Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm Going To Hell

Many years ago, when I was a mere teenager, an uncle of mine said to me, “I’m going to hell.” Being a bit stunned, I asked, “Why do you think that?” He said, “Because everyone knows the Bible is true. I don’t live by it, so I’ll be going to hell.” I queried, “If you really believe that, then why don’t you live by it?” He responded, “Because I don’t want to.”

This uncle was considered by many to be the black sheep of the family, living a pretty wild lifestyle. He was also known to take a provocative position on issues just to stir up emotions and drive a conversation. So, even though he seemed sincere with his statements concerning going to hell, I cannot be sure he really believed it. After all, why would anyone deliberately live in such a way as to end up in eternal torment?

Back in 1980, when I came to believe the Bible, I converted to Christianity. I certainly did not want to be tormented day and night forever and ever. Yet, when I told the good news to a friend of mine that I had discussed the Bible with frequently, I was not met with joy. Rather, I was confronted with a number of questions about what the church I joined believed in. After several questions, I realized that my friend was from an even more conservative wing of the Church of Christ than the one I joined. God forbid I had become a Baptist or a Methodist. Anyway, the bottom line was that apparently the beliefs I had adopted concerning the Bible weren’t totally correct. I still had a few doctrinal issues wrong, so I guessed I was still bound for hell.

This was my first remembered brush with Christian judgmentalism. By this I mean a person being judged unworthy of God’s salvation even though he himself believes he has done all God has told him to do to be worthy. It is quite disconcerting.

Over time I discovered that there were people claiming to be Christians that ranged from very liberal to very conservative. On the very liberal end of the spectrum were those who believed in universal salvation. Everyone would be saved in the end. On the very conservative end of the spectrum were those who believed that a person needed to have their doctrine 100% correct and live according to it perfectly to be saved. And, of course, there was a wide range of beliefs in between these extremes. I began to visualize this range of beliefs as being embodied in individuals standing next to each other in a long chorus-like line. Each person is turned toward the person on their more liberal side pleading with him to just give up his more liberal views in order for the two to be in fellowship. Of course, he is totally ignoring similar pleas from the person on his more conservative side directed at him.

These disparities in people’s thinking about whom God will save and whom he won’t made me curious about who thought I wasn’t saved. Whenever I would get into a discussion with someone of a Christian faith different from mine, I liked to ask if they thought I was going to hell. I recall one time when I engaged a Mormon acquaintance in a discussion. After a bit I asked, “So, what do you think will happen to me in eternity?” He hem hawed around as I continued to press for an answer. Finally I said, “Look, you won’t hurt my feelings whatever you believe. After all, it won’t be you judging me anyway.” Still I got no straight answer to my question. I had to assume that if he thought I was going to heaven, he would have been happy to say so. Therefore, I guessed he didn’t think I would fair well.

About seven years after becoming a Christian, I de-converted when I became convinced that the Bible was not the word of God. Then it became really interesting asking people where they thought I would spend eternity. Since the Church of Christ generally believes that one can lose his salvation if he falls away from his faith, the answer from them was obvious: “You’re going to hell.” But from other groups, such as Baptists, it was more interesting. Baptists generally believe that once a person becomes saved there is no way for them to become unsaved. So, opinions from Baptists tend to vary. Some think that I am still saved even though I don’t believe the necessary things to be saved. Others think that I was never saved to begin with, which is kind of odd when you think about it. That means that even though I actually had faith in Jesus and confessed and was baptized, I was still bound for hell even though I wasn't aware of that fact. If that is possible, could it be that some of those Baptists who thought I was never saved were themselves never saved. I’ll leave that one for National Enquirer to sort out.

In the mist of all this confusion, I do have a bit of good news, especially for those that are outside God’s favor, knowingly or unknowingly. If the Bible is true, don’t fear. Contrary to what I always believed about it, the Bible does not teach that the unsaved will be tormented forever and ever. Rather it teaches they will be annihilated, never to exist again. I discovered this when I was conducting research for my latest book, “God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God”. I would love for you to give my book a read and let me know what you think about it.

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