You’ve really got to hand it to ad placement bots. Here’s a screenshot from a piece on Holy Communion:
In the raw grief, terrible devastation and utter despair of the total loss of someone so central to your life, what can you possibly do? What is the next step?
Do we ever really ‘cope’ with the loss of someone we love? I mean, sure, ‘life goes on’; we still have to get on with life and survive; others also seem to cope in their own fashion. But each of us is different. Each of us wonders: when the time comes, how will I ever manage?
Well, in this series, I have attempted to share, usually in a deeply personal way, the ways in which I have coped with the loss of my dear wife, Fiona, to cancer in October 2016. The insights I have published in this series will doubtless have been helpful to others who are going through a similar thing.
I realise, though, that much of what I have written is based on my Christian faith, because much of the way in which I have coped has also been based on that faith. And I realise that not everyone shares that faith. Maybe you don’t believe in God at all; maybe you would like to believe in God but you don’t like what Religion does to society; maybe you think that a belief in God is kidding ourselves and there is really no good news in Religion at all.
And that’s all fair enough. We all believe in different things. And so, I have written this piece for the benefit of people who maybe don’t believe those faith things like I do. But we all feel pain, whether we have faith or not. And there are still practical, down-to-earth things you can do in order to help you in your grieving process; things I have learned or had to do for my own grief journey. So, in this piece, I will go through a number of such ideas which you may, or may not, find helpful. There’s a lot in this article, and it might look overwhelming, so feel free to read it over as many sittings as you need. And please feel free to take on board those things you like; and to leave behind those you don’t.
Everyone feels grief. But everyone feels it in a different way. Do not be either worried or surprised if you find yourself behaving differently from other bereaved people you have met; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to your grieving process or the ways in which you express your grief. There is no ‘you should feel this way’ or ‘you should not feel like that’. Anything you feel is ‘normal’ to you, even though you may not have felt it before. Accept that this is your own personal grief journey. That’s not to say it cannot be shared, as we shall see later, but it is unique to yourself.
Time is indeed, as common folklore suggests, a great healer. In two months’ time, in a year’s time, you will not feel the same feelings and emotions about your loss that you do now. Believe it or not, these raw, uncharted and uncontrollable feelings that you feel now – they will pass. Give yourself the time and space to explore, and, if you like, express those feelings, and also, importantly, give yourself permission to have them.
It may not feel like it right now, but the process of grief is a healthy, natural process. Despite how modern society likes to view tears and emotion, grief is just as healthy as a bowl of muesli or salad. It is part of your body’s (and your mind’s) way of coping with a big life change, and for this reason grief can actually be welcomed. Even though you do not welcome the event that has caused the grief (the death of your loved one), the grief itself is the path to healing and recovery.
Death is an unavoidable part of the life journey. Because of this, there are, unsurprisingly, many ways of receiving external help which are already in place. Do not hesitate to avail yourself of the help that is available; it definitely makes the process smoother and easier. I’m listing these early on, because these are usually the most pressing things to get sorted out.
Practicalities – after your loss, the first couple of weeks or so will understandably be taken up with various ‘official’ duties such as registering the death, arranging the funeral and things like that. Registration of the death is free; certified copies of the death certificate are £4.00 each in the UK at the time of registration; £7.00 each at any later time. I recommend that you get several copies of the death certificate. It seems that everyone wants to see it at once; and not only that, but everyone wants to see a proper certified copy. A photocopy is never good enough, it seems. The other thing is that you will also receive a document which you take to the Funeral Directors; this document enables you to arrange the burial or cremation with them.
The UK has a very good ‘Tell us Once’ system where, when you register the death, you take along things like your loved one’s Driving Licence, National Insurance Number Card, Passport and similar documents, and the registrar’s staff will notify the relevant Government authorities and departments of your change of circumstances on your behalf, so that it saves you a lot of painful rehashing of the same information to various people. This is definitely extremely helpful at such a time of intense emotional stress, and in my opinion this is one of the best ideas that Government has ever come up with. For more information on the ‘official’ side of things, in the UK at any rate, visit this link; other countries will no doubt have similar systems in place.
Funeral – One of the first things you will need to do will be to contact a Funeral Director – better if they are local – in order to begin to arrange the funeral. There will be various official things that you have to arrange with regard to this, and the Funeral Directors will have experience of this and will help you through the process. For instance, they will be able to advise on the arrangements which are needed if there is going to be a cremation; this is slightly different from a burial. They will also be able to help you find someone to advise on things like probate (if required) and the execution of the Will; many Funeral Directors offer a legal service to help with that sort of thing, and there will be a charge for this service. Although I am absolutely sure that every Funeral Director will give an excellent service – many of them see it as their life’s ‘calling’ – I would not hesitate to recommend the Co-Operative Funeral Service, which has branches all across the UK. They were recommended to me by a member of Fiona’s extended family, and they were absolutely superb.
There is also the possibility that your loved one may have had a Funeral Plan set up in order to pay for their funeral. If this is the case, they will probably have told you or another member of your family about it, so it’s worth checking that.
Funerals can be quite expensive; however, in the UK, many people are entitled to receive help with this cost, even if they are not on benefits. See the section on ‘Financial’ below.
Visiting – If you can at all face it, if it is at all possible, I would advise considering visiting your loved one’s body before the burial or cremation. I never regretted spending a last couple of hours with Fiona, even though I knew she wasn’t really ‘there’ any more. The opportunity to be able to say some final things to her was priceless beyond compare. Offer the opportunity to your family too; they might need it. And once her ashes arrived at my house, on their way to being finally buried, I gave other members of my family the chance to just sit with the box for a while and say goodbye.
This too was helpful for them. For me, both these events were instrumental in helping me to let go of her and I am so glad I did it. But naturally you might not want to do this; you might want to remember them as they were when they were living. This too is fine. You can always visit the graveside later to say anything you need to say.
Financial – You will need to contact your financial institutions, like your Bank, mortgage lender, savings institutions and so on in order to get names changed; also contact your Life Insurance company if your loved one was insured.
The UK Government provides financial help after the death of a loved one, to many people in the UK, whether or not they are on benefits. If you live in the UK, it is well worth you applying for this help – which I appreciate you may not have known about – because if you are entitled to it, then it is your right and your privilege to claim it. Don’t feel bad about it; this is what you pay your taxes for! At the time of writing, there is a one-off ‘Bereavement Support Payment’ available, to the tune of £2,000, which would go a long way towards helping with the funeral costs. When you apply for this benefit, you should also be automatically considered for all other bereavement benefits, all with the same application. More details here.
Medical – In the UK, there is plenty of medical, voluntary and professional help available for those going through bereavement. One of the main ways of accessing this help is through your doctor. Your doctor will be able to offer suggestions for first steps such as bereavement counselling; medication if necessary; and maybe they might also be able to discuss with you the illness that your loved one died of, if that was what happened. Sometimes, it’s good to discuss with your doctor things such as the events leading up to your loss, the way in which (what we call) end-of-life care works, how the body prepares itself for death by shutting down various systems (it’s actually really amazing) and reassurance that your loved one did not suffer. Your doctor will also be able to provide contact details for various counselling organisations, if that’s a route you decide you want to take. Certainly, talking with people experiened in helping bereaved people is really helpful – I myself received an excellent bereavement counselling service from the people at the local hospice where Fiona died. This approach may not be suitable for everyone, of course, but your doctor is still the person best-placed to advise you on this.
You could also consider asking your doctor to sign you off from work for a time; the practicality of this will of course depend on your workplace’s sickness absence policy and philosophy. And you might not feel like doing that now, but after a few months or so you might change your mind. Like I said, grief is different for everyone and there is no set pattern. For me, I was reasonably fine for about eight months, and then I found I had to take some time off work. You should find that your doctor is only too willing to help in this way.
Practical Help – Feel free to ask others – maybe family or friends – if they can help with things like shopping, cleaning and ironing, walking the dog, looking after the kids for a couple of hours, whatever you need. Most people will be only too pleased to help, because they will know they are doing something really practical to help you in your time of need, and this will also help them in their grieving process too. But equally if you do not feel up to receiving offered help, you should also feel free to refuse graciously. Maybe something like ‘I don’t need anything at the moment, but can I call you if I do?’ would be good.
You might feel as if you have let your loved one down; maybe you might feel as if it’s your fault they died. Maybe you had an argument with your loved one just before they set off on the journey from which they did not return. Maybe you feel as if you contributed somehow to their loss in some way. Or perhaps there were unresolved issues in your relationship that still niggle at you. Well, everyone is different, of course, but personally I feel that there is no point in letting these things bother you anymore. You might feel there’s nothing you can do because all these things are in the past and it can’t be changed, and in itself that is true of course. But there is something you can do: although you can’t change the facts, you can change the power they have over you right now. The practical offshoot of all this is that you need to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness means looking at the thing you think you did wrong, acknowledge it (whether it’s true or not) and then let it go. Decide that it’s in the past, and there’s no point at all in beating yourself up about it any longer. What’s done is done; you can’t change the fact, and to put it bluntly, the only person that any unforgiveness will hurt is you. So, determine right now to put that fault, be it perceived or real, behind you, leave it behind you and move on. Do this for every accusation that you feel yourself making towards yourself. This stuff, this self-forgiveness, is healthy and it works wonders for promoting healthy grieving. This is because the key to healthy grieving is to have it as guilt-free as possible. So, give yourself a break and just let it go. Forgive yourself, let the guilt go, and feel the weight just lift off you.
Again, you may be aware of things that others have said to you, or to your loved one, that cannot be unsaid; that cannot be mended. Ok, these things happen. But if you hold unforgiveness in your mind, the only person it harms is you. If you are mad at someone, and they are mad at you too, they are not going to care one jot that you are mad at them. In fact they may even cherish the idea because they know you are feeling bad about them. Well, it has no constructive benefit to you at all and it certainly won’t change their behaviour or attitude towards you; all it’s going to do is to eat you up from the inside. And, at this terrible time in your life, you can do without that sort of hassle on top of the grief. The decision to forgive lies in your hands. And that decision is something you have complete control over, and it’s also something they have no control over. I’m not saying that you all need to be friends again; indeed, you don’t need to tell them that you have forgiven them because it may well be greeted with scorn anyway. You can’t control their thoughts or behaviour, neither should you try. But you do have control over your own, and that is your trump card. So, forgive, and in that way you take away their power to hold anything over you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from others’ behaviour – if you ‘forgive and forget’, as the old saying goes, then you’ll never learn anything – but you owe it to yourself to release yourself from the burden of having to feel bad about those people.
More importantly, though, please forgive the person you have lost for any way in which you feel aggrieved by something they did, said or were. Again, you do not have the power to change the past; it really is set in stone. But, again, the power you do have is that of forgiveness. So yes, you can’t change the past, but you can change the effect it has on you. So, once again, forgive. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by so doing.
Remember that in all three cases above, forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a decision. You decide that you are not going to let those things have any control over you any more. And when the thoughts and feelings keep popping up, push them aside as completed, dealt with, and sorted, and just get on with what you are doing. Tell those thoughts to get knotted!
While on the subject of guilt and forgiveness, you might need to hear this too.
If you lost your loved one through, for example, a long illness, once they have died, you might be surprised to feel considerable relief now they have gone. And that in itself can make you feel guilty. How is it possible for me to be relieved that my loved one has died? Well, it’s perfectly valid. You are relieved that your loved one is no longer suffering and no longer in pain. You are relieved that the waiting and uncertainty – for you, your loved one and for your family and friends – is now over. You are also relieved that your own huge struggle, at least with the impending loss of someone you hold most dear – is over. Granted, there will be things that you still need to sort out, as we have already seen, but these things will soon be done and you will know that that part of your ordeal is over. And it’s perfectly ok to feel a sense of relief about that.
You will get a lot of people who will express their sorrow and sympathy for you and for your loss. Remember that they have no idea what you are going through – even if they too have suffered a bereavement; remember everyone’s grief journey is different – and they may say some insensitive things. The vast majority of the time, these people are only trying to help, and part of the problem is that they don’t really know what to say. What can anyone say at a time like this? Death is an awkward subject and it’s not something many people think about in terms of how they would cope with it. And so their sympathetic words might seem a little hollow – but they really are doing their best to express their concern for you. They are probably feeling awkward and like I said, they – actually quite literally! – don’t know what to say. I used to reply to such things with ‘It’s ok’, but not for long! I had to take my dog to the vets a couple of days after I lost Fiona, and the vet said ‘Sorry to hear about your wife’. I replied with a simple, ‘Oh, it’s ok’, and his reply was, ‘Well, no it’s not ok’ and he was right. It’s not ok. And so I decided that from then on I would simply say ‘thank you’, because that was far more accurate! Or maybe you could have a set phrase – ‘I’m coping’, or similar. It’s not lying. That you are still alive and just getting on with stuff shows that you actually are coping after a fashion!
Don’t hold it against others who might say insensitive things. They are grieving too, possibly for the first time on this sort of scale. Maintain an attitude of forgiveness – let the ‘offence’ go. Coping with others is not my strong suit, though, because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and so I can’t really advise beyond this. Maybe your counsellor or doctor can help with that.
Although your grief is huge, there may well come a time – and, indeed because you might have friends and family relying on you, that time might be here already – when you feel you can help others cope with their grief by talking with them about your respective grief journeys. Not only is it true that a burden shared is a burden halved, but getting these feelings out into the open, and realising that you are all going through a common process, can be a huge step towards your healing.
As soon as you feel able, try to restore your normal eating patterns. And, certainly, remember to keep yourself hydrated. Continue to exercise and get fresh air, continue your hobbies and continue your social life as far as possible – I realise it will be more difficult now if it’s your spouse or significant other you have lost.
There may – or may not! – be a strong temptation to give up doing the things you used to do together. If possible, don’t give those things up. Ok, if it was something like ballroom dancing, you’re going to find it hard without your dancing partner. But many of your activities can likely still be engaged in as often as you feel like it. So, if you can, don’t forego continuing the things you used to do together. If you can do it, this is a healthy way to remember and indeed celebrate the good times you had together – see this article for more on this idea.
And give yourself a break, in the sense of ‘go easy on yourself’. You do not have to do everything at once. You do not have to feel pressure from anyone to do anything. Your grief journey is your own, and you do not have to explain yourself to anyone.
Something profound I learned a few months ago is that memories are just as lasting whether the person you made those memories with is alive or not. Here’s how I put it in a previous article:
“And so, the happy memories I hold precious as examples of how good life was, and indeed still is. In essence, whether Fiona is here or not, those memories would only ever be all I have left of those times, because what is past is indeed only ever memories”.
And so, remember the good times and rejoice in the fact that they happened. Nothing can ever take that away from you. And forgive the bad times; holding a grudge will only interfere with your healthy grieving process.
Remember that everything that your loved one contributed to your life, your character, is still yours. All the attitudes that you learned, all the memories you have, the way in which your character has changed for the better because of the time you spent together – all of that is yours and can never be lost.
Finally, I should let you know that it is perfectly normal eventually for you to let go of your loved one, for this life at least. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t want them, nor that you don’t wish with all your heart that they had not died. It simply means that life goes on. You are going to have to learn to live a very different life from now on because your loved one isn’t here any more, and, although you will think about that person every day for the rest of your life, it’s perfectly ok for you to let go of your loved one. You keep the memories and attitudes and things, but there’s no avoiding it that the person is gone. Letting go is a gradual process, and it is a natural one, and above all it is nothing to feel guilty about. Indeed, it is part of the healing process.
I apologise that this article is so long, but there was so much that I wanted to say, and different people will have different things that they receive from reading this piece. Remember: take in what you want and find helpful; discard what you do not.
I hope this has been helpful for you.
Finally, here are some links to services I have either mentioned or hinted at in the text of my article. These are primarily for my UK readers, but other countries will have similar services. Remember: Google is your friend!
The UK Government’s page on how to claim Bereavement Support Payment and other bereavement-related benefits. Applying for Bereavement Support Payment means that you will automatically be considered for any other bereavement benefits you may be entitled to.
The Samaritans – the renowned, free-of-charge counselling service
In this excellent piece, my online friend Dave Carringer paraphrases part of what I call the ‘letter of Freedom’; St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:
Don’t be deceived; you’ll have to guard the liberty Christ gave you. Remember, it was for freedom alone He made you free! The ‘law’ isn’t restricted to just 10 rules on a rock. Any stipulation or requirement you strive to live for will keep you from bearing the natural fruit living from Him will produce in your life! Oh, they won’t bombard you at first; but will subtly slide your neck in the yoke one rule at a time.
It may start like “just add this in the spirit”… or “just cut this off in the flesh”… but once you agree to just one of their rules, they won’t stop until they have you straining to keep their whole list! And you’ll be cutting something off all right… YOURSELF… from the Life giving flow of Grace and Truth already within you! Trying to ‘do’ a certain thing or ‘stop doing’ other things to please God… will profit you absolutely nothing. He’s already pleased with you because of Christ IN you, who came with all the faith you need which flows beautifully unrestricted through His Love. You’re not under any form of ancient ‘agreements’ made with any other people groups… but are simply free to Live & Love as sons and daughters of God.
Understanding this alone will produce more lasting fruit in your life than you’ll know what to do with! Of His fullness you have received… and you are complete IN Him; so do yourself a favor and cut yourself off once and for all from anyone or anything that says you need something else! (Galatians 5:1-6 dcv*)
*’Dave Carringer Version’ – i.e. his own personal paraphrase 🙂
Here’s a superb piece by the renowned Christian thinker and pastor, Brian Zahnd.
During my ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘, one of the things that Father God set me free from – in this case, quite forcefully – was the idea that the Bible is the be-all and end-all of the Christian faith, and that its ‘authority’ trumps even that of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the fruits of ‘Biblicism’, which Brian describes in his piece below.
Here’s the piece, which I think is well-written, balanced, gentle and informative.
Christianity vs. Biblicism
(This is my foreword to Keith Giles’ excellent new book, Jesus Unbound.)
As modern Christians we are children of a broken home. Five centuries ago the Western church went through a bitter divorce that divided European Christians and their heirs into estranged Catholic and Protestant families. The reality that the Renaissance church was in desperate need of reformation doesn’t change the fact that along with a reformation there also came an ugly split that divided the church’s children between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. In the divorce settlement (to push the metaphor a bit further) Catholic Mom got a long history, a rich tradition, and a unified church, but all Protestant Dad got was the Bible. Without history, tradition, or a magisterium, the Bible had to be everything for Protestant Dad — and Protestants have made the most of it. For five hundred years Protestant scholars and theologians have led the way in biblical translation, scholarship, and interpretation, giving the Christian world such notables as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, John Wesley, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, T.F. Torrance, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Fleming Rutledge, Richard Hayes, N.T. Wright, to name a few.
But with Sola Scriptura as a defiant battle cry there always lurked the temptation to place more weight on the Bible than it could bear, or worse yet, a temptation to deify the Bible and make an idol out of it. This has become increasingly true among the more fundamentalist clergy and congregations who are suspicious of higher education and unwilling to read their Bibles with the help of biblical scholars the caliber of Brueggemann, Hayes, and Wright. So while pretending to “take the Bible as it is,” the fundamentalist reads the Bible through thick lenses of cultural, linguistic, political, and theological assumptions — interpretive lenses they are unaware of wearing.
This has led to the thoroughly modern and peculiarly Protestant problem of Biblicism. Biblicism is an interpretative method that reads the Bible as a “flat text” where every verse is itself “the word of God” and carries the same authority as any other verse. Biblicism, in effect, attempts to make the Bible the head of the church. Where Catholics err in seeking to give ultimate authority to the Pope, Protestant Biblicists err in seeking to give ultimate authority to the Bible. What Christians are supposed to confess is that Christ alone is the head of the church. The risen Christ said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me.” With his wry British wit, N.T. Wright reminds us that Jesus did not say, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given unto a book you chaps are going to write.” The irony of Biblicism is that for all its claims about giving final authority to the Bible, in reality Biblicism enables the individual reader to remain their own private authority. So if you don’t like Jesus’ explicit call to an ethic of nonviolence, you can always appeal to the wars of Joshua and David to countermand the Sermon on the Mount. This is how you use Joshua to trump Jesus. Perhaps the most clever way to ignore the commands of Christ is to cite an opposing chapter and verse. By reading the Bible as a flat text and selecting the corroborative proof-text, you can gain a biblical endorsement for nearly anything — including wars of conquest, genocide, women held as property, and the institution of slavery. This abuse of the Bible has a long and well documented history.
One of the chief problems of Biblicism is that it fails to make the vital distinction between the Bible and Christianity. Christian faith is a living tree rooted in the soil of Scripture. We cannot remove the tree from the soil in which it is rooted and expect it to survive; but neither are we to think that the tree and the soil are the same thing! They are not. Put simply, the Bible and Christianity are not synonymous. Yes, they are connected, but they remain distinct. Scripture is the soil; Christian faith is the living tree. They are connected, but they are not the same thing. So if the Bible assumes that slavery is both a tolerable and inevitable institution (see Ephesians 6:5), even explicitly stating that slaves are slaveowners’ property (see Exodus 21:21), that doesn’t mean this is the Christian ethical position on slavery. Christianity is not a slave to the Bible — Christianity is a slave to Christ! Out of the soil of Scripture grows a mature Christian faith that is not only able, but required to oppose all forms of slavery in the name of Jesus. Rooted in the soil of Scripture, Christianity is capable of growing an ethical bough of justice called abolition.
Since the canon of Scripture is closed, the soil of Christian faith is unchanging. But that doesn’t prevent the living Christian faith itself from growing, changing, developing, and maturing over time. Of course, how it grows and changes will often be a matter of fervent debate within the church; and the deeply fractured nature of the church compounds the complexity of this problem. Nevertheless, to understand Christianity as a living tree rooted in the soil of Scripture enables the church to grow in new and redemptive ways within God’s moral universe. To say that Christian faith is forever rooted in Scripture, yet distinct from Scripture, is both conservative and progressive. Conservative in that it recognizes the inviolability of Scripture. Progressive in that it makes a vital distinction between the living faith and the historic text. But to claim that Christian faith is one and the same with the Bible is a fundamentalist mistake that is ultimately untenable. For example, I’ve seen Biblicists backed into a corner trying to defend the Bible by saying, “sometimes slavery is a good thing.” This is Biblicism at its worst.
The ancient orthodox alternative to modern heterodox Biblicism is to say what the church has always said: Jesus Christ is the true Word of God. The Bible is the word of God, only in a penultimate sense. The Bible is the inspired, canonized witness to the Word of God who is Jesus Christ — the Word made flesh. Only Jesus Christ is the inerrant and infallible, perfect and divine Word of God. We come to accept the Bible as authoritative in the ongoing conversation about Christ that is Christian theology through the witness of Christ and the church — not the other way around. Without first appealing to Christ and then secondly to the church, we can’t even account for how the Christian Bible came into being. The risen Christ commissioned the church to bear witness to the gospel throughout the world. In the course of obeying Christ’s commission the church composed, collected, and canonized certain writings that became the New Testament. But we don’t start with the Bible; we start with Jesus and the church. Why? Because Jesus is Lord, not the Bible. Christians worship Jesus, not the Bible. Jesus is the head of the church, not the Bible.
In reading Jesus Unbound: How The Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God, some readers will regard Keith Giles as controversial. I insist this is not so. Giles’ approach to the Bible is not novel or modern — it’s the orthodox way the Church Fathers read the Bible in the formative centuries of Christianity. It’s modern fundamentalist Biblicism that should be regarded as controversial and ultimately rejected as heterodox. But I also understand that a Biblicist approach to the Bible is the default position inherited by most American evangelicals, which is precisely why Giles’ book is so helpful, so timely, and so important. So as you begin your reading of Jesus Unbound, be assured that you are on solid ground — and keep your Bible close at hand, because as a lover of Scripture, Giles will refer to it over and over again. Both Keith Giles and Jesus Unbound are firmly rooted in the Bible.
(The artwork is the 6th century Christ Pantokrator mosaic in Hagia Sophia.)
Since this is based on an American article, the links to the book in the article go to Amazon.com. For the book on the UK Amazon site, click this link.
I’ve been writing this blog now for more than three and a half years, and it seems like time has just flown! Up until now, I have been posting an item roughly twice per week, and I would imagine that my readers have become used to that posting frequency.
This is just a quick note, then, to let you know that I’m not going to be posting quite as often from now on, nor as regularly. This doesn’t mean that I’m stopping writing; I’m just not going to be writing quite as much. But the take-home message is: ‘don’t worry!’; I will still be writing things 🙂
Rather than having you check back every few days, it may be helpful for you if you sign up to my notification list so that you get an email every time a new blog post is published. The system for doing that can be found in the right-hand column of any blog page.
Thank you all for frequenting my blog. It means a lot to me.
We’ve all come across these people. You know the situation: you’re on a forum and you make some comment implying that you are intelligent/educated/well-versed in Bible history, theology, or your Bible college education, or indeed anything. Not meaning to blow your own trumpet, of course, but just to illustrate that you probably know just as much as anyone else how to at least talk about the incomprehensible – and yet, so close to us – Being we call God.
And then some oik comes along and tries to puncture your entire balloon by declaring that ‘God frustrates the wisdom of the wise’, or some other such comment designed to put him/her on an ‘equal footing’ with you as far as shooting down your qualifications, education, wisdom, experience or whatever.
And in some ways, they’re right. Not only do none of us have a ‘monopoly’ on the knowledge of God, but also God is capable – and willing! – to give wisdom to anyone who asks for it, having realised their lack! (Jas 1:5) If God can speak through animals, children or even a glorious sunset, then He can speak through anyone, educated or not.
But, to me, it’s quite obvious when certain ignorant* people are just parroting Scriptures that they have been taught, without understanding. In many ways, they are “…seeing but never perceiving, hearing but not understanding…” (Mk 4:12, Mt 13:13-15 fulfilling Isaiah 6:9) and they can’t imagine anyone knowing more than they do. Or, it might just be that they are afraid of feeling ‘small’ in the things of God and say these things to bolster their own confidence. I don’t know; being Autistic, I find it difficult to relate to others’ feelings. (And I wouldn’t presume to make any assumptions about what others are thinking, either).
In this essay, then, I would like to address this problem by describing the differences between certain types of ‘wisdom’.
Now, it’s funny, but as I have mentioned before on my blog, I don’t come across all that well in face-to-face discussion; I’m not all that articulate!
But I am still a professional man, Bible College educated and with two University degrees in science (a Bachelor’s and a Master’s), and I have been recognised in the past as a Polymath – that’s someone who is very good at a lot of things. I say this not to boast, but to set the stage for this piece in which I would like to try to address the problem that a lot of Christians seem to have with people who are clever and/or knowledgeable.
While I fully understand that some people who are not all that clever may feel belittled, maybe threatened or put-down by others appearing smarter than they are, I firmly believe that it takes all sorts. Everyone has value, and intelligence and knowledge are only two of a whole multitude of amazing abilities that humans have. We can create fire and cook wonderful meals. We can kick a football with such accuracy in terms of mass, speed, trajectory and such that it arrives in a specific spot in space and time, hopefully beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. The ‘keeper’s brain is also performing a set of automatic calculations which might – just might – help him to put his body, or at least his hand, in a place that will stop that ball going in the goal. We can drive vehicles at speeds that our brain was never designed to cope with; even a standard 70mph is a phenomenal speed compared with the speeds our bodies were originally supposed to move at: usually up to 3-5mph, and certainly no faster than 20mph, at least not without steroids 😉 Even driving a car, then, is an utterly amazing thing to be able to do, a thing which is not rendered any less clever and special because most adults can do it; that it’s not rare does not make it any less amazing.
So, just because one does not have all that much intelligence or knowledge – two ‘abilities’ which are supposedly highly prized in the world today, although sometimes I doubt it – does not mean that one has to belittle those who do have them, and particularly when that belittling is likely in response to one’s own insecurities. It’s vitally important to remember that we each have our own talents, and they are all amazing in their own right. And we are all equally valued by God.
I know that many Christians immediately answer an assertion of intelligence with a Scripture salvo containing the idea that ‘God frustrates the wisdom of the wise’ and all that sort of thing. Let’s address some of those Scriptures, shall we? In that passage about the ‘wisdom of the wise’, in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, St. Paul is talking about the wisdom of the world; the fleshly wisdom that comes only from a non-spiritual person (1Cor 2:14). There’s more about this passage below. Sure, St. Paul wrote about all his former ‘spiritual education’ and theological knowledge being ‘rubbish’. But that, firmly in its context (Phil 3:8), was what he thought of the stuff he considered he ‘knew’ before he met the Risen Jesus.
In other words, Paul was saying that, compared with what he was learning in Jesus, the Wisdom of God personified, the former things were indeed a load of old rubbish, of no remaining value whatsoever, fit for nothing but to be thrown away as worthless!
But here’s the thing. An educated believer is not someone whose intelligence God frustrates. No; instead, He builds them up in wisdom and knowledge so that they can be of service to their fellow believers. In other words, God gifts the body of Christ with intelligent people so that they can use their gifts for the common good. This is what I am doing with my blog – I hope! The Secret of the Lord and all that…
If nothing else, the sometimes complex and convoluted theology of Paul should be a case in point for what happens when a highly intelligent person gets hold of the Gospel and applies it with the wisdom of God, and then uses that wisdom and knowledge for the building-up of others. He brings out points of theology that can satisfy both the simple and the wise, who can go into as much or as little depth as they want to do – as long as they acknowledge that there are some parts they don’t understand as well as they do others. And so, Paul’s writings have survived nearly 2,000 years and are known and loved word-for-word by millions of people worldwide, and they continue to build people up, right up to this very day.
I could go further with this and quote the two main Scripture passages used by people to attempt to bring down, or level, those of high intelligence. But I won’t; I would instead encourage people to respect their own intelligence and read it for themselves, and hear what Jesus is saying through the words. The passages are 1Cor 1:18 – 2:16, in which St. Paul quotes from Is 29:13-16. Those (1Cor and Isaiah) are the two main passages that spring to my mind at the moment. Interestingly, this Isaiah passage is also a passage that Jesus quotes (Mt 15:9, quoting Is 29:13) about how humans make up their own religious rules, and in fact these are the ‘wisdoms’ that Isaiah declares that God is going to frustrate, and St. Paul’s reference to that Scripture in the context of man-made religious rules is no coincidence. In fact, it strongly suggests to me that Paul is referring to human wisdom in things involving spiritual matters. In these things, things about which we really don’t have an awful lot of clue, if we’re honest, the wisdom of men is pretty useless and only those things revealed to us by the Spirit have any value anyway (Jn 16:13; Jn 16:13 KJV)
And so, please let’s not belittle or otherwise disregard the intelligence of the intelligent, or the wisdom of the wise; not when they are people of the Spirit speaking of spiritual things; not when their wisdom is rooted in the Cross and the Resurrection and all that Jesus did there. By all means, we should take only what we need and what speaks to us in what they are saying, and discard the rest. But let’s not knock it. We will already know that, in fact, the Bible praises wisdom greatly, and if we want that to be true for us, how then can we discount all (even Godly) wisdom, and count it all worthless? That’s just plain daft. The first four chapters of the Book of Proverbs are full of exhortations to wisdom; we cannot discount it simply because others have it. In fact, mocking those who are wise is also not all that clever an idea, mainly because you miss out on what they have to contribute.
How long will mockers delight in mockery
And fools hate knowledge
– Prov 1:22
…and also, comparing ourselves with others isn’t always a healthy thing to be doing either. Personally, I prefer just to rest in who I am in Christ, use the gifts He has given me for the benefit of others, and rest in His Presence. There’s no better place to be.
*Ignorant in its true sense: being in a state of not knowing. A state which we are all in, to some degree, but some more than others.
Some might be offended by this, but from very early on in my Christian walk, I have considered Moses to be a complete and total prat.
In fact, I once voiced that opinion (in fact, my words were “…actually, I think Moses was a bit of a wally”), and was told that I would, one day, have to answer for that. Hmm, yeah, right 😉
Well, here I am doing it again, and on a world-wide platform, no less.
I mean, he was a volatile man with a terrible temper; a murderer; a religious cult leader (he had absolute power and authority, that he claimed were ‘God-given’); and he was the equivalent of an organised crime leader in that he had a bunch of killers at his beck and call. Consider the episode of the Golden Calf. If you haven’t read the story, it’s in Exodus 32. Moses comes down off that mountain and finds the people worshipping an idol – a golden calf – and, despite pleading with God for the people with some compassion, Moses ends up in a total radge and gets a bunch of thugs to go through the camp killing people indiscriminately. Not the kind of bloke you’d want to go down the pub with for a pint. And this is Moses the ‘Servant of God’ (Rev 15:3, Heb 3:5, Num 12:7 et al) we are talking about here, remember.
Then, on another occasion (Numbers 15:30-36), Moses decides that ‘God told him’ to kill (or at least, to get his thugs to kill) some random bloke who may even have been an innocent foreigner who just happened to break some Sabbath law that he maybe didn’t even know about. And then the very next verses in that Numbers passage go on about some pretty little tassles with coloured thread that you can look at and feel good about. I mean talk about dysfunctional religion… I really don’t like some parts of the Bible, and Numbers is the pits, it really is. There are some nuggets and gems in there, but you have to dig pretty deep – and survive all the other tripe in there – in order to find them.
And supposedly Moses wrote that book, although I understand that most scholars nowadays do not hold this to be correct. But if Moses had written it, it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s right up his street. If you were going to give the Bible an enema, Numbers is where the tube would go. Or maybe Deuteronomy. Anyway, I could go on for ages quoting examples of how Moses justified himself by effectively saying ‘God told me to do it’ and essentially displayed all of the characteristics of an abusive church leader of one of today’s way-off-beam churches, but at a time in history that was at least three thousand years ago. It seems that, in some quarters at least, little has changed. In some ways, it’s quite worrying: I have actually heard and read many purported men of God put forward the idea that Moses is a ‘model’ leader. Actually, it’s Jesus Who models the ideals of leadership qualities, not Moses. If you are ‘under’ a leader who claims Moses as his model, get out of there fast! Run as far as you can, as fast as you can! It’s especially scary that the words of Moses and violent stories from the Old Testament (especially the story of David and Goliath) are used far more to
indoctrinate educate children in Sunday School than are the words of Jesus. But I digress.
Suffice it to say that I see Moses, and the religious views of the Old Testament (OT) inspired by his teachings, to be the archetypal example of how not to pursue faith in God. Essentially, Moses tried Law and it didn’t work (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16). And in fact the huge take-home message of the OT is this: Religion based on rules and regulations does not work. Sure, the main thing that the OT does is to lead us to Jesus, but one of the primary ways in which it does this is to show us the futility of Law-based religion.
And, while I have learned valuable lessons from Moses, especially on the how-not-to-do something level, I have recently come to a further conclusion which sheds a lot of useful light on how we interpret the older parts of the Bible today, and try to apply its ‘teachings’ as principles in our modern era.
You see, I realised that it is completely unfair for me to judge Moses by today’s standards; that was just the way people were back then, even (and especially?) the ‘pious’ ones. Moses was on a different part of his spiritual walk, in an entirely different time, world and culture from ours, in an utterly different and indeed completely alien era, when their belief systems were very, very different from those of anyone today. Or so I would hope, at any rate. Those people were only just beginning to adapt to the idea of the One True God being different from the gods of other nations, and not simply being just another tribal deity. So, Moses was a man of his time. True, I still think he was a prat, but he was a prat of his time. Let’s give him the benefit of that.
In fact, the Hebrew people of that time too were also a product of their times and circumstances. Everyone else – all the other nations: the Philistines, Hittites, Jebusites, Midianites, Edomites, Amalekites, Moabites, Egyptians, Amorites, Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians – had vicious gods; the Hebrews thought theirs wasn’t much different, at least at first, until His continued revelations to them gradually showed them more of what He is really like. And so they said things like ‘God told us to [perform an atrocity]’ whereas actually it was just the way they did things back then.
Anyway, from the Old Testament, we now jump forward to the New Testament (NT). On the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36), Jesus’s disciples observed Him in the company of the previous ‘greats’ of the Jewish faith – Moses and Elijah. It is widely agreed in this context that Moses represents the Law, while Elijah represents the Prophets. And so when Peter says, “Let me make three tents for you all”, Moses and Elijah disappear and the voice of God says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The timing of this announcement is important. Whereas Peter wants to give Jesus equal standing with Moses and Elijah – which in his eyes, would have been an honour indeed – by making three equal tents for them, the simultaneity of the three events of Peter’s offer of the tents, the disappearance of the ancient guys and the words of the Voice of God are effectively saying, ‘No! These guys, and what they represent, are not important anymore; from now on you need to listen to My Son, Who is not equal to Moses and Elijah, but is in fact much, much greater‘. As of that day, the Law and the Prophets have been superseded, and they are no longer the way in which God relates to people. And while Moses and Elijah generally got their way through religious bullying and genocide, the way of Jesus was diametrically opposed to those kinds of methods.
In this pivotal event in the Jesus story, God was saying, “Look, from now on we’re doing things differently. We’re no longer doing things using the crude and often barbaric methods of mere humans, no matter how much they are in My favour; no, now we are doing things My Son’s way”. Not only this, but also that Jesus was – and is – the perfect revelation of God to humanity. ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9). In fact, one of the major, if more subtle, of the story arcs of the Scripture is that of humanity’s changing view of God, right from being just like all the other vicious tribal gods of the region, right up to, eventually, Jesus showing us what the Creator is really like. And there is no need to assume that this arc does not continue to this day; God is continually revealing His nature to humanity in ever-increasing measure, and still this is through Jesus Christ.
So, yes. Moses , in addition to being an utter prat, was also a mass-murderer, a thug and a cult leader. I accept this and I accept why he was like this.
This is the testimony of the entire New Testament; indeed, this is why the Testament is known as ‘New’. John begins his Gospel with it: “For the Law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17); the Transfiguration account states it, as we have already seen; and St. Paul continues the claim with his assertions that we are no longer under Law, but under Grace, in Rom 6:14 and several other similar passages. Moses is no longer relevant, except in certain circumstances where believers preaching the Gospel need to relate to people who are still ‘in’ the old system of Law in order to save them from those systems (see 1Cor 9:19-23 for examples of this tactic).
So, what this means in practice is that yes, we can allow that Moses was a product of his time, and excuse his behaviour that way. But it also means that we neither can, nor should we, try to import the cultural attitudes and laws of Moses’ times into our present day faith and religious structures; it just doesn’t work, and most of it would be illegal nowadays anyway. Especially all that crap about killing the donkeys… We just shouldn’t be trying to imitate the way they were back then, a) because Jesus has superseded it all with His way of Love, and b) because it is no longer relevant and is indeed a step in the wrong direction, and c) who wants to be like Moses, for goodness’ sake? A good read of the book of Hebrews will reveal that the Old Covenant has, in Christ, already been superseded by the New Covenant, and a major part of this succession is that the Law of Moses, and all the superstition, savagery and religious manipulation that Moses represents, is gone forever and is no longer relevant to the believer.*
In fact, the entire burden of fulfilling the Law has been borne by Jesus, however that works. Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Mt 5:17 NLT). And, once their purpose had been accomplished, they are no longer necessary, except in the vestigial sense I mentioned above. When we live a life in the Spirit, all the burden of the Law is taken care of and is not only fulfilled by Jesus and Him living His Life through us by His Spirit, but is actually made obsolete (Heb 8:13). This is what makes it a New Covenant; it’s no longer a dead covenant but in fact a ‘new and living Way’ (Heb 10:19-23). It’s also the primary reason why we need to read the Scriptures – all of them – through the lens of Christ, Who embodies and demonstrates Grace and Truth, rather than the lens of Moses, who represents the Law. If we deny this, then we deny our liberty from the Law and are essentially no longer aware of the benefits of that liberty; indeed we have ‘fallen from Grace’ (Gal 5:4)
No, the whole burden of our having to keep the Law is now indeed obsolete. This is because it is now Life in the Spirit that makes us free to follow Jesus and live His Life. In my article, Licence to Sin, I explain how the life in the Spirit means that we can live sin-free and walk freely with God.
Wouldn’t you like to be in that position? Wouldn’t you like to be free of the influence of others’ judgement on your life and actions, pretending to be in the name of God? “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1Jn 2:6) This is not a test of true faith, nor is it a command. This is a simple statement that those who live in Him must walk as Jesus did because that is their natural tendency. That’s just the way things are, it’s saying. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1Jn 4:17). This is the nature of the New Creation. This is a statement of fact.
And it’s a statement of fact about You. Yes, you reading this. This is who you are. You are in Christ. Not in Moses, nor indeed in ‘Adam’, but in Christ.
And there is no going back. Once we have been included in Christ, the life we live is not any longer our old life, but is the New Life in Christ! (Gal 2:20)
Oh, hallelujah! Why be all tied up in Moses any longer? Step into Christ, into His liberating death and His Life-giving Resurrection, and His joy-giving Spirit. And live, live, live!
Yes, Moses may well have been a prat. But you are not in Moses; you are in Christ, and He is the One Who is in you.
*I make the distinction between believer and unbeliever here, because Paul says that ‘through the Law, we become conscious of sin’ (Rom 3:20b). Once a person believes in Jesus, that person no longer needs to be ‘conscious of’ or indeed worry about sin at all, ever again, because it has all been dealt with at the Cross, and the believer has appropriated that for themselves. This is part of what it means to be a New Creation in Christ. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new is come! (2Cor 5:17)
Top picture in this article is an obvious photoshop of legendary actor Charlton Heston as Moses in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments. My apologies to the late Mr. Heston for my shredding of the character he played 😉
A few weeks ago, the brilliant Jeff Turner posted this superb piece on Facebook. This essay really grabbed my attention because it’s one of the things that God has been saying to me for a couple of years now. I will let you read it first, and a few of my own comments follow:
I don’t aim to offend with posts like the one that follows, but there are certain things I can’t help but say. Not because I aim to tear down this or that movement, but because I long to see people find freedom from the madness they willingly and hopefully submit to.
I’ve watched people who are dear to my heart, give literal decades of their lives to movements that are going absolutely nowhere. They are movements that lack mobility, based not upon helping hurting people (though, that’s a bit of an overstatement, as there are factions within these larger movements that certainly DO focus on exactly that) but upon pumping up the masses to expect a fresh wave of revival, or a “new thing” which God always seems to be on the verge of doing.
Year after year, decade after decade, the prophecies, promises and proclamations keep coming: “God’s getting ready to do this! God’s raising up that! We’re entering into a season of this! etc…” The fact that almost none of these promises ever materialize is ignored though, and the faithful are moved to heap guilt upon themselves, believing that if they’d only prayed harder, fasted more, or lived more consecrated lives, that something would have happened. They shoulder the guilt and responsibility that belongs to the irresponsible leaders who made the empty promises, blame themselves lacking in devotion, and determine to try harder next time. That isn’t to say they aren’t complicit, in that they never ask questions of their leaders, but, still, he guilt is misplaced. They pray, pray and pray some more, but the promises and prophecies never come to pass.
Eventually, when weariness sets in, the leaders switch gears, and begin emphasizing the necessity of spiritual endurance, and preaching about not giving up on your breakthrough, revival’s right around the corner etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. This keeps the faithful…faithful, but also enslaved. They are hopeless devotees to a system founded on false hope. When the falseness of the hope begins to be revealed, however, they’re simply given bigger and flashier things to hope for.
But year after year, decade after decade, nothing changes.
And why does nothing change? Because instead of devoting ourselves to bettering humanity, we hide in prayer closets and prophecy clubs, begging God to act, and telling each other things are about to change. Deep inside, though, we know we’re lying. Once it becomes apparent that the movement we’ve been longing for is still a ways away, gears are shifted again, and now the faithful are told that God is raising up people to pray in the movement that God wants to raise up – which apparently He can’t raise up until we ask Him to do it. A lot. Now it’s not about expecting revival, but expecting God to raise up prayer warriors to pray in the revival. Which begs the question of what was it they were doing all those previous years, then? And why exactly would God need for us to pray for Him to raise up people to pray to Him so that He could do something He already wants to do? Any way you cut it, it’s madness. Faithful and devout madness, to be sure, and the tenacity and devotion of those involved is a marvel, but it’s madness all the same.
If you push a button on a vending machine and the screen says “all out,” you move on and press another button. And sometimes to an entirely different machine. And sometimes you even give up on vending machine cuisine altogether. Would it not be mad to stand pressing the same button for years, hoping that suddenly things would change? If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and you move on, but these popular prophetic movements don’t allow you to move on. They’ve employed and trained an army to stand behind you and whisper in your ear, “Keep pressing that button! Don’t get weary in well doing. Harvest is on it’s way, breakthrough is coming, but don’t stop pressing or you might miss it!” If you’d only tune out their voices and press a different button, or move on entirely, you could get on with your life. But the fear of “what if they’re right and I miss out?”, and that niggling thought of “were the hours and hears I spent pressing the button just wasted, then?”, spur you on.
This madness has to end. Your life is too beautiful a thing to keep imprisoned in such insanity!
Dear friends, I mean no offense, but I know this insanity all too well. I’ve been trapped in such movements in my past, and almost destroyed my life and everything precious to me because of them. There is no hope in clinging to these sinking ships. There’s an abundant life waiting for you just a few short steps outside of the prison of unfulfilled prophecies and unanswered prayers that you’re living in. You don’t have to stay trapped and bound. There’s hope for you. You need not waste another moment. Run for your life, and find freedom and rest in Christ!
There’s a better way.
– Jeff Turner
And I think that’s so well said. It’s essentially carrot and stick. This is the carrot: God’s doing something new! Tomorrow! Which of course never comes! – and the stick is of course Hell. Surprise, surprise; predictable and boring.
So what happens is that you live every day looking forward to better things, and not appreciating today for what it is and how God wants to walk with you today. And all while under the threat that if you so much as put a toe wrong (that is, outside the church’s particular ruleset) then you’re toast forever. And that without butter, too.
But TODAY is the day that the Lord has made; today is the day of salvation. Living in the moment is all He expects us to do; anything else is just wasting our lives on wishes. I wrote an article on this sort of thing about a year ago (in fact it was exactly a year before Jeff wrote his post, on the 12th June); here it is:
No, life is for living – right now! – and in the freedom from fear (1John 4:18) that knowledge of God’s perfect Love gives.
Postscript: I do believe, however, that revival is always just hanging over our heads, and God just waits to pour out His Grace and mercy on those who will receive it. That includes you and me, and it includes us right now. I also believe that God is indeed doing a ‘new thing’ in this day where He’s making it clear what He’s like, and making it clear whom He includes and whom is welcome with Him, and this despite what the church think about it. (Shall I do this and not tell Abraham? (Gen 18:17) It would appear that Abraham is not listening!) And, as usual, the religious are being left standing and the ‘sinners’ are going into the Kingdom ahead of them (Mt 21:31)
Header Image credit: Berger and Wyse
Be warned: this is a very dark essay, mitigated only by the fact that I am describing what I consider to be wholly incorrect doctrines.
Today I’m going to look at the terrifying and indeed relentless ‘logic’ of the Evangelical doctrine of Hell, and the fate of everyone who ever lived*. But first I need to make some points clear.
Firstly, please remember that I am writing this from the point of view of Evangelical doctrine, as I used to believe it, 20 years ago, and which is still believed by most Christians of that persuasion today. I do know what I am talking about, because I was schooled in this horrific doctrine.
Secondly, I now reject the doctrine utterly, as completely false. Humans do not suffer endless torment in this Hell place once they die. I consider it to be a man-made invention, inspired by mediaeval interpretations of Scripture towards a public even more ignorant than they are now (ignorant in its proper sense of ‘not knowing’), mediaeval literature such as Dante’s Inferno, Islamic theology from the Koran, Greek mythology and many Pagan ideas as well as Babylonian mythology too. If the Christian Scriptures are interpreted through such ‘filters’, then it is no wonder that such a terrible concoction, as the Hell doctrine actually is, exists. That, and its promotion from the desire of crooked people from time immemorial who desire control over others. But that doesn’t mean it’s true; far from it.
Most gentle Christians, if asked about this doctrine, will usually say that they do believe in Hell, but that they have not really thought about it all that much. They are just believing – loosely – what they have been taught.
In this article, therefore, I am writing almost entirely about the ‘nasty’ churches and harsh Christians who espouse doctrines that damage the idea of a God of Love; I am not talking about the majority of decent churches who simply live their Christian lives for Jesus, doing good in a quiet way (1Thess 4:11)
To digress for a minute, I would bring up the subject of ‘cherry-picking’. That is, selecting Scripture verses or other evidence that supports your own point of view, while ignoring or otherwise disregarding other evidence that contradicts that point of view. This is nothing new, of course, and many Bible characters, including Jesus, did it regularly. This is actually because of the style of debate that Rabbinic scholars used, and unless one is familiar with that, it can be quite bewildering and confusing.
There are those in the Church who, for whatever reasons, like to major on the ‘bad news’. I am working on an essay on this idea at the moment, and I will publish it in due course. And so, I have noticed recently that the bad-news mongers only cherry-pick the bad verses, while at the same time accusing people like Universalists (those who believe everyone will be ‘saved’), for example, of only cherry-picking the ‘good’ verses.
It seems to me that these kinds of Christians, who, incredibly, consider themselves ‘joyful’; the bad-news mongers who nevertheless believe they are purveying a ‘loving God’ and ‘good news’, would rather assume that everything about their god is bad. He sends people to Hell. He punishes people for their sins. He’s wrathful. He likes people dashing babies against rocks because it says so in the Psalms (Ps 137:9, in fact, if you’ve never realised that Scripture exists). It seems that for a religion that purports to be joyful, it’s actually not. They have a facade of ‘good’, and many if not most churches do indeed do a lot of good in the world, but actually their ‘good news’ underlying everything is actually very, very bad news indeed. In fact it is actually the worst news there could possibly be. The most horrible nightmare you ever had does not compare with this stuff.
Let’s take a look.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 that ‘narrow is the way, and few are those that find it’. I know from personal experience that most Evangelicals infer from this that those who do not find that ‘way’ are toast in eternal punishment, because the verse also says that the ‘broad’ way leads to destruction. This is always interpreted by Evangelical Christians as meaning that this ‘destruction’ is in the eternal, everlasting torment of Hell. There is, however, actually no direct link between this passage and the classic ‘Hell’ passages, for example Luke 16:19-31; the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This conceptual link between the ‘broad road’ and its ‘destruction’, and that this ‘destruction’ happens in Hell, is actually an assumption made by humans when trying to support the doctrine of Hell.
Maybe you don’t believe this is standard Evangelical doctrine? May I suggest you take a look at the interpretation of the ‘Narrow Way’ passage’s entry on GotQuestions.org, a website explaining standard Evangelical doctrine. It even says there that ‘We are not to be concerned with the number who will or will not enter’ – how callous is that? Grr…. Also take a look at the gross assumptions layered over the Rich Man and Lazarus story – another ‘classic’ Hell passage as mentioned above – in the ‘explanation’ of that parable on GotQuestions. It says there that, “Jesus teaches here that heaven and hell are both real, literal places”, and actually the whole, horrific doctrine is laid out there as true, non-debatable and horrible in its harshness, although I must allow that at least they have come clean and said what they actually believe, honestly, in black-and-white.
Let’s summarise, then, by saying that the Evangelical belief is that a) Hell consists of real, conscious, everlasting torment after death for all those who do not believe in Jesus; and alongside that, b) Very few people will find the way (Jesus) Who rescues them from that unimaginable fate. Let’s also add c) In order to ‘find’ Jesus, people must adhere to the Evangelical methods of doing so – saying the ‘sinner’s prayer’, for example, being baptised, obedience to leadership, tithing, belief in Scripture as inspired, inerrant, infallible and to be taken literally. That’ll do for now.
But let’s go back to Matthew 7:13-14. Let’s look at it again:
From this verse – few are those that find it – it follows that actually few people will be ‘saved’ – they will ‘find’ the narrow way that leads to life – and the corollary to this is that most will therefore go to Hell. My very conservative estimate would be that, if that doctrine is true as stated, about 99.9% of people will end up there, according to Evangelical doctrine and given the number of people ‘reached by the Gospel’, by the time they die, with the ‘correct’ Gospel message**.
I would therefore pose this question: What kind of parent would bring a child into the world, knowing that there is a better than even chance that that child will eventually burn forever in Hell? Who would dream of bringing a child into that sort of situation? Why would you want to do such a thing? It would be sheer folly of the highest order and an abdication of responsible parenthood even before they become parents. It would be absolutely stupid to have children if you know that they will more than likely, statistically speaking, be amongst those who will burn forever. Who would want to do that? In order to try to justify the concept of children going to Hell, in many cases even before they are even conscious, they make up totally unbiblical ideas like the ‘age of responsibility’ and claptrap like that. This is an utterly man-made construct; it’s not Biblical at all, and furthermore, Jesus TOLD us that few will be those who find the way. Therefore, age of responsibility notwithstanding, most of your children will go to Hell according to those Evangelical doctrines.
Some would say Oh well, God is just, He’ll work something out. He’ll do the Right Thing. But if god is constrained by the rules that the Evangelicals say he is, there is no escape there either. There are no exceptions at all: children; the mentally ill; aborted fetuses. No. Evangelical doctrine holds that god is constrained by his ‘justice’; his rules of punishing sin, being unable to bear anything that is not holy, and his rules of justice which state that all sin must be punished or at least borne by someone, even an innocent victim. But even if that victim did his best – and Evangelicals believe that Jesus, that innocent victim, indeed ‘did it all’ – even then, most people will burn. Jesus effectively said so in Matthew 7:13, and there’s no getting away from it. Of course, it’s always ‘someone else’ that’s going to burn, not those who believe they are the ‘Elect’. But still, if there are people who, by accident of health, geography, family background or for any other of a host of reasons cannot say or understand the ‘sinner’s prayer’, then they are going to burn. No exceptions. And so that means that the sacrifice of Jesus was 99.9% worthless, or at least it will be worthless for 99.9% of people.
The ‘good news’, then, is that a very few people will find the ‘way’, and the rest will burn forever in unimaginable agony. Linked with my earlier paragraph, the ‘bad-news monger’ will say ‘Yes, god is loving, ah but, he’s also holy and wrathful and righteous and all sorts of other stuff’. They prefer the ‘bad’ verses over the ‘good’ verses.
The doctrine of Hell is the single most repulsive doctrine in all of Christendom. If it were true, the Bible would be full of warnings and references to it – but it’s not. Would it not be fair of God to make it absolutely crystal clear? But that there Bible is in fact not clear on many things, and it’s especially not clear on this.
Just to reiterate: the gospel that contains a Hell doctrine is NOT a gospel – it is not good news. It is the worst news that there could possibly be.
Let’s make it personal, shall we?: most of the people you know, love and/or have ever met will be toasting in Hell for all eternity.
There is no escape; there is no recourse other than to a 0.1% effective (at best) Saviour, if indeed 99.9% of all people who ever existed will end up in Hell. These are not good odds, I would say. I would also say that this Jesus, as depicted in this doctrine, is not all that effective a Saviour, is He? How can that be called ‘Good News’??
If you believe in the Narrow Way doctrine, and you believe in Hell for those (most people) who will not find that Narrow Way, then these terrible, terrible things are what you must believe.
All the Church socials, all the outreach, all the best coffee in the world and all your social projects designed to reach the poor or the Lost; they are all a waste of time and are simply papering over this most terrible news: that actually, no matter what you do or how hard you try, most of the people who ever lived – including most of your family, friends, colleagues and loved ones – will be tormented forever. These points are relentless, irrefutable, despair-inducing, inescapable and hopeless. There is no hope in this gospel.
This is the relentless, uncompromising logic of the Evangelical doctrine of Hell. This entire logical sequence is what you must believe, if you believe in the Hell doctrine.
Think about it.
I am sorry to finish this essay on such a low note, but this is intentional because I wanted to show that this darkness and despair is what the Hell doctrine actually represents. For more on this subject, and a little more light in the tunnel, please visit my Hell Resource Page which is somewhat more positive. The one gleam of light I can offer right here is that I believe that these doctrines are completely untrue. Remember I have written this all from the point of view of an hypothetical Evangelical who actually believes it’s all true.
Header image shows the gate of the concentration camp at Auschwitz I – Birkenau, Poland; the atrocities committed here pale into insignificance compared with the horrors of Hell as espoused in Evangelical doctrine.
*I have to say that this essay has been written at a great personal cost. In looking at, and researching, the Evangelical doctrine of Hell, I have looked again at the most horrific doctrinal ideas I have ever seen, against which the Holocaust pales by comparison, and realised that this stuff is really and truly believed church-wide as standard doctrine. Even though not all churches are Evangelical, still one of the supposedly foundational beliefs in the Western Christian church at the moment is this Hell doctrine. It’s simply incredible. People like me, who reject the concept of Hell as a place of eternal conscious suffering, are usually ostracised in churches if we so much as mention that it might all be wrong. I see my wonderful God’s Name blackened beyond recognition; I see Jesus’s death as wasted (according to their doctrines anyway) and all this sort of stuff. I have felt my blood pressure rise; the whole concept has made me tearful, stressed and deeply saddened. I have felt physically ill because of it and it has made me sick to the heart. Such is the vehemence with which I reject this doctrine, and all the damage that it does, and such is the burden that people like me bear. Difficult is the Narrow Path indeed, and it is a very hard road indeed.
**There are a number of other factors involved in my reaching that 99.9% figure, but the main one is that it’s only about 0.1% of people in the world, at the most, that believe in the standard Evangelical ‘salvation’ model, and since it’s the Evangelical claims I am describing here, this is the figure I am using here so that the essay is consistent in its claims about Evangelical doctrine.