Well, I seem to be posting a lot on Hell at the moment. I really don’t mean it; I would rather concentrate on the positive!
Thing is, though, that as you know, I always ‘do what I see the Father doing’ – this from John 5:19, what I like to call my ‘lifetime verse’; the Scripture that best sums up the way I see my life.
And it seems that, at this time, Father is wanting me to post all this stuff debunking Hell. Which is actually hugely positive, when you think about it, because as I’ve said before, “Hell is the single most repulsive idea in all of Christendom“. So in fact I am posting positive stuff, just using negative things to accentuate the positive.
I know for a fact that many, many more people will read this than will comment. And that’s fine, and I also know that many people will be blessed and set free by the truth on here.
There. Is. No. Hell.
At least, not the kind of Hell that many Christians say exists: a place of eternal conscious fiery torment for anyone who does not [insert Religion-based qualification/requirement for not being thrown into Hell] before they die*.
I’m certain that Father is instilling a passion, in the hearts of many of His children, to refute at every opportunity the idea of Him consigning people to such a terrible fate. You see, I’m not the only person who thinks like that. Many, many sincere and devout believers are now re-examining the doctrine of Hell on both an historical and a Scriptural basis, and seeing it for what it is: a scare-and-control tactic invented by the mediaeval church in order to keep people in line. It’s disgusting, it’s blasphemous and it’s just plain false.
Right, that’s enough of my blathering on. Instead, let me hand you over to the brilliant Lee O’Hare, who states yet another piece of excellent logic refuting this most terrible of doctrines:
If the traditional church teaching about hell is true and the vast majority of the human race really are going to spend all of eternity being tormented by fire, then why did not Paul, who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament, who was THE apostle to the Gentiles who told the Ephesians elders that he did not hold back declaring the “whole counsel of God” — why did he not one single time EVER mention hell or eternal conscious torment of those who fail to accept Christ in their lifetime?
And why is there not a single mention of hell or eternal punishment in any of the 19 sermons and sermon fragments in the Book of Acts which gives us an actual first hand eye-witness account of what the original apostles of Jesus actually said while they were proclaiming the good news of the Gospel in Jerusalem, Samaria Judea and throughout the rest of the known world that time? If it really is true that God is actually planning to perpetually roast billions of people in a torture chamber called hell don’t you think it would have been at least reasonable for at least one mention of that fact in the preaching of the original Apostles in proclaiming the gospel to the world?
If the destiny of the great majority of humanity is to spend eternity in an everlasting torture chamber unless they accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” before they die don’t you think it would have been fair of God to have actually made that so absolutely clear that there could be no doubt about it? Shouldn’t that have been the very obviously primary focus of the early church’s preaching as recorded in the book of Acts and of the Apostle Paul’s writing in all of his letters to the churches and the church leaders?
And don’t you think that somewhere in the Old Testament there would have been at least one mention of the impending punishment of the majority of the human race in the everlasting torment and flames of hell if that were in fact the destiny of all those who fail to accept Christ in this life? Do you think that maybe God just simply forgot to tell Adam and Eve what the actual consequences would be of eating that forbidden fruit if eternal torment in hell really was their destiny?
Is it possible that the omission of any mention of Hell or eternal torment might be evidence of the fact that it never was true and that the religious powers have perpetrated an incredible hoax and deception upon the masses of people in order to control and manipulate them through the fear of something that has its roots, not in true apostolic Christianity, but rather in Egyptian and Greek pagan mythology that was transferred into the church during its dark days of mixture and pollution with the secular and pagan Roman Empire which eventually became the Church of Rome that plunged the world into centuries of “The Dark Ages”?
– Lee O’Hare
*I do think that a form of ‘hell’ can be seen on earth basically whenever people hurt others, or where circumstances destroy people’s lives. But that’s nowhere near the same thing as God burning people forever in a fiery pit!
Well, today I have been laughing uncontrollably with tears running down my face. That tears bit rarely happens, even though I laugh a lot.
Story is as follows: my dad is in a nursing home, and last year I heard the sad news that one of his favourite nurses (I’ll call her Sarah) had died. I even saw her funeral order of service, pinned to the nursing home’s notice board. Sarah was Scottish, with a very strong Glaswegian accent, and my dad has always had a soft spot for the Scots, especially as my wife was Scottish. I was really upset as I liked her a lot and realised that the place would never be the same without her there.
So today, when I visited my dad, he was ranting on about how Sarah was going to go up to Glasgow, and bring him some haggis back, she was going to arrange an excursion for him, all that sort of thing. And of course I’m thinking like No, dad, she’s dead, you’re hallucinating again.
You can probably guess where this is going.
As I was on my way out of the nursing home today, someone said ‘Sarah, Anthony needs to be let out’. And Sarah came over to chat to me. Sarah, the dead lady. Sarah, the Scottish lady who is going to bring him some haggis back frae Glasgae.
I had to stop myself from doing two things. Firstly, from letting my gob drop open with shock. Second, from saying, ‘Aren’t you dead?’. And all the time, the surreal kind of feeling flooding through my mind. This isn’t happening. This isn’t real.
But it was.
I have no idea whose that funeral service was, that was on the noticeboard. Of course, it can’t have been Sarah’s. I’d even commiserated with the staff at the time, and we’d said what a lovely lady she was, what a tragic loss it was, and all that.
But she’s alive.
I began laughing as I was getting in the car, and I have to say I risked serious internal injury as I tried to stop myself cracking up as I was driving home. Sarah is alive. Sarah, whom I don’t know all that well, but whose sudden ‘resurrection’ has filled me with laughter, as well as laughing at my own antics when I found out. I’m still laughing now in between typing these lines.
So can you imagine what it must have felt like for Jesus’s friends; people with whom He’d spent the last three years of His life, whom He’d had so many adventures with, when they found out that actually, ‘Ere, ‘e says ‘e’s not dead, when they were certain He was?
I tell you what, I reckon the Bible seriously tones down His followers’ reactions. There would have been incredulity, yes, but tons of joy, laughter, a lot of gobs falling open, and maybe even someone saying ‘Aren’t you dead?’ and then even more laughter. No, the Bible doesn’t do it justice, not by a looooong chalk.
Here’s a great piece from Glenn Regular, with a couple of my rambling musings tacked on at the end. I must say right at the very beginning that I do not consider that the things expressed in this essay apply to my ‘home’ church here in Devon (which I haven’t been to for a couple of years); they’re not like that at all. Given that they welcome the poor and homeless, they don’t fit the description at all, in fact. So, not all churches are like this by any means, but those that are are the ones who are driving people away. And I have been in churches like that, so I do know they exist 🙂 So, please accept this essay knowing that I am not criticising any and every church with it. Just the ones who deserve it.
The Exodus from Religion
People are questioning and exiting Religion in unprecedented numbers. The empty pews stand as a monument as to how toxic the institution of Religion is to people of the Exodus.
The religious hierarchy expend their energy trying to cover up religious abuses within the system and marginalizing people who are leaving the fold by saying they really don’t have relationship with God, they have an undying love for sin and are heretics doing the devil’s bidding, and are on a damnation slope to eternal hell-fire.
But, ‘Us Escapees’ from Religion don’t buy into that religious lying hogwash anymore.
Religion has been declining in membership for a long time. They throw all kinds of religious theatrics, hell-fire and brimstone damnation fear-mongering, etc., to boost it, yet without any lasting spiritual success.
Here’s why: To be successful, Religion depends on a delicate balance between the illusion that it is the way to God, it is the path to heaven, and the way to find out how to escape the torture chamber of hell fired eternal suffering they so heartily believe in. It is a fear-mongering tactic as old as Religion itself. They tell you, you are going to hell and sell you a rotten bill of goods to escape it.
To Religion, personal vulnerability, which is completely essential to have a healthy shared community, is too messy. Not only does it make people uncomfortable, because it makes them face their shortcomings and insecurities, it’s impossible to gain huge amounts of influence and make millions of dollars when people are being messy and real in living life.
The articles of Religion are:
“Believe. Because our way is the right way.”
“Membership. Become one and maintain a good standing.”
“Tithe. You will be giving to God.”
“Conform. We will respect you.”
“Change. We will accept you.”
“Submit. We will value you.”
“Serve. We will let you speak.”
‘Assimilate. We will love you”.
“Obey. We will let you lead.”
Religion will start to mold you into the Religious Lifestyle the moment you show interest. The push of performance is ever-present. It actually doesn’t matter if you truly follow Jesus as long as you look like you are “a good religious person” by showing up to programmed meetings when the doors are open, pay your tithes and offerings and speak the Christianese language.
But if they see you straying from the religious path, if you question whether the Bible is the Word of God or Bible literality, or whether eternal suffering in the torture chamber of hell-fire is a Bible doctrine, they will dismember you, demean you, demonize you and tell you, you are on a fast train to hell’s dungeon.
Religion is a thinly veiled capitalistic money-making machine whose framework is based on people’s ignorance of God, the Bible, the finished cross-work of Christ, the Gospel, and is of the devil, devilish.
People are deceived into giving their money, time and identity over to a religion that refuses to treat people as family unless they conform to Religion’s standard.
People who are too insecure, spiritually deficient, too queer, too old, too poor, too ugly, too needy, too mentally ill, not white enough, not middle-class enough, not straight enough, not submissive or assertive enough, not attractive or talented enough are not fully welcomed into the religious fold.
Have you ever wondered why Religion weeds-out unwanted people?
Because it’s extremely important that Religion keep up the illusion that they’re doing good so they can keep profiting from people’s ignorance.
And if Religion is going to survive, it has to weed out all the people who want to show up and be a part of them, that will make them look bad. So rather than lift up the broken and help the needy, Religion invites and promotes the people who are really good at pretending they’ve got their spiritual ducks all lined up in a row. The Bible readers and thumpers, the Bible literalists, the hell-breathing white, supportive, married straight couples. The kinds of people who don’t make them feel uncomfortable when you are performing on stage, or when they sit next to you in a Sunday morning meeting. The kinds of people who will dutifully shut down anyone who questions denominational doctrine or the literality of the Bible while sporting a fake religious smile as they shift their uncomfortable asses on the pews.
Religion wants members who will willingly submit themselves to a system that lets con-artists pa-stars make millions feeding off other people’s insecurities, unchallenged, while claiming tax-exempt status, and they are ‘successful’ because God favours them.
Religion is a hell fear-mongering business that profits off people’s fear and ignorance.
Religion is a shame and blame game that deceives people into donating to the religious business and buy their gimmicks, all the while believing they are giving to God’s work, when in fact the deceived ‘pa-stars’’ are laughing all the way to the bank.
That gives con-artist leaders the audacity to claim that their wealth and status are a direct implication of their authority on the identity and character of God.
And that quietly suggests that these wealthy “pa-star” celebrities desperately need your money and your time. That you couldn’t possibly invest it in a better way than by giving it to these God-ordained leaders because they know what God wants for you.
They pretend that when they say “give all you have!” it’s an invitation to serve God and your community, not to simply build the pa-star a bigger house, buy airplanes, luxury cars and a fancier church building with flashier lights and a more expensive sound system so they can continue their circle-of-deception, instead of offering genuine help to people.
Is there any good in Religion? Somewhat. However, their show of good does not erase the evil they do.
People are leaving Religion because they are done with the blame and shame game, the perpetual bait and switch illusion, where the carrot is always held out just a little farther in front of the mouth. They have realized that a far more accurate message from Religion would have been:
“All are welcome, you will enhance our image by giving far more than we will ever advance your relationship with God”
Thus we have exited the religious denominated corrals. Unsure of how to interact with the real world much of the time because we’ve been so incredibly deceived and insulated from it for so long. And we’re doing what many of us call “deconstructing from religious deception and illusions”. We’re confronting the fact that we were deceived. No matter how much we gave, no matter how many times we let denominations treat us like spiritual paupers we would never break free from religious deception.
People realize that the way to successfully deal with Religion’s religious system is to walk away from it. Religion cannot be fixed from the inside by anybody, not even the system’s leaders and architects, because they do not want to lose a single bit of the power, recognition and wealth they’ve robbed from the people.
Religion is a man-ordained, man-led, man-fed, man-run, man-indoctrinated, man-controlled, devil inspired system.
You know that religious denominated box you have confined God to? Why not open the box and set God free. Then stuff your dead religion in and seal it. Set it on the edge of a steep cliff. Pull your foot back and kick the box with a forceful motion. Now turn to God and walk away and let Him show you who He really is. You will find that He is not the God that Religion believes in.
I wonder, is Religion an abomination unto God?
What do you think?
– Glenn Regular
I mean personally I think it’s humanity’s natural tendency to do this sort of thing. All down the ages it’s been like this in one form or another. Beginning in prehistoric times, most likely, humans saw nature as being both hostile and good at the same time, so they invented ways of placating ‘the gods’ who were of course angry and therefore the cause of all the bad stuff that happened – earthquakes, volcanoes, famine, drought, all the natural disasters you want. Skip a long way to Jesus who showed us what the Real God is really like. And over the years ever since prehistory, people still have this fear of death, and fears of all kinds of things, and live out of that place of fear. Then religion comes along and offers a way out of those fears for those who will conform…and there you go. Sorted. Modern-day Religion tragically/conveniently forgets that the fear of death – the ‘shroud that covers all nations’ (Isaiah 25:7) – has been defeated by Jesus once and for all. Of course, it’s not really in Religion’s interests to make sure that people lose that fear, or at least not without ‘balancing’ the good news with a load of bad news too. Like, conform or you’re toast. What I find amazing is how people love to cling to the bad stuff even once they have heard the Really Good News of Grace. Maybe that’s what ‘sin’ is?
The irony of the Religions position is that they try to get you to pray the ‘sinner’s prayer’, and make Jesus the ‘Lord of your life’. This means that you give your heart, your life, every decision, your possessions, your entire will, to Jesus. I have done that in the past. Jesus is placed in charge of everything that you are.
Now, when that’s Jesus Who you’re giving all that to, you can be sure that He is trustworthy. But bear with me. The thing is that the Religious actually don’t like it when Jesusreally is the ‘boss’ of your life, because it means that they are not. And if you dare to claim that Jesus has told you one thing, but that they are telling you something different, then it’s you that’s not hearing correctly and they are the ones who are hearing God properly. And that’s gaslighting by any other name – getting you not only to believe what they tell you, but that you are wrong in everything that you are independently hearing from God. And it’s easy for them to do this. A new believer is characterised by being hungry to learn about God and His ways. He longs to know more of the things of God and he is still finding his way. But by grabbing that new believer as soon as he emerges from the egg, so to speak, the Religious are the ones who devour him. Maybe what’s needed for a new believer is to do like St. Paul did and to go off into the desert by himself for some years and hear the things they need direct from God (Gal 1:17-18)
But I suppose it’s going to be different for everyone. I do get the impression that, for those who have the hearts to receive it, the Grace message of Jesus is the thing they have been looking for all their lives!
On meeting Jesus, some of us were sidetracked into rule-keeping. Some of us were snatched away into legalism as soon as we heard the message, after we had met Jesus for the first time. Some of us needed to know we were accepted by God before we felt free to learn more about Him. And, to be fair, some of us in fact needed to enter through the path of legalism, because only by seeing its hopelessness could we even begin to look for something more. Religion did have its uses.
But once our eyes were opened to Grace, oh! the wonder! Oh, the freedom! For some of us, detoxification was needed. For others, straight in to Grace with no messing about. But however we got here, God has His hand on us, and He will never let us go!
We have all come across modern-day Pharisees on the Internet. These are the people whom I would define as those who consider it their God-given duty to criticise and correct others in matters religious.
While the original Pharisees were of course a strict Fundamentalist religious sect in Jesus’s time, still, they embodied the exact same attitudes of legalistic, religious people that we’ve seen all down the centuries since, right up to the present day.
It’s quite an education reading the comments of today’s online Pharisees and then comparing them with the things that the first-century Pharisees said and did to Jesus, and the things they accused Him of.
Most of that is an essay for some future date; I am still working on it.
But today I want to talk about the glaring major difference between the attacks of Pharisees in Jesus’s day, and those of today’s Religious bigmouths. It’s quite striking when you notice it; you can’t unsee it, and to be honest it’s made me wonder how it’s taken me so long to notice it. I suppose it’s all come out in God’s good timing!
It’s this: the major missing ingredient from the criticisms, threats and other hassles that the Pharisees threw at Jesus is the threat of Hell.
I mean, we know from personal experience what Pharisees are like. Everything that the first century Pharisees were to Jesus, they are now to us, and vice versa. They are judgemental, critical, exclusive, condemnatory, self-righteous, and the list goes on. Every behaviour that is exhibited by today’s Pharisees is mirrored throughout the Gospels in the behaviour of the first century ones. It’s all there.
Except for the threat of Hell.
Given our experiences with the exact same people in today’s world (it’s almost enough to make one believe in reincarnation!!), and given that today’s Pharisees use the threat of Hell a lot, we can be sure that if the ‘nuclear option’, the threat of Hell, were in the arsenal of first-century Pharisees, then they would have used it for sure. It would have been their number-one go-to, boring backstop cliché to use on Jesus. You healed someone on the Sabbath? Wup, yer goin’ straight ter heyyyul fer that one. Associatin’ with them there tax collectors an’ sinners? Well, son, you don’ wanna be seen doin’ that, now, else it’s the bad fiyyuure fer you fer sure. Said in love, brother.
This suggests to me a number of interesting points.
Firstly, the Pharisees did not believe in Hell.
And I can think of a number of reasons why they didn’t believe in it. It could be because they didn’t know about the idea (even though it was around at the time, both in Greek thought, and earlier in Babylonian mythology, or because it hadn’t been invented yet, or because they had heard about it but had discarded the idea as untenable.
The former idea, of not knowing about it, is likely not correct because these were learned men. For all their faults, they understood their version of Judaism inside-out, just like many modern Evangelicals know their Bibles inside-out. The Pharisees were the ancient Fundies, remember. And for that reason they would have seen the alien philosophies of Greece and Babylon as being ‘heresy’ and therefore not acceptable to a good thinking Jew.
To me, the idea of it not having been invented yet is the most improbable, because as we have seen they would likely have heard of those Greek and Babylonian ideas. But, to reiterate, that would mean that even had they heard of it from Greek/Babylonian thought, they had decisively discarded the idea as untenable, possibly because it came from an alien source outside their own tradition. I consider this quite a feasible explanation.
Either way, and whatever the reason, whether they had not invented the idea of Hell, or whether they had heard it from the Greeks/Babylonians but had discarded it as untenable, it is clear that they did not believe in it at all, even to the point that we have no record whatsoever of them having asked Jesus about it. You’d have thought they would, wouldn’t you, if it was important to them?
So because of all this, I personally consider that they hadn’t really given it any serious credence. This is particularly likely as, had they believed in it, it would have been the perfect tool for abusing Jesus and others they didn’t like, as we ourselves have personally experienced in our day. And they would have used it. They wouldn’t have been able to stop themselves.
The Religious never once asked Jesus a serious question about the ‘afterlife’, except for the facetious one about the woman widowed seven times (Mt 22:25-32; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40), but this was more the Sadducees (not the Pharisees) trying to knock the idea of any afterlife at all rather than to discuss any heaven/hell question, and that’s why I don’t count it as a ‘serious’ question.
But, in fact, the occasion of that question, and Jesus’s replies, would have been the ideal time for a discussion about afterlife things, but Jesus never differentiated between the fates of the ‘saved’ and the ‘unsaved’ at that point, and nor did anyone present question Him on that point. And we know that the Pharisees stalked Him just like today’s Internet Pharisees stalk people (Mk 3:2). Had they believed in ECT, any Pharisees there would have immediately taken Him up on the ‘eternal fate’ of people after the Resurrection that Jesus was speaking about, but they did no such thing. Just like today’s Pharisees who just can’t let a point like that go, surely if they had believed in, or were even considering believing in, some sort of afterlife punishment, they would have wanted to discuss that with Jesus at that time, or at least criticise Him for not mentioning it in that ideal context? And then throw it at Him as a threat because He didn’t believe in it, like they do with us?
And not once in Acts, when confronting Stephen, Paul or any of the other early disciples, did the Pharisees threaten them with Hell. Even in the glimpses we have of the Sanhedrin’s attitudes towards the new group of believers, in Acts 4 and 5, they never once threaten them with Hell, nor do they discuss amongst themselves that the believers will end up there for being ‘heretics’. They wanted to have them put to death, sure, but that is not the same thing by any means.
And Jesus never preached against it either. If He’d known about it, He would have either preached against it or for it, and that in clear and unambiguous terms. The lack of any such clear teaching tells me that the idea of Hell was not in His thinking. If you’re thinking about the Sheep and the Goats, or Rich Man and Lazarus, see below.
It could reasonably be counter-argued that the Pharisees never mentioned Hell because they didn’t know about it, and that Jesus came to tell us/them about it. If this was the case, and He was the One Who first introduced the idea, then He would have been the first teacher to teach on the subject. He would therefore have been recorded as going into a LOT more detail on what Hell was like, because it would be so important, and this teaching would have been mainly as an incentive for why to avoid it (like today’s Pharisees do). Also, if He did believe in it, or if He really did teach on it (apparently He spoke about it more than He did about Heaven! Actually that’s not true at all!) then He’d have gone into great detail on how to avoid such a terrible fate. Certainly if He was the One Who introduced the concept to the religious community of the time, then the Pharisees’ extremely sharp minds would have wanted to hammer out every single detail with Him, and there would have been a record of this. He would have taught in much clearer and unambiguous detail than He is recorded as having done.
Let’s make no mistake here: if Hell is true, then preventing people from ending up there has to be the single most important thing in all of Christendom; more important by far than potluck suppers, coffee and that old lady in the tweed skirt who always wants people to bake cakes for the church fete. It would consume the Church, the Bible would be full of clear and unambiguous teaching on it, and (to come back to the point) Jesus’s ministry would have been about nothing else.
And if Jesus really did teach on the idea of a terrible postmortem torture chamber, then the Pharisees would have loved it simply because of the power it would have given them. But you know what, I think I am not mistaken in saying that the idea of Hell as eternal conscious torment (ECT) is still not a part of modern Jewish thought on the afterlife. So it seems unlikely to me that it was ever a concept that was generally accepted.
These ideas also carry this corollary: if the idea of ECT was not a part of the Pharisees’ arsenal, and therefore not part of first century religious thought, then Jesus was not talking about Hell when He told the famous parables of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Sheep and the Goats. Nor did He mean that, when He spoke of ‘Gehenna’, He referred to anything to do with any afterlife punishment. And therefore Jesus did not teach on ECT at all. Because, if the belief in ECT was common enough for Jesus to have spoken about it and have His audience understand His teaching as referring to that, then the Pharisees would have known about that belief too. And they would, as we have both seen and experienced ourselves, have used it as a weapon on ordinary people, and they most certainly would have used it on Jesus.
And that, to me, is the clearest indication that the Pharisees never considered Hell in their thinking or their practice. The Silence of the Pharisees shouts out the message: Hell was not a part of religious thought in first century Israel, either for the Pharisees or for Jesus.
[Edit] Since writing this piece, I have learned that apparently the idea of Hell was in fact present in Talmudic writings, with which the Pharisees would have been familiar. The reason it was in those writings was because it had infiltrated itself into Jewish thought via Greek ideas, as I mentioned above. To me, this is a fascinating point that makes my essay even more plausible; that even thought the Pharisees likely did know about ‘hell’, still they did not use it against Jesus. The ramifications of this I will leave you to work out for yourself, but they are certainly interesting. But rather than remove the essay, I thought I would let my readers make up their own minds on this fascinating, glaring omission on the part of the Pharisees 🙂
Oh, and one more thing: they would not in their time have known it by the name of ‘Hell’ in the way we do, because this term was introduced into Christian ideas from Norse mythology sometime in the seventh or eighth centuries. The term ‘Hell’ derives from the name of the Norse goddess ‘Hel‘ or ‘Hela’, the goddess of the underworld. It is easy to see how Norse mythology has influenced the modern Christian concept of Hell. Also, any fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will be familiar with Hela, the sister of Loki and Thor, from the movie ‘Thor: Ragnarok‘ in which Hela is played by actress Cate Blanchett.
I was notified by a kindly subscriber today that she had not received any emails telling her when a new blog post had been uploaded.
I have checked my system and for some reason the plugin that fired off the emails had been either deactivated or uninstalled; I’m not sure which because all the subscribers’ email addresses were still in the database. I too had not been receiving emails either, and I hadn’t noticed. What a saddo.
I have reinstalled the plugin; let’s see what happens.
Anyway, my sincerest apologies for the inconvenience. There may be a backlog of posts for you to read, depending on when the notification system actually went down – I think it may have been offline for a couple of weeks at least. Still, that’s a lot of blog for you to enjoy.
Here is a superb parable, written by my dear friend Mo Thomas:
CNN News Report: Chicago, June 7, 1997
A bomb threat was called in anonymously at 11:01am to a local high-rise office building in the heart of downtown Chicago near the Magnificent Mile. The owner of the building, Dr. Milton Hanner, a sincerely kind and generous middle-aged man who had lived in Chicago for most of his life, had become familiar with and well-loved by thousands of people over the years as he spent many hours each day walking around the building rubbing elbows with folks and getting to know them.
Upon hearing the news of this threat, he rushed over to the lobby immediately, filled with genuine concern over those inside . . . and formed an emergency plan to make sure every person had a chance to escape. A volunteer army formed quickly at hearing the news of impending disaster, and the owner personally led the charge to quickly and efficiently work the entire 65-floor building, executing the plan in an attempt to make sure that each and every person heard the warning, so they could escape.
Over the course of the next several hours, interviews were conducted with dozens of frantic employees who had fled the building, and CNN learned of the following responses:
— Many people believed that it was a hoax, and completely ignored the urgent warnings. They scoffed at the thought of wasted time leaving a perfectly safe building; some of them recalled the random “fire drills” over the past few years – apparently, two of them just last month, in fact.
— Some people considered the warning, and figured that they’d leave as soon as they got some work done. So, they turned around and went back to their phones and computers, soon forgetting about the warning.
— Others used the news as an opportunity to create panic in their areas. They started screaming, shouting, yelling at people to get out before it was too late. Unfortunately, a few folks jumped out of windows to their doom.
— Lastly, a few folks actually took the warnings seriously and followed the owner’s instructions, getting out of the building in the most efficient way possible and finding cover away from the area.
At 3:03 pm that same day, 65 separate bombs exploded in the span of 10 minutes, destroying the building and apparently leaving no survivors whatsoever.
Strange reports started trickling in that the owner was the one who had called in the bomb threat, and had himself been the one to plant timed explosives on every floor. This set off a firestorm of controversy across all media outlets.
Mr. Hanner, all of a sudden, was no longer the sincerely kind man who genuinely cared for the occupants of that building, no matter how many hours he’d spent with those people, no matter the emergency plan he’d formed and helped execute, no matter if he risked his own life to save them. For the compassionate man who went in to save the people from destruction was the same monster who had already made plans to destroy them if they didn’t heed his warning and escape.
The media now portrayed him based on this new information as
a #terrorist . . .
Wild reports continued to stream in: apparently, the building was destroyed, but there was evidence that the owner had hired security personnel to round up the remaining inhabitants of the building, taking them to a holding cell in the basement, until they could be turned over to a group of torture experts in a remote underground facility . . . with specific instructions from Mr. Hanner to keep them alive, alert and in excruciating pain for an undetermined amount of time, with no hope whatsoever of release or relief.
The entire city went into a mourning period that lasted for months, while hundreds of surviving employees and family members who had lost loved ones suffered from intense psychological trauma upon hearing these gruesome reports.
It wasn’t until much, much later that the final stack of evidence came forward, clearing Mr. Hanner from any malicious activity… it was truly heartbreaking for family members closest to the owner who knew and loved him, to hear dozens and dozens of reports of these horrific false accusations that so many people, including many of his supposed friends, were making against him. They knew how much he loved all the people who occupied his space. To accuse him of terrorism and torture was a terrible character assassination, pure and simple.
Sadly, years after the final evidence came forward, and he was cleared completely of any crime, most people who were interviewed still believed that he was keeping people alive for the sole purpose of having them tortured.
I have just finished watching the series ‘Messiah‘ on Netflix.
Personally, I both loved it and devoured it. Within three days, I’d watched all ten episodes, lol 😀
Through a winning combination of the story, the scenery, the plausibiity, the superb acting, and the actions and attitudes of the main character ‘al-Masih‘ (Arabic for ‘Messiah’) and those of the people who were influenced by him (in many different ways!), I learned an awful lot of stuff about Jesus, about people, about the Grace of God, about politics and exigency, and much more.
As any writer worth his salt would do while watching an epic show like this, I had begun to jot a few notes down about what I thought of it and what I had learned. And, just as it has happened so many times in the past, before I can get my thoughts out there, someone else comes along and says what I wanted to say. But I don’t mind; some people are better at articulating certain things than I am 😀
And so, here’s the brilliant Brad Jersak, with his impressions of this masterful series. There are a few very mild spoilers, but nothing that would impair your enjoyment of this series should you choose to watch it yourself – which I highly recommend you do if you can (as in, if you’ve ‘got Netflix’). I’ll add some minor comments of my own at the end.
I loved Netflix Messiah. You might not if …
By Brad Jersak
I have just finished binge-watching season 1 of the 10-episode Netflix series MESSIAH.
I loved it. You might not. [No big spoilers].
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need the show to be about Jesus of Nazareth. Al-Masih (Arabic for Messiah), the main character, may or may not represent Jesus. He may be the Christ visiting our era … or he may be a false Messiah seeking to deceive. I liked how the show threw both the characters and the audience into the very question that eye-witnesses of Jesus were fighting over in the first century. The show doesn’t commit to solving the question. It’s about asking it. And so, we now have some Christians and Muslims who are deeply offended by the show. Why, exactly? Because it’s portraying the true Christ poorly? Or painting a false Christ as if true? These critics suffer the classic fundamentalist failure of imagination and misunderstand the place of good fiction as a delivery vehicle for truth.
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to reflect fourth-century creedal Christology. Does the show depict a self-revelation of the second person of the Trinity, at once both fully God and fully man? Had the first Christians come to those conclusions as Jesus of Nazareth walked about Galilee, Samaria and Judea? No, it took over 300 years of speculation, debate and councils to arrive at definitions that not all believers agreed on.
I liked how the show depicts those who encounter Al-Masih coming to a great breadth of conclusions, struggling to understand the meaning and identity of this man, just as we see during Jesus’ earthly sojourn.
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to be exclusively Christian. Ask yourself, is Jesus Christ exclusively Christian? And do all who claim to be Christian truly follow Jesus, if imitation has anything to do with it? How about Jewish? Jesus was a practicing Jew and nearly all his first-generation followers were Jews who saw him as the promise given to Abraham. Would you be offended if Muslims, too, recognized Jesus as Messiah (as so many have)? Would Jesus be more concerned about hardening the walls between Christians, Jews and Muslims … would he tear down those religiously enforced walls with other-centered love and radical peacemaking?
I like how Al-Masih confronts and transcends religious/sectarian divides and calls everyone to orient themselves to faith in God and love of neighbor.
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to adopt your religious forms. Whoever discovers Al-Masih, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, attempts to co-opt him for their agendas and squeeze him into their religious forms. Their zealous efforts to fashion a form around him become fanatical, ludicrous and even violent. By transcending these forms, he offends some of his most enthusiastic disciples and they abandon him.
I like how the show mirrors Jesus’ resistance to being pressed into a specific brand of Judaism and it reminds me of how Jesus told the woman at the well (John 4) that we’re beyond that—beyond exclusive specific mountains and temples. His Father wants worshipers who come in spirit and in truth.
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to be on your side politically. Al-Masih may offend American sentiments when he preaches in Washington D.C., challenging the liberty-crushing injustices that are the fruit of us-them nationalism and globalized militarism. As my friend Matt Atkins said to me, “Al Masih’s call for peace was heard as an act of war against those who couldn’t hear it. ‘The time for war is over!’ Yet those who are war-mongers will seek to kill those who call for peace.”
It reminds me of Joshua 5 where Joshua meets the Captain of the Lord of Hosts (i.e. a Christophany = appearance of Christ) and demands to know, “Are you on our side or theirs?” The Lord replies, “Neither,” and Joshua does an immediate face-plant. The lesson of Joshua is this: “Yes, I am with you. No, I am not on your side.” Or as Al-Masih says when confronted with the same question, “I walk with all men.”
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to justify vengeance and violence. Al-Masih only touches a firearm once in the series (not going spoil it). Eventually, he will challenge a national leader to forego all military might and withdraw his armies from a certain conflict (and in fact, globally).
The show presents us with a powerful thought experiment. If you were, for example, the President of the United States or the Russian Federation, what if Jesus himself came to your office on an official visit … and what if you not only believed it was truly Jesus AND you were a sincere and devout believer in Jesus (as both Presidents claim to be) … and what if Jesus told you that God wants you to stand down? What would you do?
I love how the show painted that possibility as a real dilemma for us to ponder … as did the prophet Isaiah, Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. “King of kings” and “Prince of Peace” must eventually mean something in any nation that calls itself “Christian.”
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to be white. The first full-length movie featuring an actual Jewish actor was The Shack (by Wm. Paul Young). Unbelievably, the producer received multiple complaints by Christians that the man playing Jesus was also a Jew (from Tel Aviv) … and worse, I suspect, they even pointed out that he wasn’t white!
In Messiah, the character is said to be born in Iran … but is equally adept in Arabic, Hebrew and English (or at least Texan). He is certainly a person of color. Moreover, the actor who plays him, Mehdi Debhi, is Belgian-born and ethnically rooted in Tunisia. He is identified on IMDb.com as Muslim.
Some may find this offensive, but bear in mind that the original Jesus-followers were all unequivocally people of color. So, I liked the casting choice very much. On a side note, dare I mention that in terms of age, he’s also a Millennial?
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to hate the people you hate. While he backs down from no one, it may annoy those activists on the left or right that our protagonist is not engaged in the culture wars of spectrum idolatry. He intends to burn them down—and not through coercion or tolerance, but through the most offensive demand possible. “Follow me.”
In that role, we find he loves all our favorite people to hate, whether that’s CIA agents, Israeli interrogators, Islamic Imams, New Age hippies or even Southern Baptists. He reaches out to a suicidal teen, a child with cancer, even a conspiratorial prostitute. Very Jesus-like in some ways. I like that the show challenged my prejudices in ways that Jesus has too.
You might not love MESSIAH if …
… you need Al-Masih to fix everything and heal everyone. The series portrays those who become disillusioned when their supposed Messiah lets them down. When he saves some but not others. When he fails to set things right or make people well. Why doesn’t he just touch that person? Why does he act like a savior and then leave the job half-done? Why doesn’t he use all those God-given powers instead of sitting aloof while people struggle and suffer?
I personally found Al-Masih’s aloofness disappointing and unChristlike at times, if the Christ of the Gospels is our real plumbline of authentic Messiahship. But remember, it’s Netflix and we’re still wondering if this is a false Christ after all.
What’s so brilliant about this depiction is that it raises a real question we all ask (at least privately) about God’s apparent aloofness in a world permeated by suffering, disease and downright evil. Why doesn’t God just fix it? That’s an important meditation, not solved by the platitudes of apologists. At least Netflix knew this.
You might not love MESSIAH if …
That’s a lot of reasons why you might not like the movie. I’ve just listed nine of them. What’s most challenging about the above critiques of the series is that these may be the very same reasons that religious and political ideologues, especially Christians, would reject Jesus and expel him from their systems. We now live in an era where a great swath of those who call themselves “Christian” deliberately reject the Jesus Way and his cruciform call to love, peace and forgiveness. With a thin veneer of Jesus-talk, Christendom at large has found Christ’s message (“I AM the message” says Al-Masih) either too much or too little, too naïve or too dangerous, too lenient or too tolerant, or just too “Jesusy.”
The New Testament calls this apostasy. Heresy is when you make a theological mistake about the nature of Christ. Maybe Netflix Messiah makes such mistakes. Forgivable, especially because it’s not an attempt at a fifth gospel or new creed about our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a story.
Apostasy is another matter. It is a willful rejection of Jesus by those who once knew him. It can happen corporately or personally. The genius of Messiah is that it identifies both types. When an individual who has met Christ is so offended by him that they turn away, that’s apostasy. But on a larger scale, an entire movement may become apostate by expelling Jesus when they exchange his Way (prescribed in the red letters) for a new set of talking points. And there are so many competing gospels these days.
The series nailed this point exactly just as the major world religions are again complicit in driving international saber-rattling and frantically accelerating the doomsday clock. Through the show, I can hear the actual Christ clearly asking us, “Will you faithfully follow my Way or will you denounce me to join those many characters in the Gospels, the Netflix series and today’s world who conspire to rid themselves and their religions of the Cross-shaped yoke I call you to bear”?
I’ll also put in the thoughts that I got from the series, too. Some of these comments echo Brad’s insights too, but since I had written them down anyway, I though I’d just share what I had. Remember I wrote these point down before I’d read Brad’s article, so some of my points might seem a bit dated:
– The series helped me to understand people of different faiths and how they respond to different ‘religious/spiritual’ stimuli
– You should not expect to see yourversion of Jesus in al-Masih. You need to just let him be who he is in the series. I’m not saying whether he’s Jesus or not, because that would be a spoiler. But certainly, very much like the Jesus of the Bible, we can see that al-Masih does make people think about the way they view God and the world, and the way they make important decisions. Very much like how the scrpitwriters ‘changed’ the plot in the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, in that I found it quite disturbing that they’d messed with the plot and I had to just accept it as it was, so too you will need to just let al-Masih be who he is. In fact, this is interesting in itself, in that we hope so much that al-Masih will not only be the returned Jesus, but that that returned Jesus will be exactly as we expect Him to be. And, of course, He won’t be.
– Religious people, just as they did with Jesus in the first century, either love him or hate him. His presence has a very polarising influence, partly because of others’ expectations of him. If al-Masih is the Messiah (whatever that means in your context or someone else’s), he certainly divides opinion.
– Related to the above point, al-Masih gives out the definite vibe that he is the one who is in control in every situation, whether that’s speaking to a crowd or being interrogated in a locked cell. Or, more accurately, we easily discern his faith in God; that God will fulfil His purposes for al-Masih in every circumstance. I think that this is what Jesus would have been like. If nothing else, this series depicts a man who is fully present in the moment and has complete faith in God to carry through what God wants. He won’t be pushed into any hasty choice or response.
– It is interesting to see the responses, of the various people in the series who have been ‘broken’ in different ways, to the idea that here is a person who may be able to help them. These responses vary from utter trust, through frantic seeking, to a cynical disbelief despite demonstrations of what appear to be supernatural abilities.
– The series does have the effect of making you think about the effect that Jesus should have on society, both locally and worldwide.
– It also makes you wonder that if Jesus did come back today, what would happen? Importantly, how would He get past the Press? 😉
– Al-Masih says some difficult things, and sometimes answers his questioners with other questions, or at least with a response that makes the questioner think. To me, this approach certainly brings alive the way that Jesus used to answer both His critics and His sincere questioners.
– It was interesting to see the plight of a Religious man who, despite his desperation and his belief in al-Masih, still thinks that the approval of God is works-based, even thinking that al-Masih will judge him for his actions, despite al-Masih showing no inclination to judge anyone at all.
– For a series not purporting to be a ‘Christian’ series (I mean, there’s even a sex scene in it!), ‘Messiah’ does do a remarkable job of making us think about Jesus and, in fact, also helps us to learn more about the kind of Person Jesus was and is, and about the skills and wisdom He would have to have had in order to navigate the sociopolitical minefields of His day.
– I can also imagine that there will be (in fact I think there already are!) many Christians who will decry the entire series as being ‘blasphemous’ or some other such nonsense. This does not surprise me, but it does show that even a fictitious series like this, when depicting a person who is at least something like Jesus, even that fiction polarises people’s opinions, which to me is a good indicator of a) just how relevant Jesus is seen to be even today; and b) just how brilliant a series it is, if it engenders this response despite being only fiction. [Edit: According to Brad’s piece above, yes, the complaining has already started! 😉 ]
For those who have ears to hear, then, I would definitely recommend this series. It’s believable, intelligent and thought-provoking, and may even increase your understanding of God and of your faith, if you have one. It certainly did this for me 🙂
Let me leave you with an excellent quote from al-Masih himself:
“God knows your secrets. And Loves you anyway. And sin: Sin is just the failure to choose goodness, that is all”.
Here is one my my favourite worship songs, and it’s from my favourite Christian artist, Don Francisco. This track is from the 1988 album ‘High Praise‘, in which Don departs from his usual ‘story songs’ and instead presents a series of lovely praise and worship songs.
This song, No Better Place, reflects my heart of worship. There is indeed no better place than to be before His Throne, basking in His Presence and knowing His love. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
There is no better place
Than to be here and to look upon Your Face
In Your church or all alone
No better place than to be before Your Throne
God of comfort, Lord of mercy Love that knows no bound I adore you, worship and bow down Worship and bow down
(Song shared here with Don’s kind permission)
Don’s music can be purchased for download or bought as audio CDs on his website, www.donfrancisco.com. There’s also a lot of his music available on YouTube.
Here is a great post by Paul Ellis, on the meaning of the word ‘holiness’, a term so abused in its misunderstood state that it can be said to be responsible for untold damage inflicted on believers by those who simply don’t know what it means – but think they do! Veteran believers will know exactly what I’m talking about 🙂
One of the reasons why we don’t walk in the freedom that the gospel brings, is that we have changed the meaning of words. We have made beautiful words ugly and turned truth into lies. We tell ourselves that we are doing what the Bible says, but since we have redefined words in the Bible, we are fooling ourselves.
For instance, we’ll tell ourselves that repentance means turning from sin. (It doesn’t.) Or that confession means reviewing my mistakes. (Wrong again.) So we review our mistakes and turn from sin until we’re blue in the face and then wonder why nothing’s changed.
Holiness is another word that comes to us mangled by the machinery of religion. We’ve heard that holiness means avoiding sin or being set apart, but that’s not what holiness is. It’s not that those definitions are entirely wrong; they are just not quite right. Like defining light as the absence of darkness or wealth as the absence of poverty, we have missed the essence of the thing.
God lacks nothing. He is unbroken, undamaged, unfallen, completely complete and entire within himself. He is the indivisible One, wholly self-sufficient, and the picture of perfection. When the angels sing “Holy is the Lord,” they are not admiring him for his rule-keeping or sin avoidance. They are marveling at the transcendent totality of his perfection.
To worship God in the beauty of his holiness is to be awestruck by the infinite sweep and scale of his sublimity. It is to become lost in the limitless landscape of his loveliness.
Holiness is not one aspect of God’s character; it is the whole package in glorious unity. It is the adjective that precedes all other attributes. Hence, the love of God is a holy love; it is the whole and unrestrained love of the Trinity spilling over into the hearts of humanity.
Similarly, his righteousness is a holy righteousness; it is the habit of right action that flows from One who is in such harmony with himself that he is incapable of acting any other way.
And his joy is a holy joy; it is the pure and unshadowed delight that accompanies every expression of his love and goodness.
Holiness is hard for us to comprehend because we have never seen its like. We are more familiar with our needs than his fullness, our brokenness than his wholeness. When the writer of Hebrews said, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord,” he was not making a threat but describing a fact (Heb. 12:14). And when the New Testament writers exhort us to “be holy,” they are calling us to live out our true Christ-borne identity.
This does not come naturally. Our experience in a sick and broken world has not equipped us to relate to One who is healthy and whole. We don’t even speak the same language. Our native tongue is the language of lack and longing, but Jesus speaks the language of abundant life.
“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” said the Holy One (Matt. 5:48). The word for perfect means complete or full grown. It means whole. Jesus was saying, “Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.”
Here is the fourth and final part of the mini-series of video talks by Lee O’Hare, where he addresses the foundational issues underpinning the standard Evangelical doctrine of Hell.
In this talk, Lee addresses the other main pillar/weapon in the arsenal of the Fundagelical proof-texter: the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.
With this Scripture, unsurprisingly, the Fundies have no problem accepting that this is a parable (unlike in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus) because it suits their purposes and they can instead twist the parable. No-one really believes that sheep will go to Heaven whereas goats will go to Hell 😉 . But because parables are stories with an indirect meaning that must be inferred by the reader, naturally this provides Fundagelicals with the opportunity to twist it how they want, which they do freely and shamelessly. In mitigation, many of them are just parroting what they have been taught…I know this because I used to do it too, just like that. But I never used the phrase ‘Pieces of Eight!’.
But in this talk, Lee explains the background to this parable and explores several avenues as to its interpretation.
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts giving you videos to watch, these talks do represent a fair amount of investment in terms of time; each talk is about an hour long. But if you can at all make the time to listen to these excellent videos, it will be time well spent, I assure you.