Heaven, Hell, and Rachel Held (Evans)

I haven’t been posting much lately. First, February always gets me down. It is the most melancholy of months for me. But it’s March first now, and I’ve emerged from yet another February, though I’m sure I bear extra wrinkles and gray hairs as evidence of the struggle.

Another reason for less postings, I suppose, is more typical of blogging – I said a lot of what I’d been storing up for years.

Another, is that the *even* more I learn these days, the things I have to say often seem repetitive or only halfway-thought-out. Songwriting continues to be my first love, I think because it’s easier for me to express myself through poetic language and music than through reasoned (or un-reasoned!) essays.

Anyhoo, I came here to post a link to someone else’s blog post. Here it is.

The faith question continues to spin in me, and personally, I have a difficult time even believing in an afterlife of any sort these days. But I try to hold on to hope even when belief fails. And I am refreshed to hear evangelical Christians stirring the pot about this whole eternal damnation thing.

Here’s to honest people and their courageous questions.



  1. That is a great post- and the follow-up comments on it are really good as well!

    I was kind of expecting a bunch of guns going off, but not so!

  2. Ah, so it’s February for you? I must grit my teeth to make it through March. You and I probably wouldn’t have survived until April had we been college roommates. 🙂

    Have you read RHE’s book? If not, I have a copy I’d be happy to pass along. After reading it, I thought of buying a half-dozen copies to give to friends and family as a way of explaining to them why I can’t accept orthodox Christianity anymore. Now I’ve gone beyond the point where she stopped, at least on some days.

    Thanks for linking to this post. I follow RHE’s blog but often skip over things when I’m busy–glad I didn’t miss this. Happy to see that many of the comments are mentioning The Great Divorce. Regardless of where I end up, I think I will always have a special place for that book.

    • I think you’re right – it’s good we were on the same floor but not in the same room!

      I have not read RHE’s book (“Evolving in Monkey Town” for other readers’ info). I would like to, though, and I think it would be a great one to pass around among some of my acquaintances too. So yes, i’d welcome a copy. Thanks!

      It was a link to one of RHE’s posts in your blog that first turned me on to her stuff. I like keeping tabs on her blog because I think she represents the best in the evangelical world – she’s thoughtful, clever, and gracious, not afraid to say controversial things but also not driven to always be controversial. It’s good for me to hear from her since I too no longer feel as “evangelical” as her, and yet reading her blog helps keep me from stereotyping evangelicals.

  3. Very honest post – I like it.

    Regarding hell, I seriously started questioning what I had been taught about it after attending the funeral of my neighbor who was a sweet, generous woman. (Just for the record, she was buried in a Broncos uniform, and they actually played the Monday Night Football song at her funeral, as she and her former husband had been huge Bronco fans!)
    Anyway, I recall thinking sometime later that according to my beliefs, this wonderful lady is literally burning in fire now, in agony, and will be forever, all because she didn’t make one choice.
    And I contrast that horrid vision with a God who I am told is all love, worthy of our worship, and depending upon your leanings, He chooses who will be saved, or at least He foreknew who would be saved.

    I want nothing to do with a God like that.

    We attend a church (on the rare times I go), that doesn’t believe in eternal security, and give great verses for their position. I was raised to believe in eternal security with a different set of great verses. Honestly, I could not say that I know I am either saved or unsaved.

    Given that I have come to see a number of things are just do not line up with factual evidence, from my Baptist traditions, I logically must ask if they are also incorrect on this entire issue of what hell is, who goes there, and eternal security.

    Frankly, I currently find the theology and religious system that I was taught highly frustrating, possessing many contradictions, inconsistent, and not very applicable. It strikes me as a synthetic construct that is molded to whatever direction one’s personal preferences run.

    Given how long my post was;

    a. I am a blabber mouth
    b. This subject triggered unresolved issues
    c. both

    I enjoy your blog!

    • Thanks Kelly! I would choose “b.”

      I would wager that funerals of “unsaved” people bring up thoughts and questions like you describe in a lot of eternal damnation-schooled church people. I think most of us who grew up with that paradigm chose the coping method of “stuffing it,” because most people can’t function well when they are living every day with the idea that their school buddy or great-aunt is on their way to hell, where the fires rage and “their worm dieth not,” (whatever that meant, it struck horror in me as a child!). I remember vacillating between feverish aspirations to get everybody saved, and choosing to set it aside and just not think about it. (And i hardly even knew any “unsaved” people!)

      The implication of this theology, that Jesus came to save us from a wrathful God, is for me a core issue. Why would I want to spend eternity with a God like that? And if Jesus is, as the Bible says, “the exact representation of the Father,” this idea of the wrath of God doesn’t even compute.

      I know i have unresolved issues too 🙂 And it’s good to have a place to blab about them!

  4. It is a mistake to comment after drinking. Apologies Julia, I can only write what I will regret tomorrow. I like to remember what Mark Twain said: “Heaven is for climate, Hell is for society.” Ha! Seriously, who would want to go to heaven if it is just a bunch of born-again Christians. Yawn. I just re-read through everything of Flannery O’Connor, I love how polite society is in the most danger of hellfire in her stuff.

    I dream of an afterlife, not to see God or Jesus, but to see people, people living now and people from history. I know I have expressed this to you Julia. There are people I would love to argue with for eternity, Alexander Hamilton for sure, but after reading O’Connor again I think I will add her to that list. What a writer!

    “The Great Divorce” has been mentioned quite a bit, that book truly reoriented my ideas of hell. If Lewis is right, perhaps I will be a protesting ghost, unable to walk on the heavenly grass, and maybe someone will be there to make me solid. Who knows.

    Keep writing Julia, and all you small bloggers, I so much want to hear what you have to say. I have a blog post in the works that will inspire you all to great things, I just have no time. Be patient, I will get it going soon, I hope. Keep writing, everyone.

    • Oh, i dunno about commenting after drinking being a mistake! This time it turned out nicely anyway 🙂

      “I dream of an afterlife, not to see God or Jesus, but to see people, people living now and people from history.” Yes! Sometimes I think people completely miss the point about Jesus. As I understand it, Jesus’ life work was not about garnering worshipers for himself, but about teaching and living a Way that brings people together rather than the usual destructive ways in which we relate to one another. So, “following Jesus” is not about singing praise songs to a deity but it’s about living the way Jesus lived and taught us to live. And that is hugely about loving and reaching out to other people. And, i might respectfully add, the person of Jesus would probably surprise all of us in different ways. He might not be such a bad guy to spend time with, though for insincere and self-righteous types, conversations with him do seem to get awkward, at least in the gospel stories in the Bible.

      Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorites too. I even considered naming my daughter after her.

      Always enjoy your blog too, Nnox. Keep working on that post!

  5. “How can a God of love accept that even a single one of the creatures whom he has made should remain for ever in hell? There is a mystery here which, from our standpoint in this present life, we cannot hope to fathom. The best we can do is to hold in balance two truths, contrasting but not contradictory. First, God has given free will to man, and so to all eternity it lies in man’s power to reject God. Secondly, love signifies compassion, involvement; and so, if there are any who remain eternally in hell, in some sense God is also there with them. It is written in the Psalms, ‘If I go down to hell, thou art there also’ (139:7); and St Isaac the Syrian says, ‘It is wrong to imagine that sinners in hell are cut off from the love of God.’ Divine love is everywhere and rejects no one. But we on our side are free to reject divine love: we cannot, however, do so without inflicting pain upon ourselves, and the more final our rejection the more bitter our suffering.”
    -Bishop Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Way

    Also, in the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, Christ himself doesn’t say anything about believing in God, but only about how one treats others who are in the image of God. This man has a much better chance at being united with God than I do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiC_9RHTvsA

    • hi Keith – thanks for your comments. I want to check out the links and give this some thought and hope to write a reply in the near future! I really appreciate your contributions here.

    • Interesting quote from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Keith. Especially this idea – “if there are any who remain eternally in hell, in some sense God is also there with them.” That is contrary to what I was taught is the essence of hell – that it is the complete absence of God. I have been reading The Orthodox Way, and another idea I came across that greatly differed from my childhood teaching is that humans should not expect that even Satan cannot be redeemed.

      The Youtube video is beautiful – and challenging. I was struck by this profound statement from Krishnan – “[People] don’t have food to eat. If you don’t give them food to eat, they will die out of human hunger.” The way he says it is so childlike and wonderful – as if, he is informing the world of something which we apparently do not know – apparently, because most of us live as if we are unaware.

      • I noticed now Krishnan said that, too, especially the unusual phrase “human hunger”. It’s hard to imagine being satisfied with any kind of afterlife if people like him are excluded.

      • Ha. I didn’t find Krishnan’s us of “human hunger” odd at all. I thought he was making a profound statement about the act of giving of one’s self. If we don’t enter our humanity into our giving people will die of starvation of humanity. Humanity in the most positive and correct way.

  6. If there is no heaven or hell why in the world would Jesus talk about it so much and what would be the point of God sending his son to earth to be killed and why would it matter if he rose from the dead?

    None of us are a Just and Righteous God and therefore cannot fully understand judgement. I don’t see the point in questioning so much of the Bible.

  7. Hello Frank! Thanks for your interest in the conversation, and for taking time to comment here.

    I’m not sure who or what you are responding to when you start with “if there is no heaven or hell. . . ” As far as I can tell by reviewing my post, the post I linked to, and the comments above, I don’t see anyone actually trying to make that specific point. But certainly there is a lot of questioning conventional Western Christian ideas about the details surrounding heaven and hell.

    True, none of us are gods of any sort, just, righteous or otherwise, and perhaps you are right that we cannot fully understand judgment. I’m hoping that we also cannot fully understand love and mercy, and that if God really is love, we have a way happier ending to look forward to than much of the church has imagined.

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