Stories on the edge of familiarity

Does God Choose Who Goes to Hell?: Heaven and Hell, part 3

About a month ago, when I posted about why I don’t consider Christianity a religion@theliz13 tweeted to me and mentioned her problem with religion. I found what she said so interesting that I decided to write this three-part series in order to address her comments. This is the third part of the result. Here are part one and part two.

“A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Matthew 13:3b-8 (NLT)

The Lie

There is a supposedly “Christian” message that is perpetrated in many churches, and that is the idea that people get to heaven or go to hell based on the amount of good or bad things that they do.

THAT IS A LIE.

Not only that, but it is a complete rejection of the whole reasoning behind Jesus dying. Why on earth would he die for the sins of the world, erasing them from existence, destroying their power utterly, if people could get to heaven just by doing more good things than bad things?
The perpetration of this kind of outright falsehood enrages me. I am furious when I hear people who call themselves Christians say that if you:
-are a homosexual
-have an abortion
-have sex outside of marriage
-commit suicide
-read horoscopes
-see anything vaguely supernatural on a regular basis
-vote for the “wrong” candidate
-any number of other things they get offended by
then you’ll be going straight to hell when you die.

THAT IS A LIE.

I never heard this kind of thing growing up. It wasn’t until last year that I started hearing this message from “Christians”, and heard from people who have left Christianity that they did because of this message of having to earn your way to heaven.
If you are one of those who has rejected that message, I want you to know that I’m glad you did. It is a perversion of the truth, and I am horrified that those churches teach it. I am so sorry that that’s what you grew up listening to, because living every day wondering if what you’ve done is “good enough” to get you to heaven is life-sucking. It batters down on your self-worth until you feel like you’re nothing, that nothing you do is worth anything, and you feel like God is angry at you every second of your life because of what a terrible person you are. I am so, so sorry. No-one should ever go through that kind of torture abuse. Ever.
Gah.
There just aren’t words strong enough.

The Truth

One day, I decided to read the book of Romans (a book in the Bible that was originally written as a letter to the early church in Rome), because it had been recommended as a book that teaches important foundational-type things about Christianity.
If it hadn’t been for all those recommendations, I don’t think I would have read past the first two chapters because of the guilt and the feeling of being filthy that rose within me. There was all this talk of God’s anger and how people who sin will be punished, and how we all need to follow the Law (the rules outlined in the Old Testament -the most well-known of which are the Ten Commandments) in order to be made right.
At one point, I was so upset that I stopped and said to God: “What is this? This doesn’t sound like you. This doesn’t sound like the love you claim to be.”
By the beginning of chapter three, though, I had had it. If that chapter didn’t get any better, I was going to shut my Bible and probably have some sort of panic attack. And then:

“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” Romans 3:21,22 (NLT)

Those are my two favourite Bible verses. In my opinion, the rest of Romans simply expands on them.

Tying Everything Together

In part one of this series, we talked about how, after Jesus coming and dying for all of humanity, the “chosen people” aren’t a specific people group. But not who they are.

Last week, we discovered that, since God isn’t a tyrant, he doesn’t send us to hell (and neither is hell nonexistent) and that we are the ones who choose where we go after death. But not what it means to say that we choose it.

There is a rather famous verse from the Bible, and it goes like this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)

When I wrote the post on the core of Christianity, I tried to make God’s love for humanity as clear as I could, because it is how his love works that makes Christianity so drastically different from any other worldview I’ve come across.

“For God So Loved the World”

The word for love used in the original Greek of that verse is agape (pronounced with three syllables, like what Dory did to the word escape in Finding Nemo), and the concept of agape is that of unconditional love. “The world” refers to the inhabitants of the cosmos, aka: human beings. Here’s a few renderings of that first phrase:

“For God so loved humans without condition or expectation of return…”
“For God so valued humans…”
“For God saw humans as infinitely precious…”
“For God so preferred humans above himself…”
“For God took such pleasure in humans…”
“For God so longed for humans…”
“For God so esteemed humans…”
“For God wished well to humans so strongly…”

I think it’s safe to say that God’s chosen people are the whole of humanity. You, me, everyone. No matter who we are, where we come from, what we’ve done, what we look like. According to the Bible, God has chosen every single human being who has, is, or will ever live.

“That Whoever Believes in Him”

The determining factor of who ends up where is then, according to this and my two favourite verses, whether people choose to believe in Jesus. And that doesn’t mean to believe he exists. Rather, it means to:

-have faith in
-trust
-believe in (in the sense of telling a friend that you believe in them, not in the sense of saying you believe in unicorns)

In other words, the choice between heaven and hell is the choice between:

1) trusting that Jesus is who he says he is, that he did what he said he did, and that, as a result, we can’t and don’t need to earn our way to heaven. Trusting that his actions are enough.
2) not trusting that and instead trying to work our way to heaven by doing good things. Relying on our own actions to earn us a place. Holding up our life resume and saying: “God, you had better let me in. Look at how holy I am!”

We choose our own destiny. We choose between life and death. God does not, has not, and will not ever take that choice away from us.

“Shall Not Perish, But Have Eternal Life”

But now we get to an interesting part of that verse. In English, this seems to say that those who trust in Jesus will magically become immortal. Erm. No. Nowhere in the Bible does anyone teach that people become immortal by becoming a Christian, including here. So, let’s look at the Greek again, at those two key words: ‘perish’ and ‘eternal’. This gets really, really cool.

The perish bit comes from the word apollumi, which means to destroy utterly/permanently/completely/forcibly, and, in this verse, it’s in a form that means: “having the possibility of being utterly destroyed”. And then it’s negated.

“…shall not have even the possibility of being utterly destroyed…”

Then we get to aionios, the word translated as ‘eternal’. This isn’t talking about living for an infinite amount of time. Rather, it’s talking about a certain quality of life, a kind of life that has its reality both inside and outside of time, but also beyond it completely. Kind of like having all of time existing, but experiencing it only as now. The eternal present that contains all of the past, present, and future.

This also happens to be how God experiences life. All of everything as an eternal Now.

That quality of life given to everyone who believes, but not in the far-off future. Right now.

“…but will right now have possession of the quality of life that God experiences all the time.”

Christianity’s Really Not *That* Focussed on the Afterlife

So, you know how all this series has been called “Heaven and Hell”? Well, that’s kind of a misnomer. The focus of Christianity isn’t what happens after we die, and never has been. That just happens to be icing on the cake. The focus of Christianity is on living our life right here and right now.

Something that Jesus said while he was on earth was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17b KJV) The word ‘repent’ has entered into Christianese as a word that vaguely means “Fix up your life and/or turn back to God”.

That’s not what it means. At all.

Repent comes from the Ancient Greek word metanoeo, which means “to change your mind, to think differently afterwards”. (it’s also the word English gets ‘metamorphosis’ from).

Next is the phrase ‘at hand’. That’s an idiom in Aramaic (a language that many Jews spoke when Jesus lived) that better translates as ‘in your face’. In the sense of being right here, right now, inescapable, and you can’t even turn your head without coming in contact with it.

“Change the way you think, because heaven has come so close you can breathe it.”

So, you know that quality of life that God has and that the Bible says those who trust in Jesus get? That’s heaven on earth. That’s possible right here, right now. That’s the life transformation that Christianity is about: Our entire life changed right Now. Permanently. Forever. And in such a way that we can’t help but live it out more and more.

I know I said in the last post that I’d talk about a parable that Jesus told. Now, it could be just me, but doing that might require another part to this series, and I don’t think that’s necessary. Instead, I have put the parable up at the top in italics where it can stand as one of those thought-provoking quotes that don’t seem to have very much to do with the resulting blog post, but they sound cool as heck and encourage us to try on a different paradigm.

We might even think a little differently about life afterwards.

“For God so preferred humans above himself that he gave his only, unique Son, that everyone who trusts in him will never even have the possibility of being utterly destroyed, but will right now have possession of the quality of life that God experiences all the time.” John 3:16 (the Expected Aberrations version)

(Thank-you to @theliz13 for what you had to say back in July. I’ve learned so much from all of this, and I even got to delve into some Greek! This series is probably the coolest thing I’ve done yet on this blog, and it’s because of you. You rock. :D)

2 Responses to Does God Choose Who Goes to Hell?: Heaven and Hell, part 3

  1. We don’t go to Heaven when we die, ’cause we’re already in Heaven and we just need to open our eyes and see that this world we’re living in IS Heaven? I like that a lot :)

    And having a mindset that makes you miserable (which could be down to not believing in God) means you feel like you’re living in Hell? I can relate to that.

    I’m not sure if that’s entirely the message you were getting across in this post (usually I need to reread these things a couple of times before I get it) but that’s a pretty awesome message anyway ^_^

    Thanks for this series Thea, it’s helped me feel at peace with Christianity in a way I haven’t felt since I was younger :)

    • Yes and no. This world isn’t heaven. It’s still messed up because of sin, but God’s presence and his realm of existence is side-by-side with ours, and he has taught us how to plug into that, so that we don’t need to wait until after we die to experience his quality of life.

      Also, this world was definitely meant to be Paradise. Right now, it’s not, but that’s the interesting thing: it will be again. The idea of salvation is like the idea of eternal in that it includes all times as Now. Becoming a Christian, making that first decision, directly connects with our spirit, and our spirit is made, in that moment, 100% in alignment with God. As far as it’s concerned, everything’s awesome. Our soul needs convincing, and that connects with the present, as we “grow in our faith” by learning to live more like God meant us to live. As if Jesus really did accomplish everything when he said “it is finished.” Then there’s the body and the future. The physical world is still messed up, but the end of the world depicted in Revelation is about time running out for people in the world as it is because this world will then be remade, renewed, and become again what it was meant to be. This is what the everlasting Heaven-after-death really refers to, and that’s far more awesome to me than some kind of divine Cloudland.

      And yet, “being saved” means that all of everything has been saved in the eternal Now. As far as God’s concerned, everything was saved, is saved, and will be saved, all right now.

      As to the mindset that makes you miserable: the word sin really means “anything less than the quality of life God means us to have”. If the quality of life God means for us to have is heaven, then anything less than that is hell. There are plenty of mindsets that are less than heaven, but they all have their root in a lack of trust for God’s crazy awesome goodness, being afraid all he’s out to do is punish and, thus, not loving him.

      But you definitely got the immediate gist of it. So many Christians talk about the “abundant life”, but most of them have no idea what that really means… even after years and years of Bible School and pastoring churches. So, there you go. You understand something that is not only hugely significant, but also something that many Christians have spent their lives missing the point on. Maybe you could teach it to them, if they’re willing to listen. :)