Theology, Writing & Publishing

Hell or Cheeseburgers?

In the early stages of conversion, I thought I was exchanging Judaism – a set of rigid, outdated rules and regulations – for a faith that only required the humility of routine repentance. But I quickly found I had another big bone to pick with Christianity as a Jew: evangelism.

Oh, how evangelists bothered me. I resented not being able to walk to class at times without having some visiting preacher (they came frequently to my liberal party school) thrusting a pamphlet in my face, with bright red letters screaming “TURN OR BURN!” The au­dacity of some evangelists I’ve seen over the years just appalled me. And now that I, too, was Christian, evangelism suddenly became my responsibility. I just knew there was a catch somewhere. With Juda­ism, there were kosher laws. With Christianity, evangelism.

I would have rather given up cheeseburgers.

Weekly Cru meetings didn’t turn me into a sign-carrying preacher with a bullhorn on a sidewalk corner. In the staff’s defense, this is what they had to say about it: if you talked about Jesus to bolster your own superiority complex, you were doing it wrong. Evangelism – or as they called it, “sharing your faith”– is supposed to be an act of love. Christians should talk about Jesus the way most people talk about their significant others. I was supposed to gush about Jesus the same way I raved about The Hunger Games and Jane Austen.

Okay, I guess I could get on board with that.

In my experience, evangelism is done best when it is lived, not just preached. The gospel is supposed to transform one’s life in such a way that others can’t help but notice. At the same time, if I’m seen helping an elderly woman cross the street, or donating large sums of money to charity, no one will immediately assume it’s because I have Jesus in my heart.

But even after the gospel was condensed into bite-sized pieces so I could (kinda sorta) understand it, putting the message into action was another chal­lenge. I can’t lie here – I was terrified of rejection, especially from the people my Cru friends thought needed to hear it most: my parents.

The older girls who took me under their wing told me gently, albeit sternly, that I needed to tell my unbelieving parents about Jesus – sooner rather than later. My dad apparently needed to hear it more, being a rebound cancer patient and all. “You just never know when the Lord might call him home, you know,” they would tell me, as casually as “Can you pass the chips?”

I broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of saying to my Jewish parents, “Hey Mom and Dad, do you mind sitting down so I can share the gospel with you?” Yeah, that would go over real well.

I don’t know why I wasn’t furious with those girls for being so insensitive. I guess I really thought they were only trying to help me.

“Just pray that the Holy Spirit will give you cour­age,” they said. “God will protect you!” they said.

Maybe they meant well, but they had no damn clue about reality. What they ended up doing was nearly scaring all the Jesus out of me, because if I wasn’t brave enough to confess my belief before my parents, how would I survive the Tribulation?

Truth be told, I felt more Jewish surrounded by gentiles than I ever did around other Jews.

My friend Bethany was convinced she had a fool­proof method of breaking “the news” to my unsus­pecting parents. “Just tell them that you’re preg­nant,” she advised. “But before they can fall over in shock, that’s when you say ‘Just kidding! I’m not pregnant, I’m just a Christian.’” Ideally, they’d be so relieved that I wasn’t pregnant, believing in Jesus wouldn’t seem so bad.

I wish it were only an out-of-wedlock pregnancy I had to tell them about. That would have made my life much easier.

I started to have this reoccurring dream, clearly foreshadowing my “coming out” to the world as a Christian. In the dream, I was wearing a cross neck­lace I kept tucking under my shirt every time I passed a Jewish friend or family member. Just like Pinocchio’s nose every time he told a lie, the cross grew bigger every time I became self-conscious of it, to a point where I just couldn’t hide it anymore…and eventually everyone saw me for what I really was.

The only problem with that dream (actually, it’s quite a big problem) is that Jesus famously said anyone who denied him in life would be denied access to heaven. As intriguing a figure as he was to me, those words were haunting. They still haunt me to this day, and it baffles me that a religion with teachings as beautiful as redemption – that is, making broken things new again – and being “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image also teaches a doctrine as frightening as eternal torture. Couldn’t God change the whole “system” if he didn’t want any of his children to go there? Or at least make his presence more obvious to skeptics? Is he not powerful enough to do something about that?

Some days my faith feels beautiful, and other times it feels like nonsensical madness. But even in my relationships with other people, there are qualities I love, and others I can’t begin to understand…and possibly never will. I wonder if God is any different, though it’s fascinating to me how that mystery factor draws some people in, and chases others away. “A God that’s small enough to understand isn’t big enough for my worship,” I’ve heard. But at what point is too much mystery a dealbreaker?

Excerpted from Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter



9 thoughts on “Hell or Cheeseburgers?”

  1. I have to admit it’s a shame a lot of these questions aren’t spelled out in the Bible with clear answers. I for one dislike the doctrine of Hell. There are the “logical problems” of Hell and the emotional problem of Hell. Even if the logic of it satisfies me I can’t

    The way I see it is that God has done many of the things (Not all) that you have suggested and more.

    – There couldn’t be a more obvious way to make a person believe He exists than appearing to them or doing miraculous signs. Jesus did miracles and yet you’d think they’d convert in droves but they didn’t not all of the time. Of course there are still Miracles that go on today in my view (Though not the televangelist’s like Benny Hinn) but I simply cannot believe that every single last one of them is false. (Craig Keener’s book on Miracles is pretty good). There are also plenty of appearances Jesus has done over the years to people (like in Muslim countries now) but I don’t feel as though he’ll do that all the time unless it will actually accomplish the results he wants it to.

    – He also used his appeared to the People on Mt. Sinai and yet many of them eventually deserted him in the long run.

    – There is also the issue of giving Satan paradise and some with their free-choice STILL rebelled in the end.

    Though some did stay for keeps. I feel as though God still does make his presence known to people who will put their trust in him for salvation. (After all merely believing God exists, isn’t enough to merit salvation it is putting their trust in him for their salvation). So merely convincing skeptics of his existence wouldn’t save them. So many people also say that even if they believed God’s existence then they wouldn’t become Christians.

    That would be my answer for

    For the record I don’t know what version of Hell you believe in but I don’t really believe in the fire and brimstone version of Hell. There were other versions of Hell in the early church since before Augustine.

    As for the issue of God not removing Hell I’ll get that another time.


  2. Aloha from the South. Okay so Georgia isn’t near Hawaii but I can pretend, right? Back in those college days of yours you obviously had some really intense Christian friends. I used to be a Youth Director at my church, meaning I was the youth pastor without the pastor title, church politics and what not you know. The way I taught my youth to evangelize was to simply listen and when opportunities arose to have conversations with people about Jesus and what he does for you, you as in my youth person. Just a little seed planted for another time when you have another chance to bring up Jesus. What a lot of evangelist types miss is the fact you have to prepare the soil for the seeds to take. That one conversation my youth had may have broken up the ground just enough for the next person that comes along to have a seed take root.

    When some ask about God making himself more obvious I tend to refer to the Old Testament and ask how obvious was God then and how well did that work and take hold? Looking at Exodus it didn’t work very well. Just a short time after the Red Sea and you have doubts already.

    My faith is more about what I see that God has done in my life. There are those things that just can’t be explained and then there is the change inside of you that you know has happened.

    As for the evangelism part again; I’ll tell you that it is rarely an immediate Billy Graham Crusade moment, and even those moments are not immediate. Those people showed up to see Billy Graham so there was already something at work. And even Billy Graham had his doubts. In his auto biography Just As I Am he discusses how just before the Los Angeles Cursade that launched it all that he had doubts, but he decided to have faith and know God was bigger than he was and knew more.

    A good post. Sorry I took up so much of the commenting space. I guess I like to get my old Youth Director Hat on sometimes.

    Much Respect


    1. Take up as much space as you want! It makes me feel important 🙂

      I’ve always thought that whatever matters most to you will become obvious as people get to know you. I’ve met Christians who evangelize everywhere from grocery store lines to airplanes, and while to some degree I admire the balls it takes to do that, if that happened to me I know I would shut down. I rarely open up to people I actually know, I sure wouldn’t talk about something so deep and personal to a complete stranger. But authentic relationships don’t leave those important values in secret. I’ve never met anyone who claims to have been converted from being given a pamphlet or confronted by a street preacher.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a Christian, I’ve had to accept the fact that Christians are weird. Put all of us together in the same room and you’ll have ultra-orthodox, orthodox, light-orthodox, moderate, light liberal, liberal, and ultra-liberal interpretations of every verse and passage coming from all sorts of denominational and cultural backgrounds but the only thing we can pretty much agree on is Jesus. Find a way to have an honest conversation, do a little homework to figure out what questions your family might ask and answer them to the best of your ability. The ones you can’t answer, write them down and take it to a pastor. Be prepared for any possible response from: “How could you do this to me?” and “How did I go wrong with you?” to “Okay, we get it, it’s important to you and we might not agree, but we still love you.” All God asks is that we tell our story as believers, He takes care of everything from there – but it might not be in ways that we expect or seem pleasant.


  4. Sarahbeth, how much C.S. Lewis have you read? Because he had a serious problem with the doctrine of hell, as well. If you haven’t read it, you might want to pick up “The Great Divorce”, which is a fantasy Lewis used to discuss some aspects of Hell and Heaven. Lewis focused more on the separation aspect of Hell than anything else.

    As to the advice you seem to be getting from some of your friends– well, let’s just say you should go get a large container of salt at the grocery store to go with it. Preferably iodized.


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