Interesting question. Short answer: I don’t know.
My opinion is evolving and I’m not sure where I’ll land on that one. I’d say that 95% of all people (including Christians) have an opinion on hell based more on Dante’s Inferno than based on the Bible. The OT, in particular, is strangely quiet on it and I’m not positive that the terms translated as “hell” in the NT are accurate. When in a discussion about hell, many people point to Revelation and the Lake of Fire … but remember that Revelation was all a dream by John. It was a dream and the entire story was meant for the seven churches who were being (for the most part) persecuted for their beliefs. It was meant as an encouragement to them rather than a “Left Behind” style of entertainment for 21st-century Western Civilization.
Previously I was of the fire and brimstone belief. Today, not so sure. To quote NT Wright:
What then of hell? I was congratulated not long ago, on the basis of selective quotations from my writings, on being a universalist, that is, on believing that all humans will be saved, including Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. That, however, is not the position I take, or have ever taken. The New Testament is full of sober and serious warnings of the real possibility of final loss, and I do not think they are merely rhetorical devices to frighten us ahead of time into a salvation which will in fact come to all sooner or later. In fact, I think the universalist case — which normally turns on God having all the time in the world, after the death of unbelievers, to go on putting the gospel to them from different angles until at last they accept it — does in our day rather what purgatory did in the Middle Ages. That is, it takes attention away from the challenges and decisions of the present life, and focuses it instead on the future.
At the same time, of course, the New Testament does indeed hold out great promises for a glorious future. Romans 5 and Romans 8 speak of the great sweep of God’s mercy, reconciling and freeing the whole cosmos. This doesn’t sound like a small group of people snatched away to salvation while the great majority faces destruction. Somehow we have to hold all this together without cutting any knots. We should note, for instance, that even in the astonishing and moving vision of the New Jerusalem, the renewed heaven and earth (Revelation 21 and 22), there are some still ‘outside’: the dogs, sorcerers, fornicators, murders, idolaters and liars (22.15). In 21.8, a similar group is thrown in the lake of fire, which is described as the ‘second death’. It is hard to see how we can ignore such passages — and the many similar ones in Paul and elsewhere — without being accused of trimming our theology to suit the prevailing desire to be nice to everybody, never to say anything which implies that someone might be in danger. Equally, we should remind ourselves that from the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22 there flows the river of the water of life, on whose banks grow trees, the tree of life; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. There are mysteries here we should not reduce to simplistic formulae.
I hope that answers your question and thank you for asking.
Thanks @Jay313 – you made me laugh!
I guess I did hit every branch … I didn’t mention my little stint in the Assemblies of God and Word Churches (name it and claim it). That fell apart when I didn’t win the lottery
I’ll check out the Is Genesis History link. Thanks for that!
True. I agree with Wright that there are mysteries afoot. As far as final judgment goes, I also appreciate Wittgenstein’s perspective. When a friend mentioned Origen’s idea that there would be a final restitution of all things, that even Satan and the fallen angels would be restored to their former glory, Wittgenstein replied, “Of course it (Origen’s idea) was rejected. It would make nonsense of everything else. If what we do now is to make no difference in the end, then all the seriousness of life is done away with. Your religious ideas have always seemed to me more Greek than biblical. Whereas my thoughts are one hundred percent Hebraic.” Maurice Drury, Conversations with Wittgenstein , 161.
Great story, I’m currently an independent classical theist, rather than a member of any one religion (I am perhaps most influenced by Neoplatonism), but I have gone through similar circumstances. I live in a secular/cultural Catholic family, though lapsed into atheism around the age of 12. I originally was a soft-atheist, who had great respect for all religions, until I heard about the Lisa Miller kidnapping case, which convinced me that religion could cause good people to become evil, and needed to be peacefully destroyed. I was a philosophy student however, and when I read the God Delusion, I was highly underwhelmed by many of Dawkin’s arguments. I remained an atheist however until I researched further (after a debate I had with a friend) and found that theism offered a much firmer foundation for philosophy and life.
To tag some more onto Phil’s good advice; it’s good to keep in mind that a spouse (or other family/friends) probably have not been going through the same period of wrestling as you have. So when you finally “arrive” at some new point that you have given yourself time to acclimate to, they in contrast, may be totally blindsided and bowled over because they have remained back where they thought you were. It is unfair of us to expect they will more-or-less instantly accomplish what we allowed ourselves much time (sometimes years) to agonize and search scriptures about. If we patiently realize that they too will need a long period of struggle and time to slowly try things out in their existing communities (or more painfully - adjust community memberships as necessary) then it is easier to feel empathy for their plight too. When they rail against what you now hold as true, be sure to remember your own “tour of duty” that you served in those very same shoes. It’s even worse for some (like me) who tend to think outloud. That means that my “running off at the mouth” looking like I’m pretty sure of something might just be me testing the waters and processing it in loud or [later embarrassing] ways.
[And I suppose an even healthier thing, if you are still on the front end of much struggle, is to be open with your spouse as much as you can, sharing the same struggle with them in real time. If you both arrive together … how much better!]
Actually, reading Schaefer was my first real introduction to Christian thought outside the narrow confines of denomination, and he had a lot of good things to say that I carry with me still, though later it seems he got sidetracked in political activism. He also went through a dark period of doubt and emerged through the other side, as I recall.
This was a very interesting story but my favorite is the following…
Yeah! Not because this is always true, because it isn’t. But because it is true enough! It is about the same on either side frankly. There are VERY intelligent and thoughtful people in BOTH camps. But the numbers of atheists who are buying into some very irrational rhetoric is growing fast!
I, of course, had a childhood as different from Ron’s as can be. I was raised in an environment so critical of the Christian establishment that I have frequently demonstrated to atheists that I can criticize Christianity even better than they can. And yet I have now not only found considerable value in the Bible and Christianity but I am orthodox to what seems a remarkable degree to me at least (even if I am definitely on the liberal evolution believing side of things).
The threats Ron experienced from his wife are familiar to me, for I have experience something similar and caved just like he did. Though such things do make me pretty angry – but hey, at least in that case, love wins, right?
It’s not losing to value a relationship over winning a debate. Happy wife, happy life, right?
I think the more conservative a woman’s upbringing and current view of womanhood, the harder it would be to deal with a husband whose faith unraveled. With all the teaching about how wives need to be supportive and follow the leadership of their husbands and how the fate of the children’s spiritual and emotional well-being depends on having a godly spiritual head of the family, something like Ron described would probably threaten his wife’s core identity as a good Christian wife and mother. All of the sudden, she finds herself “unequally yolked” and without the spiritual leader she has probably been told her whole life she needs.
Not that any of that justifies not giving a spouse space to process their stuff in their own time. Praying that all of you will be able to give the grace your partners need and that you’ll receive lots back in return.
I’m sure this was just your wife’s own pain talking, but I can imagine how hurtful that would be for you. We all just want to be unconditionally loved and accepted. It seems like the whole “I never signed up for this” is just more of that false promise of certainty that disappoints so many Christians. Like if you marry the right person, you can be certain what you are signing up for. No one knows what they are signing up for when they get married. Most people don’t sign up for depression, or addictions, or eating disorders, or infertility or dealing with kids with disabilities or behavior problems when they get married either, but I’ll bet most of us get something we didn’t sign up for.
Thanks for sharing your story, Ron. I’m sorry you’ve had such a rocky road but because of the opportunity it affords for you to make your faith more truly your own, I suspect you won’t end up regretting it. Sometimes risk and even suffering is necessary for learning.
I have no idea what a reasonable rate of answerable questions would be, but then I don’t start out with the expectation that all questions are answerable. It has to be okay not to know what you don’t know.
Except culturally, I don’t claim to be a Christian, but in the absence of good evidence to the contrary I have no negative judgement against those who decide to believe in God on faith.
More often, God belief is passed along culturally with people being brought up to believe what their parents believed. But as someone who did not successfully receive that transmission, I nonetheless became interested in why it arose and what part it may have played in our development as a species. I think there are good reasons for why God belief has persisted so long and nearly everywhere. And I think it can still play an important role for finding meaning and contentment in life.
As someone who has decided there is no God described in any culture which exists just as it has been described, I nonetheless believe there is more to us than just our own deliberate best efforts. So I have a place in my cosmology of self for a God, and I try to be open to this mysterious something. But I have to tell you I am sometimes jealous of the ease with which believers invest in their literal Gods. It is hard to have a relationship with a mystery, and sometimes I feel like Helen Keller except dimmer and more clumsy. Yet I still choose to believe it is worth the effort. So I also rely on faith. Ultimately we all must unless we finally manage to fool even ourselves with our boastful confidence.
Thanks for sharing so honestly and thoughtfully, Mark.
I grew up Roman Catholic, but in my early university years that faith died out, leaving a husk of confused agnosticism. One night as I walked back to my dorm, a sudden realization came to me: the grand plans of Chris Falter’s future, glorious career of renown were not worth living for. What, then? Another vision: this time, Jesus on the cross. There it was: an example of self-sacrificial love! That was the legacy I wanted to leave!
So I prayed: “Jesus, if you’re real, come into my life and make me like you.” I can’t say my life has been doubt-free or struggle-free since, but I have no regrets–except for those times when I have been selfish.
Interestingly, the movement from YEC to ID to CASE (Christian accepting the science of evolution) started almost a decade later, and took about 25 years.
That reminds me of Chris Rice’s song, "Smell the Color 9"
I would take no for an answer
Just to know I heard you speak
And I’m wondering why I’ve never
Seen the signs they claim they see
A lotta special revelations
Meant for everybody but me
Maybe I don’t truly know You
Or maybe I just simply believe…
Sometimes finding You is just like trying to
Smell the color nine
Nine’s not a color
And even if it were, you can’t smell a color
That’s my point exactly
this song was an encouragement to me in med school and beyond–to find someone else struggled with faith.
I haven’t heard that song in so long! I appreciated Chris Rice’s honesty, especially when many Christian musicians of the day didn’t seem interested in really exploring areas of doubt. Another one I remember is Nichole Nordeman, who had lyrics like this (from “To Know You”)
Proof that You had really risen
When he placed his fingers
Where the nails once broke Your skin
Did his faith finally begin?
I’ve lied if I’ve denied
The common ground I’ve shared with him
And I, I really want to know You
I want to make each day
A different way that I can show You how
I really want to love You
Be patient with my doubt
I’m just trying to figure out Your will
And I really want to know You still
Thank you, James. I would say that BioLogos has been very a positive part and a critical part. Your resources, videos, articles, podcasts, and forums have helped me recover my faith and that has helped me save my marriage. I cannot thank you and BioLogos enough. I so deeply appreciate your graciousness, education, information, and resources. I believe the organization is demonstrating John 13:35.
Thanks for posting this beautiful and heartfelt story. I was raised in an atheist home, and spent most of my life as an atheist, slowly becoming agnostic. When I finally came to Christ (a long story) I had lots of trouble and struggle, because I thought I was the only scientist who had ever believed. I didnt know any others. Then I found Francis Collins book, The Language of God, and a year later discovered Biologos, and so many other Christian scientists, and others who held to a scientific worldview while following Jesus.
I still struggle, and sometimes a more YECish Christian will ask me “How do you interpret Romans,…” or similar questions. I have answers (from NT Wright and John Walton etc) but I don’t know if they’re right. What I do know is that our task is to take two sources of one truth, Scripture and Nature, and study them until we find how they together lead us on the true path to knowledge and wisdom. Welcome to the journey, Ron, you will find much support and friendship here (as you can see from the previous comments) and I am sure you will often sustain us, your fellow travelers on the path to understanding. Meanwhile, Jesus is walking with us, propping us up when we are tired or despairing, and we continue in the light of His love and grace.
I like the reference to Francis Schaeffer: “the evangelical hero that no one reads.” I read everything he wrote, except for “Pollution and the Death of Man.” When it came out in 1970, I was a right-wing Republican who thought that environmental crises were made up by hippies and liberals. But when in 1989 I started a sort of Christian Audubon Society called the Christian Nature Federation, I felt I really had to look at what my hero wrote. It made me ashamed. Ashamed that I didn’t read it 20 years before–and mostly ashamed of ignoring or denying our obligation to be the stewards of creation. I hope that the past 30 years as a creation-care advocate is due penance for my earlier sin!