My mom died late last night; I fear she is now in hell

This just came into my inbox. I know I don’t have to say this, but if you respond (and I believe she would like you to) please do so with all care and love.

Dear John,

My name is [K.], and I am 20 years old. I have never written or commented before now, though I have been reading your blog for going on two years now. I think I’m writing to you now because you and your commenters just seem like such kind people, and I know you will have something wise and loving to say.

My mom died late last night. She was sick for a couple of years, yet her death still managed to come completely out of nowhere. She was 59. Not only have I lost my mother, I have also lost my best friend in the whole world. My brother has lost his mom, and my dad has lost his heart’s companion of 25 years.

This is the first time I have ever lost someone close to me, and I don’t know how to cope with it. It’s not really something you learn until you have to do it, I guess.

On top of all that, I have a hard time believing my mom is in Heaven with God. Logically, this fear of mine doesn’t make sense, since: A) I’ve stopped believing in an eternal hell, and B) even if I did believe in hell, my mom was a Christian. So I should have no trouble believing my mom is in Heaven, right? But there is this deep-seated fear in my heart, probably instilled by all the religious teaching I’ve had growing up, that my mom is suffering even more in the next life than she did in this one. I know this is an extremely screwed up fear, but I don’t know what to do about it. I figure that if anybody can help me, you can.

Any thoughts and prayers would be appreciated. Thank you for reading!

God bless.

Your mom is not in hell. She simply is not. I promise you that. You fear that she is because you love her so much. When we love someone we want them to be well and safe.  When a person we dearly love passes from this world to the next, it’s natural for us—especially when their passing is a fresh shock—to find ourselves fretting that the worst has happened to them.

You love your mother, and you’ve lost the ability to physically check on her—to see how she’s doing, to comfort her, to assist her, to just be with her. That loss has left you feeling profoundly out of control. And when we are out of control of something about which we care as passionately as you care about your mother, we cannot help but fear the worst. That’s just … a function of our imagination. It’s a dynamic with which all parents are terribly familiar.

But please do not for a moment mistake your fears for reality. Your mother is now perfectly fine and well. And I promise you that if you but listen to her now, she will (if she hasn’t already) fully communicate that to you. When our loved ones pass it is true that we lose the ability to communicate with them in the way that we always have. But we are then able to communicate with them in a brand new way—a real way, a solid way, a dependable way, a way that is informed by a kind of emotional truth and spiritual clarity with which we are rarely able to communicate with anyone this side of the veil.

My father died in January of 2013. And I’m not in any way exaggerating when I say that I commune with him all the time. I feel him encouraging me, watching me, loving me, enjoying life through me. His spirit is in me, as alive and real as could be.

Your mother is not in hell. She’s in heaven, looking back at you, your brother, and your dad, and feeling all the love for you guys that she ever did in this life—and more, even, insofar as now her love is utterly unencumbered by all the … stuff that life is forever piling up around us.

Let her communicate to you how very okay she is now. Whenever you’re ready, open your heart and mind to her consciousness, and she’ll be there for you: you’ll hear her voice; you’ll feel her loving presence; you’ll know that you are genuinely communicating with her in ways that words were never meant to express. Your spirit and hers will be together in the pure and unbroken way they always have been.

The love between you and your mother is not limited to this life. It endures forever. It’s just that now that love has moved into a different phase of its reality. What your mother now knows is what it’s difficult for those of us on this side of the veil to fully appreciate, which is that, from the point of view of the eternity to which she is now definitely more connected, you and her will be together again in the blink of an eye.

She is with you, she is with God, she loves you, and she’ll see you again soon. No fears that might harry you, and no wrongly taught lesson you might have learned in Sunday school, can change that. Nothing can.

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.

  • jtheory

    In 2003, my dad committed suicide, and people tried to tell me that he was in hell. That was something I simply just didn’t believe. I am so sorry that Christianity has instilled that fear in you.

    • Jinpa Heyer

      I am glad that you did not believe that. Many clergy are coming around to the understanding that suicide is generally the result of an illness or circumstance out of the control of the person who has died, hence the “sin” of suicide is, in the circles of reasonable people of faith, quickly becoming moot. A child of God who falls prey to depression is still a child of God.

    • Mike Mayer

      I attended the funeral recently of someone who had taken his own life. I counted the man as one of those people who has made my life better because I knew him; and I know others felt the same. This was the first funeral I ever attended where I wanted to get up and storm out. I cannot recall the exact words, but the minister made a comment that we should all pray for K.S. so that God might take pity on him and forgive his final sinful act so that he might be able to go to heaven.

      Bottom line. I want to extend my sympathy to both you and [K.] for your losses. It has been over 10 years since my dad passed. I still converse with him regularly (albeit via my heart rather than my ears). I have no idea what it means for our loved ones to go back to God after they leave this life, but rest assured that any God of love would not condemn any of his creation to eternal torment.

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

        I had a good friend commit suicide several years ago. She was quite ill, and was dying, slow and agonizing bit by bit.

        At her funeral, each pew had a box of tissue and sheets of stationary with pens. We were instructed to tell Shay goodbye as we had not had time to do so before she passed. The pastor spoke of her caring for others despite her being so sick, her love for God, and that she was likely tearing up the dance floor in heaven, as she loved to dance and hadn’t gotten to in years.

    • ErikaBeseda

      i also had a friend who killed herself, the Pastor who did her service told us not to judge her by her last act here on earth. that surly G*d did not.
      in fact, she walked right into his arms.

    • Bones

      I’m sorry such medieval attitudes still exist.

      I watched both my parents die.

      Dad after putting a gun to his head. That’s something I never talk about with my wife or brothers and sister.

      It’s hard to explain to my little kids who ask how Poppy died.

      I just tell them he was sick.

      It’s something you never, ever forget.

      • KJeanne

        Bones:

        I’m awfully sorry about the loss you have gone through. I know it is something you never completely recover from, but are you all right now?

        God bless,
        K

        • Bones

          Yeah, sort of. Thanks.

          You have a kind heart.

    • KJeanne

      Jtheory:

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your father, and for how people responded. Good for you for never buying it! Are you and your family okay now?

      God bless,
      K

  • Theresa Chedoen

    As a mom, one of the most profound lessons I have ever learned, particularly when worrying about my kids, is this: God loves them more than i do. It’s hard to imagine anyone loving them more than me, but this is really true. And I know you and your family love your mom like crazy, and I will tell you the truest thing I know. God loves her even more. And John is right, you will be able to be in communion with her. I know your heart is broken, but God will heal it, and you will see your mom again. Not only do John and i promise, but God promises.

  • https://elizabeth-fullerton.squarespace.com/resume Elizabeth

    Your mom isn’t in Hell. I don’t believe in Hell (and you don’t and John doesn’t) but even if we did, I know she’s in a good place. Raising a child who can write such a heartfelt letter guarantees it.

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Scooby Stephen

    So sorry for your loss. I think John is right, that we feel like we can’t ask them if they are ok or check on them so we feel very uncomfortable. I felt that way when my grandma died 2 years ago. I thought she was just dead or not in a good place and it was so weird because I’m a very spiritual person. I guess I felt like where did you go????? You will grieve and that will be hard and I pray that you find peace and comfort on that journey. I also would say to talk to your mom and ask her to send you signs she is ok. This may come in a dream or a symbol that is just between you and her or something more dramatic or maybe a book. 2 books that helped me a lot was Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp and also What Jesus Revealed about Eternal Life [Flora Slosson Wuellner] I hope this helps a little. God bless you and heal you. :) Hug.

  • k_Lutz

    K., may God be with you! Keep Him very close. Appreciate Him for the great mother you were given who now is back with Him.
    Life here on earth is but a moment of eternity in which we are ignorant of God’s sovereignty. Restore Him to His rightful place and He will restore you to your rightful place in your mother’s arms. It may not be quick and easy.

    I know: the love of my life was snatched from it several years ago. When I blamed a god I did not trust, I, too, wished her to hell rather than to await the wrath of a arbitrary and capricious god. Since then, my world has been turned upside down many times over. I ended up doing somersaults in the arms of God, who loves me. And you. And your mom. We are the height of the creative expression of His love. And His Son died to remind us of that. And, as well, was raised to show us that NOTHING can separate us from God.

    Trust God.

  • Jinpa Heyer

    Stay open to the voice of God and the presence of your mother as she is now; out of pain and free to enjoy the Kingdom of God. If you continue to have these troubling thoughts, I hope that you will seek out a chaplain or pastor who can advise you, and continue seeking the help of others until you get a satisfactory answer to your difficulty. Paul advised us to pray always; I echo that sentiment in my own suggestion to keep the channels open: keep searching, keep asking, keep praying. And NEVER stop loving.

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

    Oh my darling child, as a mother and as a child who lost a mother to illness twice, my heart breaks for you.

    There is no way, I can accept any idea that a woman, such as your mother, who was obviously such a beautiful, amazing person, who impacted you and your family so wonderfully, could be in a place of torment. I can’t imagine God wanting to place her in such a place, especially as deeply as she loved and was loved, much less conceiving of such a horrible eternity for anyone.

    Wherever your mom is right now. She is at peace, she is no longer ill, she’s someplace magically wonderful, and she knows how much you love her and miss her. Bask in the glow of the memories she left you, the hugs the times she took care of you when you were sick, or helped with a school project, what the favorite thing it was that she cooked. Each of those are her gifts to you, precious gems of her presence that will never leave you. You will have those for the rest of your life, and remember, she will never stop loving you.

    • KJeanne

      Allegro:

      I’m so sorry about the loss you have gone through. I am trying to find happiness in the memories Mom left behind, although right now the happy memories are the ones that hurt the most. Right now, I’m thinking of the Star Wars expo she and I went to at the Space and Rocket Center a few years ago, and tears are coming. I’m thinking of that in particular because it is the last time she and I went out and did something fun together before we found out she was sick. I have a picture from it that I plan to use as part of a memorial to her in our house.

      Thank you so much for your kind words!

      God bless,
      K

  • Mary B. Graham-Buxton

    If this is what Religion has done to you, then you need to get out of the “Religion” approach and try the spiritual approach. Spirituality connects you to God. Religion teaches right from wrong, tries to explain the unexplainable, teaches about the image of God. And sometimes religion doesn’t do a very good job of the latter. It can implant fear..which in return makes one miserable.

    • Mike Mayer

      I understand the distinction you are trying to make, but I would note that your logic is akin to saying, “I will never eat again, because I once experienced food poisoning.” There is healthy religion and there is unhealthy religion. The key is to figure out which is which. Healthy religion meets your definition of spirituality—it connects you with God. Often what folks mean by the term “spirituality” lacks substance, it throws away the centuries of hard learned communal knowledge. It espouses that one can find the divine all by themselves through their own efforts. (Healthy) religion recognizes that we are all in this together and must work as a team (a body if you will). No single member has a lock on truth, but as a group, we might catch a glimpse. BOTH spirituality and religion are important on our quest toward God. This should not be something that is an either/or situation.

      • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

        Thank you for this, Mike. Very well done.

  • Kate Lord

    God is love. And that Love never wants to be separated from any of us. When our heads are full of fear and doctrines and doubt, we can rest in the knowledge that God is love. And this Love draws us to Itself, always, and especially when we walk through the door labelled, ‘death’ and into the next part of life. Your mum is loved and surrounded by Love, now, as she always was and always will be. Go gently…

  • Dee Collins

    I can’t tell you how much this has touched my heart. When my father died from cancer 6 years ago I stayed awake for nights on end worrying about where he was now and if he was okay. When you love somebody so much and then they are suddenly gone even after years of illness it feels like your heart has been cleaved in two. My faith has been challenged so many times but one thing is constant his love and presence. Your mother is not in an eternal hell. I know this with all my being. She is somewhere full of love for you and wants you to be happy and not to worry for her any more. Love survives everything.

    • KJeanne

      Dee:

      I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Yes, right now I am feeling a kind of loneliness that I have never felt before in my life. There are many people in my life who I would call friends, but nobody was as close to me as Mom, and no one understood me like she did. It’s hard right now, but I am trying to keep aware of her presence and her love for me. Thank you so much for sharing; it is so good to know I am not alone!

      God bless,
      K

  • Funsize

    Perhaps she could try praying for the dead? I know it’s a Catholic thing, but it may make her feel better?

    • KJeanne

      Funsize:

      I have been praying for Mom’s soul for the past couple of days, and it has helped some. Thank you for the suggestion!

      God bless,
      K

  • sdguppy

    I feel that your mother suffered enough on this earth. If God is a gracious, loving god, no one suffers more after life than they did before. My parents both left my life far too early, and I believe strongly that their energy remains and gives me positive encouragement

  • Kenny Pierce

    My heart breaks for you – not only for your loss but for your struggle. My Dad died 7 years ago, and I know that this has popped into my mind on occasion (irrationally). She sounds like a loving, kind, wonderful person, and John’s response is spot-on. None of us are perfect, but then our loving God knows that. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (one of my favorite lines from the Bible) – an indicator (to me) that in all of our imperfection, our creator loves us all beyond our imaginings.

    My siblings and I all have similar “visits” from our Dad. Usually in the form of dreams, but also serendipitous signals that are a little bit too coincidental. That’s a huge source of comfort to me. I really feel that our parents may have changed forms, but their love for us, and involvement with us hasn’t, and can see clearly now in a way that they never could. He and I had a complicated relationship, but I always knew that he was so proud of us (enough people told us all of the intricate details about each of my siblings’ talents to make me know how he’d go on). I’m so glad that I can really, really have the heart to hearts with him now that I never could when he was living. I say that because he can probably really see each of his kids with the kind of clarity that allows him to really understand what we’re going through in our lives.

    Talk to your Mom. She’s there for you, and always will be.

    Bless you, and your family, a thousand times over right now, and thanks so much for opening up as you did!

    • Scooby Stephen

      Yeah, so true. can’t stress that enough. One of the best ways to heal, release doubt and get through loss is to talk to your loved ones and pray. I am not sure about this girls denomination, but I am Catholic, so we always encourage those who have lost loved ones to talk to them. They are not far off and interact with us. Sometimes it’s a smell, or a butterfly or a favorite flower of theirs or something you just know is them. Dreams are significant too. They are with us. nobody can explain this to you — it’s something you will have to experience for yourself and you will. Ask and be open to it. It will happen eventually.

  • chelebr

    When my best friend died suddenly in a car accident ten years ago, I was full of doubt and anger and wondering over where she was. I agonized over it. One night I had a dream and there she was…full of life…we were talking, just talking like we always used to, and I asked “How are you?”. She turned to me with the most beautiful smile and said “I’m fine.” I woke up convinced that I had visited with her and that she was, indeed, fine, in fact, more than fine, and that I would see her again one day. I’ve dreamed of others who have passed, but never has my question been answered so clearly. I consider it a gift from a gracious and loving God. I pray this same God comforts you and your family in a way that you recognize.

  • lotusblossom5

    First, I am so sorry for your loss – no matter the age or the reason a parent dies, it is always a shock. May God, as well as the memories that you share with your family bring you peace and comfort.

    Your mother is not in hell. God is a loving God, and it always seems to be to be a big waste of creative energy to throw away a majority of what God would create. It is said that God loves us much more than we can love our own children – and I can tell you that, despite many frustrations I have as a parent, I would never condemn my children to hell for any amount of time for what may or may not be a mistake.

    One of my pastor friends has a bumper sticker that reads, “God is too big for one religion,” and this is what my mom believed. She likened God to a bright orb in the middle of darkness. Each religion understands a different part of that light, but not all of it. The mystics of each religion are closer to the light – to God – AND closer to each other! The more fundamental a person is, regardless of the religion, the further away from God they are – they are more in the dark – and the further away from each other.

    I also communicate with my mother. Or rather, she communicates with me. In more ways than one, she has made herself present to me – too many coincidences to just be coincidences. This is how I KNOW (rather than just believe) that there is no hell – at least no place of eternal damnation because someone does not “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.”

    Neither is your mother in hell. Your mother is with God and she is part of the universe, yet at the same time she will always be with you. There is so much that we will never understand about what happens to our loved ones’ souls once they cross over until we get there ourselves. You may yet be surprised by dreams you may have or ways she may be with you and comfort you. Jesus says in the book of Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age,” and so it is with our parents for us and it will be for me with my kids.

    My thoughts are with you at this difficult time, and I pray that you are blessed with the peace that passes all understanding.

    • James

      I think reading Rob Bell “Love Wins” would be a very helpful thing for you. God wants your mother to be with Him…and God is powerful enough to make sure she can be…

      • Angie Richardson Jeffery

        I totally agree! Rob Bell helped me so much when I was coming out of religious indoctrination. Love and peace to you!

  • ErikaBeseda

    K, your sweet momma is in paradise. that is why Jesus died. remember? some of his last words were “it is finished” the judgement is done. he took it all for us.
    she will talk to you. let us know when she does! we will believe you.

  • Matt

    Dear Letter Writer,

    I am so sorry you have to go through this. No, your mom is not in hell. I can say that with utter certainty. It’s so heartening to hear how much you loved your mom, and how close you were to her. It sounds like she meant a great deal to a lot of people, which speaks to her having a good heart and strong character.

    Obviously no one can tell you how the next few months are going to go. I’m 22, and my dad died of a long illness about 2 1/2 months ago. But I’ll tell you something that may help. I did not have the relationship with my dad that you had with your mother. My dad was sick in more than just a physical way. He was difficult, he was frightening, and he expected me to take care of him when I needed him most. The last time I saw him in person, he told me I probably didn’t have any friends because I wouldn’t give him some information he wanted.

    And you know something? I still know that he doesn’t deserve hell. He’d had more than enough pain in this life. Every moment he suffered I felt too, from the time I was very small. No person could ever deserve eternal torment. No one who can grasp even the tiniest notion of what “eternal” means would ever believe that.

    It sounds like you have a family that can listen to what you’re feeling. Talk about it, as much or as little as you want to. It’s a complicated mess of emotions, that much I can say for certain. Talk to good friends too, if your family can’t listen for whatever reason. Don’t expect yourself to feel any certain way, and try not to judge yourself.

    My sincere best to you.

  • Marty Miller

    Someone told me once that death was the ultimate healing…no more crying or pain. May God’s love and grace support you in your loss.

    • KJeanne

      Marty:

      How very true! I am told that had my mom lived longer, she only would have gotten sicker, and her pain would have gotten much worse. So I’m trying to be happy for her, even as I’m sad for me and my family.

      God bless,
      K

  • Melinda Hailey

    K, your mom is absolutely bathing in the all encompassing light and love of Christ. I believe our purpose here is to learn to love as close to unconditionally as possible so that we are worthy of understanding God’s love for us. Obviously your mother was a loving woman or you would not have such profound loss for a mother who had the ability to become her daughter’s self described best friend. You were very blessed to have her, and she is very blessed to be watching over you from Jesus’ side. All the best to you, sweetie. It will get better, but accept that it will take time and your memories will help you.

  • Jane Wedekind

    John’s comments are perfect. What a breath of fresh air!

  • Lesley Maynard-Pegg

    So very well said and complete Truth. Never, ever doubt it when you sense her presence because she is with you. Promise. Keep you love for each other in your heart and know she is always with you. Blessed Be.

  • Al Cruise

    John is correct, your Mom is not in hell. Anyone who is loved cannot go to hell. That is the nature of love. She was loved by her family and first loved by Jesus. I speak with discernment from 40 years of street ministry.

  • HappyCat

    K, it isn’t easy to lose anyone, let alone your mom at such a young age. There will be many moments you will miss her desperately. The good news is that she is loved not only by you and your family, but by her great big family in Heaven. Man does she have some stories to tell about you! But even better is the welcome home she is getting from God. She is so loved by him. I agree with John on this. When those dark thoughts come, say to yourself, My mother is a beloved child of God, with him for always. Truth casts out fear.

  • Debbie Hurst Partin

    K, I know that fear and second guessing also as I had the same when I lost my husband. Then I read a story about how you have this big strong rope and the manufacturer promises that it will hold 2000 lbs and you fully believe it until you find that the rope is going to be used to lower you 2000 feet and you begin to question all that you knew about it before because now it is personal. It is only natural to begin to doubt and question but deep down in your heart you do know. You will see your mom again, in Heaven. And I will see my husband. xx

    • KJeanne

      I’m sorry for the loss of your husband. Thank you for sharing that part of your faith journey, and for your kind and comforting words.

      God bless,
      K

  • Bones

    When Jesus refers to ‘hell’, he refers to Gehenna – the Valley of Hinnom.

    There aren’t many people there, though it looks quite a nice place.

  • James Walker

    Dear K,

    None of us is ever “good” at coping with the loss of a loved one, even those of us who’ve experienced it more than once. Each person we love is their own unique influence in our lives and each one leaves their own unique empty space in our world when they depart no matter how their journey happens.

    I still have fond memories and occasional poignant moments when something in my day recalls to mind one of my grandparents or my dear, sweet, force of nature mother-in-law who we lost in 2006.

    These people, whether they were “true believers” in Jesus during life or not cannot possibly be anywhere but in the bosom of God our Father because we are here recalling their lives with love and affection (and sometimes, tears).

    Respectfully and with condolences for your loss,

    James Walker

  • Arthur Frymyer Jr.

    God is everywhere, and God is love. We are completely surrounded at all times by his infinite love and mercy. In this life, we are blinded to that reality by our sin. Sin does not separate us from God’s love, but it does make us unaware of that love. Your mom has passed from this sin-filled world into a place where sin no longer blinds her to the eternal presence of God. She is now free to experience that love the way it was meant to be experienced. Congrats to your mom on her promotion!

  • Timothy L. Northrup Jr.

    Dearest K,

    I am nowhere near as certain as John and the others here about your Mother’s current disposition, if you could call it that. Not that I think she is in Hell. Hell as a place of eternal torment simply doesn’t square with a loving God like we see in Jesus or experience as believers in the Spirit. Not one bit. I would tend to believe, being a bit more of a literalist here than most, that death is in itself an extinguishment, albeit a temporary one. I see no Biblical precedent for believers ending up in Heaven before Christ’s return.

    That being said, if the old testament writers were right, then Death is nothing but a very, very strong long sleep, when looked back upon. The kind that, post resurrection, would make sleep irrelevant for the longest time.

    In either case, you and your Mother will be together again, whether in Heaven or post-2nd-coming, whatever that means. So, my advice is to keep on living. Be a child that your Mom would be proud of. Take a job that you love and that serves others. Remember her at every opportunity. Love your children (if you ever choose to have/adopt any) as deeply and unconditionally as she loved you.

    It is all we can do for the dead, and more than enough, to keep living. To love life. To embrace all the little things that they no longer can.

    • KJeanne

      Timothy:

      You have a good point about there being no biblical precedent for believers in Heaven before the Second Coming. I guess it doesn’t make much sense. All the same, if “death as a long sleep” is true, I can take comfort that Mom is finally resting after so much physical-and spiritual, most likely-suffering here on earth.

      For the past few days, I’ve been working on a daily practice of doing at least one thing that I know will make Mom happy, even if it’s just doing well on an exam or something. I’ve also been telling my dad I love him every day, because he needs to know, and I need to get better at saying it.

      Thank you for your kind words!

      God bless,
      K

  • LornaBethS

    Dearest K,

    I am so sorry for your loss. The depth of your fear reflects the depth of your love for your mother. And God loves your mother so much more that you do. When you feel the fear try to go to the love. I assume you are probably a reading person since you read this blog regularly. So, while a book won’t remove your grief, I would like to recommend the book “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright. It contains a wonderful exposition of how the view of heaven and hell we are taught is not Biblical. I believe (and hope) it might help you. Blessings. The time of tender grief is a holy time. Be gentle with yourself and those who share your grief.

  • Megan Zurawicz

    Everything I know about God and everything I know about people tells me that exclusionism (it matters that we are *in* because we can be sure *they* are *out*) is a human failing, and like many human failings, we want to see it as “right” and “approved by God.” So yes, there are stories in the Bible (OT) that portray God as being heavy into exclusionism.

    But go back and look at everything Jesus said and did. Everything. Jesus is an inclusionist. Jesus loves and accepts everyone. He tries to lead them to be better than they are, but he doesn’t insult, exclude, or turn on them when, inevitably, they fail to meet a perfect standard.

    And so with God. God cherishes each and every one of us; God weeps with us when we weep: it pains God for us to be in pain, for us to fail. But that doesn’t result in condemnation and exclusion.

    I truly believe that the only way a human being can be excluded from God’s eternal presence is to walk away, to turn it down – not before death, but after. And I have a sneaking suspicion that even then, it’s like a kid having a tantrum, “running away from home” with their teddy bear and peanut butter sandwich: God is still watching over them and the door is always open for their return, when they’re ready.

  • Leia Jex

    Dear K,

    Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. It’s so hard to lose anyone, particularly a parent. Your mama isn’t in Hell. She’s so loved, you know that because you love her. God loves her even more than you do! I simply cannot believe that the God who loved us enough to sacrifice his own son, who loved us enough to die for us, would condemn your mother to Hell.

    Jesus was the most radically inclusive person the world has ever seen. A God who eats with prostitutes and tax collectors and touches those others are afraid to even be near isn’t going to reject someone who loves him.

    Your mother is finally at rest. She is finally at peace and without pain. I hope you can find peace and comfort knowing that she is finding rest and comfort with God.

    My prayers are with you and your family.

  • Pavitrasarala

    I’m so sorry for your loss, K. I haven’t lost a parent through death, but I fully understand how difficult it is.

    My husband told me his mother about lost her mind over the state of her mother’s soul at her passing. I’m only playing armchair psychologist here, so forgive me if I’m off base, but when I look at the big picture of her situation and when I think of yours, I have to wonder if your fears are in part a symptom of the trauma you’ve suffered over your loss.

    These days, 59 is a comparatively young age to pass, and you are at a pretty young age to lose a parent – and barely an adult. That’s deeply devastating on a lot of levels.

    I’m no sage in the least; however, it sounds to me like your mother was a very loving, good woman. Did she have her shortcomings and make her share of mistakes, do things she regretted? Yes, very likely – it comes with being part of the human race.

    At the same time, the point of God’s grace is to help bridge the times we fall short. That’s the point of Christ’s salvation as well. Those gifts came out of an infinite love God has for all of us as His creations.

    You and your family replicated that love within your home. That you speak of your mother as your best friend is testimony to how close you were and how much you loved each other. I believe that matters to God and I believe that’s a fair barometer of what a good person your mother was, and how much God has accepted her into Heaven to be with Him.

    I am sure she misses you, but she is very likely present in spirit to continue helping you through life, and especially through this hard time. I hope it’s okay if I offer to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers during your time of loss and grief.

    • KJeanne

      Of course it’s okay to keep us in your thoughts and prayers; you’ll be in mine as well! Thank you for your prayers and comforting words.
      God bless,
      K

  • Jeanne Spyker

    As Julian of Norwich said after her visions of God….”All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. Live in peace dear girl. Your mother is well.

  • Denise RN

    I remember worrying about my dad after he died when I was 22. He was a Christian, but like John said, my imagination took over and I began to wonder if he was with the Lord immediately or just dead. It made me so anxious. I reached out to others for reassurance as you have. And I prayed for him- that God would please take care of him, etc. It really helped. And I reminded myself of what Paul wrote to the Romans: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
    Wishing you peace and comfort, K.

    • KJeanne

      That is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, Denise; thank you for reminding me of it! I’m sorry for the loss of your dad, and thank you for sharing.
      God bless,
      K

  • http://www.greggdeselms.com/ Gregg L. DesElms

    [K.] WROTE: Not only have I lost my mother, I have also lost my best friend in the whole world. My brother has lost his mom, and my dad has lost his heart’s companion of 25 years. [...] I have a hard time believing my mom is in Heaven with God. Logically, this fear of mine doesn’t make sense, since: A) I’ve stopped believing in an eternal hell, and B) even if I did believe in hell, my mom was a Christian. So I should have no trouble believing my mom is in Heaven, right? But there is this deep-seated fear in my heart, probably instilled by all the religious teaching I’ve had growing up, that my mom is suffering even more in the next life than she did in this one. I know this is an extremely screwed up fear, but I don’t know what to do about it.

    MY RESPONSE: First, [K.], I am deeply sorry for your loss. My prayers are with you and your brother and dad.

    I am also sorry for what I’m only guessing (but I’m guessing that I’m right) is the “religious teaching [you've] had growing-up,” to which you referred; and how it has clearly failed you at this most important time when all that it teaches is supposed to be of service to you. Many of those who write to John have religious upbringings that are conservative, and Bible-thumping, and which preach the literal interpretation of the Bible, and Biblical infallibility and inerrancy; and, worse, which use the Bible as weaponry to intimidate, corral and control parishioners — and instill the fear of God into them — to keep them in line; to keep them from straying from what the conservative church considers the path of righteousness and, for example, becoming gay or something really, in the oppressive church’s mind, at least, horrible like that. Such as they often have stories of their spiritual woundedness to tell, and that’s really, in the end, the story you’re telling, here.

    While I agree with John that your mom’s not in hell — and for all the reason he cited — I disagree with his “[y]ou fear that she is [in hell] because you love her so much. ” Yes, I suppose it’s that, too; but, in the end, it’s really that religious teaching with which you’ve grown-up that is making you feel this way; that has so spiritually wounded you that you cannot trust the Christian teachings of good that are in your brain for all the noise in your heart that Christian teaching of bad are making. Ultimately, that’s the reason you wrote to John; and that with which you really need the most help.

    Conservative, oppressive, Bible-thumping, and fear-instilling churches tend to live by “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-20), and not so much “The Great Commandment” (Matthew 22:35-40); and so the message of God’s love and grace and salvation gets lost along the way. After all, how can such a punitive God, as the conservative church would have its oppressed and fear-struck members believe of him, possibly be willing to forgive and admit into heaven such sorry and unworthy sinners as said fear-struck members?

    I’m sorry that your spiritual woundedness, and that behind it, is now keeping you from feeling in your heart what you’ve said your brain understands, and that’s that your mom’s being a Christian has ensured, by God’s grace through her faith, that she is saved… with unearned “grace” being the key word, there. Most churches fail to early-enough explain, in a manner that the child or young adult can truly understand, exactly how Christ’s death on the cross — the blood of Jesus — saves us; and I will not bore everyone with a hermeneutical exposition of it all, here, either. Suffice it to say that Christ’s death on the cross, and God’s grace through your mom’s faith on account of it, has absolutely, positively ensured her salvation. Period. Of that, be sure.

    Shame on any church of anyone’s upbringing which fundamentally fails to make that not just intellectually clear, but clear in the heart of any 20-year-old, so that by the time her mother dies, and she really needs it, she has not that profound truth in her heart — not just in her head, but in her heart, as well — on which to rely and believe to the very depths of herself.

    I’m so, so, so sorry you don’t have that. Change churches, immediately.

    There are, though, if you insist on them, more rational evidences of that your mom’s not in hell. For starters, recall how you described those whom she loved, and who loved her, which she left behind. Take a giant step back an examine and assess, in light of the kindness and beauty of that description, when such persons of good both faith and will could ever so love and miss anyone whose life on earth had damned her to hell. Some things are just intuitive. Neither you, nor your brother, nor your father would feel such a mom-sized hole in their lives as they now do were she not worthy of not only their love, but God’s, as well.

    Next, there’s that you wrote that you’ve “stopped believing in an eternal hell,” which, of course, is the first step toward a belief in Christian Universalism (not to be confused with Unitarian Universalism, unless, of course, the Unitarians are of the Christian variety; and sometimes not even then).

    Let me tell you about Bishop Carlton D’Metrius Pearson, a black, otherwise conservative Christian pastor, now aged 61, who had a mega-church in Tulsa Oklahoma which had a weekly attendance of over 5,000, and offerings in the collection plate exceeding $60,000 per week…

    …all of which he ended-up losing in 2004 because he came to believe in Christian Universalism — aka, “univeral reconciliation”; or what Pearson came to call “The Gospel of Inclusion” — by a profound happenstance in the early 2000s; and his church elders branded him a heretic.

    In a 2006 “Dateline NBC” interview with NBC correspondent Keith Morrison, Pearson explained…

    — BEGIN PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT —

    MORRISON (as narrator): …there was one thing everybody knew from the very beginning: Carlton would become a preacher.

    PEARSON: Four generations. I’m the fourth generation classical Pentecostal preacher. (chuckle) I started with a little trash can turned over and my two little sisters sitting out in front a me and literally when I was five years old in the back porch of our home—five and six years old preaching to them. Couldn’t even read hardly.

    MORRISON (as narrator): And all around him were joyful Bible-believing, disease-healing, talking-in-tongues, throwing-hands-in-the-air sort of Christians.

    PEARSON: Church was our life. It’s all I’ve ever known.

    MORRISON (as narrator): They were too poor to be fancy; too enthusiastic not to try to look grand. Like the sheets of colored plastic they’d tape to their meager windows, pretending they were stained glass.

    PEARSON: It was real popular in the ghettos. In the little inner city store front churches. It was so much for us to go buy this plastic—it’s really ugly. We glued it on the windows. It gave us a little more validity— a stain glass window. We were so proud of that. I can’t tell you how proud we were.

    MORRISON (as narrator): And something else — they were very serious about some issues a lot of the more mainstream denominations often soft pedal… like hell.

    PEARSON: We were told not to laugh. Stop all the jesting and joking. You know we heard all that stuff. “God gonna get you. The devil gonna get you…” So we had all that mentality. Be good. Be Godly. Be right. Be holy.

    MORRISON (to Pearson): Or else what?

    PEARSON: Or else you go to hell.

    [...]

    MORRISON (as narrator): Everything Carlton did seemed blessed. He married a beautiful woman named Gina. Oral Roberts baptized one of his children. In 1997, they made him a bishop. His influence even spread to politics. In 2000, he campaigned for George W. Bush. He was invited to the White House.

    MORRISON (to Pearson): This is more than just making it.

    PEARSON: Yeah, that was pretty big stuff.

    MORRISON (as narrator): But, even as all that success smiled down on him, one unspoken knot of trouble brewed way down in Carlton’s soul. It was a topic central to his own preaching: the idea of hell.

    PEARSON: I was angry that people go to hell.

    MORRISON (as narrator): In fact, for Carlton, it was personal. His own grandparents had been preachers once. But then they “backslid,” as Carlton puts it… had committed adultery, had learned to love booze and must therefore be in hell. So he was mad at them. But also…

    PEARSON: I was resentful of God. See, if you fear God the way we’re taught to fear Him, you’ll serve Him, you’ll believe in Him, you’ll worship Him—but you probably will never really love Him.

    MORRISON (as narrator): And then one day, it happened. Bishop Carlton Pearson was sitting in the living room of his big house in Tulsa having his dinner in front of the TV set. There was a news story on about the refugee crisis in Rwanda.

    PEARSON: And you saw these African people—mostly women and children walking slowly back trying to come home. There was no light or life in their eyes. It was a horrible thing for me to see. Swollen bellies and skeletal bodies, emaciated… and then the babies looking at the mom and the mama looking out in space. It was sad. And I’m sitting there with my little fat-cheeked baby and my plateful of food, watching my big screen TV. A man of God, a preacher of the Gospel, and Evangelist, and I’m looking at those people assuming that they’re probably Muslim and going to Hell. “’Cause God wouldn’t do that to Christians,” I’m thinking…

    MORRISON (to Pearson): They deserve hell.

    PEARSON: They deserved hell.

    MORRISON (as narrator): And then, right at that moment, Carlton had his revelation.

    PEARSON: And I said, “God I don’t know how you’re gonna call yourself a loving God and allow those people to suffer so much and then just suck them into hell.” And I believe it was the Spirit of God in me saying, “Is that what you think we’re doing?”

    MORRISON (to Pearson): You heard this voice.

    PEARSON: Yes, sir. And I said, “That’s what I’ve been taught”

    MORRISON (as narrator): He talked back, he says, at that voice in his head.

    PEARSON: “God, I can’t I can’t save the whole world.” And that’s when I heard that voice say, “Precisely. That’s what we did. And if you’d tell them that they are redeemed, you wouldn’t create those kinds of problems. Can’t you see they’re already in Hell?”

    MORRISON (as narrator): Clear as a bell, says Carlton, he heard God telling him to preach this new message that hell is a place in life, and that after death. Everybody is redeemed. Everybody.

    PEARSON: I immediately started thinking about my grandparents. “Well, maybe they’re not in Hell. Maybe if they’re already saved, if the cross and Christ and all that stuff really happened and is really spiritual—which I believe it is—then—if He came to save the world, then the world is saved unless he’s a failure.”

    MORRISON (as narrator): This was powerful stuff. Though dangerous too.

    MORRISON (to Pearson): You mean Hitler’s in heaven?

    PEARSON: You think Hitler’s more powerful than the blood of Jesus? I mean, I got a hell to put a lot of people in. I’d sent Hitler and every slave trader straight to hell and a few deacons in my church if you wanna know the truth—I’d send people to hell, but I’m not God. He’s the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not ours only, but the sins of the whole world.

    — END PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT —

    And so there it is: Even Hitler’s profound awfulness isn’t more powerful than the blood of Christ.

    And, guess what: Neither is more powerful than the blood of Christ the awfulness of the church that, in its spiritual wounding of you, “instilled … all the religious teaching [you've] had growing up” which makes you wrongly worry that your “mom is suffering even more in the next life than she did in this one.”

    If Pearson’s right (and, moreover, if the nearly 200-year-old school of theological thought known as “Christian Universalism” is right), then your mom left hell late on the night of May 1st; and it is only what you have rightly called your “extremely screwed up fear” that’s misleading you, in your spiritual woundedness, to insensibly worry otherwise.

    God’s forgiveness — his profound and UNEARNED Grace — is well illustrated by the ironically-atheist Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain) who deftly wrote:

    “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel of the boot that crushed it.”

    It is by the cross, and Christ’s blood shed for us on it, that we — all of us, including and, now, especially, your mom — saved. The whole witness, in fact, of Jesus’ life and death is to the very depths of God’s forgiveness… his unearned Grace. English poet and artist William Blake cited, in fact, the capacity of Jesus to forgive another, and to reenter, vulnerably, into the deepest relation with another, as among the strongest evidences of Christ’s being God in flesh.

    Please stop worrying, [K.], about your mom. She was loved in life, and is now loved even more in death; and neither you nor your family has one single thing about which to worry with respect to her salvation.

    Worry, I’m sorry, instead, about your spiritual woundedness, wrought by the church of your upbringing which, in the name of keeping you back on your heels in life by making you fearful of both God and hell, so poorly prepared you for this once-in-a-lifetime moment of profound grief in the days following your one-and-only mother’s one-and-only death when it is, in actuality, God’s unceasing love that truly cradles you. You simply can’t feel it in your heart, though you know in your head that you should, because of the harm your church as done to you.

    And then conservative Christians wonder what’s so motivating New Atheism.

    I say again: Get a new church. Get through your grief, first, of course; but then, at your earliest convenience, find a church that takes “The Great Commandment,” and Romans 8:38-39, as seriously as death, itself.

    Hope that helps.

    * SEE | http://nbcnews.to/18Ciyrg (the entire Dateline NBC story)
    * SEE | http://bit.ly/1nhli7m (Carlton Pearson on Wikipedia)
    * SEE | http://bit.ly/1mtepmk (Christian Universalism on Wikipedia)

    Visit the Progressive Christianity website at:
    http://www.progressivechristianity.org

    Peace.

    __________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

    Hello John.
    You have all my compassion.

    Don’t worry about that.

    Even if the Bible were inerrant, hell does NOT mean eternal torture but permanent death.

    What is more, God is love and He will forgive every sin of a person sincerely desiring Him.

    Lovely greetings in Christ.

  • Skip Johnston

    K, I’m so sorry you have to go through this. Your mother was
    young to pass so soon.

    I was 34 when my father died. He’d been ill most of my life,
    bed-ridden his final two years. I was prepared for his death. I was not
    prepared for the grief; the disturbing thoughts, the nasty dreams. Took a while
    to complete the process. It is a process, you know. It has stages and a very
    definite conclusion. The conclusion surprised me in an unexpectedly good way.

    Although my father was gone—the grieving process was about
    growing past the familiarity of his physical presence—his love for me is still
    very much alive. I don’t mean I just remember his love, I mean it is a living
    thing in me. His love is a presence I can go to any time I want. Everything
    John has said is true. This is not
    something I would have believed in any thoughtful way before. Grief is God’s
    compassionate way of teaching this.

    Dad died 30 years ago. I still miss him. There are still
    moments of grief. But we’ve never been closer. He’s been there as I’ve grown
    through the ages he did.

    Your mother has died. That is so very sad. But she is not
    gone.

  • KJeanne

    Letter Writer here.

    So, it’s been a week now. For the past three days or so, I thought I was getting…well, not *better*, but past the initial shock; I didn’t constantly feel like I was going to have a meltdown like I did the first few days.Then today comes, and I realize tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I start crying all over again. My fears about my mom’s soul haven’t completely gone away, but they have numbed quite a bit, thanks mostly to John’s beautiful response and the thoughts of you lovely commenters. I have been praying for her every day.

    My dad and I have been talking about getting me some psychological counseling, for grief as well as a few other things. What do y’all think?

    Again, thank you, John, for your sweet response. Thank you, also, everyone who commented, for your thoughts, prayers, and kind words. You are truly a wonderful group of people.

    God bless,
    K

    • Jamie Macdonald

      K
      I lost my mom 3 years ago this month, and yes, going through Mother’s Day was wrenching and hard. The bond you have with your mom is like nothing else in the world. In my experience, professional counselling can, and did help. But the other side of the coin is that the great relationship you had, while making it hard now, will make it easier in the future. You will get over this. I remember doubting if I would ever feel happy again. But I did, and you will too.

  • Wanda Trollip

    Dear K,

    What carried me through the same issue years ago was the following;

    Romans 10: 9-10

    9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
    Nothing or nobody else can dispute this fact.
    Honestly I did not even know this site existed but had a dream about my mother earlier this week and was searching for an answer on something when I came upon this letter you wrote…. I believe we are guided by Spirit (and that is why I stumbled upon your letter)….
    I can’t say more although there are still so much I want to say about the subject….
    Namaste,
    Wanda Trollip
    South Africa
    wandatrollip@gmail.com


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