What would Jesus do? According to many traditionalists, Jesus will watch the majority of humanity burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. And according to approximately half of Christians, God the Father pre-ordains who can and cannot be saved, without true human free will coming into play.
Being taught that God created humanity, knowing most of us would be on fire for all eternity (and worse, that He pre-destined this to happen, according to many teachers) didn’t have the same effect on me that it seems to have on so many others. Rather than drive me to beg my way out of that fire, it forced me to ask, Who then IS God? That combination of the “eternal suffering” and “pre-destination” doctrines certainly didn’t make me want to cozy up to God, or even be a kind or loving person. I don’t think we’re ever going to become more loving than we believe God Himself is, and I’ll be completely transparent here, at the risk of lightning striking me down: These doctrines don’t paint the picture of a merciful God. In fact, even though I was raised in the Church, those doctrines have strongly contributed to a life of melancholy, and often times, a desire to distance myself from God. If what we believe about God is the most important thing about us, as A.W. Tozer has stated, and I think that’s easy to argue, then the traditional Christian doctrine of judgment is a major downer. It’s little wonder that the Church doesn’t look much different than the world. The late John Stot, noted Christian writer and church planter, said that the doctrine of endless torment forces us to cauterize our feelings. I agree. Who can live with such a thought? So we either push it down and out of the way, or we search for answers.
More and more of us are delving back into Scripture to see if what we’ve been told about our merciful God is really true. And many of us have been pleasantly surprised. When I first began realizing there are other (and better) ways to interpret these verses that have led people to the traditional view of innate human immortality and eternal conscious torment, I was elated. And I was shocked that the traditional view has survived all these centuries, with so much evidence to the contrary, right there in Scripture. I immediately began writing. I wanted to share what I was finding. I also immediately went to the board of the church that I attended at the time and shared with them. Bad idea. They were a lot less excited. And overall, the reaction has been negative. Aside from a handful of people who have found the website and expressed great thanks for the information, mostly this has been a pretty negative experience for several years. And that has caused me to doubt the study, and also my conclusions at times, and to doubt whether or not I’ve wasted a lot of time pursuing the writing out of this study so that others can see the more merciful God of Scripture that I found. But I move forward because the doubt doesn’t come from anything I find in Scripture, but from struggling with the idea that so many well-known Christian leaders and teachers who I generally trust, read the same bible as I do, and come to a completely different conclusion. On my weaker days, that tends to make me feel like they know God, and I don’t. But I know that’s not true. First of all, you can be wrong about an aspect of judgment and it doesn’t mean you don’t know God. There are millions of people who hold a traditional view of hell which to me seems in conflict with Scripture, but I don’t believe that keeps them from knowing God. It just means they believe incorrectly on this topic. And of course they’d say the same thing about me. But I’ve studied this carefully. I love Jesus, and do so even more sincerely after discovering His mercy even in judgment. I’m in awe of what He did to save us. And as I’ve prayed and asked God for specific answers in this area of judgment, and have search the Scriptures deeply, I’ve found what I’ve found. I can’t help it, or change it. What God does in judgment, and who has salvation available to them seem very clear in Scripture. So what can I do but share it?
I hope to finish at least the rough draft of the book this Summer. Of course, I’ve hoped to meet deadlines like this in years past as well, only to be thwarted by many obstacles, myself included. But I’m still hopeful. If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to comment.