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Re-thinking theology,  The rebel Jesus way

What did Jesus really save us from?

There has been much discussion lately around this idea of hell. Readers have reached out to me on numerous occasions asking me the same question: do you think hell is a real place? I can almost hear the fear resounding in their words as they painfully type the question…

It’s the question from congregants that even causes pastors to squirm: what about my loved ones or family members who don’t attend church or who don’t believe like we do – will they go to hell??

These are the moments I think all of us wish Jesus were here to clarify – to set the record straight so we could be on the same page once and for all. But, the truth is, on this side of eternity no one really knows for sure.

Of course, many say they do and I suppose that is good and well.

But, until they have lived (or died) and seen both heaven and hell and can testify to their truths, I suppose many of us are left with our humanity and the glimpses we have of the Divine speaking to us in the midst of our fear, religion and overall human ideology.

Hell was the primary selling point in my youth.

During church, youth meetings and of course printed on tracks that we handed out to unsuspecting people on the street during outreaches. And, those tracks got the message across – loud and clear – hell was real. And you were certainly going to end up there unless you said a certain prayer and committed your life to Jesus.

Black and white.

No in between.

You’re a sinner deserving to go to hell.

But, God is loving so he punished Jesus instead of you.

ACCEPT THIS ETERNAL GIFT OR BURN FOREVER

Let there be no mistake, I (like everyone else who heard that message) was determined to do the right thing and NOT go to hell. I embraced this and clung to it for dear life, because honestly it scared the living tar out of me to do (or think) differently.

But, then I grew older…I lived some life and I started asking some hard questions:

What about my family who doesn’t believe like me? Family who is good and kind and more loving than some of my fellow “Christians”? What about my extended family who were raised Buddhist? What about them? Are they all damned to suffer eternally?

I’ll be honest with you, this was a major road block for me. And it hit especially hard on two occasions: when I got married and when I became a parent.

Let me explain:

I am going to be very candid. I love Jesus. And if you’ve followed my work, you know there is a survivalistic life-line of connection to him that I have clung to my entire life.

Before I married, I was told to view God as my husband…which I sincerely did and continued to even after I married. But, one day it dawned on me – if I’m to view God as my husband, and accept the hell clause – then that means he’s the type of groom who would say, “choose to marry me or I’ll set you on fire forever”.

I will never forget that striking image – and as a woman who has faced abusive men square in the eye, I can tell you that picture upset me deeply.

(I told you I was going to be candid)

And then I became a parent.

I have especially loved the connection I have with God as my Father – one that scripture says is even BETTER than any good earthly father. Once becoming a parent myself, I began to identify a bit with the parent nature of God – a nature I strive to be like. And, yet, to accept the hell clause I would have to imagine God as the kind of parent who would allow his child to “choose” to walk into a burning furnace for eternity.

As a mom, this shook me.

Never. In. A. Million. Years. Could I do that.

It goes against all good, Godly parental instinct.

My parent heart completely comes undone just at the thought of it. And, yet, here we are – God’s offspring – sharing this planet, pointing the finger at one another and saying that our good daddy in heaven is ready and waiting to separate us and send some of us to burn.

It was and continues to be a very difficult concept for me to embrace.

However, I recognize not everyone looks at it that way.

I’ve known people who quickly wrote off their unbelieving family members, children, parents, etc because they believed that those people had “chosen” to reject God and go to hell. They removed any relationship with them outside of trying to convert them. Families were divided, people were hurt – it was brutal to witness.

This has been something I have wrestled with at length – as the person sitting in the pew and as the person teaching behind the pulpit.

I HAVE STRUGGLED.

I have struggled to believe that the God I know would reject anyone – even if they rejected him first. I have struggled to see that idea in how God interacts with me personally or in the picture displayed during Jesus’ life on earth.

But I said before, there are two sides of this conversation.

Honestly, both have convincing points:

On one side you have those who point to the 12 times the New Testament references “hell”. That alone seems like a compelling argument.

On the other side, you have those who look into the text and point out that Jesus chose to use the word Gehenna when he referenced hell (11 of those times in the New Testament). But why is that important? Well, some argue that it’s important because Gehenna was a literal place. It is known as the “valley of Hinnom” which is a deep narrow valley just outside of Jerusalem.

Many horrid events happened at Gehenna: child sacrifice just for starters. The valley became a dump for the city sewage and refuse. It burned continually to destroy the garbage and was full of worms and maggots. It is no wonder why those in Biblical times often referred to this as a symbol (or place) of punishment.

This is the primary argument as to why many have come to believe hell is not an eternal destination, but instead was a literal place during Jesus’ time that he merely referenced to make a point. Still, many cling to the belief that it is an eternal destination.

So be it.

It is not my intent to argue either of these points. I merely wanted to be honest about my journey with this topic and my wrestling with it. However, I want to get back to the original question I started with: what did Jesus really save us from?

I ask this because, ironically, Jesus didn’t really talk about hell all that much when he interacted with people. He seemed more interested in their present lives then he did on where they were going next.

We see a large focus on eternity inside the minds of the humans around him (ie: his disciples, the Pharisees and even the man hanging on the cross next to him) But, Jesus himself, did not seem to center his ministry around surrender-your-life-to-me-or-else speeches.

Jesus seemed more interested in how they loved each other, treated their neighbors and continually fought to help them not judge each other.

Well, if this was his standard….we, in the church, have a long way to go.

Having that said, I will leave you with my answer to one of my readers when they asked me this question: what do you believe Jesus saved us from?

I believe Jesus saved us from a wretched misunderstood view of God. Whether that means actual saving from a literal hell or a figurative hell, many will probably continue to debate. For me personally, I hold onto Jesus’ words that said: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand – meaning it’s all here and now. So, I try to stay present in what he has (and is) saving me from right here and now. Typically, that saving looks like:

Realizing that I’m enough.

That I matter.

That I’m worth being loved.

That God is actually kind.

That God is really, really good and he loves and accepts me endlessly.

This is how Jesus has (and continues to) save me.

Hugs,

Anna

PS: if you’re interested in hearing myself and pastor Jim Lee (therapist and counselor) discuss church/religious hurt and overall how trauma unknowingly affects our daily behavior, listen in on this podcast episode here.

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Author. Blogger. Speaker. Momma to 4.

23 Comments

  • kensiestory

    I admire your heart for those in fear of ‘hell’ and for your compassion to those who grew up in the ‘fire and brimstone’ era of the church and who may be slightly terrorized by the idea of hell. But what about the book of revelation? What about the fact that Jesus came to give us ETERNAL LIFE and those who do not believe will not have that?

    I don’t think we can completely overlook the truths of the Bible just because it doesn’t feel good. And we certainly cannot use our emotions in parenting as the plumb line and try to line up God to that. If we believe that when the Bible says God is good it’s true, then we have to believe ALL His actions are good – even when we don’t view it as good.

    Maybe in our human understanding letting our kids go eternally away from us because they choose that actually is good. I mean, if God is good and that is the way He “set things up” then it must be good. And yes, I have children. And yes, that pains me to think of that. But all I am saying is God is the one who decides what is good, not us.

    I definitely agree that we can’t know for sure what hell exactly is. Is it a ‘place’? Like a physical place? Is it simple the idea of complete separation from God and therefore more of a ‘state’? Those questions are impossible to know here on earth. But as far as does hell (whatever that exactly is) exists – those are things clearly spelled out in the Bible and not just when Jesus uses the terms “hell”.

    These questions are absolutely hard to answer, but we must always speak TRUTH in love. We need compassion and love and tenderness and gentleness because people’s feelings are involved, but overlooking truth because it might not feel good is actually not loving. It’s lying.

    • kensiestory

      P.s. Because it is almost impossibly to convey tone over written responses, I want you to know this is “at you” or “at” anyone. I’m a truth-seeker by nature, so when I read something like this it makes me question things only to understand more. I’d love to message more about this to hear more about the different views.

      • Anna Dimmel

        Hi there! From one truth seeker to another, I appreciate your openness towards dialogue and conversation. Hugs to you 🙂

  • Krista Gay

    Such a well written article.

    To be honest, I haven’t read much about hell being a “figurative place” as an accepted theology of many Christians. But, what you just said makes sense. The little research I’ve done since reading this makes sense. And to be honest, that terrifies me, and might be a new faith crisis for me. Although I’m struggling to put this next thought into words, if Hell isn’t real, if there isn’t an eternal seperation from God, then part of me feels like my faith could be false, too.

    Any suggestions on how to wrestle with this?

    • Anna Dimmel

      Hi sweet friend. I think my relationship with God has been navigating one crisis after another! And as a wise leader once told me: that’s the journey of faith. Knowing everything isn’t really an exercise in faith – but venturing into the unknown, asking the hard questions, opening the door to the big dark scary places – that’s where the faith work is. One thing that is so comforting is knowing that your connecting with God is the focus. And no matter what questions you ask or where your journey takes you, God will be right with you. Speaking, leading and holding your hand. Remember, Jesus was never afraid of questions – he lived in the questions. Be still and hold onto that voice inside. It will be your constant and steady place. Email me anytime. Hugs!

      • Anna Dimmel

        Yes! I will send some shortly. If you’d like, you can email me and I’ll send them that way 😉

      • Anna Dimmel

        A great resource would be one of my favorite podcasts: The Bible for Normal People
        Another podcast to check out would be: Happy Sonship with Carlos Rodriguez
        These would be great places to start 🙂 email me anytime!

  • Gerri

    Hi Anna. While I can sympathize with your feelings here, & have often in the past had the same questions you pose, I cannot in good conscience just move past this post without saying anything. There is a hell. And it is wrong to believe otherwise, & for a person in ministry to advocate that it is perfectly fine to believe that a good God wouldn’t allow anyone to go to hell, is dangerous. The Bible very clearly tells us that there is a hell. (Luke 16:19-31; Jude 1:7,22; Psalm 9:17; Isaiah 14:9; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 5:29,30; Revelation 19:19-20:15) How can one believe that they are going to go to heaven, while denying the existence of hell? We live in a universe of polar opposites, one does not exist without the other. No, God does not SEND anyone to hell, people choose hell when they reject Him. And how can anyone who rejects Him in this life, believe that they have the right to be in heaven in the afterlife? If God is a just God, how is that fair to you & I, who have chosen Him & given our lives to Him?
    People were created to be God’s family- by Him & for Him. Hell was not created for people. Hell was created for the devil & his angels. Unfortunately, God cannot force anyone to choose Him, & what is He to do with those who choose not to be in His family, reward them with an afterlife in heaven with Him? No, a just God cannot do that. Jesus is the only way to heaven, good works are nothing without Him. I highly recommend that you visit islandchurchgalveston.com & download podcasts or requests CD copies of the AM & PM services from 05/06/2018, they include vital teaching right out of the Word on both heaven & hell. The question isn’t “How can a good God send anyone to hell?” so much as it is “How can anyone who wants to go to heaven reject God?”

    • Anna Dimmel

      Hi Gerri. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I respect your position, but also respect the position of others who believe (and read the Bible) differently. There are many teachings supporting both points of view. Hugs to you.

      • Gerri

        Many teachings & positions doesn’t make them all right. The only right one is the truth. I never believe anything because my pastor said it or because anyone of authority said it, but because it is in the Word. While I respect & understand what you are saying here & why you say it, it worries me, for the sake of your soul & the souls of others who will choose to agree with this because it “sounds nice,” that rather than face the truth of what God has clearly told you in His Word, you choose to sugarcoat it into a seeker friendly theory. I urge you to study the Word, dig deeper into the truth, rather than choosing to believe what “feels good.” Leading other souls astray is a dangerous game to play.

      • Anna Dimmel

        Hi Gerri. I hear you. I do choose to follow the Word (which according to scripture is actually Jesus). I try to follow Jesus and his example and my connection with where the spirit leads. As I mentioned in my post, Jesus didn’t focus all that much on hell and when he did he spoke about hell being a literal place.
        His focus was primarily on loving eachother and not judging eachother, which is where I try to model my life and my words on this topic. God is good. Jesus is fantastic. He loved well and so can we – even when we disagree. Hugs to you.

      • Gerri

        Jesus didn’t speak of hell often, but He did use a parable to teach on it (see the previous scripture in Luke which I mentione). This is because the Good News of the Gospel is, you don’t have to go to hell. That is the Good News that we share with the world. Jesus also said that He is the ONLY way to the Father. Just because He didn’t focus on hell, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Hell is not a theory, & there is more in the Bible about it than just Jesus using the name of a place to symbolize it- & we can all agree that He used symbolism quite a bit in His teachings. Everything I have shared witg you is out of the Word, ALL scripture is from God, profitable for instruction, conviction, & correction 😉 I will be praying for you, I hope you find the truth in this matter & correct it with those being led astray by your opinions, which are not scripturally accurate.

      • Gerri

        I do not say these things to judge you or make you feel judged. We as Christians have a responsibility to correct each other in love when one is wrong, & unfortunately, what you are advocating here in this post is very, very wrong, based in feelings & not on sound, Biblical truth. God Bless

  • Keith

    Anna, these emboldened words from your piece are the most relevant to me.

    “Jesus seemed more interested in how they loved each other, treated their neighbors and continually fought to help them not judge each other.”

    Imbedded therein is the rule that we Christians call “Golden.” It so true that it can be found in other religious texts. I think if we try to emulate Jesus and treat others like we want to be treated, that is the best we can do for each other.

    We are an imperfect lot. We will mistakes. We will get angry. We will take the Lord’s name in vain when a tragedy befalls a loved one. We just need to do the best we can and ask forgiveness from God and each other. This is my practical view of things.

    Keith

  • Gayle Veitenheimer

    Hey Anna. I’m currently in seminary. I’m in my fifties, married, with four kids, so I’ve been around the block a few times. Last semester, I had soteriology which is the study of the doctrine of salvation. I too struggled. I came away understanding that we don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. Scripture doesn’t give us everything we need to know to completely understand every doctrine or what God is doing and why. However, I believe we trust His character, which we know to be loving, and lean not on our own understanding. Jesus mentioned hell numerous times. The consequences for unbelief are serious. Those of us who believe should be thankful for the grace we’ve been given and quick to share it. Feelings, however, have never been a reliable guide. Scripture has the last word. What did Jesus save us from? Sin. And with sin, death.

  • Thomas

    Anna, dear sister, I recognize your heart is to love others, but God said to first love Him with all our heart , soul, and mind. And second, to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we love someone we will obey them and trust their words. If you believe there is a heaven, which is the place you want go to be with God. then you believe it to be a literal place. If heaven is real, then hell has to be real as well. It’s only unreal to some because it sounds like so terrible a place. Was not the thought of going to the place you understood as hell the very thing that compelled you to seek God? It sounds unloving that God would send anyone to hell but would He really allow those who reject Him and are indifferent toward Him and are rebellious toward God to enter into His kingdom? It makes no logical sense. And one thing God’s word has taught me over the last 20 years is that He is logical and everything He says makes sense. The Bible IS clear about hell. Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone else. God had to have a place reserved for those who choose to reject Him. But the choice of going to hell is solely based on the individual. God gave each of us free will. If there is no literal hell, there is no heaven. If there is no hell, there is no Christianity. I pray you may gain the understanding of what the real price was that God paid for saving us. He rescued us from hell and damnation. There is no greater love than God’s. God said, “This is My beloved Son, hear Him.”

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