Why Do We Choose Hell When We Could Have Heaven? Why We're the Problem and Can Be Part of The Solution.

I'm done with the "doctrine" of hell. For those of you who don't know, it's the idea that the deity defined by love would burn human beings forever. It's a terrible story built on years and years of ignoring the teachings of Jesus and choosing instead to build a theology of violence. As it's typically taught here in the American Protestant church, the doctrine of hell shows God to be a monster, Jesus to be a scapegoated victim of God's anger, and the scapegoat not being enough to satisfy that monster God's wrath... people still burn alive forever.
It's really icky stuff, the worst of our imaginations projected onto God.

I've moved past the fear that was so actively conditioned in my younger days. I've faced the "consequences" for what happens if I'm wrong. I have worked through my theological hermeneutic, faced every biblical text, ... It's a joke. God saves people from hell everyday, but it's a hell of their own design, not one made for them by God. God wants to save the world from hell—a hell we live right now with genocides, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, starvation, hatred and war. 
Jesus is always inviting people into a thriving life of powerful peace, and that powerful peace is a staying power to be a peacemaker when those around you reach for their guns and bombs. Our eschatology, our theology of violence, our doctrines of hell... All these are doing is keeping us out of the game, capitulating to the powers that be around us, remaining part of the problem instead of creatively working with others to live God's kingdom NOW. The doctrine of hell frames reality around a religious conversion experience, a game of "saving" lives by having them join the right team, when in fact the stakes are MUCH HIGHER, but we've got it all wrong.

What about the hells that we are creating now? The doctrine of hell has little to say to these. Jesus has immense amounts of material, but not our doctrine-of-hell-hybrid-Jesus. What about homophobia? Patriarchy? Starvation? Genocide? Our doctrine of hell suspends all these hells of our day for a speculated hell in the hereafter. Instead, it lulls believers into pursuit of moral piety, a puritan focus of doing the right thing and not doing the wrong thing, rather than working for the thriving of others and experiencing the love of God in our relationship with them, now. 

We couldn't be further from the mission of Jesus and we couldn't be more blind to our own disconnect. 

We have told the world that we have the recipe for life, and have brought death to every community, country and continent we touch. 

We have distorted Jesus into being violent and passive, both a warm welcome and a fiery death.

We have blamed the world for its violence, its sin, rather than accepting the blame for the violence and sin that lies within our own hearts. 

In short...


I'm not saying this just to Christians, but to human beings. We are the problem. We all imagine that others are evil, that our enemies are out there, that the fight is against them. The reality is both more simple and complex: We are the problem, and our fight is not against other people or nations, but against "the Powers and principalities." 

Having all but exhausted my soapbox privileges in the rant above, let me share 3 Ways We Can Be Part of the Solution, Care of Jesus:

1. See the "Plank in Our Eye"

It is always easier for me to see what is wrong with someone else before acknowledging the same wrong exists in me. From unkind words to acts of terror, the same evil that manifests so evidently "out there" exists in me. I've spent enough of my life running from my shadow self to recognize when I'm tempted to do just that. More and more, I just work to be present to my own darkness and acknowledge it without fear. This requires courage, as our very brain works to entrap us in self-deception. We will be largely freed from blaming, scapegoating and violence when we get that we are the problem and it isn't something being perpetuated only out there. 

2. Love Our Neighbor As Ourselves

I know what it is to have trouble loving yourself, especially when you are acquainted with all the darkness that you let no one else see. I get it. The truth is that measuring ourselves to a standard and then judging whether or not we are worthy of love is to miss the point of love entirely. Love is an invitation that requires no act of worthiness. Love is acceptance of the total being as it is right now. If we can love ourselves in this way, we will be greatly freed in our effort to love others. Rather than only loving myself when I'm obviously awesome, I can love the fearful, frustrated Ben to. When all of me knows that I am loved, much of the evil that lurks in dark places makes room instead for light. Loving self and neighbor isn't easy, it's transformative.

3. Love Our Enemies and Pray for those Who Persecute Us

I am pro-peace, anti-domination. It is very easy for me to get riled up about injustices I see in the world, and I think that's okay. It isn't okay for me to dehumanize my enemies. Instead, I'm called to love them. To accept them as they are. To pray for them to become whole, become human. Like Voldemort in Harry Potter, violence rips the soul into pieces. Members of ISIS in this sense are not fully human, but rather than this giving me license to be equally unhuman to them, my prayer is for their restoration, learning to be whole again. To be honest, I know quite little of domination or persecution for myself. Some of my friends have far more telling experiences of what this invitation to enemy love takes. My privilege is apparent to me, and I can acknowledge that my invitation can sound trite. That doesn't make it untrue. 

We often miss the invitation of Jesus to live in God's dynamic life now. Whether because of our hereafter preoccupations or distorted theologies of violence, we easily miss out on a life of active, nonviolent love in the present. When we do this, we create and perpetuate the hells we fear, but this doesn't have to be the case. 

By acknowledging our own evil and blindness, by loving ourselves and our neighbors, and by extending that same love to our enemies, we live from the life source of the universe, the God who is love. We are empowered to face not only personal relationship challenges, but violence from the domination systems of our day. When we become present to how responsible we are for evil, we too can be come responsible for good. 

We don't have to choose hell, we can choose heaven, and we can see heaven sprout on earth here and now. I'm done with hell, and I'm ready for heaven. 

Benjamin FaderComment