How Christianity Turns Millions Away From Christ
Testimony of Luke
I recently found my way to your website, and during my stay I happened upon the section "The Doctrine of Hell Terrorizes". I saw that there was an invitation to share my own testimony to that end, so I figured I might as well go ahead and do so. It's a bit long, but I suppose I have a lot to say. :) I hope that's all right.
I've lived on the Earth for over twenty-three years now, and I have been a Christian for approximately three hours of that time. Thankfully, it is the most recent three hours in my life, and with each passing moment the length of time during which I will have been a Christian grows. But, it has been a rather long journey in the making.
I was fortunate enough to be born into a family with a mother and father who were not very religious, and as such, I was saved from the most terrible of fate of being indoctrinated from day one into the belief that I would burn forever unless I did exactly what an abusive deity required of me. But I did not exactly go through life untouched from this doctrine all the same. I can't remember what the first time was when I was told that I was a wicked, hell-bound sinner who needed to repent right this minute, but I certainly can remember that for my entire life I could not adequately express in words the extent to which this idea repulsed me. How could a god create mankind, I asked them, knowing full well that almost all of his creation that he supposedly loved so much would be tortured forever? However, I never did get a satisfactory response - I only got the typical boilerplate evangelical responses of "God cannot allow sin in his presence", "God's actions are always righteous and cannot be understood by humans", and so on, and so forth.
So, as a result, for many, many years I took this to be what Christianity was in its entirety - an exclusive country club of sorts where the "in" crowd would be given eternal bliss for a belief I myself was entirely unable to conjure up within myself, and where those not belonging to the "in" crowd would be tortured forever simply on account of not having gone through a bunch of motions that I saw as arbitrary and pointless. And, as a result, I loathed Christianity. Not only did I loathe Christianity, however; I also could not possibly understand how people could believe not only in the eternal torment of most of humanity but also could love this deity who would do such a thing. (And, to this day, I still do not understand how people could do so.)
But, at the same time, I could not shake an undeniable fear dwelling within my heart. That fear was very simple: what if they were right? What if I was hell-bound, and what if I was going to burn in hell for all eternity? I had read their statements in earnest, saying that all one must do is accept Jesus as one's lord and savior, and hey presto, eternal life. So I tried - many, many times. I knew they told me how "overwhelming" the sensation was of being saved, and I kept trying again and again to accept Jesus as my lord and savior and I kept waiting for that feeling to wash over me. But it never did. I could only come to one conclusion: if God truly did require that in order for me to go to heaven, then he must not want me to go to heaven. And it was on that thought that I stayed for a long time - the idea that I was quite simply unwanted by God. In retrospect, I don't think the utter hopelessness of that idea truly ever sank in, because I surely would have been nigh suicidal if I truly believed that God had created me only to abandon me to eternal torture upon my death.
I can't remember exactly how it was that I began researching the Bible rather than just trashing it based on what I heard from evangelical Christians, but I recall that I had gotten into an argument with an evangelical Christian on the internet, and something motivated me to actually go and read the darn thing myself just so I would half know what I was talking about while discussing the matter with this person. I remember very well the first passage I found that began to raise questions in my head as to the veracity of what I was being told by fundamentalist Christianity. It was Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus describes the way in which those on the right would be rewarded for what they had done in life, and described the way in which those on the left would be punished for what they had not done in life.
"Now wait a minute," I thought to myself, "what happened to believing in Jesus?"
And the more I read, the more questions began to form in my mind. Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:25-28; John 14:12-21; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 4:7-12 - again, and again, and again, and again the same message was repeated: love God and love your neighbor. Yet when I brought all of this to the evangelical Christian, I was simply sternly rebuked for my "eisegesis" (so he called it) - in other words, I was just making things up because I simply did not want to believe him and follow God. He had received his interpretation from the Holy Spirit, I was told, whereas I was unsaved; thus, I could not possibly hope to correctly interpret such passages, and I should simply cede to his interpretation and devote my life to God.
Well, let me tell you, if there's one thing that makes me not want to follow someone, it's being effectively told that I am a lazy idiot who knows nothing. But, the foot was in the door - this time, I was not about to simply write off the Bible based off of the words of a human. So I continued reading, and I quite simply could not believe what I was reading on some accounts. I believe it was 1 John 2:2 that was the first hint in my mind that perhaps the message in Christianity was even more a radical diversion from modern orthodox thought than I had previously imagined. So once again I brought this to the evangelical Christian with whom I frequently butted heads in this forum I frequented.
The response? Eisegesis, eisegesis, eisegesis, eisegesis. I wish I was exaggerating the amount of times I heard that word applied to my interpretation of what I had read, but I'm not. It was effectively a blunt instrument with which he bludgeoned me over the head in what I could only see as a concerted effort to make me stop asking so gosh darned many questions and to just accept Jesus as my lord and savior like a good little boy. So, naturally, I kept researching. Eventually I reached the limits of the standard English translations of the Bible, but I found a site discussing the original Greek, and eventually came to begin researching it. And, again, I could not believe what I was reading the more I investigated the matter.
The biggest shock to me was investigating the precise Greek wording of what is commonly rendered as "eternal punishment" in Matthew 25:46. When I discovered the meaning of the phrase - aionion kolasin - as understood by the Greeks in the time that Jesus lived, it was absolutely staggering how many lingering questions were answered in one fell swoop. In one go, it all suddenly made perfect sense how God could be the "atoning sacrifice for ... the sins of the whole world"; how the earliest Christians could be overwhelmingly universalist in outlook; and how the modern doctrine of eternal damnation was a human corruption of the message of the Bible. The more I examined the precise meanings of the Greek version of critical words in the Bible, the more everything started to click, and the more I felt as though my eyes had finally been opened to the real truth of the matter.
When I brought this to the evangelical Christian, well, you can imagine the result. But, at that point, I didn't really care. And it was about that time that I found my way to Tentmaker, and specifically, to the page entitled "The Hell Test". Many of the questions there were ones that I had already asked, but I remember that there were two verses that I had not focused on before that I found, which were Romans 5:18-19 and Luke 15:1-7. I remember I began slightly crying when I read those, because I felt as though I was reading about myself: that I was the lost sheep whom Jesus had found. Yet, despite the similarity of this feeling to the feeling that the evangelical Christians told me I should feel when I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior, I could feel that there was something fundamentally different. And it didn't take me very long to recognize what it was. Had I been saved as those fundamentalist Christians wanted, I would have felt overwhelming guilt and concern for all the unsaved around me. At this moment, however, all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of joy - joy that God loves not only me, but my family, my friends, and the entire world, and that I ought not to fear that I would never see them again after I die, but instead rejoice that not one human will be denied the saving grace of God's love for his creation.
Indeed, it was quite possibly the irony of ironies: I had been told for much of my life that I was going to eternal hell and that I needed to accept Jesus as my lord and savior right now or else I would burn for all eternity, yet that idea was precisely what prevented me from doing so. And now that I have become absolutely convinced that I do not need to pledge my life to God in order to escape eternal hell, all of a sudden I want to do so, because I finally believe I can truly love God. I remember after reading Luke 15:1-7 that all I could do was close my eyes and thank God again and again. I wasn't even sure what I was thanking him for, whether it was for this knowledge I had newly acquired, whether it was for the gift of life, or whether it was for something entirely different - but I knew I was very thankful. And I knew that I wanted to devote my life to him, because for the first time in my life I was absolutely certain that he was just God, a God who would not allow his creation to suffer eternally, a God who was truly deserving of worship.
And let me close by saying that I am very thankful to you, as well, for finally giving me the resources I needed to cement in my mind the firm belief that Jesus did save the entire world just like he said he would, and that God is a kind father who ought to be loved, not an abusive father who ought to be feared.