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The Coming American Civil War

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” -Ephesians 6:12

One would be hard pressed to find a single battle in all of history that wasn’t fought without some level of declared spiritual rationale. Sadly, throughout the ages, pronouncements of Christian faith have been used to pound the drums of violence. Many who profess to be followers of Jesus have claimed God’s anointing to engage in wars and acts of aggression that they believe are necessary to cleanse society of its evils. The world has been watching, documenting, and increasingly connecting the dots of Christian-driven hatred—now, like never before.

As the appearance of being shrouded in righteousness and divine faithfulness can be convincing to the untrained eye, nothing is more deceptive than the spiritual rationalization of violent acts that are ultimately motivated by the desire for power and privilege. Underneath the convenient veil of biblical faithfulness and divine sanction, selfishness, greed, and supremacy are often the true desires lurking in the shadows of those who would turn to Jesus for the justification of their aggression. For nothing speaks of privilege like the condemning, enslaving, or killing of another in order to further one’s faith system. What has been transpiring in church-ladened communities across America for decades is now being manifested on a national scale. In the name of Christianity, oceans of emotional, spiritual, and even physical blood have been shed in an effort to assert their brand of freedom upon countless people who are, in essence, already free.

In fact, for many Christians, their faith is rooted upon the premise that there is an enemy that needs to conquered, a divine prosperity that is theirs for the taking, and an inferior world that needs to be converted. For them, there is an underlying belief that they are “set apart” from the rest of society by God Himself. Therefore, their mission is to engage the world in such a way that their own prosperity is realized, the enemy is defeated, and the world is either converted or condemned. In fact, acts of Christian “mission,” though appearingly noble, are often a means to a self-serving end—that is, the conversion of people into their faith system and the correlating stroke of their spiritual egos upon success.

Combined with a white, heterosexual, male-driven privilege intrinsic to much of global society (especially America and European countries), Christianity has long become the spiritual rationale-of-choice for those who desire the fruition of white male heterosexual power and privilege. With a brand of Christianity that declares the Bible infallible and their interpretations uniquely faithful to its “clear teachings,” right wing conservative Christianity offers an additional level of spiritually rationalized control and power over people.

This toxic diabolical concoction of Jesus-justified savagery can be seen no more clearly than what has become of much of American Christianity. From the rape of the American Indian to the slavery of black people. From the brutal condemnation of the LGBTQ community to the discrimination of women and minorities, a white male heterosexual lust for power and privilege has long hijacked the person and cause of Jesus to spiritually justify their creeds of greed. In fact, intended or not, right wing conservative Christianity has now become nothing less than an incubator for a tacit white supremacy that desires to commandeer the world. Search the vaults of historical fact and there you will find, it is not the average citizen who is leading the way in these atrocities against humanity, but rather pastors, Christians, and communities of faith, all in the name of Jesus and the Bible. From sea to shining sea, right wing conservative Christianity has been the spiritual lense through which many have rationalized their acts of dominance and destruction. Thankfully, the cat is out of the bag as a great awakening is rising from the depths. The evils of right-wing conservative Christianity are being chased out of the shadows–the elixir is wearing off and the deception is being dragged into the light.

Now, a perfect storm of human terrorism cloaked as Christian faithfulness has emerged onto the scene of our American journey. Inflamed by the presidency of Donald Trump and their concerns over an increasingly vocal and organized resistance, right wing conservative Christianity has reached a boiling point unprecedented in history. From voices like Alex Jones of Infowars to Sean Hannity of Fox News, the dogs of war are barking with an emboldened sense of empowerment from their growing base. In fact, for some, their aspirations are nothing less than the ushering in of Armageddon where they believe God has promised to defeat their enemies and cleanse the world of all that does not conform to their ideology. With 70% of the murders committed by domestic extremists stemming from right-wing influences, the line between what is considered mainstream and the fringe is increasingly becoming blurred. Sadly, it seems that right wing conservative Christianity is not far removed from translating the pages of Old Testament scenes of God-sanctioned violence into the real-life tragedy of our near future. In response, segments of liberal resistance have trumpeted their willingness to do battle if necessary, some even taking a bold initiative. The age old question of “who started it?” becomes mute in the context of the long historical trail of leatherbound terrorism spiritually rationalized by right wing religious conservatism. To be sure, growing numbers on both sides seem ready to take off the gloves—one side desiring further dominance and the protection of their privilege, the other defending human dignity and the rights and freedoms that are intrinsic.   

For this is the underlying plot behind ever battle. This is the path that led to the cross. This was the provocation behind our first American civil war—religiously rationalized human oppression versus true human equality and freedom. An ancient conflict of the spiritual realm is now coming to fruition on American soil once again.  

Sadly, it seems as if there is no way to avoid it—each side emboldened to their cause. I fear a new American civil war is on the horizon. This time, it will not be north versus south, or even left versus right. Instead, it will be Christianity versus Jesus, the Kingdom of religion versus the Kingdom of Grace, the human oppression of some versus human equality for all, the way of violence versus the way of peace, the exclusion of some versus the inclusion of all, and a god who punishes versus the God who is Love. For this is a war of ultimate truth with seemingly irreconcilable differences at the core.

Unfortunately, these battles have already begun in the homes, schools, streets, cubicles, courtrooms, computers, churches, televisions, social media outlets, and halls of America. We are a people and a nation divided at the marrow of who and whose we are. True evil is being exposed from the caverns of religious disguise, and true resistance is finding its wings through the bravery of Grace.

The truth is, the coming American civil war is already here. Who knows to what level the battle will further rise and consume us all. One thing is for sure, our future is in the balance like never before.

Come what may, it is my prayer that as the religious oppressor draws the sword and summons their ranks for battle, the lovers of true freedom and equality will faithfully endure and boldly resist with a refusal to become the evil done against them—just like Jesus.

 

Grace is brave. Be brave.

The Conservative Evangelical War On Easter

There has been no greater and deceptive evil wielded upon all the earth than right wing conservative Evangelical Christianity. For history tells the tragic tale of the countless lives that have been emotionally, spiritually, and physically destroyed and the good-hearted people who have been led astray and spiritually imprisoned by this diabolical system of faith.

Sadly, this toxic brand of demonic spiritual trickery is not without a past as throughout the Scriptures, the religious people who postured themselves as being full of the divine and uniquely centered on faithfulness were often revealed to be those who were furthest from truth and the sure enemies of God. In the presence of Jesus, so much of what appears to be sacred is revealed as scandal, and that which is condemned as scandalous is revealed of its true sacredness.

In the same way, across America, conservative Evangelicalism arrogantly trumpets an infallible understanding and exclusive authority on all things Christian. With a plastic white Republican Jesus as the hood ornament of their world bulldozer, they scan the cultural horizon eagerly waiting to demolish anything they deem to be sin or an enemy to the full fruition of their dominance. Yet tragically, with their assault-bibles in hand, like a mentally ill child-killer armed for destruction, they break down doors in pursuit of their adversary only to find it’s the Bethlehem-born, crucified, and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth and His pure Gospel of Grace. For in all of history, there has been no greater affront to the heart of God, the true person of Jesus, and the Easter He brings for all of humanity than right wing conservative Evangelical Christianity.

For Easter is the message that violence never wins. Not knives, not guns, not missiles, not crucifixions, nor even proof texts. In fact, the cross bears undeniable witness that the ultimate expression of divinely sanctioned power and favor is not aggression, bullying, revenge, greed, punishment, dominance, political gain, religious control, nor prosperity, but rather, service and sacrifice on behalf of the least of these.

Yet sadly, like the religious and political elite that murdered Jesus, conservative Evangelicalism is addicted to power and privilege with a willingness to harbor and exude nearly every form of spiritual, emotional, and physical violence and oppression in order to obtain and protect it. Through Easter, what Jesus resurrects as the ways of non-violence, sacrificial service, and the denouncement of every form of spiritual, emotional, physical, religious, and political greed, conservative Evangelicalism is quick to nail back upon the cross and crucify to death, lest the nationalization and globalization of their white, male, heterosexual, conservative Christian privilege be thwarted and dismantled.  

Easter is the declaration that all are equal and divinely affirmed. For Grace is the great equalizer, none of us are better, only different. That Jesus is “all and in all,” what could possibly be clearer? For Easter is God’s vehement decree on behalf of all humanity that condemnation from the divine is impossible and human equality is irrefutable. This is thy Kingdom come—white, black, brown, male, female, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transgender—all are equally beautiful God-adorned threads in the divine tapestry of humanity. For equality is what the Gospel looks like when manifested upon the earth.

Yet sadly, the very same religiously oppressive spirit that flogged Jesus beyond recognition, finds its returning demonic manifestation in a conservative Evangelicalism that whips, beats, and pulverizes anything and everything that breaks the mold and refuses to conform to their ideology of privilege. Leading the way in the influence of transgender suicides, the spiritual rationalization of sexism, the barbaric continuance of racism, the insatiable discrimination of minorities, and the ruthless condemnation of the LGBTQ community, conservative Evangelicalism pimps a full-court press towards the goal of firmly putting to death the human equality and divine affirmation of all humanity that Jesus so purposefully gave His life to resurrect.    

Easter is the revelation that heaven is all inclusive. To the temper tantrums, dismay, and sheer disgust of the religious, Easter reveals a God who is far greater than any one creed and devoid of the exclusiveness many so desperately desire Him to embrace. The evil religious lines that are drawn to distinguish the faithful from the faithless, the believers from the nonbelievers, and the heathens from the saints are all obliterated by the One whose resurrection erases all labels and undermines their religious application. For under Grace, there is no “in” or “out,” “saved” or “lost,” or “faithful” or “faithless,” there is only people created in His image and included in His Trinity from the foundations of eternity—period, full stop. Therefore, Easter is the certainty that Hell, wrath, and divine hatred are the propaganda of the religious who desire control and submission above all things. In fact, nothing disarms and renders impotent the power and legitimacy of a false gospel more than when its fiery hell of religious construct is shown of its blasphemy, and heaven is revealed of its all inclusive beauty. For Jesus didn’t die to save us from an angry God, but to save us from believing He is.

Yet sadly, the fear-mongering religious who love to draw lines and build separation, and ultimately sentenced Jesus to his death because he wouldn’t hate, exclude, and condemn all the right people, are the very same ones who today worship a god who conveniently drop kicks all their enemies into a hell of eternal torment and rescues all the “good” people for an eternal home of white picket fences, two story houses, leatherbound name engraved Bibles, and Kari Jobe worship cd’s. For nothing wages war against the resurrected Jesus who reveals the inclusivity of the divine like the contrived god of conservative Evangelicalism whose exclusivity and wrath seem to always bend and sway to every pretentious wish and pursuit of right-wing religious conservatism.

Easter is the finality that Grace alone is the Gospel. For there is no other message from the throne of heaven than Grace. There is no condemnation, divine reckoning, nor final examination. All are beloved and masterfully created with an irrevocable divine stamp of approval etched upon every molecule of their being. No one can out run, out rebel, out sin, out betray, out disbelieve, nor out deny the power of Grace nor undo its capacity to capture the most restless and resilient heart. For nothing else heals, repairs, and sets onto a path of goodness and victory other than the Gospel of pure Grace. Everything else is religious pretending, a hopeless fictitious game of God appeasement.

Yet sadly, the pure Grace that Jesus so powerfully resurrects and proclaims with every fiber of His divine being, is the very Grace that sends conservative Evangelical Christianity into full blown fits of rage and declarations of war upon His true Name and proclamation—Grace. For Easter beholds the most important revelation that splits the sides and send crashing to the ground the entire Evangelical empire—”it is finished, it finished, thank God almighty, it is finished.” All is grace, and grace is all. This is the Gospel that conservative Evangelicalism crucifies with blood dripping down. Why? Because everything about their religious system is in the balance. For if Grace is the Gospel (which it is), their faith understanding is most certainly not, having participated in and fostered nothing less than pure Easter-raping evil.          

Easter is the assurance that to believe is to rest. For as well intentioned and spiritual as it all may seem, there is no such thing as a “relationship” with God or “inviting Him into your heart.” These are deceptive religious constructs that forever place ones connection and closeness with Him as being within the reach and responsibility of human control and performance. This is a hopeless arrangement as even on our best day, our spiritual performance will always and eventually breakdown, placing our connection and closeness with God in sure uncertainty.

Thankfully, Easter is the divine reckoning that desires to awaken us all to the sure reality that God didn’t come to sell us a relationship or offer us a divine maintenance plan established by our personal performance and do-gooding. Instead, Easter declares that we are the relationship—living Trinities with skin, established from the foundations of eternity. The Christian life, therefore, is not a process where we feverishly seek to become something that we aren’t already through good behavior and spiritual striving. Rather, it is the awakening to the fullness of who we already are in Christ—whole, pure, secure, and fully redeemed. In simple terms, “there is nothing wrong with you”—this is the Gospel in six words. Belief, therefore, is simply resting in the full sufficiency of Grace alone, a Grace that completely and irrevocably finished its work in you on Easter morn–period, full stop.

Yet sadly, in stark defiance to our unconditional and irreversible communion with God through Jesus Christ, conservative Evangelicalism desperately asserts a religious system of personal faithfulness, rule-keeping, sin-management, behavior modification, compliance, and accountability in hopes of guaranteeing its necessity and capacity to control. This is a foundational pillar within the conservative Evangelical Borg and its quest to addict people to their neverending self-righteous system of Christian being and living.

With every effort to riddle the Christian life and faith with conditions, clauses, and fine print, conservative Evangelical Christianity declares war on the freedom, life, and joy Easter meant to declare and bring.      

Easter is the divine megaphone pronouncing that God is love—unconditionally. Through Jesus’ cosmos-altering resurrection, He puts to death every religious assertion that predicates God’s love with conditions. For God doesn’t, “hate the sin and love the sinner,” He simply loves. God doesn’t, “bless those who bless Him,” He simply loves. God doesn’t, “save those who say the right prayers,” He simply loves. The cross is where God forever removes the word “but” from the vocabulary of heaven. In fact, there was never, “God loves you… but.” There is only “God loves you… period.” To the pubescent protest of the religious, this love-revelation doesn’t reduce love into becoming soft and slippery, it resurrects love into becoming real and divine.

Yet sadly, like the religious people who mocked, ridiculed, bullied, slandered, spit at, and pierced the sides of Jesus, conservative Evangelicalism despises unconditional love and its expression. For nothing sends right wing conservative Christianity into fits of declared unfairness like the full fruition of unconditional Love. Surely, when we all get to heaven, in disgust, the religious will see those they once labeled as the wretched enemy and bury their faces in torment. With joy, the rest of us will see those we’ve always and only known as friends, and lift our hearts in praise. For God is love—always has been, always will be.

With every rationalization of violence and weaponizing of the Scriptures. With every politicization of Jesus and nationalization of conservative Evangelical Christianity. With every pursuit of power, elitism, and privilege at the expense and deterement of the least of these. With every demonization of God through a hell of eternal torment for those who think, believe, and live outside the lines drawn by right wing conservative Christianity. With every condition placed on Love and the giving of it. With every belittling of the Gospel of pure Grace and the burdening of humanity with rule-keeping and self-righteousness. With every condemnation of the LGBTQ community and the flogging of their inherent divine beauty. With every spiritual rationalization of bigotry, sexism, and racism, right wing conservative Evangelicalism declares war against the Jesus of Easter.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” -Matthew 23:37     

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Is Jesus Gay?

At times, there is silence for a reason as some things are best said by being left unsaid.

That there is no mention of Jesus’ sexual orientation in scripture is perhaps reflective of a profound, cosmic reality that one’s gender nor orientation are a prerequisite for determining that which is of the Divine. To the dismay of much of western Christianity, Jesus wasn’t purposed on being imaged into a caucasian, American, heterosexual, republican, gun-owning, blue-eyed, conservative male with flowing locks of brown hair—but rather He is the surest example of what it truly looks like to simply be fully human and fully rested in the Divine.

Was or is Jesus gay in terms of sexual orientation or behavior? I don’t believe so—but it certainly doesn’t matter. For being gay is about so much more than mere sexual orientation or gender identification. It’s about being a beautifully created soul adorned with eternal extravagance imaged in the splendor of the Creator, who no less bears the arduous task of navigating their unique, human experience through the minefields of a brutally inhumane world that would quickly ransack those who break religious molds, clawing to strip them of their divine value, identity, purpose and worth. Beyond the gravity of sexuality and orientation, this is the deeper, ultimate essence of the plight intrinsic to being gay—to be fully human and fully alive while sweating beads of blood in determination to find one’s way and hold onto one’s inherent dignity and God-delighting in a spiritually nefarious, different-condemning, and different-killing world.

In this way, Jesus was surely gay.

For in the face of being ostracized and derided by His own Nazareth family of bigots determined to misunderstand Him, Jesus is the gay man and the lesbian woman who live in the constant, gruesome torment of coming out, being known, and fully living their God-designed personhood—a kind of hell on earth of daily accusation and rejection God never weaved into the tapestry of what anyone should endure.

Or crying over Jerusalem, begging for His heart to be understood and His people to receive Him, Jesus is the parent who lies awake deep into the night, tirelessly fighting in solidarity for the defense, worth, dignity and affirmation of the LGBT child God has blessed them, but the religious deem a disgrace—Jesus, not just the parent, but also too the LGBT child born innocent by the Spirit’s authoring, pursued by the cunning Herods of our world whose sure desire is to seek out and kill them.

There, praying in the garden of Gethsemane, begging for divine reprieve, Jesus is the lesbian teenager, trembling in terror as she cuts her arms and threads the noose, convinced that giving up is the only way out, and the only sure resolve to the pain that is before her.

In the outer courts, confronted by the religious through the evil venom of their creed—backed into a corner, a pointed finger pushing at His chest questioning His true identity, Jesus is the transgender person whose truth is too truthful for the world to hear nor see.

Then, from the confines of Pilate’s Praetorium where flogged beyond recognition, to a savage, religiously-conspired cross where nailed, pierced and left to die of internal suffocation, Jesus is the Orlando night club and every LGBT person ever murdered in body, mind or spirit—crucified to death by religion, ignorance, and hate, and even good people who remain silent and unengaged.

In all these ways, Jesus is surely gay—not just gay, but One of us all for whom religion has demonized, illegitimized, and crucified in hate.

For Jesus didn’t die just for humanity, He died as humanity—all of it. Transgender, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, conservative, progressive—the haters, the lovers, the lifted high, the beaten low, the Christians, the Muslims—every type, color, creed, and flavor.

Everywhere there is religious oppression, everywhere there is bigotry, discrimination, or injustice—where there is the branding with labels or the withholding of Grace, Jesus is there in Person and as the person being deprived of that which has been given to them freely and irrevocably from the goodness of His Name.

In this way, if you can’t handle the notion of Jesus being gay then you aren’t fully understanding the essence of Jesus being you.

To be you or to be gay is essentially one in the same—it’s what it means for all of us to simply be human, created in the likeness, image, and favor of our Maker, living in a religious world that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all that His hands have made, with special sights on that which the religious deem inferior or against the grain.

Run your fingers through the strands of an LGBT soul, then through mine, or that of any other, and soon you will declare the only declaration that can be truthfully rendered—that none are better, only different. For the sooner we see Jesus in and as the people around us, the sooner the lenses of God’s affirming view become the windows through which we see ourselves and all humanity.

If Jesus isn’t gay then Jesus isn’t you, and if Jesus isn’t you, then the incarnation is a fake, and your resurrection a certain uncertainty.

No one chooses to be LGBT, but in Christ Jesus, God has chosen to be—not just One of them, but He even does the unthinkable and dares to be One of you.

Yes, that’s right.

Jesus is gay, Jesus is me, and Jesus is even…

You.

What the Hell?

Lately, hell has become a hot topic; all pun intended.

It might be surprising for you to realize that there is rising, legitimate debate concerning various views of hell. I know what some of my readers might be inclined to think, “But it’s so straight forward in the Bible.”  To that, others would add, “so if anybody has any kind of debate about it, they must be moving away from the plain teachings of the Bible.”

Honestly, I understand that kind of sentiment, I really do. In the past, I had my own list of topics that were “no brainers” when it comes to what one should believe and what the Bible “says.”  My Evangelical grooming as a pastor convinced me that the more you grow as a Christian, the more black and white issues should become to you. Furthermore, once you land on a conclusion that fits with what prevails in Evangelical-world and puts you in good company, you can take off your thinking cap and put your heart and mind on autopilot.

However, when I encountered the Gospel of God’s Grace in its purity, it has caused me and challenged me to revisit beliefs and assumptions I have long held. I mean seriously, if I could spend 42 years of my life and become a highly trained and competent pastor, and yet completely miss the most important thing, the real Gospel, it only makes sense that it would be wise for me to reexamine a lot of spiritual things. Furthermore, once you discover that “God is love” and Jesus is to be the ultimate focus and example, one’s understanding of the Bible and how it addresses certain issues is completely viewed through a different set of lenses. Grace changes everything!

In fact, my move away from feeling so strong and sure about the current, popular Evangelical understanding of hell as the place God justly sends people to be punished with an eternity of excruciating torture who don’t believe and/or obey Him, began with the revelation that “God is love.”  This is where all theology and belief must begin and end, and ultimately be judged.

Since God is love, EVERYTHING that comes from Him must come from and confirm that love. Love is not part of His nature, it is His nature. Furthermore, Jesus is the highest manifestation and example of that love.

So, with that in mind, did Jesus have anything to say about Hell? Well, yes and no.

The single word “Hell” we use today and associate as “Hell” (a place of fiery, eternal torture) is actually not found in the Bible.  Nowhere, and in no manuscripts. There are four words in the Bible that are mistranslated as “hell.”  These words are: one Hebrew word sheol, and three Greek words hades, tartarus and gehenna. These words do not mean hell as we typically think of it today.

Sheol occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament, and it means the grave (the place of the dead) or the pit, as correctly translated in most modern versions of the Bible.  Hades occurs 11 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament and it is the direct equivalent of the Hebrew word sheol; thus it also means the grave or the pit.  Tartarus occurs only once in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament in the verse below.

2 Peter 2:4  For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.

Please note that God cast the angels (not humanity) who sinned down to tartarus and chained them in darkness, to be reserved for judgement.

Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, and each time that gehenna occurs, it has been mistranslated to mean hell in several versions of the Bible. Jesus Himself who uses the word gehenna 11 out of the 12 times that gehenna occurs in the Bible, for example in Matthew 18:9.

Matthew 18:9
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell (gehenna) fire.

When Jesus uses the term gehenna fire, I don’t believe He means everlasting, tormenting hell fire in the bottom of the earth as we typically think of today. By the term gehenna fire, Jesus means something much different. Gehenna takes its name from a valley located in Jerusalem called the valley of Hinnom. During Jesus’s time on earth, this valley was used as the city dump. A fire was constantly kept to burn up and consume all of the city’s unwanted junk.

It’s extremely interesting and profound to me that Hebrews 12:9 refers to God as an “all consuming fire.”

Could it be that Jesus was poetically hinting at another entirely different kind of experience for those who reject and rebel from God, one that is actually in the presence of God, the all consuming fire? Keep reading to find out.

It is clear to me that scripture has no one unified word nor description of “hell.” Furthermore, the times Jesus uses the word Gehenna, one must assuredly allow for poetic and symbolic uses thereof.  To allow colorific use of a concept such as “pluck your eye out” as not to be taken literally and yet tie down the use of “Gehenna” in the same sentence to mean a literal place in the bottom of the earth where people are tortured by the wrath of God in eternal flames is a huge stretch at best. Furthermore, that kind of place and reality goes directly against the nature of God, who is love.

So, what is hell? What was Jesus talking about? Is it a real place? How does the God (who is love) have connection to hell? Do I have to believe in a hell that is a never-ending torture from the wrath of God upon people who don’t believe and/or disobey, in order to be faithful to the Bible?

Here are some thoughts…

Hell is real- 

Everybody spends eternity somewhere. We are eternal beings having a physical, bodily experience here on earth. Heaven and hell are two real, eternal experiences.

However, I am not convinced that the reference to actual places associated with words (Sheol, Hades etc.) that are interpreted as “hell” are automatically to be taken literally in interpretation. These descriptions have a far greater chance of being intended to be figurative or symbolic.

Hell is connected to God- 

To suggest that God just allows hell to exist outside of himself and beyond his influence or control is to me, a misguided assertion.

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

There are no realities, eternal or temporal that do not come from God. God does not take a hands off approach to anything, including “hell.”  If you believe in a torturous, flaming, eternal existence of punishment, you must also believe God is the author and sustainer of it, as He is of everything else.

This is of course, a problematic notion for many. It is the primary issue of the atheist and a growing issue among Christians. God (who is love) would create such a place? The same Jesus who befriends sinners is willing to burn them eternally, no matter how potentially justified? Really? This is God, this is love? The God who is love, who delights in His creation, who sets the stars in their places….this is the best idea He could come up with?

Hell is a reality that takes place in the presence of God- 

Many, in order to justify their view of an angry, torturing, violent God who is justified in sending people to an eternity of unimaginable suffering due to their disbelief and/or disobedience, have interpreted hell to be outside of the presence of God. As if God looks away, can wash His hands, and out of holiness, let hell happen. To them, a fiery, tortuous hell is God’s best idea of what to do with unbelievers. And, they will allow/portray God to take some theological distance from burning, screaming humanity so that He remains holy, and justified in doing so.

I am often amazed how when many allow God to have some inconsistencies, it’s on the side of a willingness to allow Him to be a more violent, torturous, and retributive God instead of a more gracious, loving, merciful, and accepting God. Furthermore, they will go to virtually any interpretive and theological length to prove that God is a violent God who punishes the wicked with internal torture beyond imagination and is Holy, just, and loving in doing so. Some, wanting to kind of disconnect God from it all use statements like, “God doesn’t send anybody to hell, they chose it.” For so many years, I used statements just like that.

But then I realized, that’s like me creating a fire-pit in my backyard, determining it to be a place my kids could go if they don’t believe and act correctly, and then say, as I shrug my shoulders while they scream as their skin melts for all eternity, “Well, I didn’t send them there, they chose it.”  Really? My parental hands are clean, free and clear?

Fortunately, this view of hell as being outside the influence and sustainment of God meets the buzz saw of scripture in passages such as…

“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” – Revelation 14:10  KJV

 “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” – Psalm 139:8   KJV

In both these passages, the concept of hell is described as being a reality that is IN the the presence of God.

Ruh, roh, Scooby.

Hell is not God doing something contrary to His nature (love), rather doing more of it.

Here is where we come to the interesting issue of God’s wrath.  It is widely asserted that God’s wrath is the aspect of God that is violent and angry, and desires and executes retribution upon disbelieving humanity.  It is God’s wrath that justly punishes the unrighteous.

However, a deeper look reveals something completely different.

The Greek word for “wrath” in the New Testament is the word “Orge”

Unfortunately, the way this word has been translated has been shaped greatly by our pre-existing concepts of God as being angry and temperamental.

The word “orge” actually means  “any intense emotion” it’s where we get words like  “orgy” and “orgasm” from.

It has to do with a very strong passion, not even associated to anger.  In fact, the root of “orge” actually means “to reach out in a straining fashion for something that you long to possess.” 

What if the wrath of God is not God pouring out anger and vengeance, or retaliation, but rather furious love; grasping, reaching, shaking to possess every person that they might experience His Grace? Wow, now there is a revelation!

Now for some, that is going to feel like wrath. Why? Because there is nothing more torturous than to be loved by someone who you don’t want to be loved by. To be given love when you don’t want it. To be given Grace when you want no part of it. In all truthfulness, that’s hell.

In fact, the writer James articulates in the Bible that when you love your enemies, it’s as if you were pouring out heaping coals of fire over their heads.

The wrath of God isn’t an expression of God’s hate and contempt, but rather a furious, passionate expression of His love and Grace, reaching, grasping for people to experience His love.

God is not schizophrenic, God is not hate and love at the same time.

Daniel 7:10 refers to a river of fire that flows out from thrown of God. What is that? It’s the white hot love of God.

See, the same sun that hardens clay melts wax. Some people will experience the furious, pure love of God as hate, because they hate being loved by God, they hate pure Grace, trusting in His Grace.

The presence of God is the same. When Moses first met with God being present in a cloud to receive the 10 commandments, he saw that experience as one of glory; a powerful, positive opportunity. Yet, the other people who witnessed that same cloud saw it as an experience of fear. Why? Because they didn’t believe and rebelled against the goodness of God.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness… I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? -St. Isaac the Syrian

So what is hell?

Hell is an eternal existence in the presence of God who is love, furiously pouring out His love that all people might experience Grace. It is God (who is love) being God (pouring out more and more love), forever.  It is hell for some because they reject and despise Grace. They hate Jesus and His unconditional love. The same Grace and love that is heaven for many, is hell for some.  The difference is in belief. The difference is in heart.

“The flames of heaven will be hotter for some than the flames of hell could ever be”  -Dallas Willard

It’s interesting that in truth you can’t reject Grace. You can’t stop it’s presence, pursuit, favor, or blessings over your life. You can only love or not love it. Loving, believing, trusting Grace fills your life with heavenly rest. Not loving, believing, and trusting Grace serves to fill your life with hellish frustration and angst. It never leaves you, you can never leave it. Only love it, or not.

God never changes. He is love.

I love how Robert Capon states it…

“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.”   -Robert Capon

 

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