No One Has a Guaranteed Fire Insurance Policy for Your Fear of Hell

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By TinMan ~ 

“You can love God all you want, it does not mean he loves you back.” -- TinMan

Hell. It strikes fear in the heart of the believing and the unbelieving. This doctrine has to be the most terrifying aspect of any religion, but it is especially true for those who grew up in the Christian tradition (and I would extend it to Islam as well). If I had to speculate, I would say everyone gets into, and stays in, Christianity because of the dread hell creates in people. During my time in Christianity, all I wanted was an assurance that hell would not be my eternal fate. If there is one thing I learned while I obsessed over dogma, it is this: there is no guarantee, and there never will be.

I want to talk about the fear of hell because it is something that borderline debilitated me mentally as a human, and I know it has the same effect on others. Hell did not terrorize me just because of my own personal desire not to be in pain forever, but I could not stomach it for the sake of others as well. When I was a Calvinist, I got to a point where I could not intellectually, and emotionally, handle the idea of God firing people into the pits of hell. It was too troublesome, too grotesque, and too unmerciful. At some point in time, surely God’s blood lust should be sated, surely God would grow tired of sustaining his pure hated for others. Based on mainstream Christian theology, the aforementioned is the only way hell could exist. If YHWH created, and therefore sustains everything, then hell cannot be a place absent of YHWH; therefore, for eternity, YHWH is displaying love for some, and active hate and malice for others. If this premise is true, then God does not love his enemies as he commands us to love them.

How do we escape this fate? How can we find ourselves in God’s good graces? My conclusion is that no one could ever know, not in this life anyway. I want to go through a few different talking points to demonstrate that there is no resolution, no assurance, and definitely no guarantee that being a part of the Christian nation will prevent you from going to hell. I bring this up because I know a lot of people, myself included, waver in their decision to leave the Christian faith. The threat of hell hangs over our heads and at times, we want to run back to the illusion of the safety net provided by belief.

Personally, I did not just decide to leave the faith one day. It is not as if I packed my bags and headed out the church to never return. What happened to me is that I wanted to know the truth. What is the truth of the reality I observe? How can I know what is true? My problem with religion is epistemological. Because only knowing what is true can I escape my true problem, which is avoiding hell, or rather, eternal suffering. This is the basic problem Christianity sets before us, and what we seek to solve.

Christians will say that you can avoid hell by being saved. Well, what exactly is being saved, and how can we know if we are saved?

What is the standard response to this dilemma? The sinner’s prayer. We all know it, get on your knees, accept the tenets of the faith (for the sake of this argument, we will assume the Apostolic Creed), beg Jesus (or Joshua, or Yeshua really) for forgiveness of sins, and accept the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua. As long as you petitioned, and believed with your whole being, it took. Nine time out of ten, this is the standard answer I get when I ask the question. This theological concept runs parallel with the notion that salvation comes through faith, and not of works. For right now, we will just say faith is accepting the truths of the tenets of the faith and trusting in the finishing work of the atonement. Seems easy enough, and overall, nothing too taxing of the believer. But is this really all there is too it? Does this really do the trick? Is there any way to back this up? Short answer: no.

Naturally, the same Christians who told us that this is all there is to the faith will then say the Bible supports the simple plan of salvation. Yet, when I turn to the Bible, I see some evidence for this, but I see a lot of evidence pointing away from this simple plan of getting right with God. When Jesus was speaking to the crowds, and his own disciples, some key comments stick out in my mind.

“Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.”

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

I am sure I do not need to go on, just these few statements get the point across. What about other books of the Bible, what do they say about just having faith?

“Faith without works is dead.” – James

“…not to associate with anyone who bears the name brother if he is guilty of immorality, or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber – not to even eat with such a one.” 1 Corinthians

There is a fairly consistent theme through the OT, and the NT, that it is not just about having faith. It is faith and living holy, being a living sacrifice, etcetera. I just do not see any other way around it. Then the question becomes, what is the threshold? How much do I have to sacrifice? How forgiving do I have to be? How can I know where I stand with YHWH? Even if you believe in Christianity, and want to live out the faith, you will never know how you rate with God. We can conclude that just having faith does not solve our dilemma in attempting to avoid hell. If we are to avoid our problem of hell, we must have faith, and we must be doing some other step-actions to satisfy YHWH. But what are they, and how do we figure them out? Let us go back to the Bible.

First and foremost, attempting to find a congruent thought in Christianity is quite frankly untenable. I find the Bible has more in common with Wonderland from Alice in Wonderland than it does with our perceived reality. For the sake of this discussion, let us say the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are all we have to work with. That being the case, we are going to attempt to make sense of it, as only humans are capable. No matter what, humans are bound by their own worldview, their own knowledge of reason, and of course biases. It is impossible just to turn these off when reading the Bible. I cannot tell you how many times I would read some quip by an apologist or a pew potato saying you have to read the Bible with an uncluttered filter - good luck with that. It is not as if humans have this built in binary switch you can set to "do not be biased, or think about this with a western mindset." The most basic assumption is that our perceived reality is there, and we can investigate our perceived reality with the scientific method and logic. Quick note on this, any time you hear an apologist state that scientist are "biased" against the supernatural, that is patently false. What scientist do say is that we are not able to investigate or test the supernatural, therefore, the supernatural is not necessarily excluded, science is just unable to say anything about it. Our scientific tools are only capable of investigating the natural world. This standard line from apologist is an equivocation.

Allow me to expand upon the various reasons I find that the Bible could only be true outside of our perceived reality. For the Bible to be consistently true, it could only be true in another reality, another universe that is bound by a different set of rules, it cannot be true in our reality. Consider the Gospel of John where it states, “God is love.” How can God be love and then he assigns his creation to eternal torment? Not even a few, but most of his creation is in hell, remember....narrow is the way. If hell is eternal torture, then in our reality, God is not love. The meaning of love is now meaningless to us. It takes on some definition that is outside of human experience and knowledge; but yet, how does the Bible define love? Paul has something to say of it in 1 Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Haha, what!!!!!??? If God is love, and love is what we just defined, then what is the deal with hell? I will go even further and say that is not a systematic definition of the God we find scattered through the Bible. What God is the author of 1 Corinthians 13 even talking about?

Why does the evidence we find in our perceived reality not match up with the stories relayed in the Bible? If God created the universe in six days, why does our universe look old? Why doesn’t Noah’s flood match up with paleontology and geology? Why are we so close in genetics to apes? Why does it appear that all living organisms share common ancestry? Why aren’t miracles, or rather interactions with a god being, or angels, a part of our daily experience? Why doesn’t prayer work?

If God is love [...], then what is the deal with hell?1 Kings 22 presents another problem, what if God sent you a lying spirit? For all those Christians who say the Holy Spirit is talking to them, guiding them, how do they know? Thousands of different denominations attest to the fact they cannot all be right, but they could all be wrong. Who has the Holy Spirit, who is deceived, and who is God purposely sending a lying spirit to? How could anyone know if they were actually following the right way? What method could we employ to figure out the "truth?" Apparently YHWH has no problem letting people be deceived, whether through their own actions, or he simply sent a lying spirit to throw them off track. If God wants all to repent and come to the truth, why allow us to be deceived? And the big question, why in the world would you let a spirit deceive us! Especially if the one seeking the truth has honest intent? This only further substantiates our inability to find a resolution for the stated problem: How do we avoid hell?

To summarize the biblical issue, Protestant denominations state the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and true in every aspect. As stated before, that could only be true in some other universe where logical contradictions are all simultaneously true, and that quite frankly is outside of our ability to conceive. We are being asked to believe in something that is not possible for us to actually believe. I would argue we are physically incapable of doing so. Do with that what you will.

The problem we have is that the most reliable method humans have to test what is true cannot be applied to biblical stories, and theological concepts. That method is the scientific method:

Make an observation

Create a hypothesis

Test hypothesis with an experiment

Record results

Refine hypothesis if experiment did not yield conclusive results

Application of the scientific method is how we know something can be demonstrated to be true in our perceived reality. Our knowledge of the demonstrably true then feeds our ability to construct logically true premises and conclusions; all of which are tentative based upon new evidence.

By now, I am sure anyone can see there is no conclusive way to know whether or not you are going to hell. In this regard, I think the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have something over Protestants. We may be in a universe where we have a god like Angra Mainyu, who is going to torture all of us just for kicks. We do not know, and right now, we cannot know. We do not have the ability to test such a thing. When it comes to Christianity, unless we actually went through some kind judgement day, had the sheep and the goats separated, and then ended up somewhere, it is all degrees of possibility.

Personally, this is how I deal with it - I just accept that I cannot know. I would like to know, I would like to have an assurance that an afterlife would be eternal bliss versus pain, but I realized that there is nothing I can do to guarantee that. All I can do is weigh the evidence, and hold a tentative conclusion on what is probably true based upon the evidence. If there is a hell, then the god who created it put us in an impossible position...we were set up for failure. We have no ability to sift through the data and come to the correct conclusion. As shown already, saying a prayer, having faith, and apparently even performing miracles is no way to know where you stand with God (Recall those individuals on judgement day pleading with Christ because they did miracles in his name, "Depart from me, I never knew you" - Jesus). Only this god could give me the wisdom needed to one: figure out what he wanted; two: be okay with the majority of humanity suffering forever. I could not be in heaven having a good time knowing billions of others were suffering. I am incapable of it. That means God would have to change my whole framework of how I see everything. When I was leaving Christianity, I often prayed that God would just make me a spiritual zombie that believed whatever he wanted me to believe and do all the time. I was more than happy to give up my freewill because it just seemed that my personal freewill was a waste of my time, and God’s time. But that has not happened, so if there is a hell, I am powerless to do anything to avoid it, therefore, why should I spend every waking moment dwelling on it? I am not the kind of person who dwells on situations I have no power over. If there is a hell, it is inevitable I am going there, and I will just have to deal with it when I arrive. What are you going to do? It is a hopeless situation.

For those who are terrified of hell, I want you to consider what is it about hell that scares you? Is it the pain? Is it that you think you will never experience any good again? You will never stop being terrified of hell if you do not know what exactly about it that bothers you. I used to be afraid of the pain aspect of hell, of being on fire all the time. When I really thought about it, in some way, the pain might be so excruciating you do not even feel it. Perhaps it is so intense you are almost frozen in time. At some point in time, I would think the nerves would be destroyed so now you are on fire and you do not even feel it. I have heard some Christians say the body just keeps regenerating so you feel it all over again – so loving. Throughout history, some Christians have really painted a pretty grotesque picture of hell, and I can tell you they delighted in it because they did not think they were going there. I have bad news for them, they do not know that. I bet if more people really thought they might ended up in God’s Toyland of Torture, they would be trying to temper all of the horrific aspects. Even those in the holiness movement never actually think they will end up on the spit, it only holds true for everyone else.

As I said in my quotes at the start of this, you can love God all you want, it does not mean he loves you back. Telling yourself you are one of God’s special kids is a statement you can never prove to be true. It is all speculation and wishful thinking. Knowing this is what really drove me to investigate the claims of Christianity, I wanted to know I was in God’s good graces. I wanted to know I was going to heaven. I wanted to know God was good, and merciful, and kind. For all the reasons stated above, I could not, and cannot, know any of it.

COMMENTS

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