Tag Archives: Heaven

Some Good Questions From Chad

27 Mar
Question Mark Graffiti

Question Mark Graffiti (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

A reader named Chad, recently left a comment on my About post.  I thought he asked some really excellent questions and thought it might make for an interesting post.

Here’s what Chad had to say:

ChristianAgnostic,

Had a chance to review your background and read some of your posts. Fascinating stuff. Never really met anyone who’s migrated from Christianity to agnosticism but seeing as how you had the misfortune of being involved with two cults (YoungLife and SGM) I find myself thinking, “Geez, no wonder this dude became agnostic.”

My question for you is: Isn’t there a part of you that’s even minimally concerned about the whole ‘hell’ thing? That’s not meant to be a rhetorical question or a preamble to some kind of evangelistic pitch or a “love bomb” or whatever. I’m genuinely curious.

You’ve been brutally honest about your assessment of Christianity so I’ll do the same. I’m a Christian and buy into the whole package. Young earth, Noah’s Ark, inerrancy of scripture. I’m totally on board. I’ve gotta say though, the whole concept of eternity, whether it be in heaven or hell, bums me out to no end. It haunts me every day.

When Christians talk about the weaknesses of the atheist and/or agnostic position, they always bring up the utter despair that atheists must feel about the finality of death. Even articles written by atheists acknowledge this despair. But between you and me, I’m thinking, “Why the sadness? This is one of atheism’s primary *benefits*! When you’re dead, your dead. What wonderful freedom. No need to think about the endlessness of heaven and the tortures of hell? Where do I sign up?” I can’t help but think that atheism, or at least agnosticism, would make me a more relaxed person overall. If it weren’t for the hell bit, I’m tempted to think I’d jump ship in a heartbeat. I totally see the appeal of the atheist perspective…

and yet…I have to think…

There must be some part of you that wonders if you made the right decision. You don’t think about hell at all? Seriously? It’s gotta be nagging at you at least a little bit, no?

So let’s jump in and I’ll do my best to answer.

First off, I want to be clear that I have no doubt that SGM is a cult.  When it comes to Young Life, I do not view them as a full-blown cult, but as an Evangelical Ministry that has engaged in some methods of outreach that are similar to tactics used by many cults.  I know this may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but I do not think that Young Life is on the same level as cults such as the Moonies or Jim Jones.   Also, my involvement with these groups are not what led me to agnosticism.  Even after I emerged from these groups, I still was an active Christian seeking to better understand my faith.  It was my study of the Bible, the history of the Bible, and early Church History that led me to conclude that the Bible is most certainly not the inerrant word of God.

As for hell (whether I am worried about it or not) the short answer is no.  I have no reason to believe in a hell because I don’t find any evidence that convinces me that there is an afterlife, let alone an eternal place of torture where an All Knowing, All Loving God sends creatures to be Eternally tortured for his glory and good pleasure.  Besides the fact that hell seems to be contradictory to a God that is loving and Just, I just don’t find any evidence for such a place.  If you think I am uninformed or being cavalier, I can assure you I am not.  Not that long ago I still believed in a literal hell, Young Earth, etc…because I still viewed the Bible as the Word of God.  Not sure if you read my posts on the subject of hell, but here they are if you want to know some of my background on the subject.

Hell,  Hell of A Start,   Hell Hath No Fury,   Hell If I Care,   Hell (for babies?)

As for the despair that some atheists agnostics speak of…I can say I just don’t relate to it.  Sure, if I dwell on the fact that someday I will die and no longer be, it’s a bummer.  But it’s because I currently enjoy a full and satisfying life, surrounded by people I love and projects I enjoy.   I think the bigger bummer, is constantly obsessing whether or not my faith will be good enough or correct enough to please a Heavenly Ruler who will once and for all, bring me to Eternal Bliss or to Eternal suffering.  Since realizing that this is most likely not the case, I do feel free to live my life without the extra burden of wondering whether or not I am doing God’s will.  I still attempt to treat all people with love and respect, but I no longer have the guilt induced teachings of Jesus and the church hanging over my head all of the time.

As for your own struggles,  I assume they stem from the teaching of the Bible.  My only advice would be to study the evidence supporting the idea that the Bible is the true Word of God.  If you find the evidence compelling, then you should be worried.  But if you find the evidence to be lacking, then you should regard the Bible’s teaching on Heaven and Hell in the same way you currently regard the Egyptian’s Book of the Dead teaching on the afterlife.  In other words, in the realm of myths and dead religions that hold no relevance to today.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment and questions.

Best Regards-CA

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What if Grandma Gets Run Over by a Reindeer (before she repents) ?

29 Mar

I know, I know….I promised I wouldn’t be writing about hell again…but it just keeps coming up in conversations.

So what if Grandma gets run over by a reindeer before she repents and puts her faith in Jesus?  Now what?

I ask the question because I have seen this very thing play out in my own family.

My wife’s Grandma was much-loved.  She was short, feisty, and a genuinely fun person to be around.  I loved her as well.  She always seemed to have a soft spot for me and I loved the fact that her secret ingredient for every dish she concocted, was bacon.

Spiritually speaking, Grandma had been raised in a non-religious home.  She converted to Catholicism when she met her husband and was faithful to raise her children in communion with Rome.   The rub came when her son, my Father-in-law, had a conversion experience to Evangelicalism and rejected his Catholicism.  As far as he and the church we both attended were concerned, the Roman Catholic Church preached a false gospel.  Some of our Bible teachers even suggested that the Catholic church was represented in the book of Revelation, described as  the Harlot who rode the Beast.  That’s right, not just a church with some problems…it was a church that was directly in league with Satan and the Anti-Christ.

Over the years, my wife’s parents would consistently share the Gospel with Grandma, trying to convince her that she needed to leave the Catholic Church.  Grandma once commented that “If I hear them share John3:16 with me one more time, I’m going to scream!  What do I have to do to convince them (my in-laws) that I believe in Christ?”  So she believed in God, but she had no intent of leaving the Catholic church.  To my in-laws and myself, this meant she probably was not a real Christian.  Since no real Christian would remain in a false church, then her salvation was in question.  At least, this is how we thought at the time….

As the years went by, the same frustrating spiritual conversations ensued, but she refused to repent of her Catholicism.  She also began to experience the pain of old age.  Her husband died of a heart attack while vacationing at the beach.  She was now a widow and had to move to a small apartment, to be close to family.  She began having small cancer patches appear on her skin.  It got to the point where part of her ear and nose had to be removed.  She was in pain because of the cancer, but it also caused her personal embarrassment.  She would have to attach skin bandages and a nose patch so she could go in public, without looking  abnormal from the scars left by cancer.

Eventually the cancer did what it does best, it stole Grandma’s life away from her and she died…..

It’s at this point that the whole idea of Hell becomes excruciatingly personal.  To be consistent, those of us who were Evangelicals would have to conclude that Grandma died in a false church and was never a true Christian.  Our theology told us that Grandma is currently being tortured in hell, and that with every passing moment, she will continue to be tortured for evermore-for eternity.

Eternal hell for the woman who gave life to my Father-in-law.  Eternal hell for the woman who always sent a little money to the grand-kids, even when she didn’t have much money to spare.  Eternal suffering for a woman who had by all accounts, been a decent human being to family and strangers alike.

It has been my experience, that in times like this, Evangelicals begin to seek out some sort of escape clause.  The thought of our loved ones suffering forever haunts us, and we begin to say things like:

“You never know, maybe God chose to reveal himself in those last moments…he is a Merciful God.”

“I know she heard the truth, only God knows, but I believe that she must have known the Lord.”

Besides hoping for some last second reckoning for our now departed loved ones, many begin to seek out some sort of sign.  Some indication from God, that their loved one is now in heaven and not in that other place.

For my wife’s family,  this came in the form of sunshine.  It had been raining all day at the memorial service and during the burial.  Just as the casket was being lowered in the grave, some sunshine peaked through the clouds for a few moments.  To some in my wife’s family, they took this as a sign from God.   A sign that Grandma was now resting with Him in heaven.

To be fair, I have no desire to pick a fight with anyone who has lost their mom.  But it seems a stretch, to say that a little burst of sunlight exempts a loved one from the plain teaching of scripture.   This tendency to find an “out” for our loved ones seems right to me…after all who REALLY wants to see Grandma burn? But it doesn’t change the stark picture painted in the Bible, of the Eternal suffering that awaits unbelievers after they have died.

It’s the question I now ask believers.  Can you really imagine an Eternity in which your dear old Grandma will suffer in Hell?  I know I can’t…

Suicide, Loss, and God’s Ultimate Plan for the Universe

7 Mar

So, moving on from the depressing topic of hell, to the even more profoundly depressing topic of suicide.

Before I jump into the specifics, let me state that all loss is loss.  So whether you’ve experienced the loss of a baby, the loss of a friendship, or the loss of someone to suicide-it all feels very similar.  No matter what we lose in life, the feeling of loss is a profound experience and it usually changes us.  For some, we grow and become more empathetic, more gentle towards others we know and meet-because we’ve come to know that life is fragile, and that we all need a shoulder to cry on.

Sometimes loss will mark us and cripple us-things so horrible that it’s hard to even talk about, let alone understand.  Suicide can be that for many of us…as for how I relate it to my former Christian faith, I’ll explain later.

I think his name was Brian….but I still remember his face and dry sense of humor.  He had long shaggy blonde hair, was stout but not fat, and had freckles on his pale skin.  I remember liking him, but we were never friends that hung out together….we just happened to sit next to each other in 8th grade English.  We’d nod or grunt a hello as we entered class, and joked around on occasion.  I think we even earned a detention together (my one and only).  Two years later he was dead-he shot himself in the middle of our tenth grade year.

I now have a tenth grade son with shaggy blonde hair…and I wonder if Brian’s mom has cried every day since then, just wishing to have one more chance to brush back his blonde hair, and say “I love you” one last time.

A few years into college, and now I’m leading the local Young Life at my former high school.  I meet another Brian and he starts coming to the Bible study I lead.  He’s not very tall, maybe 5’5″….but he is incredibly cool-California cool, with a punk twist.  He’s thin and likes to wear faded jeans and black army boots.

One day, I’m giving him a ride to school with some other Young Lifers, and he starts to tell me about his views on God.  He tells me that he really wants to know God and that he’s even asked God to show him some sort of sign.  He said God has never shown him any sort of sign that He’s there-so for now-he’s not sure he believes in God.  A couple months later, he is dead.  A self inflicted gun shot wound to the head in his mothers front yard ( divorced parents-he didn’t always stay there).

I stand at his grave after the service at the funeral home.  I talk briefly to his mom, she’s devastated but seems to care for all that have come to grieve her son.  While talking, I find out she’s a Christian-but she is upset, because she doesn’t know if her son is in heaven (which seems unlikely) or in hell.  I don’t know what to say-I feel small and weak-like I’m knocking on the door of a huge Cathedral in the middle of the night.  I re-focus and tell her what I know, that her son at least heard the gospel before he died.  I know, because I told it to him.  She thanks me and we turn back to the freshly dug grave and the casket suspended above.

Standing there, listening to the final words of hope and comfort…I pray for a miracle.  I am a year into my Charismatic Church Phase and I believe that God can still raise the dead.  I mean, how much more power and love could God show by giving this son back to his mother.  I pray and stare intently at the casket, somehow hoping that God meant it ,when he said ask anything in his name.  So I ask…the sun still shines, it is warm for late fall, and the surrounding trees and hillside betray the fact, that a great tragedy has occurred…and that none will be raised from the grave today.

My cousin was a few years older than me, tall and thin with a quiet intelligence that I always admired.  I heard that he had lost or quit his job and was living with his folks again.  A family member informs that my cousin was not doing well-maybe even suffering from depression.  I kicked in to prayer mode right away…I prayed often, and like every good spiritual warrior, I was binding Satan and all his fallen host from my cousin.  I specifically prayed, in Jesus name, to bind the spirit of suicide.  So that Satan could not tempt my cousin in his time of depression and despair…but the spirit of depression and despair was too strong.

He hung himself in the basement, and hung there for hours until my poor aunt found him.  The son she had raised as her own(blended family),was dead and hanging lifelessly in her own home.  A home she would soon sell, and move from to try and escape that horrible day…

The week after my cousin died, I realized that I could no longer believe in a Reformed version of God. I still believed strongly in God, but I simply could not believe that an all good, all knowing, all powerful God could have planned this suicide and chain of events, for his glory.  I floated this by another family member and they strongly objected and warned me that “We ARE talking about God here..”

“Yes” I said “but can you really look Auntie in the eye, and tell her that God planned for her to find her son dead, hanging in her basement? I know I can’t-and I can’t believe that a God of Love would plan such a thing”.  Not much was spoken of after that, what more could be said?  None of it would ever bring him back from the dead, and such a thought was certainly not going to give my Aunt comfort.

For years, my cousin’s suicide haunted me personally, and also haunted my theology.  I couldn’t reconcile how God could even allow my cousin to commit suicide, especially since I had prayed against it.  I also couldn’t understand why God would choose to sit on his hands, and do nothing to save his life.  Lastly,  why did he have to let my poor Aunt find him-I mean really-how much more cruelty can one human being endure?

I didn’t reject faith because of the suicides in my life, but it did cause me to question whether my assumptions about God, his love, and his Sovereignty were true.

Hell (for babies??)

5 Mar

Thoughts on Hell part 5

As I stated before, I didn’t really think I had much else to say about hell…but another random memory hit me today, so I thought I’d share.  So here goes….

Many moons ago, in small town on the East Coast, I used to manage a Christian bookstore.  It was an independent chain of Christian Bookstores, and once a week, all the different store managers would meet with the owner to review sales, upcoming promotional catalogs, and any other business that needed to be discussed.  We were an interesting collection of individuals and we almost never agreed on anything…

I remember getting chewed out, by one of the store managers, for ordering her a “ridiculous” new video series for children.  I had sent her store 8 copies…she was furious and let it be known, in front of the other managers, that she was not happy with my purchasing choice.  I assured her that these were quality videos and that I thought they had a chance to sell.  She was adamant and demanded to know more about the series….”well”  I started  ” it’s a fun kids series with talking vegetables that tell Bible stories”.

“Talking Vegetables!” she interrupted “Talking Vegetables!!!??” she stated again with an astounded look on her face that seemed to communicate that I was perhaps, the stupidest person that ever roamed the earth.  Luckily for me, the videos did sell and sell and sell, and Veggie Tales went on to become the biggest Christian Video Brand in history.  But that type of confrontational disagreement was pretty typical of our weekly meetings.

One of the store managers, was a man about 20 years my senior.  He looked an awful lot like Archie Bunker (he also acted a lot like him).  He was the resident Reformed theologian of the bunch, and he would register his displeasure any time books or products ventured outside of his doctrinal approval.  I don’t know how it came up, but one manager meeting, Manager Bunker went on a rant about hell.  I really don’t remember much of it, because I pretty much agreed with almost all that he had to say.  But he did go farther than I had considered about the topic.  He pronounced that even unborn babies that died, would be justly sent to hell and that God had every right to do it.  In fact, he said that God’s righteousness demanded that any living being born into sin, that had not repented of their sin, including babies, were justly sent to hell.

I was disturbed by this thought, and I asked him if he really meant it.  He did, and to emphasize his point, he stated that he believed babies would be aware of their eternal suffering, just like an unrepentant sinner who was an adult.   The conversation quickly turned and we probably got back to the business of deciding how many plastic helicopters with “Jesus Is My Co-Pilot” stickers were needed for each store.

But the thought of God sending unborn or young babies that died to hell, horrified me.  I did a little reading of Reformed thinkers and found that many Reformed and Catholic thinkers DID believe in the reality of God sending babies to hell.  A few argued for an age of accountability, (usually 12 or 13 years old), before children were qualified for hellfire.  But most seemed to agree with Manager Bunker, that God was in the business of sending still born, SIDS babies, and aborted babies straight to hell.

A few years later, my wife and I actually lost a a baby around the third month of the pregnancy.  It was awful,  my wife and I managed to get through it…but it was a difficult time of loss.  At one point, my 5 year old asked me if I thought the baby that died was in heaven.  I mumbled that I didn’t know…because I didn’t.   I talked to my pastor, who very humbly suggested that he had the faith for that ( that my unborn baby was in heaven)…but the didn’t sound so sure.

Losing a baby has got to be one of the worst things that can happen in this brief life….maybe only the suicides I have experienced have been worse.  But to imply that God would send a baby to hell, for the sin of dying to soon to repent, is just barbaric.