Hell and other stumbling blocks

baptism

I’ve written before about how my entry into evangelicalism was a mixed bag of awkwardness and excitement. At the same time, it was also wrought with frequent panic attacks and anxiety. Because part of the whole Christian package is the concept of afterlife: heaven for those who believe in Jesus, and hell for those who don’t.

Many people are surprised to hear this, but fear wasn’t a prime motivator for my conversion. The person of Jesus was. The idea of a tangible god in human form appealed to me, as someone who grew up with a notion of God as some faraway being off in the clouds who could never be seen.

Also integral to conversion was Christianity’s view of humanity, which I already believed through personal experiences. In the Christian worldview, human beings are born sinners. I never used the word “sinners” or even “sin” much, growing up, but I already didn’t believe people were born intrinsically “good.” Since the human race first came into existence, values and customs shifted with time, but one thing has remained consistent: human nature. An instinctual selfish drive.

This is what I mean when I say I believe in original sin: that the default setting of human beings is selfishness. Are we not all driven by a need for survival? The only way for an individual to advance is to constantly look out for Number One. I believe people are capable of acting good (some more than others), but that doesn’t automatically make us good. Ask five random people on the street how they define “good,” and you’ll realize there is no universal explanation for this word that so many people use flippantly.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the notion of hell.

I struggle with the idea of eternal punishment for the finite crime of refusing to believe something without sufficient evidence. For many people, a book that uses itself to prove the existence of something is not sufficient evidence.

I struggle with the idea that, if hell is real and imminent for the majority of the world’s population, God didn’t make it more obvious. I struggle with the idea that God chose to give human beings the burden task of trying to convince people to convert when people cannot be convinced; they have to choose to believe on their own.

I struggle with the idea that God, being omnipotent and all-powerful, cannot simply do away with eternal torment altogether. He can do whatever he wants…right?

But no matter how much I struggle, I can’t walk away from faith. I can’t view the world without my “God glasses” because it blows my mind that this planet, and the universe in its deep, unknowable vastness, came into being by some random, cosmic accident.

I can’t walk away because the moments in my life when I experienced supernatural convictions cannot be discredited, or accurately explained any other way.

Bottom line? I can’t walk away from faith because I don’t want to. Because I realize that, in all my confusion, there is a man named Jesus who preached beautiful, revolutionary things: loving your enemies. Taking the high road of forgiveness. He preached things that go against human nature as we understand it.

Those are the things I pay attention to, and choose to focus on when everything else gets murky. Those are the things I focus on when I wonder why I still call myself a Christian in the first place.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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6 Responses to Hell and other stumbling blocks

  1. Pingback: Hell, Judaism, mission trips, identity crises, and why I still bother with this whole Jesus thing | Sarahbeth Caplin | Author & Blogger

  2. Please consider listening to this lecture. E.Fudge is not the only theologian that believes in Conditionalism. There are many. There are also a number of teachers/preachers who quietly believe but bc it is not mainstream and so many people believe in eternal torment it is difficult to come out.
    There is nothing about hell that makes one more or less a Christian. I personally do not believe a person can be or should be scared into becoming a Christian.
    A bridegroom doesn’t ask his bride to marry Him and then tell her if she says no, he’ll cook her for eternity. That would be absurd, not to mention coercion.
    God bless, andrea

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  3. Luke says:

    “But no matter how much I struggle, I can’t walk away from faith. I can’t view the world without my “God glasses” because it blows my mind that this planet, and the universe in its deep, unknowable vastness, came into being by some random, cosmic accident.”

    To me, our lives and experiences are meaningful simply because they exist. It’s pretty neat that we are able to create our own meanings in life and forge our own paths. Nothing is predestined. We are free to choose. The possibilities are limitless. For me, not having an answer to the “why” part of existence doesn’t take away from the importance or appreciation of it.

    Here’s the strange part: Our lives are of utmost importance, yet they matter so little in context of the universe. Oddly enough, that’s comforting to me. That knowledge allows me to not take things so seriously, reminds me to take time to simply BE, and reminds me to appreciate the experiences that inspire awe. When I’ll die, I’ll return to nothingness. Sometimes I actually look forward to that.

    In short, my opinion is that life can still be beautiful (and tragic, painful, etc.) without God.

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  4. As I think I’ve commented here before, I struggle with the eternal punishment doctrine too. And, although it remains part of the official doctrine of my church and the evangelical tradition of which it’s part, I suspect many of my fellow Christians do too. We just don’t talk about it much. In fact, I think in general we don’t talk about the ‘afterlife’ enough. If afterlife is eternal, then what we’re experiencing now is merely the blink of an eye, a heartbeat in comparison to what follows. Of course this present life and our part in it is very important – but it seems odd to spare so little thought to eternity.

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  5. eclecticalli says:

    Beautiful post.
    One thing I always keep in mind (and it became more and more clear to me as I went through seminary) is that “Christian” can mean many things. There is a HUGE array of differences in belief within the Christian community (just look at all the different denominations and historical splits to start with). Faith is a highly individual thing, and so much of the belief is subject to debate, questions, and differing opinions. Defining what you mean/envision as God is a good start — because you take five people and you’ll have at least as many different understandings. Same goes for Heaven, Hell, being “Saved,” the role of Christ, etc.
    One of my instructors illustrated one of the challenges about talking about theology by drawing a line and then drawing a circle that intersected that line at two points. The first point of intersection is birth. The second point of intersection is death. All that falls within that is life, theological questions that we can have personal experience with (such as the teaching of Jesus that you mention… caring for others, forgiveness, those are things we can have life experience with). Everything outside of that circle, before life, after death, are things that we can only speculate about, things we can’t know. Conversations about inside of the circle things are going to be different than conversations about outside of the circle things. And there will be many who will focus on one or the other. For me, my interest is much more in what exists within that circle — how are we to one another as we live our lives on this world — than what happens after we have died. To me, that’s not what’s important (because I also cannot believe in a god that would condemn people to hell because of a difference in understanding of belief. Honestly, if that is what God is like I would want nothing to do with it.) What is important is that we live life as good neighbors, that we challenge ourselves to be the best that we can be.

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  6. This is a great post.

    I think you made a key point when you said,
    “I can’t view the world without my “God glasses” because it blows my mind that this planet, and the universe in its deep, unknowable vastness, came into being by some random, cosmic accident.”

    I really think that is all the evidence people need.

    God said im Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

    It’s that simple, God gives everyone all the evidence they need if they just look.

    Liked by 1 person

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