I fear that my conception of God may be too small.
I fear more for those who think theirs is sufficient.
“Are you dancing in the outskirts of universalism?” I asked Tony in the chicken shop.
“Not at all, I’m dancing in the overwhelming love of God.”
We Christians tend to be a people who love labels. We are Calvinists or Arminians. We are charismatic or un-charismatic. We are Baptist or Anglican.
As helpful as these labels can be, don’t they make us afraid? Because by labeling ourselves, we are essentially picking sides. And when we pick sides, there is an
And if we are not them then I think we often fear the other side. Is this what Jesus came to do though? Did He come so that we could pick sides and fear our opponents? No.
So in this conversation on heaven and hell, why do there have to only be two options? Two sides?
There is a hell where people are eternally tortured.
There is no hell and everybody rocks!
Tony (who, by the way, probably just reshaped my entire conception of the afterlife this afternoon) explained that yes, there is a hell. And no, there is not. Our conversation went something like this:
It’s a sister who got into a fight with her brother and went to her grave thinking she had ‘won’ because she never talked to him again. Was there literally a barrier between her and her brother? Or was it her own perception causing her to live in this hell of a relationship which really only existed in her mind?
It’s the hurting teenager who enters the party already thinking everyone hates him and no one wants him there. He’s suffering alone in a room full of friends. Is he going through a sort of hell? Yes. Is it real? Depends on if you ask him or everyone else at the party.
It’s a daughter who thinks she knows what’s best when her boyfriend tells her to leave her family and friends and move to Arizona with him. Her mother sees the warning signs of abuse and refuses to let her go. Is the mother loving her daughter or punishing her? What seems like hell to the daughter is the most loving thing her mom can do.
Heaven and hell are relational.
And in this same way we too are swallowed up in the swirling tidal wave of God’s love. Some embrace it, just as the daughter would find the most joy in heeding her mother’s wisdom. But some will experience this rushing flood of love as the most painful (and ironic) sting of agony.
Many picture heaven and hell as separated like distant planets. I’m beginning to sense that they may not be as far as we previously thought. Perhaps they occupy the same planet. The same city. The same room.
Perhaps the love of God is so stingingly sweet that some will from it pull the richest pleasures, while others experience their own self-wrought torture from this very same fountain of love. C.S. Lewis wrote,
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
If, at His core, God is truly loving, then He cannot pick and choose the pieces of His creation that He loves. But if, at His core, He is distant and high-nosed, then yes, not everyone would make it into heaven. In fact, no one would.
But our God is a God who draws near when we attempt to retreat.
He moves toward us.
He is the One who embraces the other when no one else will.
And when all hope seemed absent, it was He who sacrificed Himself because we could not bear the weight of ultimate separation from Him.
You see, hell is relational. If you hate being loved by God, you will have an unbearable eternity. And I don’t say that to be coy, I really mean it will be painful and torturous. Like unrequited lovers forced to attend the same party. Except times infinity.
Heaven is relational. If we acknowledge God’s love and delight in His Word, then eternity will be nothing shy of infinite bliss. Knowledge of peace and joy. Wholeness.
So what language do we use now to talk about heaven and hell? What vocabulary encapsulates eternity? I feel like today is day one and I’m learning to speak.
Please don’t misread this post: I believe in a heaven and I believe in a hell.
But I believe they may be much closer than we realize, because I believe in a God whose mighty love covers all of His creation, whether they like it or not.
Dear Ethan, My Brother:
I’ve been following your blog for a while now in the aftermath of your Chicago rain-jogging going viral. Since I’ve subscribed to your blog, I’ve marveled at your honesty and wisdom. I praise God that you share the things that you blog. (I actually got some stuff right 20+ years ago, when a friend confessed to me his struggle with pornography!) Today’s post is most refreshing.
Here’s a label or two for you: I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I jokingly say that I grew up in the only Irish-Polish Methodist family in America. Today, however, I consider myself to be a Catho-Metho-Costalist. Catholic (Byzantine, not Roman) by tradition; Methodist (Wesleyan, not United) by theology; and, Pentecostalist (Charismatic, not Charismaniac) by experience. More importantly than all of this, I’m learning how to relate to God as Father while I live out my sonship with Him on a daily basis. I prefer the label of my Father’s son.
I’ve watched my spiritual journey grow from orphan to slave to son, realizing that the Father loves me as I am, not as I’m supposed to be. The Father also loves me enough not to leave me as I am, but He continues the refining process that is conforming me more into the image of His Son as I yield my life to the power of His Holy Spirit.
I’ve been a volunteer chaplain in a juvenile detention center while in Bible college and working full-time in a secular job. I’m ordained by a church in western Oklahoma, and I’ve been a rodeo chaplain, praying with contestants behind the chutes before and after performances and conducting cowboy church services in the rodeo arenas. Both experiences have allowed me to see Jesus in the least of these His brothers and sisters.
I agree with you. Everything is relational. There’s no “us” and “them.” We all are His image bearers, having been created in the Imago Dei. We all are on a journey, and I prefer sharing the love of the Father, Whom I know, with both those who know Him and those who have no relationship with Him. I prefer sharing heaven with those on the road to hell.
I prefer to speak life. I prefer not to speak only about that which I am against because that rarely shows my Father’s love or the reality of my relationship with Jesus Christ or my dependence upon the Holy Spirit. I retired last year as a Chief Economist in State government, and I await what’s next for me to do for the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’m attending Q Denver 2016 next week and staying with one of my nieces and her family in Northglenn. Reading your blog, I’m convinced you’d get a lot out of this conference, too. I’m excited about the information that will be shared, and I’m praying for ministry direction for me here in this City made famous by “Breaking Bad” and Bugs Bunny’s never-taken left turn.
Thank you for putting yourself out there in your blog. Your honesty is incredible, and it isn’t always easy to share what you blog.
In the Name of Him Whose Glory and Majesty Outshine the Sun!
Jeff Repichowski (505) 688-3165 Cellular
Sent from my iPhone
Hell: separation from God. Earth can be a living hell, but people still have the opportunity to be brought out of the eternal separation while on earth. love this post
What is the scriptural support for that?