you, John Shore.]

  • Allie

    Nifty! I hadn’t heard this interpretation before. It does make sense.

    Even if you consider that Paul’s statement represents his own thoughts, what he’s saying is kind of odd from a Fundamentalist viewpoint. According to this, God made people turn gay. So presumably he wanted them that way, otherwise he’s doing something he hates? That’s why I like the interpretation you’ve presented, because otherwise Paul’s God seems to be a schizophrenic.

  • Allie

    Yep! Granted. And it does appear to me at least that sheol did not mean a place of punishment to the writers of the OT. Regardless, it’s the word that later came to be translated “hell,” and there’s no indication in the Bible that it was ever meant to describe a place God couldn’t go. Such a place, as Lymis explains, can’t exist.

  • Allie

    I think this is a good definition, but I’m not sure I agree that the majority of people don’t, on some level, enjoy violating the free will of others, at least sometimes. There are far too many criminals for that to make any kind of sense to me. One of four American women will be a victim of rape in her lifetime. And it’s not just rapists and overt criminals: if you say that you’ve never had fun grinding someone’s face into the dirt on an internet forum, I call bullshit. People enjoy being mean. It seems to be a leftover impulse from our evolutionary need to improve our status by topping others. That’s part of my understanding of what “original sin” means.

  • Sarah

    Lymis – I second that. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  • jamie

    Slight problem right at the start – He hates the sin but loves the sinner – is actually a quote from Gandhi and not found in the bible. God doesn’t like it when people put words in his mouth…..Although you claim, ‘This is a message from the LORD,’ this is what the LORD says: You used the words, ‘This is a message from the LORD,’ even though I told you that you must not claim, ‘This is a message from the LORD.’ Jeremiah 23:38

  • vj

    Oh, that’s really funny – someone ‘quoting’ your own words back to you 😉 Kinda reminds me of when I was reading book reviews on Amazon, and one in particular resonated with me – turns out *I* had written it a couple of years previously…

  • that is so funny …

  • Not that this makes it much better, but it’s not one in four women (in America) who are raped; it’s one in five.

    And I do hear you about people “enjoying” being mean. I would argue that what people are feeling when they’re being mean is “enjoyment,” but that’s s discussion for another day.

  • John (not McCain)

    Then you need to tell that to all the viscious bigots who keep saying that to gay people.

  • Lymis

    There’s a bigger problem than attribution (I have no personal issue feeling that God inspired Gandhi.)

    If you said to someone “I love you, but I hate that outfit” you would then encourage them to change the outfit, or possibly, dispose of it the next time you could get your hands on it. You would NOT annihilate the wearer.

    Even if “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was in big bold red letters right in the front of the Bible, would not mean what these people use it to mean.

    If God actually did love the sinner and hate the sin, that means, by definition, that the sin is distinct from the sinner. God’s aim isn’t so bad he’d destroy the entirely wrong target.

  • Jamie Heywood

    Do you remember the salvation army making THAT statement that gays should be killed. The bible didn’t say we were to do any killing, it said the people in question deserved death, this is different as we all deserve death by those standards for one reason or another. And he wasn’t just referring to sexual conduct if the whole passage is read. The thing is that the Sally army STOPPED short! The next line, Romans 2, says that if we judge these things we come under judgement ourselves. So although we are allowed to judge (but only the people within our own christian communities and for their own good – after all, non Christians have not signed up to our rules, so we can’t accuse them of breaking them 1 Corinthians 5:12), we have to be very careful and use our judgment to help our brethren and not to cast vile anger and resentment around.

  • Jamie Heywood

    Next time you have a problem, ask the straight folk if they make banners and march around all worked up over Leviticus 18:19. I bet they don’t but it is in the same set of rules. Was the book of Leviticus rules for the Levites? Also, the bible says 5 times that we should greet each other with a holy kiss. I live in England, and we don’t really like to do that, we hug instead or shake hands. But that’s not what the bible tells us to do. How many times does the bible directly speak out against homosexuality? Less times, more times. Again, maybe the people you speak of should be making banners encouraging us to great one another with a holy kiss, as it commands. Rather than getting all worked up about vagaries addressed to the Levites.

  • um.

  • It is amazing that some believers WANT God to torture people for eternity. Yet, I am certain you are correct to say they do. Hopefully they will have a change of heart in the resurrection or they will be the unhappy, disappointed ones.

    What will they do for eternity without the joy of watching the delightful smoke ascending in the distance, reminding them of God’s infinite justice?

  • Elizabeth

    Hopefully, they’ll get a hobby. Knitting or cross-stitch. (;

  • Another definition of hell would be for those who do not wish to be in the presence of God–NOT to be separated from God!

  • Buzz, I agreed! But some believers go crazy at the idea that the Father loves people like Hitler (though they probably agree with you on Dale Evans.) But I agree with what you say.

    Part of the problem is that if we understand that the Father loves such monsters, then as his followers we should adopt the perspective of the Father and love them too.

    I addressed this recently in a post titled Schadenfreude!

  • Elizabeth

    I know, right? The Hitler card. When your mother’s maiden name is Wilhelm (VIL-helm), schadenfreude isn’t exactly a big word. I bank on God loving all the crazies and monsters.

  • Peet

    As I get older, I am somehow less interested in cosmology and speculation on what God might or might not want. There’s more than 1,000 Christian denominations and I’m a bad guesser. I am finding myself more and more focused on the plate in front of me. There are plenty of hells around here. Not just the obvious ones– the modern slave trade, food scarcity, the distressing list of international evils–but the hells people deliberately place themselves in. Anger, hatred, wishing violence on others. Oddly, Jesus provides a way out of those hells. But that’s not enough for some people. There have to be other hells we can’t see that exist for our own list of people we don’t like created by a God that agrees with our assessments.

    I’d like to point out, publicly, that the vast, VAST majority of people on earth believe I am going to hell. 6 billion people, right? 50% are non-Christians who believe in some kind of hell for people outside their faiths. 33% of the rest are Christians, but half of those are Catholics and half Protestants or Orthodox. So, there’s another roughly 16% who think I’m damned.

    That brings it to 66%.

    Of the remaining 33%, half are atheists/agnostics/no decision. So they don’t believe in hell and as far as they’re concerned I’m just going to evaporate and that’s it.

    Just a quick estimate, that’s 82% of the world that has consigned me to hell/no decision. And they’ve never even met me. In the face of that, what? Try not to consign others, and do what you can about the hells right here and now.

  • Dave

    D’oh! I should’ve known that. I receive notices of that blog because I learned of it from you. Sheesh.

    Anyway, I hope it picks up a few new readers from its presence here.

  • Lymis

    I’ve read it five times so far, and I honestly cannot figure out how what you typed relates to what I said in any way whatsoever. Seriously.


  • Lymis

    No, that’s a rhetorical device. It also sort of sets “the presence of God” up to be like a family dinner party with an old grandpa that some people like and some people don’t like, were being forced to stick around would be tediously boring.

    I don’t think you quite understand the concepts here.

  • 🙂 Elizabeth!

  • Lymis, I think I understand well enough. You are right that the presence of God is not a concrete concept. But I assume that in the afterlife people will have relationships with each other. I assume further that in this eternal society, of whatever nature, no one will be allowed to dominate another.

    If there are those who wish to hurt or dominate others, and they are not able to do so, I do not think they will be happy.

    Universal acceptance of God’s peace is a possibility, but I do not think it is guaranteed because of freedom of the will.

  • Lymis, I agree with you that the Father is extremely inclusive and is not put off by ‘sinners’. I also believe there is no punishment to those who refuse him. In my opinion, there is definitely no burning hell.

    These are all major themes of my blog.

  • I am with you Elizabeth!

  • Nathaniel

    I will have to disagree with John, somewhat, as my view of sin carries with it my Catholic Guilt filled upbringing so I include violation of yourself as a sin as well. You may enjoy gambling or fornication for a time, but do these things really make you happy? Really? I come from a family of addicts. Some don’t differentiate Happiness from Euphoria unless they share such an experience so I am not talking down to you – it is actually pretty common.

    The difference, to use a top of my head analogy, is akin to meeting a special someone and going home with them. Euphoria will rock your world for the night while the more stable Happiness, while oftentimes less exciting, can still bring your evening joy. She/He will also be there next to you in the morning. Euphoria, on the other hand, is gone in the morning. And, worse still, there is always the chance of getting a visit from one or both of her/his jealous exes, Consequence and Regret.

    Happiness, I think, comes from really loving yourself and others. Debasing yourself or others for short lived thrills makes it harder to love yourself and others. You ever meet a gambler so debt ridden that his kids get taken away who has a high self esteem? A happy addict who has put so much of her rent money up her nose that she has been reduced to allowing her landlord to rape her just so she can stay in her apartment and care for her kids whose dad she doesn’t even remember because she was too high at the time when she had them? There is no happiness in these things. Not as far as I have seen.

  • Lymis

    I think there’s a reasonable distinction to be made between who you might want to hang out with in heaven and choosing hell because you don’t like God.

  • 82%!! I knew there was something about you I liked.

  • Right?

  • Barbara Rice

    I love this. You are so spot-on.

  • Jamie Heywood

    Sorry, my point is that people use the bible to their own ends. Stopping short on a quote so that it appears to say what they want it to. Or using lines that are not even in the bible. If we are going to get angry with God then we should check that he has in fact said what others are saying he has said. I have heard a couple of preachers basing their talk on ‘God says he is no mans debtor’ But again, this is not in the bible. So we sometimes spend time posting annoyances about a quote someone has used that isn’t in the bible and basing our preaching to others on unbiblical points. Thank you for reading my reply a few times, even though I didn’t make sense. I probably haven’t put myself across well on this attempt either, but thanks for reading. A last point, quick, ‘God’s aim’ as you mentioned, People that like to go on about hell talk about God’s judgment. But they talk as though this meant certain damnation. I think God’s judgment may be likened to God’s aim, as you put it. I guess that his aim isn’t at all off. He will decide if He should send the person to hell or simply destroy the offending garment. We go to court and stand before a judge and we hope he will judge in our favor. It looks like some or many people may go to hell. It is great if we can help people avoid this by leading them to Jesus. But it isn’t for us to be deciding who goes to hell. If we look at Matthew 18:23, it is like that; the people that are telling people they should go to hell are in fact bringing themselves back under judgment. They have had their sins forgiven, but instead of then showing love to others they are condemning others. Matthew 18:23 and Romans 2 go hand in hand, but so many people just don’t read their bible, instead preferring to make their own version up in their head. Maybe we need to lovingly encourage the person to stop wearing the terrible outfit. I guess like brothers and sisters. …Parents are out, the brother makes a mess of the place, does the sister say, ‘Mom’s going to kill you when she gets home,’ or would it be better for the sister to say, ‘Quick, let me help you tidy the place up.’ God bless.

  • I agree, Lymis. In fact, I read you comments throughout this post, and I think we agree on quite a lot.

    My question is: do you think there will be anyone who is ultimately not reconciled to God? If so, what happens to them?

  • Jill

    I really like this.

  • Elizabeth

    Hey Jamie. John’s not big on Hell. He even wrote a book on it. (, perhaps out of print.) Me, personally, I’m a little more thieves in the temple. A little fear of God’s wrath isn’t necessarily the worst thing.

    I think the confusion comes here: A. Proof texting doesn’t ‘prove’ anything. I can double dog dare you on three-quarters of the Bible and 1500 pages of exegesis and literary criticism a week for a year. B. ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ is really questionable doctrine. I’m not a Universalist, but there’s room at God’s table for a bunch of other belief systems and backgrounds.

  • Truth

  • Daniel

    If people paid the proper attention to their own relationship with God, they would have neither the time nor the desire to worry about whether anyone else will go to hell.

  • Leslie

    Wonderful, Peet. Really. If we all focused more on what we do right here, right now, it wouldn’t even be an issue.

  • DrewTwoFish

    Love this. (Swoon.)

  • Lissy

    THANK YOU! I keep say that. I have enough to worry about in my own self and my own life to spend time deciding who goes to heaven!

  • ser

    Yes. I’ve believed for a long time that any G-d worth its salt (read: omnipotent, omniscient) will understand my agnostic, examining self, and would see that there is precisely no percentage in condemning me to some nastiness simply because I spent my life trying to be fair and kind and accepting and giving and moral, but couldn’t bring myself to be inauthentic by claiming a false faith. Makes a lot more sense to me than some sort of human-like grump who resents me and doesn’t have the power to show me what it wants me to do, but instead has only the power to punish me later. That kind of G-d ain’t no G-d at all.

  • Valerie Horton

    Those of us that knit, crochet and cross stitch really don’t want them though…:D

  • Valerie Horton

    Great explanation Lymis! Thanks!

  • I like it when people judge me by my appearance: One less a[ir]hole in my life to deal with.

  • Nicole

    Well said, sweet Lymis! 🙂

  • Nicole

    In C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce,” everyone continually has the option to choose heaven. But there are some who simply keep moving themselves further away from others. Eventually, they live so far away, that few, if anyone, ventures out to them. They create their own isolation. They were left to their own choices, heaven always being one of them. It was an interesting concept and a good story.

  • David S,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    I was just frustrated by the dualistic nature of the Christian relationship to God. Both the original quote in John’s article, and the comments about it, seemed similarly skewed.

    I know we need to frame our discourse in terms that reflect our experience of the world, but sometimes it just seems to impede a deeper understanding. I fear that our dilemma gets reinforced even by the language and attitude of reverence for God.

    I like, and don’t have any problem with, the last line of your comment. In fact, “redemption” for me, equates to enlightenment, and only through grace can it be revealed. But to whom? By whom?

    Who remains?

  • What kills me about that mindset is that people then turn around and say. “Oh I don’t want you to go there, and neither does God, that is your choice.”

  • But what if there is no hell? That sorta takes the wind out of the sails of that argument.

    What if it wasn’t God that said all that stuff in the bible, but rather people trying to understand trying to give a voice to what they thought God was about? Oh, nary a breeze to be had.

  • You are right SDP. This is manipulation, intimidation, and fear. I do not recognize the message of Jesus in this behavior. It is also arrogance.

    Reminds me of certain criminal bosses: I don’t want to kill your brother, it is your choice. Do what I tell you and we will all be a big, happy family.

  • Holy buckets. Yeah…I used to believe in the flame thrower version of Jesus but thank God I was born gay. It cracked my pretentious self right down the middle. Being outcast by the very community that called me “family” allowed me to gain a different perspective than the mainstream. God is love. It’s that simple. Love heals. Love frees people, it doesn’t constrain.

    The mainstream Christian God misrepresents the true God. I used to be angry at them for this, especially since their ideas have imparted pain and confusion to so many who are not mainstream. But, lately I am more sad for them than anything. Because their message is their reality. They don’t yet know that God’s love changes everything.

  • Ellen Kozisek

    Didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The reader you quotes says, “So God will have to destroy those who have not chosen to love and follow Jesus.”, yet your logic, in countering this, rests on God NOT destroying such people, but, rather, instead, leaving them undestroyed, but suffering. You seem to assume the reader meant something different than what the reader actually said. And having been on the wrong end of such an assumption, I dislike it. Seems to me the default should be to take a person at their word. You do not do that.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Ellen. To my reading, John is disagreeing. That doesn’t mean he misread the original writer’s intent. The OW was defending ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. It’s a classic doctrinal misanalysis. The fact is, God loves us sin and all. So why would they be suffering in heaven with everyone else? We can hang out in a pool hall smoking cigarettes and swearing. Like high school, only forever and without bullies or tests.

  • Michael

    Well said young sir!

  • Tom

    It’s easy to mischaracterize somebody’s position in order to defeat it; especially easy if the person in question uses imprecise and even misleading language. Here’s the deal, though: to say, as some posters have done, that God doesn’t “love the sinner but hate the sin” but “loves us sin and all” is not to the point; if one imagines sin as analogous to cancer, something that is itself destructive, I can say “I love my cousin, cancer and all” but it doesn’t mean I want her to continue to have cancer – – quite the contrary. Same with God, us and sin. One dimension of sin is to choose your own ways and standards over God’s; to do this is in effect to opt-out of the next world. It’s not a matter of God seeking, as a matter of His desire, to destroy His creation – quite the contrary – – but more of a laws-of-physics thing. — if you step determinedly away from God then you will not be with God, ‘duh’.

  • A quote I once read from an excellent book apropos of this topic:

    “I had rejected the image of a wrathful, powerful God anxious to punish the wicked in the fires of hell, but I was left with a benevolent but feeble God who had no choice but to destroy the ones he loved. Hell was another Holocaust, where once again millions would be thrown into the furnaces while God stood by powerless and defeated. When confronted with the inconsistency of an all-powerful God incapable of accomplishing his desire, I drew a careful distinction between what God wanted to do and what God was able to do. God was not free.”

    “I defended our freedom to reject God–but denied God’s freedom to reject our rejection. Acknowledged that God can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion, but I quickly defined the persons and situations in which God could be merciful and compassionate. My God was shackled, powerless to act.”

    “This shackled God was not the God of Jesus.”

    (From If Grace Be True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Philip Gulley & James Mulholland.)

  • Lymis

    The point, though, is that such a distinction is only valid, regardless of where you come down on it, if the “sin” is actually a sin.

    Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is not a sin, and the moral choices that necessarily follow from that fact are not inherently sinful.

    It’s no different than saying that being left-handed is sinful and then arguing whether or not left-handed people are inherently damned or can be saved if they pretend to be right handed. The underlying premise is flawed, and until it gets fixed, the rest of the discussion is morally meaningless.

    Being gay is not a sin.

  • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    You’re right, Lymis. Being gay is not a sine. Setting yourself up as judge, when only God is judge, is a sin.

  • Agreed Lymis! Being gay is not a sin.

  • Elizabeth. I’ll meet you in that pool hall, for a few drinks, a game of who can cuss the with the most gusto, and a round of 8-ball.

  • Linnea

    Also, I have this to add:

    What’s this about God being “forced” to do anything? This is GOD we’re talking about! He/She is not circumscribed by our petty rules.

    Sometimes I think the worst thing the Bible-bangers do is to put God in a box.

  • Sue

    OK, I’ll bite: on what basis are you determining that homosexuality is not a sin? I am not insisting that it is. I am just wondering what authority you’re using for that declaration.

  • Matt

    Sue: Much of John’s body of work is dedicated to that very question. John, by the way, doesn’t set himself up as some kind of prophet. His evidence comes from the Bible and Jesus’ commandments themselves. Not to mention there’s plenty of writers saying exactly the same thing. And the lived experience of us LGBT people doesn’t hurt either.

  • Elizabeth

    I would never speak for Lymis. He’s more than capable of speaking for himself. He’s so capable, he taught me how to italicize. The general verses are here, though.

  • Sonnie

    Wow! Powerful words and a lot to think about. Thanks Keith.

  • boomergran

    You are so right! I just love it when all these so-called “Christian” busybodies take it upon themselves to play God. Seems to me there’s a commandment against that…

  • boomergran

    Oh, my! So many ignorant, self-serving comments. God can do whatever God wants to do. S/he’s God!

    Check out the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, if you need a refresher.

  • Hot damn I love this post.

    I am an atheist (who cares, right? Right.) I am not knowingly rejecting Jesus’ salvation despite knowing that it’s necessary. I’ve never met a single person who holds this position (God exists, Jesus’ salvation is necessary, but I reject it anyway). And yet, many Christians think this is the scenario that justifies hell, and lets God off the hook for sending people there. “It’s what they chose.” Like hell it is.

  • Lesli

    I think this has always been essentially my problem with the concept of hell. People “reject God” for the most part because they just simply, genuinely don’t believe he exists. There’s lots of reasons to think that and, let’s face it, sometimes God can seem a little bit like he’s hiding. I’ve never been quite sure why there is the whole thing of “If you don’t believe before you die, you’ve missed your chance.” Even for those of us who do have a faith, there are plenty of times we question that faith because God can seem so distant and intangible. It would be pretty unfair of God to be so obscure during life but then front up after death and essentially say, “Sorry, you weren’t looking hard enough” or whatever. That just doesn’t seem to fit with the God of grace that I’ve encountered. If the consequences of belief/unbelief were so eternal and horrific, I think God would have to have made it clear beyond any doubt what choice was being made.

  • Absolutely. Well said, and thanks.

  • David Jones

    I think the essence of the argument is God does not force Himself on anyone. He’s not some supernatural Kobe Bryant. The ball in the humanity’s court. It is our choice of what and how to believe. Just be cognizant their are consequences for all actions or inactions. It’s not God giving an ultimatum of love me or burn forever. It’s more like a waiter showing us a table laden with a feast and it is up to us whether we sit down at it or not. The Waiter would love to have us participate in the feast, but he is not going to force us into taking the seat There will come a point where you will not be part of the banquet at all but watching from the outside.

  • anakinmcfly

    Um, what? So you’re advocating selfishness? i.e. “it doesn’t matter if my loved ones are going to burn forever in eternal torment as long as *I* don’t have to”? That’s disgustingly self-centred to the extreme.

  • anakinmcfly

    I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it was never a matter of “want” – just the opposite, in fact, to the point that I pleaded countless times with God to send me to hell and let someone else go to heaven in my place. I’m no longer sure if I still believe in that paradigm – I would love, so, so, much, you have no idea, to believe in universal salvation and eternal life and happiness for all including the most evil people who ever lived. But it’s precisely that depth of desire that makes me wary, because wanting something to be true – no matter how desperately – doesn’t make it so, and makes it all the more likely I’m just deluding myself with wishful thinking.

  • Lisa Marie Gilbert

    It is my basic understanding that “hell” was not created for people . It was created for the Devil and his demons . God wants us to freely serve him , on our own free will. It is not God sending people to hell. If you are sent a life raft , yet choose to not use it , who then is to blame ? You can’t get mad at the raft because you rejected it .

  • morethanstone

    I’ve always had trouble with this version of God, but today, somehow, when I read this, it struck me as more vile than ever before. The “love me or I kill you God” sounds like a perpetrator of domestic violence. Aren’t women (and occasionally men) at most risk in a violent relationship as when they leave their abuser? This is not a God I would want to worship. As always, thanks, John, for being a sane voice in the cacophony of insanity.

  • Matt

    I think Daniel may be instead talking about letting people deal with their own business, and not judging others so harshly. I know that I am constantly growing and changing in my relationship to God. To even try to fathom such a complex, dynamic relationship in another person would be more than I could even begin to grasp, and so I don’t try.

  • Matt

    Hi anakin. What is so wrong with wanting peace, sanctuary, and care for your fellow human being? That depth of desire could be a clue that you’re onto something. To me, it speaks to your inherent and fervent compassion, despite what you may have been taught otherwise.

    For me, since I believe that God is love and that He will judge as He sees fit, it tends to lead me to towards universal salvation. That’s what makes the most sense to me, as a flawed human being who sees only dimly and partially. But I don’t know for sure. So I put it in God’s hands and do my best with what I can control here in this life. That trust does a lot more to relieve my fears for both myself and others than any kind of certainty, oddly enough.

  • anakinmcfly

    There’s nothing wrong with it; just the opposite. Recently I’ve come more towards your position on it, partly because I figured that either way, I’m powerless to do anything about the situation, and I’d rather believe in happy things than sad things.

    But I’m not always certain that God *is* good, especially when I was younger. I figured that any God who for instance allegedly punished people who happened to be LGBT, or advocated the murder and rape of enemy tribes – and all that other stuff in the OT and that fundamentalists like to talk about – wasn’t by definition ‘good’, and in that vein I found nothing inconsistent with the conventional view of hell and salvation. I later came to a more positive view of God, where God was bound by certain cosmic rules that would not allow him to bring the unrepentant to heaven – based on Bible verses that talked about how God wept at those who were lost and wished that none would perish, indicating a desire but lack of ability to save everyone.

    But again – even if that’s the case, I wouldn’t be able to know. My understanding of things like the actual Biblical stance on homosexuality etc, as well as personal experiences, has likewise changed my impression of God into a much more positive one and assured me that God does actually love us, so I’m trying to just hope and have faith that things *will* be all right for everyone in the end.

    I just get angry when I read posts that imply how anyone who believes in the conventional view of hell is a self-righteous sadist who finds glee in the thought of their enemies burning in hell, because that’s not at all the case for me and many other people I know. Belief is not a matter of choice; we don’t believe in things because we enjoy them, just as we don’t necessarily enjoy the beliefs we hold.

  • anakinmcfly

    I understand that much, but it still seems to encourage a very self-centred attitude, where one’s own relationship with God etc is the only thing one should be concerned about.

  • Matt

    Certainly I wouldn’t automatically view you as a self-righteous sadist for having a conventional view of hell. But I do disagree with you on one thing: We absolutely do have a choice about our beliefs. Maybe not holding them in the first place, especially if they’re things that we were taught. But challenging them when they don’t work is our choice.

    I like you quite a lot, and I was very saddened when you described the pain and distress your belief in hell had caused you. Why would God set up a system that caused one of His compassionate children such suffering, even though you weren’t even going to hell by your own beliefs? That would hardly be staying true to His nature as a loving, just God. In my view, God makes sense. He is at least as good as me when I’m at my best, because I’m made in God’s image (but because He’s God, He’s about a million times better). And I would never allow something like that. That would entirely defeat the purpose of what I had set out to do.

    As far as I can tell, the entire concept of hell speaks to very base human desires like vengeance. We want people to get what they deserve. That’s pretty normal, as far as being human goes. But to hang an entire theological construct on that doesn’t really jive with the core message and focus of Christianity, I think. So I put it aside. That’s just my thoughts on it.

  • Philip Beck

    Until you come to realize that your presence on Earth is not about “you”, but about the Creator, then you’ll continue to be confused. I thank God for the influences in my life that have blessed me with the sense to accept His “grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of tomato soup”.