Happiness in the Afterlife [Questions that Haunt]

I have been astounded and gratified at the number of questions that have been submitted for this new series, The Questions that Haunt Christianity. Scores have come in, many from atheists (thanks to The Friendly Atheist for the shout out). Other questions have come from doubts, and from wavering believers. You can submit a question via my website; if your question is chosen, I’ll be in touch to let you know about the post, and to ask whether you’d like your name (and links) used or not.

As a reminder, a question will be posted every Tuesday. I look forward to all of you answering the question — and debating each other’s answers — in the comment section. On Friday, I’ll post my own response.

Our first question comes from Bart Mitchell:

I come from a long line of skeptics. I know the story of my great grandmother who told my mom while holding a bible ‘Only fools believe in this’. My father told me that religion was a tool to enslave the weak minded, he passed last year. Both my deceased grandfathers held all religion in contempt. The only Christian in my family was my grandmother, and she was firmly in the ‘liberal’ side of the faith. My experience with Christianity is solely as an outsider.

My question: If I were to accept Jesus and ask for salvation, how could I ever find happiness in the afterlife knowing that most of my family was sent to hell for eternity? If they somehow have a chance to get into heaven despite their clear disbelief, why should I bother with Christianity, since I will have that same chance of redemption?

How do you think Bart could enjoy eternity if his family’s not there? Or, if they are there, why should he become a Christian?

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  • This is a good question. The standard (at least, in the conservative tradition in which I grew up) answer is that if you prayed to Jesus, became a Christian, and went to heaven, you’d be so happy to be with Jesus that you wouldn’t miss your family, because “there are no tears in heaven.”

    I am a Christian, but I find this answer to be terribly unsatisfying. I’ve never received a better one, though, from anyone with the “pray to Jesus, go to heaven, or don’t, and go to hell” kind of theology. I’m interested in what others will have to say here.

    • From my perspective, “relating to divinity” is most concretely demonstrated through our relationships with other people. So, this whole system makes no sense to me anymore.

      • Bart Mitchell

        I have plenty of reasons to dismiss Christianity, but the concept of Hell is biggest and easiest. What I don’t understand are the Christians who don’t believe in a real Hell. The bible is filled with very clear descriptions of how painful and horrible it is, and that all the unbelievers are sent there. How can someone pick and choose, but still think the bible is the inspired word of god?

        • Bart, regarding Christian belief in hell, you asked:

          How can someone pick and choose, but still think the bible is the inspired word of god?

          For starters, not all Christians believe the Bible is the “word of god.” I am one of those Christians. And so in that sense, I agree with you. If someone believes the Bible is the “word of god” and therefore authoritative, then how can they pick and choose?

          But where the Bible is not an authority, then what of the concepts of heaven and hell? What is truly important in the scheme of life? To that point, what then is our human purpose in life? And I ask this, not as a theological question within the limited confines of Bible interpretation, but as a broader existential question.

          If your questions are worth asking — and I sincerely believe they are — then I think it’s important to start from a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down approach (asking your questions based on Biblical presumptions would be a top-down approach).

      • Rob, I agree with you. Love God and love your neighbor. We just need to stay on that path as best we can. The reason I can’t possibly believe in hell is because I believe what Jesus says about God being a loving father. What father would allow a place of eternal torment? It just doesn’t fit. The system doesn’t work.

        • Evelyn

          You’re right, the system doesn’t work. Someone’s been preaching a theology to you that is inconsistent with the parable of the great banquet:

          Jesus answered and spoke again in parables to them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner. My cattle and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!”‘ But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. When the king heard that, he was angry, and sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

          “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. Go therefore to the intersections of the highways, and as many as you may find, invite to the marriage feast.’ Those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. The wedding was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who didn’t have on wedding clothing, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here not wearing wedding clothing?’ He was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and throw him into the outer darkness; there is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.’ For many are called, but few chosen.”

          — Matthew 22:1-14, World English Bible

          • Bart Mitchell

            Evelyn, that passage is a perfect example of why I couldn’t use the bible as a moral compass, or as a path to some sort of salvation. Tossing someone out into the darkness where there is weeping and grinding of teeth, just because they wore the wrong clothes? The murderers should have been caught and punished for killing the servants, but burning the city? Isn’t that a bit harsh? Weren’t there children in that city?
            It’s all a bit too crazy for me.

          • Erick

            Bart Mitchell, someone I think is taking the story way too literally.

          • Jubal DiGriz

            From a plain reading it seems the parable is saying that God invites many (not all?) into Heaven, but even if you’re invited you must do certain things. If you ignore the invitation you too will be ignored, if you do evil things you will be punished harshly, and if you do show up but haven’t done all of the things you’re supposed to, you will be punished.

            Is there any other reasonable interpretation? That seems to confirm the problem Bart originally pointed out.

          • Jim

            @Bart Mitchell I understand the confusion with this parable but maybe this will help it make sense. In this parable Jesus is referring to the Jews who were invited to the wedding with Yahweh. The wedding refers to the covenant between God and His people (see the covenants He made with Abraham and Moses back in Genesis and Exodus). “A certain king” is God the Father, “for his son” refers to Christ, “all those invited to the marriage feast” is a reference to the Israelites. The Jews to whom the law was given did not come to the wedding, instead rebelling and each going his or her own way. “…the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them” refers to how the Jews treated the prophets (Isaiah, John the Baptist, etc) and would soon treat Christ. “…sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” refers to the impending destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by Titus. “Those servants went out into the highways” refers to Christ’s disciples. “and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good” refers to God inviting everyone regardless of their good or bad deeds to the wedding, meaning his invitation is by grace alone and not a works-based invitation. “he saw there a man who didn’t have on wedding clothing” refers to a person who is not wearing the garment of salvation (see Isaiah 61:10 “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation”). “..throw him into the outer darkness” refers to exclusion from eternal life of those not having salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross. Hope that clears up the parable for you.

          • Here’s the problem. If I invited people to my wedding feast and they did not attend. I did not hunt them down and torture them for eternity. 😉

    • Erick

      Unfortunately, Lisa, that is exactly the answer. I would like to introduce an analogy. It’s extremely crude, but I think it applies.

      Happily married spouses in the marital act. Do they not experience happiness during the marital act because problems haunt their friends, family and other loved ones?

      I use the marital act, because heaven is literally close communion and oneness with God Himself as He Is — we would say “intimacy”. The marital act and the intimacy of marriage is a facsimile (a poor one at that) of that closeness.

      Imagine that kind of intimacy; only infinitely better. If a happily married couple in the marital act can experience happiness even just some of the times regardless of their loved ones’ situation, then a man/woman united with God in Heaven can certainly experience happiness for all time.

      • Actually your are wrong Erick. I know plenty of couples where their family problems destroyed their “marital act.” Reason why? People care for their friends and family.

  • phil_style

    Great questions!

    But there are some many assumptions behind these questions that it is kind of hard to know where to begin.
    Firstly, I agree that if all the people I loved were experiencing great pain, it would make it very difficult for me to enjoy my life. What if that were proposed for an eternity – awful I’m sure? But that, of course, assumes that this “hell” place is some kind of existence where the conscious human being experiences pain (and the converse applies to this “heaven” existence right?) perhaps forever. Christians and Christianities don’t hold to universally agreed descriptions of either. So we’d need a few long posts wading our way through this milieu I’d expect.

    But let’s not forget, that we humans have a remarkable ability to carry on living when those we love are dead. We also have the rather disturbing ability to block out the rest of humanity who are in great pain, but whom we chose not to engage. We get on just fine merrying away on Friday night while others are fighting for their lives against nature and their fellow humans. Are some of us already living the way we would despise for the future now? Do we already ignore injustice and cover up our grief and sorrow for the world we live in right now? I know I do…often enough…

    Secondly. If one can get the heaven afterlife experience without jumping through this “accept Jesus and ask for salvation” phenomenon (which is also specific to narrow branches of Christianity) AND if getting to heaven is your ONLY goal in life.. then fine…. you don’t need to jump this unnecessary hoop – and quite honestly, I’d advise you not to anyways. But the christian life(s) is more complex than that. Despite what the street preacher might tell you (gasp) “following Jesus” (as I see it reflected in in its various guises) is not an entry-exam for post-death circumstance. There is the participation in kinds of community, the exploration historical/doctrinal issues and metaphysics, the sacramental part of the christian life, the notion that you can “connect” in some way to something that exists, perhaps, outside of the natural working order as well as potentially interacting with it, there is the call to various types and strength of non-violence, to servitude and rejection (in some interpretations) of political power, of assisting the poor out of duty, the emptying of “self”, the pursuit of certain virtues.. the list goes on and on… Are any of those things worth investigating/ imitating as Jesus (as portrayed in the texts, and as explain by many Christians, seems to encourage)?

    Ask a believer this, “if there was NO doctrine of eternal life, would you still follow Jesus”? For some I know, the convincing answer has actually been “yes”…. For others, maybe even St. Paul himself, the answer might be “no”, although St. Paul seems to have suggested he would give up his sown for the sake of others (not sure how rhetorical the text is being though).

    • Bart Mitchell

      There is a real difference between Heaven and reality here on Earth.

      In Heaven, resources are limitless, time is limitless.

      Here on Earth, I have only a few short years, and very limited resources. I try my best, but I know there are limits.

      What limits are put on you when you have eternity at your disposal?

      • phil_style

        sorry fella, I have no idea which section of the previous comment this is specifically referring to.

        • Bart Mitchell

          I was referring to where you said
          “We also have the rather disturbing ability to block out the rest of humanity who are in great pain, but whom we chose not to engage. We get on just fine merrying away on Friday night while others are fighting for their lives against nature and their fellow humans. Are some of us already living the way we would despise for the future now? Do we already ignore injustice and cover up our grief and sorrow for the world we live in right now?”

    • Luke Allison


      My wife and I were just discussing how we think this is one of the best statements about Christianity we’ve ever seen.

    • Christy

      Phil_style –

      “If there was NO doctrine of eternal life, would you still follow Jesus”?

      For me, the answer was “No.” The fear of hell and the belief that I was fundamentally morally defective was the only thing keeping me in the fold. Once I dumped hell and original sin, the rest of Christianity pretty much fell apart for me. (And let’s not pretend that the doctrine of hell is some freaky fringe bit of crazy only spouted by street preachers, when it is very much the predominant view of American evangelical Christianity and large swaths of the Catholic church.)

      I have no idea what “following Jesus” is even supposed to mean – given the vastly different and contradictory definitions that Christians assign to said following of said supposed Savior. Based on my reading of the Gospels – I don’t know how anyone constructed a coherent religion out of the guy. I mean, I like the guy I read about, but he was a complicated dude, and he certainly didn’t seem to offer any kind of comprehensive metaphysical system. If I make Jesus into some sort of Jewish Gandhi who is for world peace and universal health care, it just seems a little too convenient. How fortunate that the Son of God fits so nicely with my values and voting preferences, no?

      Community, non-violence, service to the poor, pursuit of certain virtues, etc. – Jesus wasn’t the only one who promoted such things, lots of people who aren’t Christians embody those values quite nicely, and lots of Christians don’t. For me, all the various trappings and doctrines of Christianity just made trying to live all of that out harder. If that’s not the case for you, great. But I don’t understand what is particularly “Christian” about most of what you listed.

  • Vik Slen

    The New Testament does not tell us which, if any, any individuals are beyond hope of salvation — that is, beyond hope of sharing in the resurrection of Christ. But Jesus did not come to preach about the afterlife, or for the sake of his own glory — “the person who saves his life will lose it.” Jesus came to announce the hope that God will soon reign on earth as in heaven. Don’t become a Christian out of a calculation of advantage for yourself, but out of a desire to contribute everything you have and everything are to announcing and building God’s reign. Don’t bother with the church unless you are fascinated by Jesus, convicted by Jesus, passionate about Jesus. I’m very sorry if you have not sensed in Christians you have met a deeper mystery and hope than mere calculation of benefit in an afterlife.

  • phil_style

    @ Vik Slen “I’m very sorry if you have not sensed in Christians you have met a deeper mystery and hope than mere calculation of benefit in an afterlife.”

    This is, unfortunately a sorrow that you might have to replicate often! As I’m sure you are aware, many, many Christians who proselytise use this very kind of selfish calculation to try and convince people to join in. One could argue that Pascal’s wager is based entirely on this formulation… yikes…

  • “If I were to accept Jesus and ask for salvation…”

    I would argue that Christianity, or “being a Christian,” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with “accepting Jesus” or “asking for salvation.”

    “how could I ever find happiness in the afterlife knowing that most of my family was sent to hell for eternity?”

    If this were the case, I don’t think you could…

    “If they somehow have a chance to get into heaven despite their clear disbelief, why should I bother with Christianity, since I will have that same chance of redemption?”

    For me, this goes back to an inadequate understanding of what Christianity can be. I don’t even think an “after life” in the traditional sense is inherently part of Christianity.

    “How do you think Bart could enjoy eternity if his family’s not there?”

    If that’s what eternity means, then he couldn’t.

    “Or, if they are there, why should he become a Christian?”

    I am starting to agree with the Dalai Lama, that “converting” is not always a good thing. Rather, trying to make your own tradition/culture – whatever that is – better can be more helpful. So, I don’t know that Bart “should” become a Christian. But, I do think everyone should try to understand Christianity better.

    • vandelay

      Is this a parody of liberal Christianity? If so, well done.

      • It sounds like you might know better than I do what “liberal Christianity” is…

      • Frank

        BINGO! Of course those that need to understand this comment the most will refuse to.

        • You guys win. Congrats.

          Now I can get back to my circle jerk with Satan, Pelagius, and Pete Rollins. Damn it feels good to be a heretic.

          • Best comment in the thread?

            [We’ll have a “like” button on comments soon.]

    • Bart Mitchell

      As an American, I’ve done my due diligence and read the bible. It, and the messages of the churches has failed to convince me.

      I do really admire the idea of working to make your own tradition better. I work with a secular group in my home town that has that goal. We try to act as a support group for other people. We do community volunteer work, and build a great social network. These are values that I can really get behind, and you don’t even need a religion to do it!

  • jedipunk

    I will give the answers I have heard.

    It is along the lines of “How can God kill so many…” question answers.

    The answer, “we cannot grasp the mind of God.”

    After the “Coming” and all the saved are sent to heaven they will be granted this understanding which will replace the hurt.

    Weak answer. It is like trying to understand why God granted freewill and then killed everyone on the planet for not doing what he wanted.

  • Harald Solheim

    I would start by telling Bart that I don’t find the understanding of God he portrays worth believing in either. What I do find compelling is the way of Jesus described in the gospels. I would point out that when Jesus (in the Gospel of John) talks about eternal life he is inviting us into sharing an eternal quality of life right here and now. His primary concern is not what happens after we die.

    For me personally the hope for life beyond death is not so much about my own personal destiny as it is about justice for people who was robbed of the life I take for granted.

  • Frank

    The problem with this question is that it assums that the bible promises us happiness, as we understand happiness, in heaven. It does not, it promises sometime far, far better!

  • The question itself seems informed by old presumptions taught by a form of Christianity that is now a rotting corpse. (Before I offer my remarks, I think it’s important to emphasize that I AM a Christian, or more specifically an emergent faith Christian).

    accept Jesus and ask for salvation . . . this is another way of saying “accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior,” an over-marketed and over-sold gimmicky phrase that really makes me want to vomit (not Bart’s fault). Firstly, to use the phrase demonstrates a belief in a presumption that 1) Jesus of Nazareth is still alive in some cosmic realm many call “heaven,” and 2) that he is the savior of humankind (died for our “sins,” etc.). This is mythology, not reality. Furthermore, believing in this mythology as reality reinforces the false notion that human beings are innately depraved, and that only those who “accept Jesus and ask for salvation” are freed from the eternal punishments for this depravity. And this, in turn, reinforces the destructive “us/them” ethic that has been the hallmark of poisoned Christianity for centuries.

    how could I ever find happiness in the afterlife knowing that most of my family was sent to hell for eternity . . . this, again, demonstrates a belief in the presumption that there is not only a conscious afterlife in a heaven-like realm, but that there is also a conscious afterlife in a hell-like realm. More mythology. This again goes to the false notion of a cosmic deity who hands out rewards and punishments to human beings much like Santa Clause with a list of who’s “naughty and nice.” The good kids get the happiness of a gift (“heaven”), the bad kids get the misery of receiving no gift (“hell,” the anti-gift). It’s a mythology that does not accord with Love, and deserves to be discarded as the junk it truly is.

    If they somehow have a chance to get into heaven despite their clear disbelief, why should I bother with Christianity, since I will have that same chance of redemption? . . . This is the best part of the question. Indeed, why bother with Christianity — which for centuries has marketed itself (vis a vis Jesus’ sacrifice) as the only way to “heaven” and “salvation” — if the rewards of afterlife can be found by other means?

    This part of Bart’s question, as with the other parts, presumes as real a couple of other features of old Christianity that need to be discarded: that mere disbelief incurs the wrath of “God”; that redemption means going to heaven, and is a consequence of our belief and our intellect, rather than a consequence of Jesus’ life/death.

    And now to Tony’s request as to how we should answer Bart’s question: 1) How do you think Bart could enjoy eternity if his family’s not there?

    Bart, the first thing I would recommend doing is taking a step back and taking a fresh look at the presumptions in Christian teaching that you expressed in your question, and which I just discussed.

    Secondly, there are many Christians who subscribe to “universalism,” whereby it is believed God will “save” every single human being that ever lived, because His infinite Love demands it. Personally, I don’t subscribe to “salvation” teachings, but universalism is worth looking into if the subject of salvation is important to you. I highly recommend a fascinating book that came out a few short years ago titled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland; HarperSanFrancisco, 2003)

    Thirdly, I always say love as Jesus loved, in THIS life. And don’t worry about notions of the “afterlife.” The afterlife is an idea, but the here-and-now is a reality. According to the Bible narrative, Jesus himself entered this reality, loved in this reality, and died in this reality, all for the sake of this reality, looking not only to today but also to tomorrow.

    That, by the way, is the gospel (or “good news”): liberation from brokenness and the creation of Oneness within ourselves, with one another, and with our living World. It’s what the Bible calls the “kingdom of God.” It is not about getting into “heaven,” but is about creating Oneness here “on earth as it is in heaven” (with heaven as the ultimate vision/concept of perfect Oneness).

    As to “salvation,” I see it very, very differently. The story of Jesus’ life and death were a demonstration of how to live, and how to achieve Oneness; his story enlightens us, “saves us” from the darkness, and shows us the way out of brokenness. And by that light, we can see, and walk properly for ourselves, with one another.

    As to the second part of Tony’s question: 2) should [Bart] become a Christian?

    Bart, that is entirely up to you. Love and Oneness are not the sole property or purview of any single religion or faith tradition. Creating Oneness here on Earth is achieved, not because of what religious label you wear, but by the love you express as a human being. And being a Christian is not the “only way to heaven,” nor is it a means to escape “hell.” Such ideas are based on fear, and don’t deserve to be part of any respectable tradition.

    Be concerned with embodying and expressing love in this life, and by whatever faith — or non-faith — which best enables you to do that. Can you create Oneness outside of Christianity? Yes, you certainly can.

    Choosing Christianity, as I have, is to choose a life of uniquely committed mission through the mechanism of a powerful and inspiring narrative. A mission, not to bring people in, but to spread Love out (again, that is the gospel), in the Jesus Way.

    There are certainly other faith traditions worth embracing, and Christianity is neither better nor worse than them. I simply see Christian faith in the Jesus Way as the first among equals.

    • Evelyn


  • Tony,

    Trust me on this – a thinking Christian need not be “haunted” by these questions and others. We are willing to accept the fact that as heaven is above earth, so are God’s ways above ours. We don’t expect to have all the answers.

    I think that the hidden message here is that the more questions we can’t answer, the more flimsy our faith appears. However, those who come to this conclusion exercise a double-standard.

    The world of Science is also very mysterious. We can’t even define the basics like space, time, matter and light. These things are mind-boggling. However, we don’t throw out science because of the imponderables. If the physical world – the creation – is beyond understanding, why then should we expect to be able to put God – the Creator – into a neat theological box? (This is not to admit that either in science or theology we are entirely ignorant. This is merely a recognition that we are very limited.)

    If science isn’t “haunted” by its imponderables, why then should Christians be “haunted?”

    • Evelyn

      I don’t know how Tony would answer your question. Christians are haunted by questions because they give flippant, condescending, and unreasoned answers to them. Every time these questions are asked, Christians don’t realize that it is God who is doing the asking and is expecting Christians to use reason, logic, and personal experience to rise above the dogmatic “we take it on blind faith” reply. Every time Christians do this, the Holy Spirit gets pissed and there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth until Christians learn to respect all aspects of the world and culture that they live in rather than randomly believing a bunch of crap whose basis in reality is twice removed such that it has turned poetry and metaphor into superstition and false idealism.

      • Frank

        There is so much wrong in this post even I don’t know where to start. I give up!

        • Sven

          Try starting anyway.
          Do you deny that Christians often give flippant, condescending, or unreasoned answers to inconvenient theological questions?
          Do you deny Evelyn’s claim that God wants Christians to use their heads and employ reason and logic?

          You’re not being very persuasive when your entire comment is basically “No, you’re wrong” while making no effort to elaborate.

          • Frank


            Christians do sometimes give unsatisfactory answers but its not because there are no answers and most of time those answers you criticize are correct even if the individual cannot explain it adequately. How you perceive those answers is on you.

            God did indeed create us with a brain to use. This is no way invalidates the truth of God and scripture.

            The problem with Evelyn’s post is everything after. Plus add in the rest of her posts and well… lets just say “yeah right!”

      • Evelyn is my new favorite commenter.

        • Frank

          Cute! But please tell us you don’t actually believe what she wrote. Do you?


            …no, but seriously, this is the worst possible time to be a condescending ass.

          • Frank

            I would listen if you were consistent. I will wait for you to say the same thing to Tony or just consider you a hypocrite.

        • Bart Mitchell

          I have to agree. Well said Evelyn.

    • Bart Mitchell

      You said I am using “a form of Christianity that is now a rotting corpse.”

      For a rotting corpse, it sure does seem to get around. This believe in a literal place of heaven and hell is a view that I run into often here in the US. It is even more prevalent in the Latin America countries I have visited. It also seems to mirror the views of Catholicism, the single largest Christian denomination. To misquote Twain, I think the demise of this type of Christianity has been over exaggerated.

      Without the supernatural place after death, we’re left with a Christianity that is supposed to be a good guiding force for life here on Earth. I’ve read the bible, and I feel that there are many, much better, documents and philosophies that one could follow to lead a better life. I do admire some of the messages of Jesus, and I condemn others. If it helps you to lead a better life, then I’m happy for you. It just doesn’t work for me.

      • No, I said your question “seems informed by old presumptions taught by a form of Christianity that is now a rotting corpse.” And it’s not that the corpse really gets around, it’s just that it hasn’t been properly buried yet.

        You said the following:

        Without the supernatural place after death, we’re left with a Christianity that is supposed to be a good guiding force for life here on Earth.

        Yes, the Jesus Way is certainly a good guiding force for living life here on Earth. Which was in fact Jesus’ point. As to the notion of a “supernatural place after death,” it was never an original belief of the early Christians. They believed in bodily resurrection onto a restored Earth, and often referred to death as “sleep.” Belief in going to “heaven” or “hell” after death was a later innovation influenced by Greek philosophy. Which brings me to your next remark:

        I’ve read the bible, and … I do admire some of the messages of Jesus, and I condemn others. If it helps you to lead a better life, then I’m happy for you. It just doesn’t work for me.

        Your answer is right there: “It just doesn’t work for me.”

        Though I do wonder, what would “work for you?”

        I hope you find whatever “it” may be. Though I also hope that whatever does “work for you” doesn’t just serve you, but also (and perhaps more importantly) serves others in creating Oneness through love, and not brokenness through fear.

        • Bart Mitchell

          Looking around, it doesn’t seem dead, it seems a quite vibrant and resilient meme that most Christians I know subscribe to.

          As for finding ‘it’, I think that life is a journey, not a destination. I’m far less concerned with the answers I find, it’s the questions I truly value. I only asked my question because I thought that it showed one of the major contradictions in the predominant form of Christianity that I encounter.

          • Then for the purposes of this dialogue, I’m content to analogize old Christianity as a zombie.

            I value the journey as well, but only inasmuch as it directs me to the destination. Otherwise, a “destination-less” journey is merely an academic exercise. Valuable? Sure, why not. Purposeful? Not so sure.

            And I agree with you about the contradictions that exist in zombie Christianity.

  • MarkE

    These are “haunting” questions only if you take a simple, evangelical view of Christianity. The questions disappear or change as you moved away from the right side of the theological spectrum.

    I figure the afterlife will take care of itself and may, indeed, be related somehow to how we live the present life.

    Why follow the way of Jesus? One answer would be that perhaps it is better than the alternatives. A life of pursuing exceptional love and mercy – as opposed to ordinary love and its lesser counterparts of selfishness and cruelty – may just be a good way to live. If this is the case – and one could argue that Jesus felt that it was so – then, to the extent that your family and friends chose not live this way, they missed out on a better way of living. Maybe the afterlife will offer them additional opportunities to get on board.

  • John McCauslin

    My response is that faith in God is all about trust, including trust in the unimaginable power, capacity and desire of God to accomplish reconciliation with each one of us, and I think that must include those who lived and died in unbelief. Who can say when God gives up on us?

    Second, I think it is exceedingly self-centered for self-proclaimed Christians to claim, or even concern themselves with worry about salvation and reconciliation in the next life. Instead Jesus encourages us to seek to live reconciled lives in this world, engaged in ministries of healing and sharing glimpses of the Kingdom/household of God with all who are open to it. His commandment is to ‘love one another,’ not ‘to get saved,’ and not ‘seek eternal life.’ For those not opened to faith, we can only be steadfast and compassionate in our faith and genuine in our hope that the barriers will one day come down.

    We cannot undo what has been done, perhaps God will. Redemption, today and tomorrow, is the province of God, and God will be and do whatever God purposes to be and do, our prayers, good deeds, and commitments notwithstanding. We can only trust in the promises and covenants made with us and live lives reflecting our trust.

    • Bart Mitchell

      For me, trust is earned, not given. If I had some concrete reason to trust this god, over the myriad of gods that man has worshiped, then I might consider it.

      Right now, Yahweh and Jesus have done nothing to earn my trust, so I lump them in with Mohammad, Buddha, Krishna, Ra, Thor, etc.

      • John McCauslin

        Trust is earned. I agree. And here is how God has earned my trust.

        I accept that God created all that is. I accept that what is, is spectacular. I accept that for whatever reason creation includes life, humanity, and specifically me, and I am thankful to be included. Given those assumptions and that gratitude I trust that God’s purposes for me and for all of creation, whatever they may be, are generally beneficent and specifically beneficent for me. I could be wrong, but so far it appears to me my trust has been well placed.

        I accept that on some level, God has used 3000 years of Judeo-Christian Scriptures as a medium for self-disclosure and to communicate generally to humanity an understanding of God’s expectations for the creation and specifically for humanity. Scriptures from other continuing faith traditions, younger and older, for the most part communicate similar messages, though within different socio-historical-cultural milieus. I was born into a Christian tradition, so that is where my roots extend.

        I do not interpret the intentions of God as expressed in Scripture or as exhibited in the creation as proclaiming the existence of a Hell of eternal torment for non-believing miscreants. I know others disagree. Instead I see a creation premised on a process of dynamic and relentless growth and expansion, of birth and re-birth, of death and renewal, of a place where nothing is lost, only re-cycled and re-generated, enhanced and increased. I discern that behind the activity of creating a universe which spawned life, and specifically human life, there is an incredibly generous Will, a Creator whose intentions, though not capable of being grasped by the creation, are indisputably good.

        I interpret Scripture, and the intentions of the Creator in communicating with the creation through Scriptures as a sign of good will and hopeful intentions. I interpret the Incarnation of Christ as an even more beneficent sign, a direct intervention into the affairs of the Creation, in a sense a ‘re-boot,’ a sign which re-expresses and reaffirms the central messages of Jewish Scripture (and all Scriptures) – compassion, interdependence, relational responsibility and community, all of which cannot thrive without love, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.

        In the face of all of that I believe that God has earned my trust.

        • Bart Mitchell

          This new form of Christianity is really getting a solid foothold here in the US. Most Christians I run into are still heaven/hell believers, who think that all other religions are false. I’m noticing that this type of thought is becoming more prevalent. I guess Christianity is due for another schism.

          • John McCauslin

            That is their faith and this is mine. One of the beauties of God’s relationship with us is that we each get to work out the parameters of our own faith and our own relationship with God. When we get it too wrong, I am sure God will correct us. I am also certain that no one gets it right in an absolute sense.

  • Curtis

    Salvation is by Christ alone, independent of your action of accepting Him as your savior. You have nothing to worry about. Your action of accepting salvation does not cause your salvation. Your family’s lack of action does not cause their damnation. Salvation is done by Christ, independent of your action.

    • Bart Mitchell

      Isn’t that contrary to the scriptures? Doesn’t Jesus say “I am the only way to the Father. No one comes to him but through me.”? Doesn’t he frequently tell his followers that they must follow his path if they are to find the kingdom of heaven?

      • Luke Allison


        Is it your understanding that the kingdom of heaven refers to a future paradisical state of some kind?
        I don’t think there are too many scholars who would give that idea much credence. It’s a very Jewish concept, wrapped up in Jewish concerns in the 1st Century.

        I’m sensing that you’re more bothered by the idea of religious exclusivity and intolerance than the idea of religion itself. Is that true?
        My mantra has become: “That’s one interpretation.” There is always a myriad of opposing ones.

      • Curtis

        Jesus teaches that salvation is a journey, a “way”, not a destination. God teaches us, through Jesus’ living example, how to take that journey. He teaches us not to condemn the journey of our neighbor, but to focus on our own journey.

        • From the view of the Bible writer, the “Father” is the destination, Jesus is the “way” to it:

          Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” — John 14:6

  • A couple of the early comments got close to what I consider a good discussion of the symbolism, then the rest were just basic theological speculation. I’m not going discuss whether or not hell exists or how you achieve salvation.

    What Bart (and I think the Bible) is struggling with, is how do we enjoy our blessings and our community while others suffer? Any theological answer to that, such as “God’s ways are above ours”, is just avoiding thinking about that question. There is no formula that can tell you how much to donate to Kids Against Hunger, or how often you should go to Sri Lanka. The answer is something metaphorical like, give until it hurts, but not so much that it kills you, just enough so it makes you stronger. If there is a Christian church that is doing that, join it, if you’d rather just write checks to Oxfam, do that.

    • Bart Mitchell

      The real difference between the idea of Heaven and here in reality is resources.

      In heaven (as its been described to me) we have eternity. With an eternity of time, we would have an infinite amount of resources. Here on Earth, I only have 100 years at best, and only the resources I can gather. I do what I can for others, but I also realize this is my only chance at this life. I try to help others have the opportunities that I have, while taking advantage of those opportunities as much as I can.

  • To answer the question without deconstructing the theology it is based on I would just offer this brief answer and then allow God to move in that situation.

    If I were to accept Jesus and ask for salvation, how could I ever find happiness in the afterlife knowing that most of my family was sent to hell for eternity?

    I’m sorry you think by accepting Christ you are celebrating the demise and eternal damnation of your family. I wouldn’t be so certain that they are in hell for eternity.

    If they somehow have a chance to get into heaven despite their clear disbelief, why should I bother with Christianity, since I will have that same chance of redemption?

    As far as I know Jesus had several clear moments of disbelief. If disbelief, doubt or uncertainty keeps you from the loving embrace of God then Jesus might just be with your family in hell. I wouldn’t focus so much on the eternal afterlife as much as the eternal now.

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  • Pax

    Heaven or hell is a choice to be either with God for eternity or not. God wills heaven for everyone but ultimately honours our choice if we choose against. In heaven, you will be happy in respecting the choices of your family members just as God does.

    If your family members chose heaven despite their disbelief, it means that they must have cooperated with what grace they were given. You only have the same chance if you do likewise. You should only bother with Christianity if the Christian faith is true (the only reason to believe anything is because it’s true). Those who have seen adequate reason to compel their belief and also desire heaven do the things commensurate with that belief and that desire.

    • ME

      I second this post 🙂

  • Jean

    Becoming a Christian is not a decision to be made by the reason of man.

    When, weary of the life you have made for yourself, you say, “God, whoever you are, change my heart” – in time, He will lead you to a place where you will know, by revelation, that Jesus did rise from the dead – then you will be a Christian.

    How can someone believe there even is a heaven unless it has been revealed to him?

    In the resurrection, everything will be made right. Victims of great injustices will wash the feet of their abusers (and vice versa), as they see them repent. My atheist parents will receive the correction they need, and I will too! There may be some wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it will not last forever because His purpose is always to bring us closer to Him.

    Why follow Jesus?

    2Co 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

    He will give you a new heart and a mind which will be renewed as you receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your soul; you will find yourself no longer living for your own passions and be filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory, and when your life falls apart, you will have an incredible resource to go to, to be healed and restored, delivered from the power of the evil one, and then He will restore the years the locust has eaten.

    Did you lose a child, or your wife? In time, He will fill your life and your heart with other children, more companions, as you live with the hope that you will see and enjoy one another again in the resurrection.

    All of these things I have found to be true in my own life; that is how I know He lives!

    All of these things I have found to be true in my own life; that is how I know He lives!

    • Jean, what you’re offering here is opinion, not truth. It is opinion wrapped in that all too familiar form of old-school Christian theological speculation and Biblical literalism, with all the trappings of blind certitude immersed in intellectual and spiritual vacuum.

      It’s also a reminder that the rotting corpse of old Christianity still needs to be buried, and that new language must be formed from emergent faith Christianity that resonates with the thinking, reasoning human mind of the twenty-first century.

      • Frank

        Speaking of opinion not truth…

  • Reading the original question and the comments so far, I am left wondering how anyone could accept the idea that there is an eternal hell. How can any wrongdoing in a few years on earth be justly redressed by eternal suffering without hope of appeal?

    • ME

      Your second sentence is incorrect. Wrongdoing isn’t punished by eternal suffering. We have a choice to accept grace or not. Your point still remains, why should we be eternally separated from God for a choice we had only a few short years to make?

    • Pax

      We give people prison sentences for much longer lengths of time than it took to commit the crime because the weight of the offense is usually more important when calculating the length of the sentence. I think it’s possible that an offense against an infinite God could be considered infinitely weighty and therefore an infinitely long punishment could be just. However, I think the thing that keeps people in heaven or hell is that, while they still have free will, their wills become fixed on “for God” or “against God” (or maybe “good” vs. “evil”) after death. Your choice to be separated from God is a choice you make eternally.

    • I think it’s ultimately a choice. I’m not convinced that hell is a physical place, but we know at least that it is a separation from God. Some people may choose, even after death, that they would rather not spend eternity with God. And God grants them his request. Perhaps this is ultimate mercy, in an odd sense.

      It’s a theory I’ve been chewing on for a while.

  • Bart Mitchell

    How could people accept the idea of eternal hell? I’d say, because they read the bible and believe it.

    “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame ” (Luke 16:24).

    We could quote the bible all night, but it’s pretty clear in quite a few places. Unbelievers, sorcerers, witches, liars, thieves, they all go to the hot place of eternal pain and destruction.

    What I still don’t get, is how do people believe in the bible, but not Hell? After reading it, it seems pretty damned clear.

    • Bart Mitchell

      Oops, this was supposed to be nested under Lisa’s comment up top.

    • Luke Allison

      Not really all that clear once you wade through years of tradition, interpretive bias, contextual myopia, and ignorance.

      Negative judgment is a part of nearly every religious system. But the point of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus isn’t that there is a hell. It’s that the rich man was judged for not taking care of the poor man outside his gate.
      The Dante’s Inferno/Norse mythological/Greek Hades-esque hell so popular in our culture is not to be found in 1st Century Judaism. You may have noticed that the Hebrew Scriptures seem to imply that life after death is kind of a drag for just about everyone. Not until the intertestamental literature does the idea of retribution or recompense (or resurrection) begin to really take hold in the popular Hebrew understanding.

      This has been argued numerous times before, but Jesus used the word “Gehenna” when he spoke of negative judgment. Gehenna was an actual place, the valley of Hinnom, where child sacrifice had taken place. An accursed space. Whatever Jesus is saying, he’s not talking about Dante’s Inferno.

      The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats provides another interesting piece of dissonance for those raised on the traditional “heaven and hell” view. Jesus says that sheep will go one place while the goats go to another place. But what is the determining factor of their destination? It’s certainly not cognitive assent to Jesus as Savior. It’s seemingly not moral repentance or sorrow. It’s based on whether they took care of the poor in their midst.

      So whatever is going on in that parable, it can’t be the traditional evangelical formulation.
      Just because lots of people believe a particular interpretation of Scripture doesn’t mean anyone else has to.

    • The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable about mercy and equity, not a treatise on the afterlife and its two opposite pieces of real estate. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone take the parable’s imagery literally, nor rely on it as a source of doctrine. I mean, really, it’s like an ancient Hebrew version of Cinderella (poor, mistreated good girl, rich evil stepmother and stepsisters; reversal of fortunes, etc.).

  • Pete

    One of my favorite questions. I started looking at this after my wife’s friend suddenly passed away. I started looking at if Hell even existed… the the devil… and it went from there. Finally I arrived at some channeled documents… I found these to be very informative.
    Feel free to insert what ever scripture you like relating to mediums from the OT, I heard it all… yes I’m aware of The Screw Tape Letters… The biggest enemy to answering this question is the bible itself and the rigid view that it creates of not only God but the afterlife…
    I don’t believe for one second that God would put us in a situation where he’s know we will, to quote Romans, “miss the mark” and then condemn us forever for missing this mark… Quote me “my ways are not your ways” if you like…
    My favorite document is by far Facts by Anthony Borgia… Here’s a quote:
    Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and all his angels. Here in the gospel we are supposed to have the very words with which God will condemn the transgressor. In the spirit world, it fills us with unspeakable horror to contemplate upon the enormity of any person authoritatively teaching others that the Father of us all could utter words of such fearful condemnation. And these words are put into the mouth of Jesus, although it must be conceded that, at long last, honest doubts are creeping into the minds of churchmen on earth that so much that Jesus is reputed to have said was, in good truth, never spoken by him at all.
    Not that this is proof by any means but the fact that many people ask the original question brings up many about God, his justice and the way he views our lives on earth.
    There’s loads more other stuff out there, the problem is that it is channel. I guess this make most of you get quite defensive about it…
    Think what you like… It’s very interesting… Surely you’re all big enough to look at these documents and make an assessment for yourselves regardless of where or whom you think it’s coming from.
    Again from Borgia:
    There will be some—perhaps many—who will affirm that not only am I a devil, but that I am the very Prince of Darkness himself. Let them think so if it gives them an satisfaction. There are others, far, far greater than I am who have been regarded as demons from the realms of darkness, so that therein I find myself in good company!
    Google Matthew Ward (or Suzie Ward) check out his messages… better still check out http://channelingerik.com/ There’s load of stuff out there… Maybe check http://johnsmallman.wordpress.com/ All of it points to the same thing…
    God is all Love and would never condemn any of his children to hell forever…
    Life is given to us as a Spirtual Learning experience.
    We will see all of our family again…

    • Frank

      You shouldn’t lie to people. You have no way of knowing if anyone will see their family again after this life.

    • Bravo, Pete! You keep right on speaking your mind with openness and inclusiveness. We need more of it.

      And amen to this statement you made: “The biggest enemy to answering this question is the bible itself and the rigid view that it creates of not only God but the afterlife.”

  • Nick Jackson

    I used to think being an annihilationist made this problem easier. If I believed that God didn’t actively torment people or even allow people to live eternally feeling the consequences for their sins, but instead executed all of them and annihilate their existence I would feel better. See how that works. Imagine that God doesn’t let anyone rot in hell, but “mercifully” executes them.

    Right now I’m in between (1) there is no afterlife, and that’s fine, so it doesn’t matter, and (2) the New Testament writers meant it when they said all that stuff about reconciling all things to God.

    • I wish there was another word for annihilationism. It sounds creepy and it’s hard to spell. But the concept, I think, is correct. Some people are never going to accept and participate in God’s reality of truth, beauty, goodness, love, etc. At some point, they will cease to exist. This goes along with “the wages of sin is death.”

  • For me Brian McLaren’s Book “The Secret Message of Jesus” helped with this a lot. All of the sudden being a follower of Jesus became a way to make life on earth better and a way to make my heart better rather than just about getting into heaven and avoiding hell. And Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” help interpret most of the hell verses in another way.

    But you’re right, this is not normal Christianity. Normal Christians just trust that God knows what he’s doing so whatever he does will be good and right so ultimately they’ll be happy and they don’t worry about it much. Plus everyone they are close to are Christians so this question isn’t really an issue for them. AND if they began to question stuff like this they could lose their faith which would cause them to lose EVERYTHING. Keeping their friends, family and comfort of believing everything is gonna be okay is worth a little cognitive dissonance here and there for most people.

    • Luke Allison

      Good thoughts. The traditional understanding of Christianity is as close to Richard Dawkins’ “virus” concept of religion as anything I’ve seen. It literally plays into every weakness of the human person, everything that makes us the destructive and scapegoating apes that we are, and then offers a release valve for all the chaos: tribal salvation. We naturally gravitate towards tribal affiliations anyway, but give us an eternal reason and we’ll reject our own mother.

      The good news, I think, is that there is a better Way.

      • Frank

        Yes you can make up your own way of you choose.

        • Luke Allison

          Frank, are you literally saying that your theological formulation is not a way that has been made up?

          Even if your way is based out of a meticulous study of Scripture, someone still came up with it. It was an innovation at some point. And it required interpretive decisions to be made, which disagree with other interpretive decisions. And in numerous cases involving the study of Scripture, we’re just not sure what the correct interpretation is. It’s incredibly dishonest (and, I think, illuminating of your own fears and anxieties) to imply that there is unity in the interpretation of Scripture within the Body of Christ.

          So I’ll ask again: are your theological preferences God’s way, or the way of someone who formulated them along the way?

          • Frank

            The difference is you have to discount scripture to come to your way. No thanks.

          • Luke Allison


            So your theological formulations are synonymous with “Scripture?”

          • Frank

            No scripture determines my theological formulations. What about you?

          • Luke Allison

            I believe Scripture determines my theological formulations as well.
            So where does that leave us?

          • Frank

            I don’t know exactly where our beliefs differ so… I don’t know where this leaves us.

          • Luke . . . Frank has many times already demonstrated that he is a black-and-white, either/or Scriptural literalist. He already assumes the Bible is the absolute authoritative communication from “God,” who he no doubt believes is the sovereign over all the universe. The Bible says it, Frank believes it, no questions asked. He calls it faith. I call it Bible worship.

            Although you might be interested in reading the conversation he and I had here on Tony’s blog a couple weeks ago about the Bible being the “word of god,” and where he finally admitted that he “cannot prove the bible is the word of God.”

            Here’s the link to that discussion: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/08/20/is-opposing-glbt-behavior-hate/#comment-43432

            (The link will bring you directly to the post where our discussion began; August 21, 2012 at 11:15 am.)

            Scripture is the box of belief that Frank chooses to put himself in. And he sharply criticizes anyone who thinks differently than he does, and often calls such people fools as well.

            So the excellent questions you’re asking Frank, such as “are your theological preferences God’s way, or the way of someone who formulated them along the way?” . . . he is captive to his box of scriptural literalism and will only answer you with negativity, blind certitude, and the occasional insult.

            Best of luck.

          • Luke Allison

            I know so many people just like Frank, so I have a soft spot in my heart for him. But I just wonder what it must be like to not only think 90 percent of the people in your own “way” are wrong (particularly over theological specifics, which Freud called the narcissism of minor difference) but then to also think everyone outside of your “way” are also wrong. But not just wrong; damned to torment. Do you think this influences a person’s emotional and/or psychological makeup?

            And yet I’ve found people like Frank don’t act significantly different from anyone else, despite their rather specific views of everyone else’s eternal destination. I remember seeing Doug Pagitt debate Chris Rosebrough (the quintessential “normal guy” apologist), and when Rosebrough made a joke (something like “we’re gonna have a hell of a good time tonight”), Pagitt called him out on it: If you really believed what you claim to believe, you would never ever ever make a flippant comment like that.

            As to scriptural literalism, I guarantee that Frank is only a selective literalist, just like everyone else.

          • Frank

            Actually the majority of the Christian Church believes exactly what I do. So….

          • Luke Allison

            Majorities mean nothing to me.

            But aside, the majority of the Christian Church has also supported slavery, the exclusion of divorced people from fellowship, the burning of unattached cat ladies as witches, and the killing of anyone who believes differently about theological interpretation.

            It was heretics like Erasmus and Carvalho who tried to speak sense and humanity back into the masses.

            In my ministry experience, I’ve found that very few people believe in the kind of hell you claim to believe in. Once questions start getting asked, more people seem to believe in a form of inclusivism, especially in regards to their own family or relatives.

            Whatever the case, we’re gonna be like ships passing in the night.

          • I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness (I left when I was 21; I am now 40), of which there are only 7.3 million in the entire world. And in many eerily familiar ways, I was just like Frank: a Biblical literalist (the Bible is the unquestionable authority in written form from God, aka Jehovah), certain of my salvation, certain of the potential damnation of all non-Witnesses, and arrogant in my certitude of being in what we called “the Truth,” and therefore far more blessed than “worldly” people.

            As a JW, I not only believed that 99.3% of people who called themselves Christian (1 billion Christians to 7 million JWs) were all wrong in their beliefs, and therefore at risk of eternal death, but I also believed that 99.9% of all human beings (6 billion people to 7 million JWs) were all wrong in their beliefs, and therefore at risk of eternal death. There was no room for debate or margin for compromise: we JW’s were absolutely right, and everyone else was absolutely wrong.

            Did this way of thinking and believing influence my emotional and/or psychological makeup? Without a doubt, yes. Especially at such an impressionable period of my early life. Because boy did I love to do exactly as Frank currently does: let everyone know how right I am by telling them how wrong they are. And it wasn’t just in theological matters. It was reflected in my attitude and behavior in social situations as well.

            For sure, I still have an ego. But I’d like to think it’s been well tempered not only with experience (and hopefully wisdom) garnered through age, but also in consciously reforming myself over the years, which included a very long and difficult period of “de-programming” myself from the JW mindset.

            As for the evolution of my faith, I do possess a new sense of certainty today, but it is a liberating, non-theological sense of certainty that comes with an understanding that even though people see things differently than I do, I do not judge them. I do, however, challenge them to think and see differently (much as I did with Bart in this thread). And in doing so, I challenge myself each time to do the same.

            As for Frank and people like him . . . well, I have been in their shoes, have thought as they thought, and have believed as they believed. And they can only become “free” from their shortsightedness and arrogance of their own choice. And until they do that, they will only continue to spread ignorance and fear, rather than joy and love.

          • Frank

            I only bring it up because you inferred that I was just making something up which is not the case. Those that label themselves as progressive are the ones who make stuff up.

            Sorry Luke but what you say is not true. The majority of Christians did not support slavery. And yes Christian history contains some very big mistakes like anything that humanity is involved with.

            And yes some people who don’t want to think of the very real hell and its meaning do try and just brush it off and hope that’s its not true but that in no way invalidates the reality.

            And R. Jay simply dismisses scripture he does like or agree with so his opinion is highly suspect and not all that relevant to me. He thinks he knows much more than he does. How sad but he makes his own choices.

          • LOL!! Luke, see Frank’s remark right above. It’s the “negativity, blind certitude, and the occasional insult” I was mentioning earlier that he loves to toss at those who think and see differently than he does. 🙂

          • Frank

            R. Jay you might have more credibility instead of looking foolish if you were not such a hypocrite. When you decide to stop saying foolish things and listen you might actually learn something.

          • I keep wondering how many times we have to flush before Frank goes away.

          • Luke Allison


            What could any of us possibly learn from you? How to ignore developments?

            You will never ever ever convince me that the pseudo-Reformed inerrantist conservative thing is what Jesus was talking about in the 1st Century. Ever.

          • “pseudo-Reformed inerrantist conservative thing”

            Luke, I am stealing this phrase from you in future writing.

          • Frank

            Good luck with that! As a dog returns to its vomit….

          • Luke Allison

            The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

            Proverb wars.

            A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.

            The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

            How about this one?
            “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

            And of course I’ll offer you this one:
            “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

          • Colby

            @Luke Allison, the Bible is extremely clear that its message was not made up by people, but given by God. Whether you yourself trust the Bible is your own decision, but as far as what the Bible says about it, it couldn’t be more transparent on this question of where its message comes from. Read 2 Peter 1:16-21. Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So it’s not a question what the Bible says about its message. But obviously it’s a decision you have to make for yourself whether you trust the Bible.

        • Curtis

          You can make up your own way. Or you can blindly follow ways that other people have made up. God asks us to do the former.

          • Frank

            God asks us to follow His way as revealed through scripture. Not our own or someone elses.

      • Excellent and right-on insight, Luke. And amen to your statement: “The good news, I think, is that there is a better Way.”

        • Colby

          The first sin made by Adam–and the one all other sins flow from–is the desire to be like God. That’s why the serpent said, “If you eat this fruit you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) That’s the whole reason Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Making up your own “way” is just doing the same thing. Whether or not you believe that story is a children’s fable or an actual event doesn’t matter. The irony is how accurately it portrays even the dialogue in this comment section. The chief sin of people is wanting to make up their own way. As the saying goes, there are two types of people in the world–those who say to God, “Thy will be done.” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

  • I think it might be appropriate to appeal to the Carmelite mystics. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Therese Lisieux all testify to a joy beyond joys. As the soul approaches the divine it becomes more and more perfected — and perfect, in the philosophical sense means whole or complete. This wholeness, this burning with mystical love does not preclude suffering (for Christ wept), but it completes the suffering by infusing it with joy.

    I believe that there is pity in heaven, and almost a regret for those who are in hell. For if God does not delight in the death of the wicked, then we (I use “we” because it seems like the most appropriate pronoun to refer to the Church. I can only hope that includes me.) that make it to heaven will not delight in their imprisonment in gehenna. But, as God does work all things for good, we will see that goodness and rejoice in that goodness perfectly.

  • Erick

    = My question: If I were to accept Jesus and ask for salvation, how could I ever find happiness in the afterlife knowing that most of my family was sent to hell for eternity? If they somehow have a chance to get into heaven despite their clear disbelief, why should I bother with Christianity, since I will have that same chance of redemption? =

    Speaking from a Catholic viewpoint, there seems to be some misconceptions abound with this question … as well as a few of the answers.

    1) We do not conclusively ever say that someone is in hell. So, to assume that one’s relatives are in hell regardless of their clear disbelief is inappropriate.

    2) Since Heaven/Hell are states of spiritual being, not places in the sense of physical location, it will not be as if those in Heaven/Hell are separated from each other in the manner that people in New York are separated from people in China.

    3) We are always free to hope and to pray for the salvation of our loved ones.

    4) Heaven/Hell is not about us as we relate to each other. As Jesus says, there aren’t husbands, wives, etc. in the afterlife. It is all about God! Literally.

    • Jubal DiGriz

      While no one person has been definitely said to be in hell, I was under the impression that Catholic DO think there is a Hell, and there are people who have been sentenced there. And if there is not a total separation between the damned and saved, then those in Heaven are aware of the people suffering in Hell. And since most of Bart’s family seems to have adamantly refused a relationship with God, it’s reasonable to conclude that they’re likely in Hell.

      So, by your four points, you’re actually confirming the validity of Bart’s original question. So how is Bart supposed to want to go to Heaven, if it can be safely assumed that he will be in spiritual separation of his family yet still aware of their suffering… for eternity? Is it like others above have suggested, that in Heaven the closeness to God blots out all awareness of the ongoing pain of loved ones?

      • Erick

        Jubal, your response still does not take into account my fourth point.

        That is, that heaven is not about how we relate to each other. It’s about how we relate to God. Hell is also about how we relate to God.

        Since we want to talk about our relationship to each other in the after life, then perhaps, I can enlighten you with questions from the POV of those in hell.

        Let me ask you and Bart, if your relatives were in Hell… how do you think they would feel about you being in Hell with them? Do you think it will make them feel happy to see you enslave yourself to suffering as they have enslaved themselves?

        Would a drug addict really want his daughter to be a drug addict? Does a woman with psychological issues about love want her son to grow up with the same issues? Does Sam in the movie “I am Sam” want his daughter to grow up dumb like him or to surpass him?

      • Erick

        Sorry for the double post.

        My point about talking about misconception 1) is that Bart should not aim to join Hell, because he cannot even be sure his relatives went there. It’s just an assumption based on incomplete knowledge

        and with misconception 3) is that Bart can still hope and pray as a Christian in this life for the redemption of his family, and through God’s grace his hope and prayer may be granted.

        • Jubal DiGriz

          “Jubal, your response still does not take into account my fourth point.”

          I intended to address that with my final line- “Is it like others above have suggested, that in Heaven the closeness to God blots out all awareness of the ongoing pain of loved ones?”

          It seems that Bart’s conclusion is not that he should actively try to enter Hell, but that a Heaven where one is aware of the eternal suffering of family would not be blissful… which you haven’t responded to. Your question about how our relatives would feel about be accompanied in hell is an issue, then. Besides, if closeness to God is so all-powerful that it breaks family bonds, I would assume that also applies to separation from God.

          I was not aware that Catholic theology allowed prayer as a way to influence the judgement of someone, even after they have been damned. Even if this is the case, it’s still implausible that none of Bart’s family as described would not go to hell. Which leads back again to his question: is it possible to “ever find happiness in the afterlife knowing that most of my family was sent to hell for eternity”?

          • Erick


            =“Is it like others above have suggested, that in Heaven the closeness to God blots out all awareness of the ongoing pain of loved ones?”=

            No, closeness to God does not blot out awareness of the ongoing pain of loved ones. If it did, then it would not be the truth of the situation… and God is also ultimate Truth.

            =It seems that Bart’s conclusion is not that he should actively try to enter Hell, but that a Heaven where one is aware of the eternal suffering of family would not be blissful…=

            Sorry if I was unclear. I guess my return question was… is that even possibly true? That it is impossible to find happiness with someone you love because someone else you love hates them?

            What I was getting at is that Bart Mitchell’s question/analysis of heaven/hell is predicated on an incorrect premise. The premise being to include other people in his relationship in question. With the afterlife, the relationship being his own with God. He should be concentrating on his own relationship with God, but his question insists upon his relationship with other people.

            Basically, his question is akin to asking, how can I be happy with my wife if my father hates her? Or how can I be happy with my wife if my grandmother hates her? Or how can I be happy with my wife if my friend hates her?

            It’s not necessarily the case that you should be unhappy with your wife, regardless of the feelings of your loved ones. And indeed, depending on the issues your father, grandmother or friend, etc. has, it is not a good idea at all to sunder your relationship with your wife. If your father is a nutcase, should you be surprised he hates your wife? Should you be unhappy with my wife?

            And just like life, sometimes you just have to live with the fact that a loved one hates your wife. If it comes to this point, just as you will find peace in this life that your loved ones hate your wife… where one has to live with the fact that a loved one is in hell, whatever peace or soothing required will also be ultimate peace or soothing.

            As to your side note, in Catholic theology, God is outside of time, so technically speaking there is no such as thing as “even after they have been damned” for us living still here on Earth.

        • Jubal DiGriz

          So what I’m hearing Erick is that in short to be in Heaven is to love God so much that all other relationships are made moot.

          So following your example, if I love God more than my wife but my wife loves me more than God, I go to heaven, she goes to hell, and even though I’m aware for eternity that she is suffering my relationship with God gives “ultimate peace or soothing” so that her suffering becomes irrelevant for me. And this does not make my Father a nutcase.

          And there is no hope of trying to change the eternal destiny of those who have been sent to hell through prayer because God is outside time.

          • Erick

            Jubal, why do I feel like we’re not speaking the same language?

            = in short to be in Heaven is to love God so much that all other relationships are made moot. =

            You keep trying to describe heaven/hell to include other people. How many different ways can I say that heaven/hell is only a description of your relationship with God?

            Heaven is/equals “your relationship with God”. Just as marriage is “your relationship with wife”. Just as friendship is “your relationship with friend”. And just like those real life relationships, there is no one else in the equation. The same is true for Hell. Hell also is/equals “your relationship with God”.

            = following your example, if I love God more than my wife but my wife loves me more than God, I go to heaven, she goes to hell =

            I don’t understand how this follows my example. I don’t even understand how you make the leap that your wife would go to hell from these premises.

            = even though I’m aware for eternity that she is suffering my relationship with God gives “ultimate peace or soothing” so that her suffering becomes irrelevant for me. =

            No, not irrelevant. The state of her relationship with God will not detract from your relationship with God. Just as my friend hating my wife would not detract from my relationship with her.

            = And there is no hope of trying to change the eternal destiny of those who have been sent to hell through prayer because God is outside time. =

            Again, not sure how you reached this conclusion.

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    The gift of eternal life as described in the Bible is completely about spending an eternity with Jesus Christ. That is why Paul says in Philippians 3:8 “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”. The disciples were not eager to go to heaven, they were eager to be resurrected in glorified bodies when Christ returns. That’s why Paul continues in Philippians 3:10-11 and says his motivation in life is “that I may know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

    Paul said everything is loss compared to knowing Christ and when we leave the perishable and put on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:54) we will be able to know Christ fully and everything you have lost in this life along with every worry, tear, concern, stress, disability, injury, fear, and pain you have felt will not be remembered for the joy you will be enveloped in. As Isaiah 65:17 says, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

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