Why asking “Is hell real?” is like asking, “Do unicorns speak Leprechaun?”

Why asking “Is hell real?” is like asking, “Do unicorns speak Leprechaun?” May 24, 2011


Lots of Christians today are asking the question, “Is hell real?” But that’s like a football coach asking his players if they can dunk the next ball.

Wrong question.

Wrong game.

Missing the point.

Here’s something I find acutely unpleasant: conversations that ostensibly are about answering a question to which, in fact, there is no knowable answer. Getting stuck in a conversation like that transmogrifies my medulla oblongata into a crack-snorting hamster on a wheel.

So, to state something so obvious I should be embarrassed to type it: No one has any idea—none, zero, zilch, nada, void, total blank—what happens to anyone after they die.

It could be that heaven is awaiting some of us. Or all of us. It could be that hell is waiting for some of us, or all of us. Could be a Dairy Queen awaitin’ us all. Could be a dentist’s office. Could be a six-room igloo. Could be an interplanetary pinochle tournament.

No. One. Knows. It’s. Not. Knowable.

It’s like wondering if unicorns speak Leprechaun. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But one thing’s for sure: every moment you spend wondering about it is a sad waste of time.

And if, at this moment, you’re inclined to grab your Bible, just stop. It’s not in there. You can pretend the Bible tells you what happens to people after they die, but you wouldn’t be fooling even yourself. Paul enjoins us to give up childish things, and you can’t get more childish than pretending the Bible is a magical window that lets you see beyond life.

Trying to use the Bible as proof of what happens after we die is like trying to use a telescope to row a canoe. Wrong instrument. Wrong purpose. Only results in your haplessly floating about.

The only thing we know for sure about what happens to us after we die—the only empirically provable, objectively verifiable fact about it—is that we do not know what happens after we die. We can hope that we know. We can have faith that we know. We can believe that we know. But we cannot know that we know.

For anyone who believes in an all-powerful, all-knowing sort of God, this naturally raises the question of why exactly it is that nobody is allowed to know anything about what happens in the afterlife.

Why did God set up this system, in this way?

Why that colossal and inviolate mystery?

What is God trying to tell us by so resolutely not telling us what happens to us after we die?

My answer to that is this: If, while wandering around the inside of an art museum, I come across a door that’s solidly locked shut, what do I do? Well, if I’m emotionally immature, I might wrestle with the door’s handle, or maybe fall to the floor and try to peer beneath the door. I might throw a tantrum because I can’t get into that locked room. I might squat beside the door, fold my arms, and determinedly try to imagine everything inside the room. There are all kinds of ways I might waste my time outside that door.

But if I’m emotionally mature, I will simply assume that those in charge of the museum know what they’re doing, and for whatever reason don’t want people going in that room. And that would be good enough for me. So I would turn away from the door, forget about the room, and go back out into the museum, where wonderful works of art are waiting to enlighten and inspire me.

I think that locking the door between this life and whatever is on the other side of this life is God’s way of telling us to get our butts back in the museum.

I think that keeping the afterlife a complete mystery to us is God’s way of telling us to pay maximum attention to the life we have on this side of the door, that the ever-fluid now of our lives is where the action is. As clearly as s/he possibly can, I think God is telling us to with full and focused consciousness be in our lives. To love our lives. To embrace our lives. To believe in our lives. To trust that within every single moment of our lives is virtually everything that we could ever want to know.

I refuse to pretend to take seriously the question of whether or not hell is real. I think entertaining the question of what happens in the afterlife is an insult to everything we’ve been given in this life.

When we need to know, we’ll know. Until then, let’s just enjoy what we have.

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  • Kara

    I like this post a lot. I do think, though, there’s a valid theological question to be found in the discussion. The reason I care about this is not because I think I can empirically prove something about the afterlife, which as you’ve said, is utterly impossible. But I do think hell is an extreme enough concept that it has deep significance for the very nature of God.

    Excruciating and infinite torture for finite transgression on earth is incompatible with the idea of mercy. I mean, it’s incompatible with the idea of justice, for God’s sake. So for me, my rejection of hell is not based on an ability to proof-text or ridiculous claims that I somehow have “proof,” but on my theological belief that in order for God to be internally consistent, God cannot be involved with a system that hinges on such a drastic perversion of justice and rejection of love.

  • Tim

    Hell Yes! Hell No?

  • Mary G

    I’ve always loved the Baha’i perspective on things. I’ll save you the (very) long quote and say that an individual’s spiritual development reflects that of an embryo in the womb. Just as the embryo develops eyes, lungs, hands and teeth for which is has little or no use in the womb, but that will be vitally necessary in the physical world into which it will be born, so too will people develop their spiritual virtues of Love, kindness, patience, perseverance, justice, generosity, honesty, assertiveness, gratitude (and many, many others) which will be used in the NEXT realm of existence.

    While the child in the womb CAN hear its mother’s heartbeat and voice, it really isn’t capable of using that facility to its fullest extent. The same with vision: Yes, it is believed that a fetus can see light that shines through the mother’s abdomen, but it can’t see fully or well. Once born, that ability will grow and develop into full vision; the senses of smell, taste, hearing and touch, all fully formed in the womb will become vital tools for the child to learn in the world.

    A child born blind or deaf can learn other skills to compensate for that lack. But a child born with no senses at all (it does happen!) is severely restricted in its ability to learn and experience the physical world. It is, in a sense, a “hellish” existence. In some cases, an embryo has so many undeveloped parts that it simply cannot exist in the physical world, and it dies.

    So the human being who has not developed his/her spiritual virtues in THIS world will be stunted in the next world. A human being who has developed NO virtues in this world will possibly experience a “hellish” existence on unawareness. Will be unable to experience being with God, will be unable to Know His Love. A human being with no virtues at all will be dead to the next world. Knowing that s/he had the chance to become fully HUMAN, and chose instead to turn his back on God. That soul may well exist enough to understand the loss, and I can’t think of any truer HELL than that.

  • Michael

    John is right, we can’t prove anything logically beyond our own existence, so arguing one way, or the other is an exercise in futility. We can’t prove much of anything that can’t be refuted to a greater, or lesser degree. Look at Congress, look at the radical thoughts being espoused around the world right now without any concrete, you can’t talk your way around this type of proof being given by anyone of sane thought. No, if someone wishes to doubt for whatever reason you cannot prove your point to them.

    I do believe we don’t know, so that we will immerse ourselves in this life, this second. I believe when we are we give our greatest gifts to God, and the rest of Humanity, and the whole blessed universe.

    But that is because I have faith.

  • Diana A.

    I agree with you, Kara. The notion of punishment that lasts forever has always bothered me precisely because it seems incompatible with God being love.

  • charles

    very nicely done John…. very nicely done.

  • Suz

    The museum analogy is perfect.

  • This may be one of your best posts EVER.

  • kate

    Solomon says in Ecclesiastes that the dead know nothing of what is happening on Earth, in fact they “know not anything,” period. that’s the first death. The second death is exampled by Sodom and Gomorrah, they cease to exist. heaven is expressed in the last chapter of Revelation. Simple, our free will let’s us choose to love God and follow His Commandments, or, have the riches of this world in our own way and forfeit being with God forever. The cleansing by fire on this planet must take place to rid the universe of sin. If you don’t give up your sin to follow Jesus then you choose to die the second death and be no more. Poof you’re gone. Justice, you choose.

  • Great post. And I will remember to keep an eye on my onion rings should we ever have a chance to talk over dinner.

  • PS: Maybe the delay over Francis Chan’s book is because he’s retitling it “Now We Are Six”?

  • Barbara

    I’ve always liked Nabokov’s description of his mother’s attitude toward the afterlife:

    “Her intense and pure religiousness took the form of her having equal faith in the existence of another world and in the impossibility of comprehending it in terms of earthly life. All one could do was glimpse, amid the haze and the chimeras, something real ahead, just as persons endowed with an unusual persistence of diurnal cerebration are able to perceive in their deepest sleep, somewhere beyond the throes of an entangled and inept nightmare, the ordered reality of the waking hour.”

  • Barbara

    . Her intense and pure religiousness took the form of her having equal faith in the existence of another world and in the impossibility of comprehending it in terms of earthly life.All one could do was glimpse, amid the haze and the chimeras, something real ahead, just as persons endowed with an unusual persistence of diurnal cerebration are able to perceive in their deepest sleep, somewhere beyond the throes of an entangled and inept nightmare, the ordered reality of the waking hour.

  • “I think locking the door between this life and whatever is on its other side is God’s way of telling us to get our butts back in the museum.”

    Love it.

  • Mindy

    Oh, John. This simply took my breath away. You nailed it. NAILED it.

    Keep reminding us to get our butts back into the museum. Because that may be the best metaphor I’ve read in just about ever.

  • Matt

    So you don’t think the Bible says anything about what happens after we die…or you don’t think we can take what it says seriously? The New Testament certainly is not silent on the afterlife. If you don’t think it’s revelation, fine, but it’s there.

  • Jeff E.

    Everything we know about God our Faith and our Doctrines, is because we have the Bible. Remove the Bible from the equation and you have nothing at all. In my estimate that is surly putting a lot of faith in a book that we really aren’t sure to what extent it is accurate. So when you begin as a Christian to say that we are not sure what happens after death or wither their is a Hell, please don’t stop there. We also really do not know if there is a God, or wither Jesus said the things they claim he said. It’s all based on one book, accurate or not.

  • mark haslett

    There’s no punishment, only choice. We can choose to be with God or choose to be alone.

  • Katie D.

    I LOVE this. Stealing it.

  • Don Rappe

    Father Abraham had no Bible, yet he seems to have known something about faith.

  • Don Rappe

    One thing the NT seldom says about eternal life is that it’s “after” anything.

  • JOhnB

    Personally, I don’t think the concept of eternal damnation is biblically supported. Four root references to Gehena across a three year ministry just isn’t enough. Expecially when Gehenna is slang for the name of a physical place that was within walking distance from where he gave the sermon, the idea of eternal punishment was never part of the HEbrew tradition, and no direct followers of Christ ever mentioned it. Just seems like a stretch… A much better write up can be found in teh works of Thomas B. Thayer on teh doctrine of eternal punishment from some 150 years ago…

    Scare tactics introduced by the early church. That’s the most logical explanation.

  • vj

    Wow – beautiful, wonderful, thank-you, zippee-dee-doo-dah! I am so utterly amazed by this post, John. I didn’t know what to expect when you mentioned you were going to write about this. Reading it this morning, I got about half-way and realized ‘hey, this is exactly what I think about this stuff’ – have you been reading my mind?! And then I felt like I was about to cry – not even sure why, maybe partly knowing that I am not alone on this, but maybe also just resonating with the truth of it. Deep calling out to deep, and all that….

  • vj

    TOTALLY agree 🙂

  • “People are always coming up to me on the street or in a restaurant, and asking, “John, you have more theological knowledge in your little finger than Augustine Aquinas could fit under that whole weird hat he wore.”

    John, just how big IS your little finger?

  • Great, great post John. Thank you for your candour and insight.

  • First of all I love this post John. Yet again you’ve given us something to ponder over. I am of the mind that the ability to ponder is a beautiful thing.

    Kara, I agree with you as well. There is a statement in the bible that a gift of salvation is eternal life. With that, I assume that those outside don’t get eternal life, meanings that they cease to exist. If eternal life is a gift, then why are the wicked supposed to get it too? Of course that is pure unadulterated speculation on my part, and I am probably completely off the mark on what may happen, so I prefer not to dwell on the question.

    What else bothers me is the whole other realm of speculation…of people guessing who goes where. Even Jesus’s parable of Lazurus and the rich man tells us nothing about the reality of the afterlife, as it is not the point of the story.

    One of my favorite verses states “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice in it.” Today is a gift, a place where we can celebrate our life, what opportunities may come today, what people we get to interact with, what we will see or hear, taste or touch. Let us be thankful.

  • Suz

    The Bible is one of many expressions of faith. Don’t suggest that anyone is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Suz

    …and isn’t that the whole point?

  • Tammy Lubbers

    And I think I’ll stay six now forever and ever!

  • Agreed. The locked museum door is a great picture. And I am thankful to Him for locking it.

  • beidir

    Great post. Looking forward to following the series. Nice to see you, continually, touching on important subjects, without sugar coating.

  • Fantastic insights! It’s a burden upon Christianity when we get caught up on the wrong conversations. Any conversation about Jesus that doesn’t lend to questions and answers about humility, justice or love are probably not spiritually wise conversations. On the flip side, any conversation that leads to being thankful and fully present in the moment is exactly what I believe to be a spiritual practice of Jesus and therefore, something anyone associated with him will benefit from engaging in regularly! Thanks for this post. It shows me Christians are looking ahead and inspires me to stay involved.

    ~ gail dickert


  • Anita

    Less than a month ago my brother died from ALS. My brother and I were raised with the traditional view of heaven/hell, a stance that all our family continues to profess. I came to believe different as I came to view God different. I also came to be less absolute with what ultimately is unprovable as is the case with all things based in faith and hope. Over these past months my beautiful brother and I would talk on occasion about “what comes after.” I told him I didn’t know what was there but only that God was there and that we, all of us, would return to the One from which we were born. He would listen and say, “But Sis, we don’t know. Maybe there is nothing. Maybe one minute you’re here and then you’re gone. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that.” and all I could answer was “You’re right. No one knows for sure. All we have is our hope for what it will be and whatever it is that our faith and desire leads us to believe. Hope for what you want it to be brother and then my best guess is that what it ends up being will be even greater.” And then people would come through the house and talk on about the certainty of heaven and the absoluteness of the next life (sprinkled with Nuggets of Scripture) and honestly, it rang as hollow as a tin can because when death is as imminent as tomorrow or the day after, you realize how little you know for sure and how much time is wasted on trying to figure it out and forming it into a defendable argument. My brother died with faith greater than most I’ve seen because even though he had no absolute assurance of what was ahead, he died believing and trusting. He was surrounded by the grace and love of God even though his pockets were empty of answers.

    I am so sick of faith and hope that’s cheapened by absolutism. The older I get in my Christian faith and in my life the less I know for sure and yet the more I rely on, trust in, and love God…and the more I know that whatever waits after this will be good…for me and for everyone.

  • Thad C

    Great Post! It is good to be reminded of our need to be humble when it comes to God, as He far exceeds even our best philosophy or theology. Consider the experience of putting an empty bucket into the ocean. Even though the bucket becomes 100% full, and the bucket contains 100% ocean, it would be foolish to imagine that all the wonder and mystery of the ocean is limited to just what is inside YOUR bucket. The obvious parallel is that even as we are IN Christ and Christ IN us (John 15:4, Rom 8:1, Col. 1:27), our understanding of His wonder and mystery remains limited (because we are limited). Rather than being satisfied with on our incomplete understanding, doesn’t it make more sense to share our experiences with each other so that our understanding of Him can grow?

  • Remember though, time is a “law” of our physical universe, in the spiritual realm, there is no time in the way we percieve of it.

  • John,

    You do have a talent for writing. You’re right too. We can’t know with certainty what occurs after our physical body ceases to function. What we believe about the afterlife is one of faith. Without faith it is impossible to come to God and believe He is a rewarder of him that diligently seek Him. But everyone will know with certainty when they die…….

  • Scott

    Thanks for articulating a very important point. We don’t need to dwell on things “beyond our pay grade.”

    However, the idea of being with the Lord after we leave “this earthly dwelling” has encouraged true believers to live more fully for God throughout the ages. Paul even goes so far as to say that if the dead are not raised, if we have believed in God in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

    I believe that, throughout the ages, the existence of an afterlife has encouraged faithful followers of Jesus to live with abandon His teachings. Of course, that has always been tempered by pride, greed, lust, and all the rest.

    In First John, we read that that we don’t quite know what will be revealed to us in glory, but we know that we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. Further, whoever has this hope fixed on Jesus purifies himself, even as He is pure. So the hope of the unknown glorious future should inspire us to live for the Lord.

    So, by all means, live in the now! Live fully for Jesus!

  • Thad C

    Thanks for sharing, Anita. I am also becoming less dogmatic as my walk with the Lord deepens. Amazingly, God is becoming so much bigger and more real to me as a result. It is a weird paradox!

  • I was thinking yesterday “Heaven for me might be going back to being five years old and staying that way forever.” – I mean, I had Mom and Dad and my big sister taking care of everything… sessions of learning to read on Mom’s lap, my favorite cartoons on tv every afternoon, making mudpies in the backyard… my best little neighbor friend to play with…. ah, yes, life was awesome when I was five.

  • No, no, no. When you die, your passage to the land of the dead is supervised by a mysterious shadow-being. If you want to be resurrected, you’d better have a dedicated lover who will be wililng to break the seal on this shadow-being by killing sixteen giant creatures with a magic sword. _ No, wait, that’s the plot of one of my favorite video games, “Shadow of the Colouss.”

    I got it. When you die, you go to some portion of a mysterious country. On one end is a beautiful place called the Celestial Forest and on the other end is the Barrens. The Barrens are not torturous, but they are lonely and unpleasant. You’re confronted by your past here. The Celestial Forest rests at the top of a great cliff and you cannot get there on your own. You can be carried to the edge of the cliff by a beautiful golden stag and wait to be lifted up into it, if that is where you are ready to go. There’s a scary lady on a skeleton-horse who takes people to the Barrens. In between is the land of ghosts and shade, and you’re guided there by a small, snarky black and white cat that looks remarkably like the little fuzzball in my apartment. You may be informed that this is all merely a dying dream, however. __ Wait, that’s my own stupid fantasy fiction. http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/04/last-dream.html

    Yeah, death is one of those unknowables. We can say we know stuff from the Bible, but for those that do not respect the Bible, they are no answers. Even people who’ve “been there and back?” Well, some people think NDEs are merely the brain glitching out. I think they might be genuine spiritual experiences, but that, if so, they’re still filtered through soft, human brains with a person’s own mental paradigms when they “return.”

    An idea that I’ve come up with recently: There is no such thing as “nothing.” I mean, whether the afterlife is a real objective thing or not, there is no “nothing” for a person. Here is why I think this: Beings that exist cannot process non-existance. Some may say that dying or something else is a “cessation of existance” but even if it is in objective terms, the “non-existant” person will not process it. To them, perhaps the last thing they experience or dream, or have weird funky brain visions becomes their “eternity” just becuase it’s the last thing they’ll know. Even if one sees “darknesss” – it’s a something!

    I was put under for surgery once, dental surgery. The last I remember before waking up was closing my eyes, feeling mellow, and having scented gas on my face as an IV was run in me. There are hours that simply did not exist for me, but you know what? It wasn’t hours of “darkness” for me – they were simply hours that “were not” for me. I suppose if I’d died and was no heaven, hell, ghost world, reincarnation or anything, having that mask over my face and feeling mellow would have just “been” – my last, my “eternity.”

  • 1) Do we believe the person known in the English speaking world today as Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Divine & only begotten Son of the Father Creator God? If so:

    2) Do we believe the 4 Gospels in their entirety are an accurate representation of His teachings & ministry on Earth? If so:

    3) Do we believe if He mentioned something several times using the same terminology/imagery that He considered it to be an important teaching? If so:

    4) Who are we to deny that teaching simply because it ruffles our feathers? (Note: This is not the same question as “What is the most effective way to convey this teaching to the world today?”)

  • EEM

    John Shore quotes the Bible (“putting away childish things” comes from 1 Corinthians 13:11) to tell his readers not to refer to the Bible for answers about the existence (or not) of hell. So we can quote the Bible when it suits our thesis but must disregard it when it doesn’t…

  • Not only do I enjoy your insight, your writing is super. I admire someone who can put together a great sentence. Not everyone can.

  • Suz

    I don’t think it’s weird at all. I think it’s maturity and humility – you are acknowledging the (absolute) fact that you don’t know everything. To believe that you have all the answers its to try to claim God’s place.

  • Jonathon Edwards

    Actually, Christian doctrine and “faith” was developed without the benefit of scripture. The “church” existed – and Christian theological propositions as well – long before there was such a thing as “the bible”. And centuries before it existed in its present form. Actually – you have it backwards. Everything we know and believe about the bible are the result of the teachings of the church. The church wrote the bible, it didn’t create the church.

  • Alta

    Yes, John, correct, we need to pay a lot more attention to “living in the now” than worrying about the hereafter. On another note, I like to think that since I have something to say about whether or not I have an eternal afterlife in “Heaven” (yet another illusive “place” to ponder over), that I would also have something to say about my “Hellish” afterlife, and not in an arrogant way, but in a way that I am in partnership with God as a co-creator. You know, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….kinda thing. I just think it might be a good idea to have a start-to-finish kind of plan, like God does.

    If we truly are the creator of our destiny in life, where does that “creation of destiny” stop? Does it stop at the point of physical death, or do we get to continue creating it even after physical expiration?

    Now I know this may sound like a crazy person talking, but maybe not so. As many of your readers came to the conclusion in your first post about “Hell”, some Truth exists outside of the Bible. Well then, what IF we are the creators, along with God, of all of our destiny? What if Hell, or Heaven for that matter, is exactly what we imagine it to be? What if it is our worst fear? If what we fear the most comes upon us, then wouldn’t that be Hell? And if we could have our most wonderful dream come true, wouldn’t that be Heaven? –Again, I labor, if not all Truth exists in the Bible, these are thoughts to ponder.

    But as for this life, the Now, I’m glad God has this clear and present door open. I’m also glad as part of that door being open He allows me to use my imagination and create, after all, He tells us we are created in His own image. I would imagine He uses His imagination and creates on a daily basis too.

  • Liza

    Not sure it applies but for some reason this verse comes to mind, particularly the last part about knowing the future. I think trying to figure out what hell is or if it exist is like trying to divine the future. We weren’t supposed to worry about it.

    Consider what God has done:

    Who can straighten

    what he has made crooked?

    When times are good, be happy;

    but when times are bad, consider this:

    God has made the one

    as well as the other.

    Therefore, no one can discover

    anything about their future.

    Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

  • Mindy

    Yes, Don. Thank you for that reminder.

  • Siri Erickson

    This is both wonderfully hilarious and absolutely serious. Well-thought. Well-written. Thanks!

    Does anyone know why the same company that produced the NOOMA series is producing Francis Chan’s BASIC series? They seem like opposites. When I saw the Facebook post from the NOOMA fan page obout BASIC, I clicked on the link to preview the Jesus film and was really NOT expecting Francis Chan and his message. Yikes!

  • Zachary Danger Stewart

    What did you mean by Medulla Oblongata, John?

  • I shouldn’t Google this for you, young man. But this once.


    Tell your mom I said hi.

  • Zachary Danger Stewart

    I meant in what context. Such examples being the lead in to your furious fury, or the autonomic centers for cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive system visceral functions.

  • DR

    That is perhaps, the craziest summary of what I’ve ever read here in my tenure on this blog. And there have been some doozies.

  • DR

    Who supporting this blog post is denying a teaching because “it ruffles our feathers”?

  • Don Rappe

    I think not.

  • Don Rappe

    Some think that the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ its Lord.

  • Don Rappe

    Faith and hope that’s cheapened by absolutism. What an excellent insight.

  • So I get what you are saying. I think there is so much of a focus on the “afterlife” that people miss being with God in the here and now. I also agree that the Bible isn’t very clear on the afterlife–talk of eternal destinies is full of metaphors and figurative language. But how can you say that the Bible leaves it an “absolute mystery” when, if nothing else, there is a clear message that the righteous will receive something good while the wicked will receive something bad (sheep and goats, eternal life and eternal punishment). I agree that this is more about how we are living our lives today than about what we will actually receive in the afterlife, but still, there is at least a hint that there will be an afterlife and that it will be good for some bad for others.

    If you think it is left an absolute mystery and that someone is mistaken to attempt to find answers in Scripture, simply calling people childish will not suffice. Explain how some of the passages that seem to be giving information about the afterlife do not actually give any information.

  • EEM,

    We should all (Christians and non-Christians alike) be very thankful that there is uncertainty in this area. We don’t even have to IMAGINE where certainty would take our crazy race. Whether you google Jim Jones (aka, Jonestown) or the latest rapturous fiasco, absolute certainty has led to, well, nothing good.

    Rather than claiming certainty, we should thank God for being vague and metaphorical. I, for one, believe this lack of clarity by God is for very good reason: He knows us better than we know ourselves.

  • So you’re saying you agree with John’s post?

  • There is aHeaven,and there is a hell.The way you get to Heaven is to ask God’s Son, Jesus, to forgive your sins accept him as Lord and Savior and commit your life to him.Its that simple.

  • Skip Johnston

    It’s my understanding that Gehenna was Jerusalem’s city dump. Things were always burning there, hence the image of “eternal fire”. In a materially impoverished culture such as that, only things that were utterly, irredeemably of no possible use were tossed out. Jesus was using typical Middle Eastern hyperbole, bringing up an image his audience knew well. My take on Jesus’ reference to Gehenna was not the threat of punishment in eternal fire after death. He was, at least for me, addressing the tragic feeling of uselessness in the here and now. God loves you, he was/is saying. You’re not useless.

  • DR.

    Based on buzz’s point #3 above, I understand that buzz believes that the terminolgy/ imagery of hell as taught by Jesus in the Gospels is to be taken as said (literally) and its that literal interpreation that seems to “ruffle some peoples feathers” on this blog, based on the reply’s that seem to indicate that.

  • John

    I think we Christians waste a lot of time on stuff we don’t really know about, and can’t control anyways. It’s seemingly more fun to tilt with wind mills then take care of the simple stuff. Great article as always John. Blessings!

  • You’re contradicting what John said, but you haven’t given any evidence to support your assertions.

  • DR

    I’d prefer if Buzz spoke for himself. Thanks.

  • marymary

    I’m not sure about hell but I do believe promises in scripture such as “though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God” . Jesus raised people from the dead which I see as a foreshadowing of our own resurrection to eternal life. His own resurrection was the “first from amongst those that sleep”. Otherwise he’s just doing it for the hell (ha ha) of it. I think it’s nice to know that it’s not just 70 years and then kaput.

  • Don Rappe

    Oh! I thought it was the fish brain.

  • Larry Wright

    I’ll take the metaphor further and ask “Is there any reason to believe that behind that locked door is a room where the natural laws of the universe don’t apply?”. The answer, of course, is “No”. It’s just full of nothing.

  • Well, I don’t know about the “natural laws of the universe” applying or not, but there’s no more reason to think our consciousness does not exist after we die than there is to think that it does. My vote is that we all continue on.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Sure there is. What is our consciousness? What causes one to lose and regain consciousness? Physiological processes resulting in the emergent phenomenon of the living sentient being. And just as what goes up must come down, such a being surely dies. Now, when one “loses” consciousness, where does it go? Don’t bother looking for it: that’s simply an idiom meaning that, for the given moment, consciousness has simply ceased to be. And that which is not does not exist. This is not to say we might not again be conscious, in the new life given in the resurrection of the body, but rather to say that such superstitions as man’s disembodied consciousness lie at the heart of everything that is wrong with the religion as it exists today. Consciousness is a state of mind. So while some body might exist out of his/her mind, the mind doesn’t have being outside of a body; the mind is simply the locus of certain properties of the animate body that, physiologically, correspond to his/her nervous system. If the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable, so too are the body of one who is truly man and that which gives him truly human life. And the life of man is mortal. So what then is death to you that there’s some sort of “after” (temporal or otherwise) for that which is a characteristic of the life whose end death is understood to be?

  • Chewa11

    Right on. I’m not learned enough to know exactly what heaven and hell are like, but I know 2 things:

    1) There will be a place where people will be in intimate communion with God for ever. Having a relationship with God now is great, but it will be NOTHING compared to how great being in God’s presence will be when He can speak to us face to face. I believe this is heaven.

    2) There will also be a place where God will be absent. I believe this will be hell.

    And if God is Love, and the embodiment of all goodness, then I want to be with Him, not in a place that’s totally devoid of all that is good. I think that is a more compelling reason to know God. As opposed to treating a relationship with God as “fire insurance.”

  • NewarkGuy

    “we need to pay a lot more attention to “living in the now” than worrying about the hereafter.”

    Not for nothing, but isnt this the exact opposite of what Jesus is supposed to have been saying? I mean, all the guy ever talked about was Judgement day and afterlife and stuff like that.

    It just seems you guys are trying to hard to be Christians. I mean, I dont believe in the stuff either, but I’m not a christian.

  • MindWarp

    How can I function at all if I am worrying about so-and-so, who may be burning in the Lake of Fire for eternity? How can I just be calm and relaxed when my whole family(or myself) could possibly be one heartbeat away from a never-ending torment in unquenchable fire? Didn’t Jesus speak quite a bit about Hell? So how can we just slough it off? What about the gnashing of teeth? Just laugh it off? I’m not so sure.

  • MindWarp

    Yeah, I sure recall reading quite a bit about hell, judgement, tribulation, suffering, being hated/rejected…then there’s the unquenchable fire thing, (and) the lake of fire, the book of life, the seperation of the goats and the sheep, the wheat and the tares, the white throne judgment, the gnashing of teeth, the place where the worm never dies, the outer darkness, the suffering (both here and after death), the demons, the devil…a lot of Bible stuff no one seems to believe any more. Of course, it is more comfy to dismiss it all and be hip and be popular, but, what if it’s true? AGAIN… WHAT IF IT IS REAL??

  • MindWarp

    I also cannot fathom how or why God would even invent hell to begin with. And it does not match His ideas of tender mercy. But, what if it is all true, despite what we think? Why would Jesus warn about it if it wasn’t real? Was the whole Bible made up by some mean person? So what do we believe? The cookie monster?

  • Arynne

    In my experience, whenever people say, “It’s just that simple”, it isn’t.

    Especially, when they act as though their saying it should be enough to end the discussion.

  • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    Thank, you Chewa11, I appreciate your comment. I agree. I have always conceived of Heaven and Hell as a state of being; a state of being with God or without Him. And if one is not certain bout Hell, then what is Jesus talking about when He gives His criteria in Matthew 25 for judgement?

  • Holly

    “I think keeping the afterlife a complete mystery is God’s way of telling us to pay maximum attention to the life we have on this side of the door. That the ever-fluid now of our life is where the action is. As clearly as he possibly can, I think he’s telling us to with full and focused consciousness be in our lives.”

    Yes. Exactly. Thank you for this.

  • Sarah

    Thank you, John for your contributions. I would love to be directed to a further discussion on what the Bible is and how it should or can be used (recalling your “football huddle” analogy from this piece). Thanks so much!

  • Lisa Shaffmaster

    In death we remain within that which we call God. The nature of our being changes, the nature of our relationship does not. Everything about us is of the body of God/Universe. We celebrate this with the sacrament of communion. Understanding the nature of that which we call God is where we are doomed to failure. We can no more comprehend the nature of God, than an atom within our bodies can comprehend the love we have for our children.

  • That Guy

    “such superstitions as man’s disembodied consciousness lie at the heart of everything that is wrong with the religion as it exists today.”

    I honestly have never seen a person use this belief for evil so I am not sure what you are getting at with that one.

    Also is it not a rather large assumption to be making when it comes to saying that they are not separable. Just because they seen interdependent in this life does that mean that they can’t survive separately.

    I also believe that when you state your analogy of the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit you are committing the false equivocation fallacy.

    Also does this mean that God would have to be a physical being? If God has thoughts wouldn’t he have to be something that is metaphysical (for lack of a better term) but if God were a physical being then how could God be God?

  • Jazz4111

    So what about all the Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. who far outnumber Christians? Were they just created as “background” (a movie-making term for extras)?

    I believe that at the heart of existence lies a great mystery. It involves our complete inability to comprehend eternity – time never ceasing, ever! Some call that God. Well and good, but if “God” needs me to be around with him/her/it forever, doesn’t need imply lack? Doesn’t lack imply absence of perfection? isn’t God, by definition perfect?

  • Linnea

    Good stuff, John. I agree that the argument over whether heaven and hell exist, and if they do, which are we bound for, distracts us from doing all the good we can (to quote John Wesley) in this world. I happen to think that heaven and hell are states of mind in this life, and when we die, we will rejoin God: our bodies will return to our Mother the Earth, and our spirits will dance forever in the embrace of the Father of Heaven.

  • Jonathan


    If God thought that any definition of heaven or hell would be detrimental to us in this life, then why mention it at all? You talk about coming across a locked door in a museum, but God is the tour guide that said, “Oh, and there’s a locked door over on the far wall.” There must be some purpose to that knowledge.

    If you’re taking a road trip, you want to make sure that the ride is the best one possible, but I think most of us want to know about the destination. The sheer fact that there is a “right” destination implies the existence of a wrong one, and if we have to take a road to get to those destinations, then there is a right road and a wrong road.

    Maybe heaven and hell are not so elaborately described because:

    1. Being supernatural, they don’t fit into our normal way of thinking (e.g. the rough equivalent of trying to perfectly understand and explain an M.C. Escher drawing).

    2. God only wanted us to know as much as was necessary to guide and clarify our intentions. He gave us only what we needed to be able to contrast good from evil. For example, knowing there are general, sinful attitudes that are hellbound, so to speak, leads us to a better understanding of what attitudes are good. It’s basically like looking further ahead down the road to see if you’re headed in the right or wrong direction.

    While it may be childish to pretend we can know all the details about the afterlife, we -are- given some details by God, and to discard those details as worthless or detrimental seems equally childish. Maybe a better question is to ask why we were given those details.

  • Gary

    John, You said…

    “And if at this moment you’re inclined to grab your Bible, stop yourself. It’s not in there. You can pretend the Bible tells you what happens to people after they die, but you wouldn’t be fooling even yourself.”

    I love your writing…though sometimes I admit you leave me scratching me head just a bit in wonder if you are reading a whole different bible. I agree we do not know the nature of heaven or hell…but to simply declare “it is not in there” as if we have not read Jesus words for ourselves seems really odd to me. Jesus may not have provided enough detail to know the mysteries of heaven or hell…but He certainly addresses them.

  • Gary: You’re right: you and me are reading different Bibles. Apparently yours has a lot more information in it than mine.

  • Gary

    I am pretty sure yours has the story Jesus told His disciples about the many rooms in His Father’s house and coming to get them and take them there. Yours probably also includes Jesus wonderful depiction of His judgment where He will separate the sheep from the goats according to their works…and each going to their reward. Of course the “Kingdom of Heaven” was a popular theme of Jesus all throughout the Gospels.

    Now of course I am not claiming to understand what Jesus meant by these things…and perhaps this is your point…that we cannot understand. Hell…many even accept the depictions of heaven in Revelation as the literal part of that book. But whether literal or only metaphorical…the statement that these passages are simply not in the bible seems a bit disingenuous.

  • Gary

    BTW – Because I despise “proof texting” I avoided running off a litany of bible verses dealing with the afterlife. To do so always seems like picking up a bible and hurling it at someone. But of course had I chosen to do so…there would literally be HUNDREDS to choose from.

  • DR

    Gary would you please requote where John said “the statement that these passages are simply “not in the bible”? This isn’t anything I’m reading – he seems to be saying that these passages may mean something differently than what we’ve historically believed them to mean, but he didn’t say they *weren’t there*. It’s really important to not insert meaning that we glean from someone’s writing into their actual writing when said writing is something with which we disagree.

  • Diana A.

    Hi Gary!

    This subject is one that bothered me for years before I finally got a hold of a book by Thomas Talbott called “The Inescapable Love of God.” Among other things, he actually addresses the verses that talk about/seem to talk about Hell.

    Also, I believe that Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” goes into how the majority of words that seem to be referencing Hell are actually talking about something completely different.

    I don’t know if either of these references will help you, but I thought I’d mention them.

  • Gary

    @DR – My quote was a direct copy and paste from John’s piece.

    Actually I largely agree with the point he was making here. But since you seem to be implying I am guilty of “insert”ing “meaning” into his piece I will quote him again in an even larger context.

    “So, to state something so obvious I should be embarrassed to type it: No one has any idea — none, zero, zilch, nada, void, total blank — what happens to anyone after they die.

    Could be heaven awaiting. Could be hell. Could be a Dairy Queen; could be a dentist’s waiting room; could be a six-room ranch-style igloo; could be interplanetary pinochle tournament.

    No. One. Knows. It’s. Not. Knowable.

    And if at this moment you’re inclined to grab your Bible, stop yourself. It’s not in there. You can pretend the Bible tells you what happens to people after they die, but you wouldn’t be fooling even yourself. ”

    Those are John’s words…not mine. As you can see he most definitely DID say they “it’s not in there”. In fact he was very dramatic in his language about the fact that we cannot know anything about what happens after we die. And so you do not think I am “inserting meaning” into what he said…I will re-quote him on that point.

    “So, to state something so obvious I should be embarrassed to type it: No one has any idea — none, zero, zilch, nada, void, total blank — what happens to anyone after they die.”

    DR, I am a big fan of John’s and have bought (and very much enjoyed) some of his books. But in this particular point I have to disagree with him.

    And you what? That is ok.

  • Gary

    Thanks Diana, though my point was not a defense of hell. Actually I am a Christian Universalist. My point was that to state that we don’t know anything and it’s not in the bible is not a correct statement. We have certainly been guilty of incorrectly interpreting what is in the bible, leading us to disastrous results IMO. But we do know a fair amount about what happens to a person after they die if the bible is to be trusted at all.

    Jesus was certainly NOT silent on the issue of the afterlife…so I have to believe there is value in studying what He had to say about it.

  • Jonathan


    I’ve read a fair amount of articles from different people on the meaning of hell. The most common idea behind “hell isn’t real” is that every reference to hell can be individually interpreted to either some state of mind or else some earthly meaning. I have no problem with the idea that some words may have been misinterpreted or incorrectly translated, but the end result should always agree with its context and the multiple other verses that talk about it.

    Imagine someone in the future studying our language and reading the sentence, “He was laid to rest.” That person could understand it as a roundabout way to describe a burial or death, but someone else could go digging and say, “Well, ‘laid’ also meant a sexual act back then, so the sentence could mean that this man had sex until he had to rest.”

    And maybe that could even be a valid meaning for that sentence, but if you look at the surrounding sentences that talk about the proceedings of a funeral, the meaning becomes a little clearer. When you also have other books that describe the same funeral (albeit in different words/phrases), it pretty much solidifies the idea.

    When talking about hell, there’s a myriad of verses that discuss both heaven and hell. You can translate each one away from the traditional meaning, but those new translations aren’t cohesive. They often don’t make sense with their surrounding verses, and they don’t agree with the other references in other books. That leads me to believe that the people who write articles on the “misinterpretation” of hell come up with an idea that they like and then they want to have the Scriptures support their idea.

    Typically it’s an “everybody gets a trophy” type of idea because THEY don’t like the idea that God could invent something like hell. They’re fitting God to their own ideas rather than realizing that maybe we just don’t have all the facts to be able to judge God’s decisions.

    It’s like a child who judges his parent for moving them to another state, away from his school and friends. The child never considers the reasons behind the move; only that it affects his own little world. The child is probably sheltered from the some harsh reality of why they’re moving, but that’s not the child’s responsibility. The parent simply tells the child about the move so the child is prepared, regardless if the child likes it or not.

  • Gary

    Jonathan, Your criticism of those who dispute an eternal hell is humorous to say the least. Though it may in fact represent the thought process of some who reject hell…I can assure you it does not represent me. Each of the criticisms you make in your comment can be applied to both sides of the debate.

    Your perspective guarantees that you will not be able to properly study the issue since you believe those who disagree with you are incapable of proper biblical exegesis and are motivated by childish fears and selfishness.

  • Diana A.

    Nevertheless, I find Talbott’s book to be both scripturally and logically sound.

  • Dr

    What you said he said and about the verses and what you’ve quoted are two very different things. He said nothing abou the “verse not being there. You’ve subtly changed the meaning of his post.

  • Jonathan


    I don’t believe all that disagree with me are incapable of doing good proper research on these topics. That is why I used the phrase “the most common” and limited the scope of those to only articles that I’ve read. Don’t expand what I’ve said to mean something else and read what you’re criticizing.

    If you believe something else, that’s fine and I’d be glad to hear your perspective.

  • Gary


    I most certainly did not change the meaning of his post. He specifically said no one knows anything about what happens to someone after they die. According to scripture we do. I did not say we understand it all or that we know how it all plays out or even if there is indeed a hell. But to unequivocally declare that “No one has any idea — none, zero, zilch, nada, void, total blank — what happens to anyone after they die”, is simply a false statement according to scripture. In fact the bible has MUCH to say about “what happens” to people after they die. It is very much a part of the fabric of our Christian faith. It is part of the comfort we receive as we go through a very uncertain life…that eternity can be certain. To summarily dismiss all we DO know about what happens after we die, which has been told to us by Jesus, is to deny a very large part of His message.

    Look DR, I simply disagree with a part John’s post for the reasons I stated. In fact I love what he is doing here and have supported him both in the comments and in the bookstore, but he is just a man who can be and is wrong sometimes. Sheesh!!

    Healthy disagreement is a good thing not bad.

  • Gary

    @Jonathan…you said…

    “That leads me to believe that the people who write articles on the “misinterpretation” of hell come up with an idea that they like and then they want to have the Scriptures support their idea.”

    Enough said.

  • Jonathan

    @Gary – Yes, that’s a conclusion on the articles and authors I was specifically talking about, and I also stated it as a lead-up to a belief, not a concrete, immutable fact.

  • Cat

    Laying aside my own beliefs–which are complex and potentially offensive–if while wandering around an art museum you come across a door that’s solidly locked shut, wouldn’t it be fair to entertain the possibility that it’s one of the more whimsical exhibits?

  • Driftwood2K11

    Good point. “It’s just that simple” is a thoroughly inadequate way to explain most things in life, because life, by it’s very nature, is absurdly complex. I’m an atheist, and when discussing theological matters, I don’t suddenly blurt out “God isn’t real, you’re exercising in fantasy, it’s just that simple!”, because it’s NOT that simple. Undoubtedly, there are people who use religion as an escape, but I believe they are in the minority. Most religious people I know are devoutly sincere. When I was a Christian, I was very sincere in my faith. It wasn’t an attempt at denial, it was a real belief, a complex belief, in the supernatural.

    “It’s just that simple” is nothing more than an insult toward one’s intelligence, as if the recipient can’t grasp basic concepts. That’s a poor way to spread a message that is supposed to be about hope.

  • Aeecee

    As a Quaker I believe The Kingdom Of God is to be experienced right now in this lifetime but I still believe God has a plan for everyone after death. And I will tell you what I believe isnt part of his plan and that is Hell. I know Hell is a myth because a all knowing all powerful all locing God would never do that. I do believe in Universal Salvation and God planned to have all men be saved and restored back to him. And I know it is bibical thanks to Gary Amirault of Tentmaker Ministries he really opened my eyes.

  • Sonja

    I know this comment is pretty old, but I still wanted to say:

    If you read the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t actually talk constantly about the afterlife and Judgment day. He spends a lot more time talking about “loving your neighbor” and “praying for those who persecute you” and hanging out with prostitutes and telling everyone to take care of the poor.

  • Gordon

    Oh…let Heaven be a Dairy Queen! Please God, please? An eternity of Brazier Cheeseburgers and Dilly Bars! I’ll be good for eternity.

  • Hannah Grace

    This is a spectacular essay. Nothing to add, but that it’s perfect. Copy pasting it in email to my girlfriend.

  • Hannah Grace

    Hey. You know, some theologians think that there’s no hell, and that people who are ‘bad’ just die. And the Bible also says stuff like “one day every tongue shall confess I am God” etc that seems to imply that everyone will be saved, a view which dates back to the early Church Fathers (ex. Origen). Between Christian universalism, thinking there’s no hell for sinners, and then an interpretation of the sheep/goats which fits in with how we have been taught to view the Bible, I think there’s a lot of leeway. If you mix in the idea that the Bible was written by different people who all have a different idea of the afterlife, which was probably constructed by the religious traditions/understandings of their time, it gets even more murky. Add that to our knowledge now, where we maybe believe in God, but understand certain things about heaven- like, it’s not anywhere in the sky, so Jesus couldn’t ‘ascend to heaven’ by just floating upwards until he got there – and it’s just a massive can of worms. So I’d say John’s right in saying we just can’t know. Even though the Bible says some things.

    But I would agree that you’re right, the Bible does say a lot about heaven and hell. The issue is if we can draw absolute certainty about what the Bible says. I would say that we can’t. I think John was arguing that we can’t. I think that maybe John meant that the Bible was super complex and doesn’t have certain, perfect answers, not that it doesn’t talk about the issue at all. It seems like you guys were just talking past each other, both honestly, but using words to mean different things 🙂

  • Hannah Grace

    p.s. “Healthy disagreement is a good thing not bad.” I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s nice to see Christians questioning authority- something that always makes me feel more comfortable in a religious environment where being a “sheep” is seen as positive. It’s good to see people questioning not only the established church, in all its flawed glory, but people like John, who are good and wonderful, but still just people. With everyone thinking for themselves, and discussing things respectfully, I’m sure everyone will grow in wisdom as each adds their own insight.

  • Sean Patrick Brennan

    LOVE THIS! I often use the word “system” when I talk about this life and God’s “plan” or lack thereof, so it was cool to see you think about things the same way I do. There’s definitely a good reason why we don’t know what comes next, only hazy accounts of it from near-deathers. God hasn’t let us in on the 411 for the same reason Jesus never spoke out about homosexuals: He’s smarter than us.

  • Hannah Grace

    Ok that’s definitely been in my head way more than any of the peace John’s article helped give me. But there’s just no way to know, at least, that’s been my experience. Every single way of looking at the issue seems full of internal contradictions. All I can do is trust God, try and be a good person, and trust that a loving God who is willing to die for the loved one I’m worrying about has it under control. Jesus notoriously loves and is good to the sinful and unorthodox. It’s the oppressors and hypocrites he seems to most dislike. I’d say that those who don’t ‘believe properly’ etc are the ones we need to worry about the least. And if we want to save souls from hell, maybe we should start with televangelists.

  • Fabulous as always!

  • Wayne Johnson

    Hundreds? I’m not sure. We know that there is NOTHING definitive in the Old Testament indicating the existence of any afterlife. The Jews at the time of Jesus were debating the question; the Pharisees believed there was and the Saducees believed there was not. In terms of Old Testament scripture the Saducees were right: Ecclesiastes 9:5 says clearly there is NO afterlife, while no verse in the OT says clearly that there is. If there is an afterlife that Yahweh wanted people to know about, how on EARTH did He get through the entire Old Testament without mentioning it even once?

    The vast majority of New Testament verses that we commonly *assume* are referring to afterlife are not. When Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven, he usually is talking about establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. A very few sound plausibly a little more explicit to me, but honestly, to me it mostly looks like pagan concepts of afterlife – which were pervasive in the pagan cultures around the Mediterranean – seeping into the emerging Judaism / Christianity of the time.

  • following several of the comments on the blog, it’s obvious that it’s so easy for us ALL to miss a simple point. This life is important, why waste it worrying about what happens when we die? Kingdom is now. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  • Hannah Grace

    You quoted my favorite line from Job. I love Job. However, you’ll remember that some Jews during Jesus’ time believed in an afterlife, and others didn’t- Paul famously uses this argument between Pharisees and Sadducees to extricate himself from a difficult position in Acts. So using this scripture as inspired, or to transmit truth, is kind of a choice- many Jews must not have viewed it as conclusive evidence of the afterlife.

    I have a problem with many of the things Jesus said, since the gospels were written by different people who had enormously differing views of who Jesus was. Look at the massive difference in Jesus’ speech style in John vs. the other gospels, because of how this writer or that decides to write the dialogue, and which words each writer decides to place in Jesus’ mouth. I took some classes about how perhaps the things Jesus said to disciples/crowds were passed on in oral tradition, and thus retained with some degree of historical accuracy, but they would still be translations from Aramaic (Jesus’ language) to Greek (which the Bible was written in) and written decades after Jesus’ death, by people with this or that preconceived notion (for example, the racism Jesus seems to display in Matthew 15:26).

    I’m not sure I would base my entire worldview on this or that detail of what the Bible says. Especially since the Gospels contradict one another, and are so influenced by their culture/we’re so influenced by ours. I thought I’d help you out with why people might think there’s a problem with finding information in the Bible.

    That said, I do believe in heaven, but might perhaps be wrong. I just can’t imagine spending this life in a relationship with God, and then never really getting true communion in the afterlife. It’s hell I have doubts about. Punishment should be for rehabilitation, to teach a lesson, not just to torture someone forever….that’s so primitive, and such a waste, and so heartless. I just can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be the case that those whose eyes have been opened see their creator, and those whose eyes were closed have them opened….though I think in practice, everyone’s going to realize how blind they were, when perfect love is revealed.

  • Hell is a state of mind.

  • Christine McQueen

    Hi John.

    Have you ever seen the movie “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams? What I love about it is that it agrees with my belief that we all make our own heaven or hell, whether here in this life or afterward. Many of my friends and family tell me that I shouldn’t love the story so much because they see it as “anti-Christian” or at least diverging from what they think should be “true Christianity”. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as inclusive, as it includes beliefs from many beliefs.

  • Christine McQueen

    beliefs from many belief systems

  • Andie

    Alrighty, I agree with everything in this essay except that wondering about something that is a big freaking mystery is insulting to God. Yeah, of course it would be best to focus on following God’s instructions during this life, but I absolutely refuse to believe that God is so petty that God would actually be insulted that we wonder what’s next. That’s like if your third period teacher was offended that right as the end bell rings you start thinking about the test you have at the beginning of fourth period. Of course you’re going to think about the test that starts in six minutes. Of course we’re going to wonder about the afterlife. You shouldn’t be cramming for that test while the third period teacher is lecturing, but you might be nervously thinking about it just because that’s how people are. Don’t you think God understands that human minds wander and wonder? Thinking about Hell: misguided, sure. Unproductive, sure. But insulting? I don’t think God is petty like we are.

  • Christine McQueen via Facebook

    See my comment on the blog.

  • Sweet pic.

  • Ric: didn’t I have a link before on that post crediting you for that picture? I did, right? But now it’s not there. How lame is that. I totally apologize. Any place to which you’d like me to link?

  • Ric: I know why the link fell off. Anyway, I’ve credited you for the photo, and linked to your (great!) poetry page on your blog. Lemme know if there’s any other link you’d prefer. Good to hear from you, brother. Hope you’re well.

  • Thank you, John. That’s great (the poetry page link). And totally unexpected.

  • Dude! That’s your picture! (The credit fell out when I switched hosts.)

  • Naiomi


    But in all seriousness: truly enjoyed this post

  • Mariah

    I love the way you reason. I feel much more at peace now. Thank you.

  • Diana A.

    Hmm. What John said was that it was an insult to God. This is subtly different from saying that God feels insulted. I believe as you do that God understands our fears and concerns when it comes to this and all issues. At the same time, I can see John’s point that wondering about the afterlife is an insult to God and all he’s given us in this life, just like it would be an insult to one’s dinner host/ess to pressure him/her about dessert instead of enjoying the entree.

  • David

    It is quite impressive that you absolutely know that the rest of us cannot know whether there is a hell or not. Is it acceptable if I study my Bible on the subject, or is that something only six year old children do? I know its not cool to take the Bible’s words seriously, but if we do not do so, why bother with anything in the book? Why even use the letters J-E-S-U-S, if we get our understanding of what those letters mean from culture instead of the book he’s famous for being in? I guess I am still too stuck on the old-fashioned concept of the law of non-contradiction. Either the Bible is true or it is not. I think one should either believe the Bible or demonize it. I have little understanding of those, like you, who wish to “understand” a book however it suits you. If you look in the Bible some more, you’ll find a great many things that are troubling to culture. If the book doesn’t fit, either the book is wrong or culture is fallen like the book says. Just a thought.

  • Or maybe the book itself is just a tad more complex than you’re comfortable thinking it is. Maybe “believe the Bible” as an actual, practical concept–let alone a working reality–doesn’t even make sense.

  • That Guy

    “Either the Bible is true or it is not.”

    I think that that statement is a false dichotomy.

    Why would one portion of it, no matter how small, necessarily make the whole thing false?

  • What’d I just say yesterday? Man. You’re going to make me a Christian again one of these days, Arminius of Abelard.

  • Bart

    “No one has any idea — none, zero, zilch, nada, void, total blank — what happens to anyone after they die.”


    2 Timothy 4:1 says that when Jesus appears he will judge both the living and the dead. The fact that there is a judgment after death, and all that implies is a lot more than nada and total blank. There are plenty more scriptures dealing with what happens after death.

    I stumbled across this site in my lunch break today…. just now I was searching for the verse a few lines further on in Timothy about people with itchy ears and the kind of “teachers” they like to listen to, which sums up these articles and a lot of the comments well. Wake up people. If you spend half as much time really in the Word as you do on “Christian blogs” you’ll see from a mile away that articles like these have more holes than a swiss cheese.

    When someone posing as someone with knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1 springs to mind) makes foolish and unscriptural statements, then tells you not to reach for your Bible and check for yourself (“And if at this moment you’re inclined to grab your Bible, stop yourself. It’s not in there.”) ….. all I can say is- VERY VERY DODGY.

  • Jill

    I’ll be sure to abandon my own God-given ability to think and reason on this subject and instead chase after your absolute dogma, Bart.

    But I’m kinda booked until after lunch, so hang in there.

  • Bart

    ummmm…. absolute dogma? Where exactly would that be? The only authority I appeal to is Scripture. Yes, God gave you the ability to think and reason, but not in a vacuum. Is the Bible an authority for you, Jill?

  • Jill

    Well correct me Bart if I am reading you wrong—you are saying that scripture is your only authority, and you are not including in that a personal, living, breathing relationship with God, but I’m the one in the vacuum?

  • DR

    I love how someone comes onto a site like this one, has the arrogant audacity to imply there is false teaching occuring and then runs in 5 seconds when challenged and is more than likely claiming “I’m being victimized by people being mad over my ‘Christian’ beliefs!”. Which you will certainly do because I can predict the future with my evil false teacher powers.

  • Jill

    Ha! 🙂

    Yet I hope Bart decides to come back and engage a real, respectful dialog. Or maybe he’s been so busy ‘waking everybody up’ that he’s too tired now?

  • Bart

    Hi Jill

    Yes, you are reading me wrong. A personal relationship with God, made possible by the work of Jesus on the cross, is of first importance. God gave us his Word exactly to enable and deepen that relationship. Certainly God speaks to us in many ways besides, but that is personal and often subjective. His Word is the infallible witness he has left to all mankind and it IS the final authority which He will not contradict. Is John Shore, or your own reasoning, a better authority than the Bible? Did God let you (pl.) in on something that goes against his own word? When I call out the writer of this article as unscriptural, as he manifestly is, and appeal to Scripture as my proof and authority, does that make me “dogmatic”? Am I interpreting the Bible wrongly or just to suit myself when I say that it clearly does tell us a lot about what happens after death? The Bible is there to help us not to fall into error, Jill. We’re all fallible and our own reasoning without the Bible as our standard, or even worse when we pick’n’mix the bits that suit us and ignore the rest, WILL lead us into error.

    Before you reply, please take a look at 1 Corinthians 15. It’s all about the resurrection of the dead. Just read v. 51-54 if the whole chapter is too much. How does John Shore’s clear assertion that “we can have no idea what happens after we die” tally with this scripture? Am I reading something wrong? Can you direct me to any scripture that backs up John Shore’s thesis above?

  • Jill

    Thanks for coming back and clarifying your position. I appreciate that. Here’s the thing from my side: I don’t argue scriptural doctrine with anyone. Period. I believed some incorrect and inappropriate things in my youth through being ‘force-fed’ doctrine. So I won’t do that here.

    And you’re asking me to read about the resurrection and the victory over death? I take no issue with those verses, and see no contradiction between those passages and John’s assertion. It speaks about the dead being raised, but not the specific experience that happens upon death. Am I missing your point entirely, or do I read correctly that you are nit-picking semantics to prove something here?

    Personally though, I’m a bigger fan of 1 Cor 13: love, above all else.

    You had me thinking this could be a lively scriptural discussion Bart, until you made the erroneous assumption that people here are asleep at the wheel and then sanctimoniously told us what to do about it.

    Speaking of sleep, it’s way past my bedtime. Chat some more tmrw!

  • Bart

    Have a good one!

  • DR

    He’ll come back a few times under the guise of genuine curiosity but his mind is already made up about who the people are on this blog and that we embrace a false Christianity. He’ll engage in a “loving” tone for a while – a tone he did not deploy in his original comment that actually reflects the true state of his attitude and his beliefs toward the people here – and once he’s challenged by reasonable people who simply aren’t giving him the last word on who Jesus is anymore, he’ll get hostile again. Maybe it will be different! But who Bart is and his real heart toward those who are threatening his current Christian world was already communicated in his first comment. There’s no back-tracking. Now for Bart, there will just be manipulation to try to cover the hostility within that first few sentences he wrote or a brazen, unapologetic push forward on his original statements because he’s so unconscious and disassociated from the actual impact of his words. He doesn’t care about you, about John or anyone here. We’re the enemy to Bart. Know that going in to this dialogue, any “loving words” are anything but that.

  • Jill

    I’m with you. 🙂

  • Jill

    I’m feeling generous I guess… if he comes back to explain the un-Christ-like manner in which he started this dialog, I’ll listen. Frankly I’ve never seen/heard a patently arrogant individual actually own up and make amends. I’d love to see it just once before in my lifetime.

    IDK maybe he just had a bad burrito.

    If he can’t/won’t–his loss/our gain.

  • Bart


    I started this dialog by pointing out, with an example, that John Shore is unscriptural- I’ll stand by that, and I’m not sure how pointing it out is un-Christlike (Matthew 22:29; Matthew 15: 12-14). I haven’t had a clear response this point (meaning a clear defense of Shore’s basis in Scripture).

    I went on to say that this blog puts me in mind of 2 Timothy 4:3, which it does, although it might have been better to keep that to myself- I apologise for any offence given by that.

    My next comments were that only a grounding in Scripture enables you to spot ungodly teaching. Not sure how that can be construed as offensive (Hebrews 4:12).

    I finished that post by stating that it is very dodgy when someone claiming to be a teacher makes unscriptural assertions, then tells you not to check it out for yourself in the Bible. I’ll certainly stand by that (Acts 17:11).

    My follow-up posts have been (IMO) pretty clear and reasonable. I’ve not called anybody names, or used the Scriptures wrongly. I’ve made valid points that have not been responded to, and have asked straight questions that were likewise ignored. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but in return have been called either directly or by implication:





    unwilling to engage in real and respectful dialog



    nit-picking semanticist

    patently arrogant

    suffering indigestion (man! that one hurts 🙂

    I can only imagine how this list will grow in response to this post (or what new pithy observation the self-appointed funny-man will come up with)

    At the same time- you’ve said above that you’re into lively scriptural discussions and I’m sure that’s the case. If you can hold up that instinct to attack me for just half a second and consider the question- does that include discussion with people who disagree with your world view? I’m guessing your response might be to turn it around and ask how much I like to be disagreed with. My answer would be no more or less than anyone I guess, but in all honesty I do enjoy discussions with those that are not in agreement with me, that don’t involve name calling and do get me digging further into the Word- not to defend my position or score points, but because I love it and honestly believe it gives the truth (the Bible that is, not claiming that for myself at all). Is that kind of discussion on offer here?

    I do realise I’ve barged in uninvited here. I wrote my post above because the article bothered me so much, and without adequate consideration for the feelings of those who choose to agree with John Shore- this is his blog after all so I should’ve known it’s where his followers hang out. I’m sorry for barging in as an unknown person, and if there really is no welcome other than name-calling for people who disagree, I’ll just leave. Cheers


  • Jill

    You are not uninvited. What is uninvited, which is what I have been trying to point out to you, rather unsuccessfully it seems, is the tone you took.

    “Wake up people. If you spend half as much time really in the Word as you do on “Christian blogs”…

    Debating and discussing all sorts of world views are great things, if there is respect involved. Kindergarten 101. It sounds to me that either you need to be right or you need to be mad. IDK. I could be wrong.

    I’m disappointed Bart, I thought you could disagree with my point without taking my words out of context and making it about you. I was really hoping it was the burrito thing.

    DR’s ‘evil false teaching powers’ are in top form. !

  • Bart

    Jill, you are right- my “wake up” comment above was out of line for sure- point taken and I’m sorry I said that.

  • Jill

    I really do appreciate you coming back and saying so, truly it means a great deal to know we can have discussion, debate, different points of view without having to make it personal.

    I still don’t agree with your original point, but I respect your manner of return. Peace.

  • Dave Rhodes

    Really? Who’s POSING as “someone with knowledge”? You believe in a book written about a person by people who were born 200 hundred years after he died. I don’t care what you believe, but please don’t pretend to be an authority. Unless it’s on bullshit.

  • Dave Rhodes

    So, who’s using the false dichotomy here? Why would one portion of it, no matter how small, necessarily make the whole thing true? Take a philosophy class.

  • charles

    is hell real?

    “No. One. Knows. It’s. Not. Knowable.”

    perhaps we dont even really know what hell is… is it forced listening to Justin Bieber for eternity? is it being inside “A Clockwork Orange”?

    it is scripturally noted as eternal separation from God- which would mean a world devoid of love and peace…. I cant seem to remember any case where Jesus said “follow me or go to hell”. He did say he was the only path to God though, but thats a different thing- perhaps its a requirement, but we tend to be open minded about the way God gathers his own.

    ultimately if we seek to avoid that “reward” we should make our lives less deserving of such an outcome- for me I dont care- becuase if I end up in a place like that, its probably for a good reason- but I am not there yet, and still have lots to do at the present.