Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The more I read of this guy, the more I love what he writes...

So, a few of the blogs I've been frequenting has been mentioning Jacques Ellul. In a previous post (near the bottom), I included a quote from an excerpt of a larger article.

I found this quote on a blog where the writer has been reviewing the books he's reading and this was a quick review of one of Jacques' books - The presence of the kingdom. As part of his review he had included a few quotes from the book. This is one that I just love:

“we have lost the meaning of true action, which is the testimony of a profound life, action which comes from the heart, which is the product of faith, and not of a myth, or of propaganda, or of mammon! what matters is to live, and not to act. in this world, this is a revolutionary attitude, for the world only desires (utilitarian) action, and has no desire for life at all. we cannot exaggerate the significance of the fact of being spiritually alive. we must cease to believe that life depends only on vitamins, hormones, and physical culture. we must get rid of the idea of ‘the sound mind in the sound body,’ which is only another way of getting rid of ‘life’ for the sake of ‘action’. that men should be alive, instead of being obsessed with action: it is at this point that means can be put in the right place. but to do this evidently means a complete break with all the tendencies of contemporary thought.” (p. 92) Ref: the presence of the kingdom: jacques ellul

On a different note, I've been actively asking Dad, whenever I read the bible, to show me what He wanted to say with it, and to remove my religious mindset. And I've been finding such new life in the scriptures! I've always loved reading (well over the last 5-10 years) and the bible has been a source of much thought and wrestling - especially the NT letters - they are full of explaining this Life. What I have been finding, is every passage that I've read so far that speaks of stuff we should 'do' always clarifies it by saying it's something the Holy Spirit does in us. I know I've written about this already, so I don't want to go on too long with it, but it's been really interesting. One verse that I think sums up where I am at the moment in my understanding of Dad is this: Romans 2v4 (in the NLT). How powerful is that verse!? God's kindness is meant to turn us from sin. Not the law! Paul actually goes on to say this: Romans 3v19-26, especially verse 20: For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

It's a strange feeling finding the basis for my beliefs in scripture, this plainly described - I've found that as I've started to see things from a different perspective, it's sat so right with my spirit, but I've almost been scared to read the Bible to back it up - not because I think the Bible is wrong, but because of the way I've been reading it in the past - I'm scared I'm going to read it with my religious glasses. I have continued to read and study - more so, actually, than in recent months, and it's been exciting, because I was almost expecting myself to be proved wrong - like I was just deluding myself and that my preconceptions of this life (and the seeming prevalent thought) was correct, and this 'new' revelation was way off. So finding scripture that puts things as plain as day has been uplifting and joyous! It's also a little depressing, because I'm left wondering how we've missed it as badly as we have for so long..

One thing's for sure, I'm loving this new revelation and what Dad is doing - He is SO faithful!

I was at Friends on father's day (this last Sunday) and the guy speaking quoted out of Romans 8. I carried on reading, and came to Romans 8:32, which traditionally has been of much encouragement, but as I read it, it threw me - in a bad way.

My thought process in the recent months regarding what Jesus' death was all about has moved away from (the more traditional understanding of) God sending Jesus as someone to take the brunt of His wrath (because God had to beat on someone) towards this: that out of love and in love, Jesus laid down His life so that we could be rescued from our Sin. An extension of this thought, is that God did not send Jesus, or command that He go, but that it was a mutual decision in love for their creation.

This revelation has been a big building block in my recent understanding of things and so the verse really sucked for me, because by Paul was saying that "it was great that God sent Jesus to die, and what more would He do for us", I was reading - "if He did not spare His only Son, what chance do we have that God would spare us" - which isn't too encouraging at all.

So, being a little distressed, I asked Dad to reveal what He was really saying - if there was another way of understanding the verse. And as I was sitting there, I felt it drop in my spirit: Because God loved us so much, He did not STOP Jesus from laying down His life. His overwhelming love for His Son, Jesus, did not cause Him to stop Jesus from dying, but because of Their love for us, He allowed Jesus to be the sacrifice that was needed to conquer Sin.

I was overwhelmed. I really couldn't see it any other way than "God sending Jesus to die", and here Dad dropped in my spirit an explanation that not only proved my preconceptions wrong, but brought life and encouragement back into that verse. It restored and boosted my faith!

It's amazing - every verse that I've come across that seems to be legalistic or have religious overtones - as I've asked God to reveal to me what He wants to say in it, I've been finding meanings that are contrary to what I had previously understood, and has brought life to my understanding of the bible, and is a joy to know that Dad does speak, and is as eager for this transformation into Him as I had hoped He was (actually He is unequivocally more so!).

Today's a day of good news!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Christian Marketing: Selling God with Hellfire and Altar Calls

*I think I might need to preface this with a comment I've started to realise about myself... As a generalisation, I seem to take what I'm wrestling with or thoughts I have and come across quite strong and sometimes negatively in the first few paragraphs. I've found, that I usually tend to explain exactly where I'm coming from, or at least (hopefully) ground the things I'm saying in grace, in the latter half of my post/diatribe. So please try read the first few paragraphs in light of the last few - ie - what I write as a whole, and not as 2 separate thoughts. Usually the first part is in the context of the second.

If you do feel I'm coming across too strongly or painting too broadly with something, feel free to address it, and I'll try better explain where I'm coming from...


I've been thinking on a strange thought lately - well a little strange to me - in that it sits somewhat contradicting my general status-quo. It's this: Are we doing people any favours when we advertise getting 'saved' as an escape from hell? The same question for the nice little altar-calls that modern Christianity is so famous for. How helpful are they really? I don't have a real answer to this - it's just something I've been pondering on - and to be honest, Dad can use anything to draw men to Him. But on the other hand I feel that firstly the whole 'escape the fire of hell' story falls so supremely far short of knowing God that it's like selling a Rolex watch only as 'something that can tell you the time'. As true as this may (or may not) be - that is never really the reason one would by a Rolex. In a similar way, accepting the gift of salvation has precious little to do with escaping hell and everything to do with learning to live in relationship with a loving God and Father.

My exception with the altar-call is a little harder to explain, although, again, I think where it doesn't sit right is that it often tends to fall short of what's really on offer. We seem to try and 'sell it' as a means to get people to 'join the club', like the more converts we get in, the bigger our 'souls commission' will be, like some elaborate pyramid marketing scheme. I suppose the simple fact that people are making a verbal commitment to accept the gift God is giving them is a at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it often just seems like a 'show of hands' and nothing much more. I think I've just experienced an increasing irritation with the seemingly 'pre-packaged' way we 'sell-off' this 'Christianity' thing to non-believers and the 'backslidden'. It feels so contrived, stale and life-less.

I'm not saying that no-one who's responded to the altar call has ever experienced God, I just think the whole process falls so far short of the type of thing that's on offer, although, unsurprisingly, it seems quite at home with the rather cold, stoic status of the religious club.

I rarely see someone being invited into a relationship with Abba, and I think from where I stand at the moment, if that's not what's being offered, then what's the point?

If you're a semi-regular reader of my blog, you'd know that semi-recently I've come to a place where my view of God and this whole thing we call Christianity has been seriously shaken up and turned upside down. In some ways it has been scary, but it's been life changing and exciting. I feel like for years (the last 10-15 years at least) my experience of God has almost been like looking at the back of a television. Every now and then, I might experience somthing, or get a slightly different view of God, but it's always been obscured and often plain wrong. I've felt in my gut there's something more to it. I've heard some of what's going on, but I've never had the right picture, until recently. Now it feels like someone's taken my hand and shown me that the 'TV' has another side to it- the intended side - where there's movement and excitement and I can see and hear clearer, and it all makes so much more sense.

I think that's why I'm so caught up on relationship with God. For me, I feel like I've been told that I should be happy with 'the back of the TV' - with a lacklustre Christian experience - or at least with the notion that my Christian experience is directly proportional to the amount of striving I put in. The lacklustre part was specifically because I wasn't 'trying hard enough' or wasn't 'doing the stuff'. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's been caught up in thinking the back of the TV is what it's all about, and we're missing out on SO MUCH MORE!

That's why I'm hesitant to try and get someone saved just for the sake of it, or even to 'save them from hell'. I'm starting to feel that I'd almost not get someone to 'say the prayer' unless they get (even on a small level) what's available to them, what they can look forward to, and hopefully they've seen the evidence of that Life lived out in my own life, and the life of others. I really don't want to sell them short. All too often we live life as if we are still slaves. As if we're just servants of an oppressive taskmaster, when this 'taskmaster' is more interested in being Father to us. He has robed us, put the ring of honour on our fingers and invited us into His house as sons and daughters!

And I want everyone to realise this. I want everyone to experience this boundless grace. This unwarranted mercy, this love from this Loving Father. It's still early days for me. I still have so much to learn and so far to travel, but for the first time in my life I feel like I'm really starting to 'run this race with my eyes on the prize' - and strangely enough, it's not tiring at all. It's nothing like the draining striving I've been used to - that rather unsurprisingly got me nowhere.

I think I've said this often enough already - but it's all about Him. What we do, say and how we live is all relative to our level of understanding of the perfect love that He has for us.

Ask Him to show you how. Ask Him to guide you. It may not happen immediately. It will most probably take time and it will, almost definitely, not be plain sailing or an easy ride. It's not the kind of thing you can plan ahead for, unless we're planning to be surprised.

He is faithful and He understands that we are not. He doesn't have any misconceptions or preconceptions about us. He knows us through and through. What we do or say or think doesn't surprise Him. His grace covers our weakness, and gives us the strength to stand. Let us keep our eyes on Him, our prize, as we live within His loving embrace.

a bit of news...

We had a friend from the States staying with us these past few days. She left tonight, and I think we're both (my wife and I) really going to miss her. I really feel God brought her into our lives, and she both enriched it, and did our dishes - often. I hope we've been as much of a blessing to her.

Also, I thought I'd mention that Underoath is coming to South Africa in September!! Look here or on the official underoath website. The tickets cost R200 (if you buy them before August) and are available through Computicket.

I really can't wait! September is going to be such an AWESOME month! We're having our first baby in the beginning of the month, and then Underoath to finish it off (they're playing the 23rd September in Cape Town, I think)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Where is the Love? old post revised

I had wanted to post this a while ago – around the end of May – and actually had it posted up for a little while, but then took it down because I felt it needed revising..

I've managed to go through it, and I think there's still some stuff in it that I want to say, so here it is:

A few things happened leading up to the original post that left me wondering: why is it that we who call ourselves "Christians" find it so hard to love others?

I had initially meant in the way Jesus loved others, but realized that I'm not even aiming that high. It seems that we, the Christians, the "Christ followers" often struggle to love others. And never mind our enemies. We struggle to love even those who claim to be one of us, a part of the church. We struggle to love the world that Jesus gave His life for (the 'lost') – the world that every one of us was a part of at one point or another.

True, there are times when we really step up to the plate (like the relief that has been given to the Xenaphobia refugees), but then again there are times when we drop the ball badly it seems we're pro actively encouraging hate and division.

So, the question I'm asking today is this: Why do we struggle to love others like Jesus did?

As I'm reviewing this post, I have the distinct sense that I need to tread lightly. It isn't my heart to stomp around like a self-righteous fool pointing fingers at "all the other" Christians, without a thought as to my actions. To be honest, I don't want to point fingers at all. However, I do think we have a problem with this. As Christians, Jesus left us with 2 simple instructions - actually one in the end: love your neighbor as you love yourself (I presume that Jesus took Loving God with our heart mind and strength as a given).

The problem is, I've recently experienced, and had an unsaved friend of mine experience, some people - active members in their congregation - behaving in a manner that was pretty devoid of love. This experience has really saddened me, because of the effect it has had on my friend. I don't wish to judge the others concerned, as any of us can behave in an unloving manner at any time, it some times just seems that it is our distractions, and poor understanding of Father that brings out the worst in us.

1 John 4:19 says in the NLT translation: "We love Him, because He loved us first." I think it may be somewhat safe to presume that the measure of our understanding of God's love for us, is directly proportionate to the level of love that we will be able to express to God and to others in return. So when we, as Christians, drop the ball on loving others, then quite possibly, it's because we've dropped the ball when it comes to understanding the love that the Father has for us.

What really gets to me, though, is that often the people in the world are doing a better job of loving others than we are. In some way, this might tie in to what Jesus said when He spoke about loving our enemies – and said something like: Don't be impressed if you love your friends and family – even the heathens do that. Unfortunately, it seems we find ourselves on the other side - with Jesus almost saying, look at the 'heathens' - even they love their friends and families - you guys need to get past that and further - don't think that you're doing great when you love the people that are easy to love. How often do we even get that bit wrong!?

I strongly feel that we need to have a revelation of the Father's heart and love for His children. And it's something I think God is eager to give us. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to complete the work that He started in us. We need to seek real relationship with a Father that loves us more than we can fathom. We need to learn to live in His peace that passes understanding. And in that place, the loving will come naturally. It will be as natural as "loving because He loved us first".

It won't be a religious act or something that we force or put on. It will be something natural. An obvious extension of where we find ourselves nestled in Dad's love. It is something that God does in us, as we allow Him to do it. He changes us from the inside out. I'd like to propose that it's not so much about gritting our teeth and doing the thing - it's about learning to rest in God's grace, and letting God do 'the thing' and more in you.

As I've read through the original post, I've realized how pretty darn bummed I was by what had happened (the situation mentioned a few paragraphs up).

I have been watching Dad slowly reveal himself to one of His children (this friend of ours) that doesn't quite understand what a real relationship with Him is all about. Most Christians most probably wouldn't call her a Christian. I don't know that she would either. She seems to be really struggling to give up what she thinks God requires of her to 'become a Christian'. Not that I think God is asking her to change her life on her own, because she really can't do that without Him doing it in her anyway. So I've been watching this process, as she comes nearer to God and then seems to fade away as she wrestles with her own preconceptions and misconceptions, and also I suppose a lot of it is that she simply likes the 'unsaved life' too much.

However, recently she came into contact with some Christian people, and the way they treated her, I fear, has hurt her and possibly pushed her further away from God again. Not that God can't use this for good. Or that she is now 'forever lost' and there is no hope. I think I've just seen this kind of thing so often. We often mean good - but seem to have blinkers on to people's hurts and longings, and just bulldoze through them for our own benefit (and often feel like we've done a good thing after)...

It's this kind of behavior that really saddens me. How have we gone so wrong? How have we managed to move our belief structures so far from a real living relationship with the I Am, to some stale, dead, actions-treadmill?
When did we give up love for duty?
When did we trade our hearts for the self-righteousness of activities?
When did we leave behind the only thing Jesus asked us to do, to serve the system?
What has happened to this body, this church? What have we done to Jesus' bride?
Why does it all remind me so much of the picture we get of the religious rulers in Jesus' day - thinking they were doing 'right' in the eyes of God, but yet they were so very far off the mark?

Today I am sad to call myself a "Christian".
A follower of Jesus? Yes.
A beloved son of the I Am? Yes.
But the stigma, even in my own eyes, when I think about "Christians" is so tarnished that, sadly, it repulses me.

I'm not saying that I'm more righteous or better than the people I've spoken about. I'm not talking about works at all. I think what I'm trying to say is this: we, as followers of Christ, need to refocus on God. It seems we've allowed so much to clutter our lives, and I'm not really referring to the dreaded 'worldy' stuff. I'm talking about the religion clubs. All the activities that are so very good at numbing us to anything real. We've been sold a bad replica, and many of us have bought it hook-line-and-sinker.

We need to look at ourselves again. We need to take stock of where we find ourselves. Is this thing we call Christianity really what Jesus modeled or called us to?

Is the thing we do on Sunday really going to get us where we want to go? We are sold it like that. We're sold the idea that if we just go to the meetings we'll be ok. We're sold the idea that if we do everything the leadership tells us, we'll be ok. We're so caught up in 'not getting it wrong' that we don't ever question whether we're ever getting it right.

We substitute relationship for meetings; love for accountability; submission for lording it over and hearing Dad speak to us for what someone wrote in the vision and values.

We created the Sunday morning meeting. It typically ranges (in Charismatic/Pentecostal circles) from 1 1/2 to 2hrs. It has a little bit of worship - maybe 1 song intro, then the announcements. 2-3 songs 'worship' then a good 40-50min preach. Then it's maybe have some coffee with those who stick around, and that's it for some of us till the next week.

I'm not sure when it was, but someone realised that if all we have is a Sunday meeting, we start getting dry around the middle of the week.. (I actually
heard a leader in a congregation I used to frequent say "you can't have a relationship with God, without going to Wednesday Life Groups") - I think it might be better to say - you can't score the necessary points with this congregation without the wednesday night thing. Besides, large 'corporate' meetings lack something of the relational.

So we introduced 'The Bible Study', the Church In The House, the Cell Group or Life Group - aimed at giving a more personal environment to hopefully build fellowship - which doesn't sound to bad - and wouldn't be too bad if that's really what it achieved. I'm not sure it's much more than a semi-random group of people thrown together and then structured it roughly on a sunday morning - a worship cd maybe playing in the background, then the announcements, some 'worship' songs and the leader gets to say speach (although sometimes the rest of the group - ie the loudest person (usually the 2IC) gets to say something), then it's prayer time where we all pray our own agendas and then maybe a few people stay for coffee, and some relationship time happens.

But, we realised that 2 meetings a week still wasn't enough. Maybe it's because it wasn't enough to 'carry us through' or it was that there wasn't enough 'activities' driving our subliminal works-based theology - but we figured we needed another meeting.

Enter the prayer meeting. Now some congregations aim it at the die-hards and make it for 6:30 in the morning.. although it seems most congregations in my area have opted for a more reasonable time of post 6pm in the evening. Strange thing is, maybe it's because prayer meetings have traditionally been such a hard-sell, but, in my old congregation, there was a definite subliminal current that if you aren't at the tuesday prayer meeting, you're not really part of the core "super righteous Christians" group. You might be doing the sunday morning and the wednesday group thing.. but tuesday prayer is really where it's at… (not to mention the post-prayer meeting leadership training time for everyone "because we're all leaders").

I think I need to clarify what I'm saying here by mentioning - I'm comparing this 'being at the meetings' drive against the prevalent lack of encouragement for people to have real active relationships with God. So I'm not saying that meetings in and of themselves are bad things. I'm not saying that prayer or 'corporate' prayer is a bad thing, I'm saying that I don't agree with the fact that all to often, 'being at the meetings' is the focus point and walking with people in their journey with God is ignored.

We seem so preoccupied with the things we should do. We keep on heaping up the activities. Heaping up the 'shoulds'. Hoping, I presume, that one day we'll find the optimum amount of things that we should do to have a fruitful walk with God. But I think we realise that isn't going to happen, so instead of looking at what we're doing and asking: "is this really where God wants us?", we change the goal posts. We change the requirements about learning to walk with and know Abba, to "how many meetings were you at this week?". What we've effectively done, is thrown out the baby, looked at the bathwater, and said "I'm sure there's a baby in here somewhere, so let's just call the bathwater the baby - that way it'll feel like we're winning".

But I think somewhere inside we know it's not enough. It will never be enough. We can try doing stuff until we roll over dead, and we still won't be doing enough, because it isn't about the "doing" at all. It's kind of like trying to make a cake, but doing so in the garage and only using wood and screws for ingredients. You're never ever going to get there. You'll make something that might look like a cake. If you're really good, it might even smell a bit like a cake, but it will never ever BE a cake.

Dad is calling us - and has been calling us - to a full vibrant life of relationship. A life where we rely on Him. Where we find who we are in Him and by what He is doing in us. It's a life full of surprises and excitement and joy and Life. It's about Him abiding IN us and.. here's the shocker.. us IN HIM (Them)! We are called to a life lived in joyous relationship with Abba, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That is our destiny. That is what we are called and encouraged on to. It's not some dry desert-life of duties, activities and 'shoulds'. It is so very very much more than that.

I wish I could explain this better, and I hope if you're reading this it doesn't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Meetings work for some people. They are often helpful in giving a regular place for people to go and get into fellowship with fellow Jesus-followers. However, when the meetings start becoming the reason for having the meetings, then we're treading on dangerous ground.

My hope is that if you find yourself disagreeing with much of what I'm alluding to, by 'bashing the meetings' that you will hear my heart, and start thinking about the reason we have these meetings, and if they really are accomplishing what we want them to.

I'd encourage you to take stock of your relationship with God, and if it's really where you hope it to be. God is holding out the best gift any human being could wish for. He is opening up His heart, and offering us to abide with Him, in Him. We are called to the fullness of this relationship. It is our destiny.

Let God draw you into a deeper relationship with Him, which doesn't rely on meetings to get you through the week, it relies on Him. Where you don't go to 'your leaders' for direction on every turn, but you go to Him, and learn to hear His voice for yourself. I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to people for advice or get a well grounded opinion, but I strongly believe that it should be only that - an opinion or wise words - the guidance and direction should come from Dad. Jesus said - my sheep know my voice - so if we really are His sheep - let's learn to hear Him when He speaks.

Again, I say, God is holding out to you the offer of real relationship. Relationship like nothing you've ever experienced - and I mean that in a good way. It isn't non-existant relationship, but rather perfect relationship. Deeper than any other relationship you've ever experienced. I'd like to offer some resources that have helped me to begin to comprehend what Dad really has for us, and what I have in Him. I've already done a post about some of the stuff,

here, although I'd like to also make a mention of Baxter's blog and Perichoresis (especially this), oh, and I've just started reading some stuff by Jaques Ellul which I have been finding very insightful.

oh yes - and The Shack. That book has had a profound impact on my view of Dad and how much He loves me and wants to be active in my life.

Sadly, I honestly think we so often miss what Dad planned for us when we look at things through our religious eyes. So often, when we read the Bible we read condemnation and 'things we need to do' and then gloss over the numerous places of God promising to do it in us, or Jesus saying 'It's finished' or the fact that 'there is now NO MORE CONDEMNATION'!! Something inside us thinks- that can't really be true? God can't seriously love me that much? He can't seriously expect nothing from me.

I'd like to say - that view diminishes who God is. God, Himself, says He is something different; yet we don't trust Him enough to believe that - we rather prefer the sinful control that religion gives us. Relationship is not about controlling. Love is not about controlling. It's all about submitting. In love God submits to us. And we, in love submit to Him. That's what it's about.

I will leave you with this on brief extract on belief systems as opposed to faith by Jacques Ellul :

Belief relates to things, to realities, to behaviors that are raised to the status of an ultimate value that it worthy dying for. Belief transforms next-to-last human realities into ultimate, absolute, foundational realities. It turns everything that belongs to the order of the Promise, of God Word, of the Kingdom into epiphenomena, into sweet pious words, ways of making life easier, and a process of self-justification. Faith runs totally counter to this. To begin with, faith acknowledges the Ultimate in all its irrefragable truth, and so it depreciates and attaches little importance to whatever offers itself as a substitute for that Ultimate. It is not a matter of looking to some external ultimate reality; the Kingdom of heaven is (at present) in you or among you. As of now it is you who constitute it. Faith is the demand that we must incarnate the Kingdom of God now in this world and this age.

Jacques Ellul (read the rest here)

Your brother in Abba,


The problem of a loving god

So, a friend of my brother in law wrote a comment on my previous entry, "Does God's command to Love Him, by it's very existance, render it an impossibility?", and he has a question/dilemma that I'd like to look at in more depth.

I'll repost the important stuff from his comment here to make life a little easier:
...I've really been struggling with this question lately, maybe even to a further extreme than your blog deals with it. Here's my problem:

I feel like I do have a choice whether or not to love and follow God. However, it's a pretty crummy choice. What sort of love would it be if I told my wife "you can love me or not love me, it's your choice. I want you to choose to love me so I know your love is real and we can have a good life together. If you choose not to love me, that will hurt me but ultimately it is your decision. By the way, if you choose not to love me, I'm going to cast you into a lake of fire where you can burn forever." That's where I'm really hung up... I feel like that is the choice God has given us. How can there be any true love of God when the alternative to loving him is eternal damnation? What sort of loving being offers his creation a choice like that?
Anyway... that's what I've really been struggling with. I appreciate your blog and look forward to more posts, and if you have any input about my comment I would definitely welcome it.

Ethan Cornelius
[emphasis mine]

Ok, so to address this properly, I think it's best to start at the beginning with the preconceptions that make up where I feel you're coming from:

1. First off, I think I'll try tackle the eternal damnation thing, just because it's something I've been thinking about. I know this is a little left-field, but a good friend of mine that I trust as a strong theologian once said something about hell as we understand it isn't actually a Biblical thing. Now, unfortunately, I don't have any real references - although it is something I'm planning to follow up with him on - and I'll share what I learn and the resources I get when I get them - but I thought I'd get that in here - maybe Hell and eternal damnation isn't really what we think it is.

Following on from that thought, a very close friend of mine just posted an interesting post here [check out my comment as well, as I don't feel like repeating it here] talking about a very interesting thought where Jesus says something like "the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, or the children of God" - his comment (referencing Shane Claiborne) was that gates don't do much attacking.. so possibly - it's the Church [God's people] that will be attacking the Gates of Hell and -possibly- rescuing those deceived by the deceiver.

Take a look at the post, he does a better, more in depth, job of explaining it - and I've commented on this a bit better there too, but I think it's a very interesting and alternate view on the whole God sending people to hell thing.

Something else that I've been thinking on is this: Why do we always presume that it's God (and by that I mean God-the-Father) that will do all the judging? We seem to see God as this harsh and horrible being, and Jesus, as our advocate trying to stave off His wrath over us, and we are all hoping that when it comes to judgement day, that Jesus will hopefully be able to stave off God's wrath on those that have said the little prayer...

Where do we get this from!? The Bible specifically says on a few occasions that Jesus is the one that will be judging, not God the Father - so if we should be fearing anyone - then I suppose, it should be Jesus. But He died for us - and actually, I believe that by Him being fully God, God died for us - including the Father and the Spirit. In some plane of reality, the Godhead laid themselves down to save their creation. As an aside from this aside, 1 John 4:18 plainly states that if we fear, it is for fear of punishment - and this fear shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. Earlier in the verse, John says - perfect love drives out all fear - so as our understanding of God's perfect love for us grows, so our fear should dissipate.

So, I hope I've placed some doubt as to whether there is such a thing as hell in the sense of a place of eternal damnation where people will be 'dying forever' in hellish pain and suffering.

I know I haven't done a good job of explaining it away, but if you are happy to take my word on it for now (I will supply the alternate arguments or references when I get them), there's a chance that Hell isn't actually an eternal place, as we often think it to be.

2. I think some of the problem with your question, is a warped perspective of God. I like what Marc said in his comment, although, I look at the whole "wages of sin" thing a little differently. I'm not so sure that it is "God being just" that brings about the "wages of sin being death". I think the "wages of sin" term is better understood in the same sense as the wages of cancer is death. What I'm meaning is that I think what it is saying is that the logical [and only] outcome of being entrapped in Sin is Death. And we chose that, by rejecting God's request/command in the garden. It wasn't something God placed us in, it's something that we ourselves moved into. Albeit, God could possibly have never placed the tree there in the first place, but then where would our free choice be - and how could we ever really choose Him. I think in His wisdom, He allowed us to make that choice so that we could make the choice to choose Him again - as I fully believe God is all about relationship.

I think that a better picture is this: We were stuck, naked and starving, feeding the pigs of a foreign slavemaster, and God paid the price for us, and offered us a place in His house as sons and daughters, embracing us in our stench and squallor, and in that place, He is offering us a Life of relationship and habitation in Him, and I believe that the gospels are full of these pictures of God as a lavishly loving Father - in the true sense of the word. What I mean by this is that He isn't loving in some arbitrary alternate manner that we don't really understand. He is loving in a 1 Cor 13 kind of way. He is loving in the sense that we know in our hearts a loving person should be. But He is also infinitely wise, and does what is the best for us, and so I think sometimes it is possible, in our finite, foolish wisdom, to misconstrue what God is doing as something that might seem unfair or unloving. Like a father that forbids his child from consuming a 2kg tub of ice cream, for instance - or stops a toddler from touching a hot stove - the child doesn't get why he can't get his own way, and may in some ways feel that his father is being unfair, yet even our wisdom knows that the father is in the right and that what he is doing is out of love for his child.

I was listening to Wayne Jacobsen's Tranformation series [link and more resources I've found helpful here], and he does such a great job of describing the cross as a cure and not punishment. That Jesus laid down His life for us as a reflection of His words: "the greatest thing a friend can do for another is lay down his life" [paraphrased] - so it was clearly as an extension of relationship. It was as if God saw a cancer in mankind that was destroying us, and yet none of us could withstand the Chemo (God's wrath) that would kill it . The only person that could withstand it long enough to destroy the cancer, was God incarnate, and so Jesus came to earth and took that Sin upon Him, effectively defeating the cancer that plagued mankind, and thus giving us Life again, and reuniting us with the Father.

This is just a side thought and something that just came to me, but if the wages of Sin is Death, and that Death is not just the 'falling asleep' kind of death (as Jesus put it) then, could it be that it is a Death that is the antithesis of Life?

So if Life in the bearer of it is eternal, then could Death in the bearer mean temporary life? Could it be that God created mankind as eternal beings when He breathed Life into us, but Sin brought Death upon us, which removed the eternal Life and replaced it with temporary life. Seeing as God is an eternal being, it would be impossible for us in Death to ever have eternal Life with Him. And so the act of reuniting man to God wasn't so much appeasing God's disdain and blood-lust, but rather, by gaining victory over death, Jesus enabled mankind to be eternal beings once more - and thereby we are able to live in the relationship that He offers us?

I don't know if I've really managed to answer your question, or given you an alternate perspective, but I think when our view of god is as you have in your question, we will always end up with a god that is neither very nice nor particularly loving. We end up with somewhat of an abusive god, dolling out nice things when we think we're doing well, but always dangling the "I'll douse you in fuel and set you on fire if you step out of line" threat above our heads.

And that is why I think we need to take an alternate view of God. To step to one side as it were and start re-aligning our view of God with what He says of himself, both Biblically and through the Spirit in our hearts.

Ethan - I hope this helps - I'm keen to hear your thoughts on this as we walk towards a better understanding of Dad..