A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More Hellish Dilemmas

Hi Folks,

This is really a very long entry, mainly in response to what people said in comments on my "Hellish Dilemmas" post. I actually feel I have lots more to say, but then, mercy is a Christian virtue, is it not? :)

You can read the comments on the post on this page (scroll down past the entry to read the comments). Please post any new comments at the end of this page.

I figured with such a long entry, to have any chance of any sane people actually reading any of it (who am I kidding? This is my blog, none of you guys are sane) that having subheadings might help. Feel free to skim through. Enjoy.

On hating God, why we do it and whether it's curable

Dave wrote:
If the New Creation is going to be as described in Rev 21 ... with a all-consuming consciousness of God's presence, it is a bit much to expect those who do hate God to want to be there.

I see your point. Having heard lots of theories about what "hell" could be like, one of the ones that interest me is the idea that it's having to endure the presence of God when you hate God. It's an intriguing idea, because it suggests that hell is of our own making, in a C.S. Lewis-ish sort of way. We can come to a lot of complex questions on what choice we have, and what it means to accept or reject God. It often seems to me that many people don't hate God, they hate Christians... They come to associate "God" with whatever foolish Christians (including me) are espousing; perhaps a god who hates homosexuals more than anything, or a god who would rather you sang some Matt Redman songs than help the poor.

And then again, I know that I personally often ignore God because I love myself more. Sometimes beans on toast is just more immediate that a three-course meal by an accomplished chef, if you get my parabolic drift. So I guess I might reject God not because I hate him but because I happen to be pre-occupied with something else.

And it seems to me that both rejections are curable. If you hate God because he's unfair and unfeeling, you'll be pleasantly surprised to meet the real God, and if you become preoccupied with the little insignificant things, you can be given focus. I guess the question I am posing is, is it possible to see the full glory and wonder of God, and hate him? You might be afraid of the cost of following God, you might be in love with something else, or you might just not know God... but it seems to me that if God is as glorious and loving as we say he is, then knowing the truth would indeed set us free... We would have the freedom from fear and selfish love so that we could follow God. Of course God could choose not to bother enlightening us and I've noticed humanity tends to plan to do one thing and then do another. Often when we have the grandest intentions we fail most badly - or perhaps it's just that when we have grand intentions, our failure is most apparent.

Some thoughts on choosing salvation

Is there choice involved in salvation? Can God make people want Heaven? Before becoming a "hopeful universalist", I was most certainly an Arminian, believing that the only way God would reject someone would be because of their own choice and not because he just inherently doesn't like them, making them so he could enjoy burning them in that lake of fire just to prove how great he is (Sorry, I'm using emotive language again, gotta stop that). But here's the paradox - I prayed like a Calvinist. I met a girl on a camp once who was very troubled about her parents. They'd lost interest in correct doctrine and didn't care much for God. I offered to pray for her, and her response was simply to question the point. They made their choice, she said, and though she could reason with them, since they had decided to reject Christ she had to respect their choice, just as God would. Prayer would make no difference... This scared me because I realised it was the logical outcome of Arminianism - one cannot pray for the salvation of the person who has rejected it. I guess in a way I behaved like a Calvinist who considered the elected as consisting of my loved ones and anyone I felt moved to pray for. I always prayed with the belief and the hope that God could melt the resolve of the stubborn and break through the unbelief of even the most resolute atheist.

And if one comes to "TULIP" Calvinism, in that people are unconditionally elected and only saved because of the empowerment of God that allows them to call on him and be saved... The idea that those who saved don't even take the credit of *choosing* salvation, then I don't see why God bothered to create the people who'll be eternally damned. Calvinism means that some people are damned essentially not because they were unwise, stubborn, cruel, self-centred or evil, but just because they were the unlucky ones. All the other unwise, stubborn, cruel, self-centred and evil people got healed and saved. Believing total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints would automatically make it impossible for me to believe in limited atonement, I'm afraid. (Dave has heard much of it before, lucky him, but think of all the verses in the Bible where it says Jesus came for the world, not just the select few.)

The universalist view is that our rejection of God - whether because of sin or ignorance - is yet another thing we must (and will) be healed of, so that even those who hate God will love God someday, and when every knee bows, every tongue confesses, and all the creatures in heaven and earth and under the earth praise God, it will be out of love and not out of fear and compulsion. Likely? Well, consider me an optimist.

A couple more good quotes from Dave

I feel the desire to quote this passage of Dave's comment because I sort of wish he'd been at the meeting where it was contended that we'll all be caught up with worshipping God and barely notice anyone else:

That is one of the worst heresies I have ever heard! It makes love of neighbour a mere duty and not part of worshipping God as it is clearly described. How can you forget the 2nd greatest commandment. Jesus hated the Pharisees for doing just that.


And I see the sense in this:

We must both cry for justice and forgiveness (just as God does). And these meet in Jesus on the cross - Praise God for his mercy.

I do see the sense in a duality of justice and forgiveness - I think this plays out every day in courts and our lives. For instance in one sense prison is simply there to punish the criminal, but the legal system also has an impetus to prevent re-offence, and in this sense the criminal needs mercy that will allow him/her to change. In fact, isn't punishment itself sometimes a mixture of justice and love? Spare the rod and spoil the child, as it says in Proverbs...

Mum knows best

Mum had these helpful thoughts on the nature of love:
OK, you know I'm not particularly devout. But love is infinite - it has to be. It doesn't take up space. For example I love you and your dad. Do I love you any less because I love your dad? No, of course not. If you have kids, you know I'll love them too, so will that reduce my love for you or your dad? What a silly question. If I can do all that with one human heart, imagine what God can do.

Hell... it's just a mystery... A really horrible mystery...

SocietyVs said:
The argument of a loving God sending people to an eternal torment, weird huh?
I can't say I get either but then again I have love in my heart for Him and for others after having picked up this faith. Prior to having this faith my thoughts, emotions, and temperments were all out of whack. So out of whack I cannot really remember what used to be my paradigm before faith (what did I really believe?).

Thanks for commenting; I appreciate your honesty. You seem to have accepted Hell as a mystery - true, but perplexing since God is love. I used to be able to do that... "Does Hell exist? Hey, it's a mystery, let's not worry about it now." There were periods during which I worried about it, and sometimes I basically declared myself an annihilationist (ie. believing that instead of an eternal Hell of torment, the damned just cease to exist). There are quite a lot of passages in the Bible that back up view, and I'm sure I can provide you with a study if you like... I can't think why I started worrying about hell most recently, but essentially the true implications of the idea hit home. Though I have never been the kind of Christian who believes that people go to hell through simple ignorance of the gospel - because of having lived in a non-Christian country or simply having been too young to understand the gospel when they died - the full implications of anyone having to go to Hell utterly horrified me. I couldn't imagine wanting my worst enemy to go there (Admittedly, I don't personally have any especially bad enemies). In fact since Jesus commands us to love our enemies, it seems very right that we should be horrified by the endless suffering of even the most despicable person.

When I thought about all sorts of people suffering Hell eternally I was terrified. For a few days I wondered if I was going to have a nervous breakdown, or possibly if I was already having one. I found myself looking at people and wondering if they were going to Hell. I felt almost as if I'd been tricked by God - of course the Bible went on about how good he is, and most preachers keep relatively quiet about the Hell thing, but actually God was not only not going to save much of humanity, he wouldn't even allow them to end their pain and die. Maybe, I thought, God is actually a sadist playing a great trick on us all? "Worship me or burn eternally!" Faced with the hideous realisation of all that "eternal torment" could entail, I prayed desperately that God would show me the truth and enable me to accept it, because it seemed that so many other Christians were quite happy with the idea of Hell, and, much as it pained me, I figured that if God is completely holy and loving he could make it clear to me why Hell is necessary and enable me to cope with this without it giving me a nervous breakdown.

I ended up reading a lot on Universal Reconciliation/Christian Universalism, which is the belief that Jesus destroyed all sin on the cross and that all judgements are temporary, leading to a final reconciliation of all humanity with God. As you might imagine, this hasn't made me very popular in more conservative circles. If you want to read about it, there are lots of helpful websites, search for "Universal Reconciliation" or "Christian Universalism" on Google, there's lots of stuff that'll hopefully explain the many Scriptural issues with this position, because this post is long enough already without me going into all the different arguments every which way, but that does bring me to your final point:

So let's throw out the gospels?

I know that God is love and the eternal punishment thing I don't get either, however, it is in the gospels. Maybe we should remove the gospels? Maybe they are not reliable? That being said, that's where I learned God was love in the first place.

I suspect you're being a little facetious :) It's generally taken as given that Christians should read and study the Bible... In my really quite defunct "Jesus Blog" (formed for such a noble purpose, but alas I failed to deliver on my good intentions), I went through Matthew for references to Hell. (I meant to do it for all the other gospels and the epistles too... Yes, I'm a really fun person and they love me at parties!). I think it's really important to examine these passages. I can't find a way to reconcile "God is Love" and "there is a place of eternal torment", so I have looked deeper into these passages. I do think that looking at Jesus' teachings, Hell isn't quite as clear-cut as people would have us believe. It's necessary to take context into account, too. What does "Gehenna" mean to a first century Jew? Is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man to be taken literally, and if not, how symbolic is it, and what is it symbolic of? Even the verses that many evangelicals quote to prove the point about eternal punishment - the judgement of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 - doesn't really match up with evangelical theology. It is a judgement based on how the two groups treated the poor and vulnerable, not on whether they happened to pray the right prayer. It amuses me that conservative Christians often disregard Jesus's reason for judgement but emphasise the separation into eternal punishment and eternal life... whereas many universalists actually believe the whole thing, bar the word "eternal".

It would be silly to remove the gospels - of course I imagine one could get a little picky about the discrepancies between them, but to completely remove them would be ridiculous even to the woolliest liberal. They are the best records we have of Jesus's life and teaching. If I wanted to completely reimagine Jesus so that he completely matched my own politics and ideas, that wouldn't be Jesus, it would just be a god of my own making. If I want to give up on the Jesus of the gospels, I'd figure it would just be more honest to give up on Jesus.

Love demands hell?

Matt K said:
...the way I see it is this: God's love *demands* there be a Hell.

Hi Matt, long time no see. I'm afraid I disagree though... I do agree that no sort of sensible, worthwhile love would be happy to tolerate pain inflicted by sin and injustice. If God said to the Kurds, "Well I love you a lot, and I'm sorry about Saddam, but I love him too, so I'm afraid he's going to continue slaughtering your people", I doubt they'd be convinced as to his love... I don't expect God to tolerate sin... it's one thing for him to blink at someone smoking a cigarette, but I doubt that anyone wants a God who literally lets us get away with murder...

But the reason I disgree is that I think God's powerful enough to have more than one punishment. "You stole some paperclips? Into the furnace with you!" In fact, in the old Testament, with only a couple of exceptions, all the punishments and judgements decreed were very clearly for this life. God never mentioned to Adam that he might just end up in endless torments if he ate that fruit. He didn't mention that Sodom and Gomorrah would be in their burning torments forever (in fact in Ezekiel it says Sodom will be restored). His various judgements on Israel usually involve their capture and domination at the mercy of various Gentile nations. Hell is conspicuously absent from the Old Testament. In fact the hope is that all peoples will come to worship God - in Psalm 22, one of the most prophetic psalms, it reads that all the nations will turn to God and worship him. That sounds like everyone to me. True, love sometimes prompts punishment, but I believe true grace is found in the punishment that causes people to repent. There is no repentance available in the eternal torments of hell, as most conservative Christians understand it. The punishment is both pointless and disproportionate (eternity, for a finite life?).

Justice? Punishment? Healing?

Matt also said:
If you're married to a beautiful woman (or a handsome man) and then somebody comes along, murders that person in a very bloody way, I'm sure that no rational person would say that said murderer can get away with the crime. There has to be a consequence. Why? Because of the *love* for that person. If you loved them, you'd have treasured their memory and the love demands that some kind of retribution, justice, has to be made up for it. Actually, it is *love* that motivates punishment.

In your analogy there is very clearly the sinned-against and the sinner. But real life is messier than that. Whilst love for the "sinned-against" motivates the punishment for the sinner, people also love sinners, and in fact Jesus urges us to be loving and gracious even to our enemies. Of course they don't deserve forgiveness (isn't that the point of forgiveness?), but Jesus forgave people all the time and he didn't always wait to be asked ("Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing"). I also think that healing is more important than justice or punishment. If the attractive spouse in your analogy had been killed by an undiagnosed schizophrenic who thought he/she was a demon (Public service announcement: that was unfair mental health stereotyping. Please ignore in real life), or had been killed by cancer or a natural disaster (an "act of God" as it were), setting the situation right would obviously involve more than just locking up the culprit behind bars. If the husband or wife of the murdered victim had the choice of getting their spouse back or putting the culprit behind bars, I think all would pick to get their spouse back... And similarly, if we're standing in Heaven and someone tells you that Adolf Hitler didn't go to Hell after all, he just ceased to exist, I don't think we'll all be terribly disappointed. In fact, if after a couple of million years in Purgatory, Adolf Hitler turned out to be such a nice guy that God was willing to forget his sin and take him in, I doubt any of his victims - happily standing in their resurrection bodies, restored and worshipping God - will be in the least bit upset. Healing is better than punishment - the healing of both sinner (from their own sin) and sinned-against (from sin inflicted on them) - I guess that's the point of the cross, isn't it? People getting what they don't deserve!

Matt K said:
Now I know what you're saying... oh, but God, knowing how we're made could let us off the hook... well... yes, He sort of has. That's what the cross is about!

I'm not actually saying that I don't think God should punish people. As I said above, in a sense punishment is part of love. Parents discipline their children because they love them, don't they? It's just my imagination fails me when I try and discern why on earth eternal hell is necessary and just.

That old free will argument

God never forces salvation on anybody. That's just not love, anyway.

How could I disagree when you've used the word "forces"? I'm afraid to say, though, I'm a little fed up with the free will argument. So it wouldn't be love to force salvation on them... would it be love to let them endure an eternity of hell without purpose and without end, where neither death nor repentance are possible? Does God still love them, despite punishing them endlessly?

Matt K wrote:
...So then HE *first* comes to us, Jesus *dies* on the Cross and we then harp on about how it's not fair Hell exists? And how it can't do because of a God of love? But don't you see? God actually craves relationship with us above all things but that originated in sin... and we willingly divulge in sin. We have a way out.

(I think you mean "indulge", btw). You seem to take the "Pelagian" view that all sin is deliberate and wilful. The curious thing is that often the Bible seems to take another view... in Romans 11:32, it says, "God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." The general theme of Romans is that we are all sinners through Adam - we are helpless and need saving, and it is by God's grace we are saved. I would hesitate to say that we have free will. As I mentioned above, I met a girl (at Faith Camp) who had taken it to its logical conclusion and did not pray for her non-Christian parents to receive salvation. Of course free will and predestination are tricky topics, but I do have to wonder just what I was trying to do when praying that someone would find Jesus, if I didn't think that God could somehow bypass their free will.

It's in the Bible, isn't it?

Let's not let mushyness and sincere personal want obscure what is actually clear in the Word. Annihilationism or 'eternal Hell' isn't, perhaps, that clear, but the fact that there *is* a Hell of some sorts is very blatantly clear and I'd absolutely love to engage somebody who can interpret the Bible in any different way.

You would? Good stuff. Try Tentmaker, Charles and Paula Slagle, Martin Zender, Craig Nolin, Gospel for Today, and if you want to do some reading on universalist doctrines, try reading some Christian Universalism articles. Some of these websites have discussion forums and I'm sure there are some universalist bloggers who'd be happy to talk with you (If you want to talk with Matt, please leave a comment!).

Saying *that*, if you regard that the Bible is fallible or what not... *shrugs* Have it your own way, because you can do what you like. You only know what you know about God because of His word and if His word is fallible, then why believe in God at all?

I guess this isn't directly linked with the point of this entry, but this argument does annoy me. I don't believe in "picking and choosing" if that's what you mean. One cannot simply say, "I don't like that bit of the Bible, so I hence declare it untrue." As I said above, I don't see the point in reinventing Jesus, since one might as well be honest and just not believe in Jesus. That said, I also don't believe that the Bible is entirely free from contradiction and error. You only have to look at some of the discrepancies between gospels to see that. This doesn't mean that the Bible is not trustworthy. It's also important to read in context and study texts carefully, rather than take everyone at face value. And as for this assertion:

You only know what you know about God because of His word and if His word is fallible, then why believe in God at all?

I thought you were a Charismatic?! I doubt even the most hardline Sola Scriptura believer would say that all they know about God comes from the Bible, since evidence of his handiwork is all around us, and if we couldn't know about God other than from eading the Bible, how would we even know that the Bible is God's word?

Anyhoo, thanks for commenting. Hope my replies haven't infuriated you and they've given you some food for thought.

Final thoughts, hurrah!

It's taken me ages to write this. I feel like I could have written twice as much! I'll leave you with a verse or two:

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim 2:1-4

And a question from Sarah Joy you can all digest (posted on the guestbook for my Diaryland diary).

But I have a question of my own: how does God feel about Satan and his group of angels? Presumably He loved them once, does He still?

And with the final thoughts from Julie May (who commented after Matt) and Xianchick:

Julie May said:
Love does not demand justice, it demands forgiveness.
Love is patient, kind...
hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.
I have heard countless stories of victims families forgiving and befriending the offenders that hurt a loved one. Most of them say they did it rhough the grace of god.

And Xianchick said:
there are some really tough things that come with digesting heaven/hell.

when my faith gets shaken on this one, i try to remember that the torah begins with the letter bet, symbolizing that what came before God, what is above, and what is below are closed to our knowledge.

As always, comments are welcome!


Monday, July 17, 2006

Biochemistry BSc, at last!

"Dad, do you have to pull that camera out at every available opportunity?"

I'm now officially a graduate! Hurrah!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Existential Angst

Hi folks,

I've been wanting to blog for a few days but alas not had internet access. Oh well. Luckily the kind people at uni have kept me on their server (my access expires at the end of July) so I can make the long walk to campus... lucky me. I moved out of my house and I'm living with my friend Sophie. She's an awesome cook so it means that she cooks the dinner and I wash the dishes. Good system if you ask me :) We also watch lots of Star Trek, although on Friday, alas, I fell asleep during the Next Generation episode in which Professor Moriarty holds Picard etc. hostage in the holodeck until they find away to get him and his holographic girlfriend out. What a pity they hadn't mastered the holo-projector thing that allows the Doctor to move so freely in Voyager... oh well. Speaking of which, do take a look at Captain Picard's Journal. It's absolutely wonderful.

Term's over. I'm trying to get a job. Annoyingly my phone was out of signal yesterday when I was supposed to get a call back about job seeker's allowance (commonly known as the dole). So I'm as skint as ever. Poot.

Right now I'm not exactly glowing with ambition jobwise, because I just want to get a job that'll help pay off my debts and give me some time to think about what I really want to do. It really rather depresses me how there seems to be a specific pattern, as if once one becomes a graduate, one is expected to do graduate type things... Like the way that my school spent so much effort preparing us for university, even though there were some who just didn't want to go to university.

And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

It sometimes seems as though the whole point of education is to kick out any sense of individuality and personal ambition and to make us into mindless drones just like everyone else.

Of course I am probably just being unduly cynical since in fact it's been at university that I've dared to be the most non-comformist. I suspect after graduation I'll post a nice fluffy entry on all the great things I've done during university...

This last year was such a struggle. Jim, my supervisor whom I love to bits, seemed a little concerned as he spoke to me about my final grades. I sometimes, oddly, wish I was a bit less, well, clever. Two of my exams (which, like most of my exams, I didn't do much revision for), the Paper Criticism exam and the Calculations Paper, I'd got above average marks for. Because both papers were more logical than factual, I didn't need to remember much for them and thus, thankfully, they helped get me my well-earned 3rd :) (It was so cute - the night after I got my results, two people gave me massive hugs for getting a 3rd because they did too... And they seemed to understand why it would make me so happy... which is mainly 'cause I was expecting nothing...)

Jim lamented that I was obviously doing something right. It seemed to him not that I am just a foolish and incompetant biochemist, but that I'm actually potentially a really good biochemist who somehow managed score steadily worse in all my exams.

It's always been a problem... when I was at school teachers used to complain about this all the time. They wouldn't have been offended if I'd not been able to do the work, it was just that I obviously didn't want to. Since reading Summerhill: A free range childhood by Matthew Appleton (see Summerhill's website), I've begun to have some doubts about education as it is anyway... The thing was, I didn't want to let anyone down. I would like to learn a lot and make a difference to the world... it's just that often I found myself thinking there were a lot more interesting things to be doing than trigonometry or the industrial revolution. Is forced education really such a good idea? You couldn't make someone a gourmet by force-feeding them...

This year was a struggle for similar reasons. I used to be in love with biochemistry. I fell out of love. We didn't talk any more... we slept in separate beds... we only met at lectures... I found it hard to exert any passion beyond duty on it. In fact I was more caught up with difficulties in theology and faith, and all my degree really brought me was anxiety.

What do I want to do? The question seems a dangerous one because it's not what I ought to do, what I am likely to do, what other people want me to do or what would make other people happy to see me doing. Those questions seem somehow safer, I guess because they don't demand that I trust myself and I find it really hard to trust myself. I guess I have a fear of failure. I love to write but I've fudged so many essays, rushing them off before deadlines... or even after deadlines. I want to help people but I haven't had much volunteering experience. I want to travel but I don't have any money and I'm not good at saving up. I want to work with children but again I don't have much experience and I've never really known how to stop them from misbehaving... I want to follow God but I ask too many questions and have too many doubts and don't really understand him. Heck, I want to get a job but even Wetherspoon's didn't get back to me.


I love how Jesus commands "do not be anxious"... Last week in the end-of-term service someone was reading the "do not worry" passage whilst I was angsting. I figured perhaps Jesus might have had something to say about that.

I want to fall in love. Not with a man - but then, I wouldn't mind that either, please get in touch if you're interested* ;) - I want to have some kind of purpose. I don't want to drift through life doing things I "ought" to do, or things that just pass the time or ease my loneliness. I would like to do something worthwhile, achieving something... I want my life to have meaning.

Right, and there we are. Thank you for reading this angst. This is one of those entries that I write not because I think you'll all enjoy it but 'cause it's so cathartic letting all that angst out. Phew :)

Thanks for your thoughts re: the last entry. I'd like to post some more on it soon if I have time and respond to some of your comments. Thanks so much for taking the time to actually comment so I have something to respond to :)

* I accidentally typed, "Please get in touch if you're interesting", which works too :)