HELL 3

If you haven’t read HELL 1 and HELL 2, please start here.

In my previous post, I called into question the idea of God sending people to an eternity burning in Hell, also known as Eternal Conscious Torment.

As you can imagine, there were many responses and questions to the post.

There were those who asked, “What about God’s judgment?” And others who asked, “Are you saying that anything goes then?”

All great questions.

And while we will get to those questions later in the series, the most prominent and important question that will actually help us begin navigating this topic of Hell is, “If there is no Hell, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross?”

For those who asked that question, there is an inextricable connection between the cross and Hell.

Within this framework, the cross is the only thing that keeps people from going to Hell, because it is where God’s anger and wrath were directed on Jesus rather than us. Jesus literally absorbed all of God’s anger toward us because of our sins and, as a result, saved us from God’s judgment and sentence to Hell for eternity.

Deep breath.

If you go to any church service on any given Sunday or hang out with Christians long enough, you will very likely hear something like this, “Thank you Jesus for what you did on the cross for us.”

And what that means is, “Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross to save me from my sins.”

Growing up in church, I heard all about sin. I sang all the songs about how the only thing that would “wash away my sins” was the “blood of Jesus.” And I was told that I needed to be saved from my sins so that I wouldn’t go to Hell when I die.

I had this idea that there were these sins that were infecting me and I was a terrible person for letting them do their bad work in me.

And if it wasn’t the old hymns that I sang that continued to tell me how “full of sin” I was and how I needed to “be made clean,” it was the Apostle Paul writing in Romans about how sin “rules” me and “enslaves” me. That sin “seized” the opportunity and “sprang to life” in me. That sin was “living” in me and “putting [me] to death.”

The implication was that these entities, these sins, were active and alive and doing something to me. And that to be “saved,” I needed to be washed of these sins that I have allowed to rule, reign, enslave, deceive, and kill me.

The thing we failed to recognize was that Paul was a writer who used literary devices to teach people and help them understand difficult concepts. In fact, after the section in which he uses personification to bring the concept of sin to life, he writes, “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”

Paul straight up tells the people that he is using literary language since they are having a hard time understanding sin.

Paul anthropomorphizes sin, or gives it human characteristics, as a teaching tool.

But as modern day readers, we have a real tendency to read ancient Scriptures flatly and at face-value, taking everything literally. And as a result, we have taken this literary language and created theologies and doctrines about sin as an entity that infects us and enslaves us and that needs to be cleaned, cured, washed away, and put into remission.

All the while, we have been told that we are horrible wretches who deserve God’s wrath, punishment, and Hell because of our sins. And then, we have turned Jesus and the cross into a cosmic magic trick to take away these sins, these dark stains, these evil blemishes so that we will be saved from God’s wrath and escape the flames of Hell.

But of course,  I have a few questions about all of this.

What if this narrative has been wrong all along? What if our misunderstanding of Paul’s literary language led us to certain conclusions about sin that were just plain wrong? What if sin isn’t something that has to be cured or put into “remission” in order to save us from Hell? What if sin is something else entirely? And what if an accurate understanding of it will help us understand what Hell really is?

I don’t know about you, but I am eager to find out.

I have previously written about the original Greek word for sin, hamartia, and that it means to be without a share in, or to miss the mark, or to stray. As you have heard before, it is a Greek archery term that indicates “missing the mark.” It is a relational position. In fact, to go a bit deeper, the root words for hamartia are- a/ (not) and /meros (a part, share of), which I find absolutely fascinating.

The word hamartia indicates that in our relational disunion with God, we are not taking part in our part or share of this abundance.

THAT IS THE DEFINITION OF SIN.

And it sounds a whole lot different than everything we’ve been told.

When we live out of our relational disunion with that which is LIFE and LOVE, namely God, our lives begin to look less than LIFE and LOVE. And that is truly what SIN is. It is living out of disunion with God.

Sin is NOT a thing. Nor is it an entity that infects us. It is a position of disunion out of which we begin to live our lives. And our sins are simply an outflow of this broken relationship. So when you hear a line like, “For the wages of sin is death,” it is not talking about an entity that infects us and causes us to die. Rather, it is the price we pay for living in disunion from the One who gives life.  

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that God’s intention for us has never been about sending us to Heaven or Hell because of our “sins.”

God’s intention has always been welcoming us back into a relationship, into union. It has always been about reconciliation, or bringing each of us back together with God in wholeness (shalom). It has always been about God offering us life in an abundant relationship and longing for us to enjoy our portion of this abundance.

You don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few parables and stories of Jesus. Because what you will discover is absolutely, positively mind-blowing. And I promise you have never looked at sin, the cross, or the idea of Hell from this perspective.

Read the next post in this series HELL 4 here

Peace,

Brandon

But They Are Sinners!

 Yes, God has forgiven all people, for all time (and you can read that post here if you missed it).

I know this may sound different than what you have heard from preachers and church people in the past, but the forgiveness and embrace of God is so much deeper and so much wider than any of our finite minds can even comprehend. And there are many people who struggle to understand a God who unconditionally and preemptively forgives everyone, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness.

But that is who this God is.

Too many times, the religious try to create God in their own image. And this little god ends up being as stingy and conditional in doling out grace and mercy and forgiveness and love as those who created it. This little god ends up being a sad projection of their own disunion with God.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul makes an appeal to this church by telling them that the motivating force that compels them is the love of the Christ. And it is this singular force that has, not only changed them, but has changed how they view everyone in the world.

Again, the motivation for those in the Christ is love and it changes how we live and how we see others.

He says that since the Christ died, all have died. And since Christ was raised from the dead, we should all be raised to a new brand new life.

Therefore, in light of this new reality, we no longer view anyone from a worldly point of view. We no longer hold a single trespass against anyone. We no longer have enmity or hostility toward others. Because the old ways have gone and new ways have come. All things have been made new. This restoration has already started. And we are all invited into that reality as we are.

God’s peace has already been given to all. Past tense.
God’s forgiveness has already been given to all. Past tense.

And all we can do is receive it, be immersed in it, be restored to God in light of it, and be transformed through it.

To the religious, the major obstacle to God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness is their belief that sin can only be forgiven when a person is repentant, or when one confesses their sins. But it is this misunderstanding of sin by the religious which has created an incredibly finicky god who has the audacity to tell us to unconditionally and preemptively forgive everyone, including our enemies, but who can’t quite live up to that standard himself.

I find that god inconsistent and unbelievable. So there must be more to the story.

Interestingly, close to eighty-percent of the time the word sin is used in the New Testament, it is used as a noun.

This is interesting because we typically hear people talk about sin as a verb.

They describe all of the bad things we do that make God angry at us. And inevitably, when people focus on sin primarily as a verb, they get obsessed with saying this sin is worse than that sin, this sin can be overlooked but that one can’t, and this sin is unforgivable but that sin is okay (since we are all doing it).

But the original Greek word for sin, as a noun, is hamartano and it means to be without a share in, or to miss the mark, or to stray.

Sin is a position in which we find ourselves. It is a position out of alignment with God, or in disunion with God. And in that place of disunion, we are the opposite of shalom, the opposite of wholeness, completeness, and harmony in all things. It is the road that leads to destruction.

And this begins to open our eyes to the central issue.

It’s not that we are horrible wretches for committing all of these terrible sins every day. It is that we are in a position of disunion with the Divine. And when we live out of this disunion, out of this broken relationship, it very naturally begins to look to unwhole, incomplete, and inharmonious. It is the natural consequence of us living out of shalom.

That is why God’s intention has always been to get rid of sin, or to remove the relational barrier between us, because we were always meant to be in union with God, to be in relationship with God. We were always meant for wholeness, completeness, and harmony with God and with all things, because that is where life to the fullest is found.

That’s why the wisdom of Paul ought to be so eye-opening to each one of us today, because he echoes this exact point when he says that we all fall short of God’s glory. We are all in the same position, equally. We are all in a position of disunion from God, equally. There is not one single person who has a position that is any better or any worse than another. We are all in a position of disunion and have missed the mark of the Divine. And in this position, we are not presently sharing in this shalom. That is sin, as a noun.

So when religious people begin creating these crazy hierarchies of sin and telling us that certain people or groups are worse than others, telling us who’s in and who’s out, all it does is alienate and devalue people. It sends a message that the religious are good and righteous and all the rest of us sinners are bad and unworthy. And all that does is create more judgment and condemnation and anger and hostility. All it does is build up more walls of division between us all.

The point is that when the religious view sin primarily, or exclusively, as a verb, they fall back into that old way of labeling, categorizing, ranking, and then dividing. And it completely misses the big picture that we are all in the same position and that the heart of God has always been an invitation back into relational union with every single one of us equally.

Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Equally.

So when we begin to see sin correctly, as a place of disunion, we more accurately understand that we all stand in the exact same place together and there can be no hierarchy of sin or worthiness. We are all disconnected from the Source of Life, and we are in that place together.

Hard stop.

And once we begin to understand this simple truth, it is the place where humility and grace can begin to come to life and shine. It is the place where everyone is welcome to the table of invitation together without exclusion. It is the place of remarkable beauty and breakthrough. It is the place where all the broken pieces of the world can begin to come back together as one.

It’s possible that all this talk of everyone being forgiven is giving you heartburn, because you keep thinking of Acts 2:38-39, which specifically states that God’s forgiveness is conditional and is only given when a person is repentant and baptized. I get it. But I want to share something very eye opening with you about that passage.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter is preaching to the crowd and says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

From the outside looking in, it sounds like Peter is telling the people that in order to be forgiven, they must first repent and be baptized and then, and only then, will they be forgiven by God.

And that is the way countless numbers of Church leaders and Christians have taken that verse over the centuries. It is viewed as a conditional transaction between God and a person. In essence, the forgiveness of God will only be given when you say the right words, have a repentant heart, and are baptized in the water.

But here is the crazy part.

In that verse spoken by Peter, the word translated as for is the Greek word eis.

Eis means a motion into, penetration, union.

So what many have always read as this conditional transaction between people and God is actually a movement we make into something that is already there, something that has already been given, something that already surrounds us. And our acts of repentance and baptism are the faithful movements we make that penetrate into, and find union with, a forgiveness that had been given long ago.

God’s forgiveness is not being withheld like a stingy miser. Nor is it dependent upon you being good or perfect, or going through the right steps. God’s forgiveness is already here. It has already been extended to all. It is right in front of you. The invitation into shalom was sent long ago. All you have to do is enter into it.

If this truth has been withheld from you, or if you have received something very different than this message of radical invitation and inclusion, please let me tell you that the grace and love of God has always been surrounding you, even in your disunion, even when you have felt disconnected, and has always been inviting you back, as you are, into loving union with the Source of Life.

But there may be some of you, maybe a lot of you, who are reading these words and still carrying around so much pain and so many wounds from past church experiences or past dealings with religious people.

I am sorry and I understand.

But.

No matter what you may have been told.

No matter how badly you may have been treated.

No matter the judgments and accusations that may have been thrown at you.

No matter if you may have been told that you are not worthy or not redeemable.

No matter if you may have been told that God will never forgive you.

Let me tell you emphatically, once and for all, that you are loved and you are already forgiven, as you are.

Every one of you.

Past tense.

Done deal.

God loves you and has always been inviting you, as you are, into shalom. Inviting you, as you are, out of the wreckage and into a new beginning of life and love and beauty and wholeness and completeness and harmony. Inviting you, as you are, into the full immersion of an entirely different present reality. And God is speaking your name to let you know that you have always been loved as you are, that you have always been worthy as you are, and that in this embrace of the Divine you are being made whole.

I rarely say this, but when I do you know I mean it. Praise God!

Brandon

All Are Forgiven

I remember talking to a lady several years ago who had been abused by her father as a young girl and who was, understandably, still dealing with the mental anguish of the abuse as a middle-aged woman. She had reached a point in her life in which she no longer wanted to live in the bitterness and anger of her past. And she was ready to forgive her father.

But he had died a decade before.

I explained to her that forgiveness can happen at anytime and that it does not require two people to come together, agree with one another, or for the other person to accept the forgiveness. In fact, the other person does not even need to be alive to forgive them.

Forgiveness is, very simply, a change in one’s heart disposition toward another, that moves from a place of anger, bitterness, and resentment to a place of compassion and mercy. It is a heart posture that no longer holds enmity or hostility or condemnation toward another, but that manifests from a place of compassion and mercy into a loving grace.

And to that end, forgiveness is never dependent upon another. Forgiveness is always self-generative. That is why forgiveness can never be transactional, or an “if you do something for me, then I will forgive you” proposition. It is only, and always, the posture of one’s heart toward another. And to that end, forgiveness is always a one-sided affair. It begins and ends with you and you alone.

That understanding of forgiveness was a huge revelation for her (and it may be for you as well), as she was then able to forgive her father, even though he was no longer alive. Through her forgiveness, she was finally released from the hostility that had been consuming her for decades.

But it seems that, like my friend, many people do not fully understand forgiveness and do not understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. In fact, my explanation of forgiveness may be different than how you have always understood it.

You may have always thought of forgiveness as a verbal sentiment withheld until an adequate measure of contrition, remorse, or tears have been poured out by another. And that is completely understandable, because that is the model of forgiveness we have been culturally-conditioned to understand, especially in our churches. Within that model, forgiveness is conditionally given in exchange for one being sorry, with one side holding the ultimate power of forgiveness or unforgiveness and the other side needing to prove they deserve it.

But what we find in Scripture is actually something very different than the conditional, reactive forgiveness that holds power over another. In story after story, and account after account, we discover that the forgiveness of God, demonstrated through the life and teachings of Jesus, is unconditional and preemptive. It is always unmerited and given before anyone ever asks for it. And there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to earn that kind of forgiveness. Again, it is birthed out of compassion and mercy that becomes a loving grace which is given regardless of one being sorry. And it is precisely this unconditional and preemptive forgiveness, this kindness of God, that can lead to repentance, or a change in one’s mind that leads to inner transformation.

But many miss God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness because they project their merit-based value system on to God and/or look at the Bible as a mechanical process to be exactly followed, or a mathematical equation that only equals forgiveness if all of the numbers are added up correctly. That completely misses the heart of God’s forgiveness, and the forgiveness we are to emulate. Forgiveness is neither a mechanical process to follow nor a mathematical equation to get correct.

God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness has always been God’s first move toward restoring a relationship with each of us. And if you have missed that then you have missed the entire point of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is not, as many believe, the essential head nod of God given to grant us access to a future heaven. God’s forgiveness is the first step toward a whole and healed relationship with us. Forgiveness allows for the repairing and mending work in our relationship to begin. For the two to become one. For that which has been divided to come back together. For wholeness, completeness, and harmony to be realized in our relationship. That is what reconciliation is. It is the process that slowly begins to build trust, heal wounds and divisions, and make relationships whole again over time.

But while forgiveness can happen immediately and is always one-sided, reconciliation takes time, maybe a lifetime, and necessitates the willingness of both sides to work toward reconciliation in the relationship. But there is no guarantee that both sides will be willing, or able, to work toward a reconciled, whole and healed relationship in this lifetime. But that is always the hope and longing of God- that in light of God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness, all will be reconciled, all will be made whole and complete, all things will move toward perfect harmony, and that shalom will be obsessively pursued.

Interestingly, that is why followers of Jesus are referred to as ministers of reconciliation, rather than ministers of forgiveness. Because God’s forgiveness has already happened. Every single person in the past, present, and future has already been forgiven by God. Past tense. That is the Good News. And now, in light of God’s forgiveness for all people, we are those who announce that there is no enmity, hostility, or condemnation from God toward anyone. There is only love and forgiveness and open arms that welcomes back every prodigal, to be reconciled to God, to be whole and healed in this relationship with God and then with all people. That has always been the point- forgiveness that leads to the reconciliation of all things.

God’s forgiveness is completely a one-sided affair and was demonstrated at the cross of Christ for all people, for all time. So in every way humanity has believed, or continues to believe, that a sacrifice is necessary on our part to be at peace with an angry god, it was God who finally put that faulty assumption to rest, once and for all, by giving a peace offering to us.

Rather than a power play that holds forgiveness or unforgiveness over our heads until we are contrite and remorseful enough, until we have offered enough sacrifices, or until we have shed enough tears, the forgiveness of God stands alone and is unconditionally and preemptively self-giving and self-generative, birthed out of God’s great compassion and mercy into a loving grace for all.

The forgiveness of God has never been dependent upon any single person climbing the ladder of worthiness or attaining higher levels on the fictitious relative sin scale. The forgiveness of God is here for all, surrounding us every moment, waiting for us to live in light of it, longing for all things to be reconciled. And it is that forgiveness that was demonstrated perfectly at the cross of Christ, to show that in any way we may have believed otherwise, there is no absolutely no enmity, no hostility, and no condemnation from God toward us.

There is only and always forgiveness for all.

Brandon

Read the next post But They Are Sinners!