I sit at a Starbucks coffee bar, a newspaper lying open on the table in front of me. I take a momentary break from reading to look up at the people around. A young family sit at a nearby table. Along with father and mother, there sits a three year old daughter, her lovely blond hair glistening like gold, and although acting as if somewhat flustered, her behaviour is by no means irritating to her parents or to anyone else in the restaurant. Next to the mother a Moses basket sits, containing their newborn, sleeping soundly. Just another typical British family. I sigh, as I ponder on their relationship with God, whether such a relationship exists or not. Then I return to the article I was reading in the newspaper.
|The actual Starbucks Coffee Bar referred here.|
Then again, had it been a Muslim family, or a Buddhist family, or a Hindu family, or even to the extent of a Jewish family, I would have felt more certain of their lack of a relationship with a Christian God, a little fact that would have caused me to sigh in despondence. Furthermore, if they claim to be Christian, then that would raise further questions in my mind. Do they regularly attend church? If they don't, then that rules out any connections they might have had with God. But if they do, then which denomination? If it's Roman Catholic, then I would mentally question their certainty of their salvation - as they repeat, mantra-style, their prayers to the Virgin Mary for her to plead to a rather truculent Son of God to show some mercy on them. Are they Jehovah's Witnesses, or Mormons, or are affiliated with Christian Science, or perhaps Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology? Then their certainty of salvation would be under doubt, because neither of these groups confess Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ, at least not in the same sense that he is God come in the flesh.
This is becoming rather like a computer program flowchart, something akin to this:
10 Let r = r+1
20 If r = 3 Then Print "Non-Christian": End
30 Let a = ask family
40 Let b = baptist church
50 Input a
60 If a = b Then Go to 80
70 Go to 10
80 Print "A Christian Family.": End
Perhaps you get the idea. The computer shows that only those who attend a Baptist Church can be perceived as truly Christian. An insulting statement? No doubt it is, but in reality, because our Baptist church confessed that Jesus Christ was the incarnate Son of God who died on a cross to atone for our sins, was buried, and on the third day he rose physically from the dead, and he is now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and the Church is a group of people which God had called to be his own - all this was what I believed to be the utmost necessity, and how I thought during my younger years as a Christian believer! What was the ultimate motive which was behind such a train of thought?
It has all come down to this: the Bible teaching on the universality of sin and the existence of Hell. Drummed into me by Mother since a very young child and further endorsed by the Catholic Church within I grew up, even after conversion towards the end of 1972, I had much difficulty in accepting a God of love. Rather, for many years I had a subconscious idea that my performance must play a role in my salvation, even if this performance consisted mainly in keeping every doctrine and belief as true to the Bible as I possibly can.
But other questions arose in my mind. One question which I actually prayed aloud to God whilst alone was: Why did you create us all in the first place when our eternal destiny after death is in the fires of Hell? I must admit, there have been times when I found the concept of eternal suffering incompatible of a God of love. Very much the thinking of an atheist. Then considering Richard Dawkins' description of God of the Old Testament as a megalomaniac, homophobic, sadomasochistic, malevolent bully, and somewhere within me there is a sense of agreement. The impossible keeping of all six hundred-plus laws, some as petty as forbidding of wearing two or more garments made from different materials, makes any human being utterly impossible to enter heaven after death. And not to mention the potential of failing to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength, along with not confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord - it is Hell for Eternity.
And as one atheist had asked, If considering that the love-relationship between Christ and the believer is likened to a husband-and-wife relationship, would the marriage last?
A good point. I can imagine the terrible pressure for the wife if her husband keeps on demanding utter perfection in keeping with his laws, or be confronted with the threat of eternal fire. Would all that engender love for him in her heart? Or would she immediately go after another man who showed her unconditional love and acceptance, and end up with an adulterous affair with such a man? Even as a Christian believer, I have pondered in my mind about the sincerity of Christ's love for me, especially when reading in the Bible about his promises of eternal resurrection and heaven, then come across that awful word if - mainly in the context of: if you stand firm in your faith - such as found in Colossians 1:22-23. This gives the impression of God's love as conditional. Imagine how a wife would feel if even though he loved her to bits, yet still stands as conditional on her remaining faithful. But over the years as a married man myself, I have wondered how I would feel if I caught my own wife in bed. At first I said to her that this would be the only cause for a separation. But as time passes by, I began to re-evaluate the situation would it ever occur.
By reading the story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, how his wife deserted him for prostitution, and who was eventually sold on the slave market. Hosea bought her back and kept on loving her despite her unfaithfulness. Would I do the same if my wife strayed? Indeed, true love is unconditional. If she would ever stray and became unfaithful, I will ensure that I remain faithful to her and will always love her, and ask her to stay with me. And there will never be a need for all that, for such unconditional love will always result in the wife's faithfulness to her husband.
How is it that God's love appears to be far less stable, and wholly hangs on the believer's faithfulness and performance? And the very existence of Hell? A place where every human being who does not acknowledge God will end up - in an eternal fiery furnace? Looking around Starbucks, along with people everywhere, including those on television, I do find it very hard to swallow the concept that one day they will all roast for eternity for not acknowledging God during their lifetimes. Such thoughts spoil my love for such a God. It is rather like a good-tasting mug of coffee. Add a pinch of salt and the taste would be impaired. I would not be able to enjoy the coffee in the same way like I did before. So with my perception of God and the existence of a fiery hell.
I may indeed believe in Once Saved Always Saved. And there is plenty of proof of this found in both Testaments of the Bible. But just being aware of an eternal hell does spoil my perception of God. Yes, there are times - even to this day - when I feel exactly this way. Taking such ideas and feelings on this subject into consideration - I can't help about my knowledge of God's omniscience. That means he is all-knowing - nothing can take him by surprise. So I imagine a newborn, such as the one asleep in the cot at Starbucks, whom God already knows that this human will spend eternity in hell after death, unless of course, he repents, if so, then God already knows about that - even if its another twenty, or thirty, or even seventy years in the future.
As I gaze on the newborn sleeping in the cot, I can't help feeling crushed if God already knows its eternal state, especially if both parents are unbelievers or follow a different religion. Perhaps I'm wallowing in my own ignorance. After all, the Bible does ask who can understand the infinite wisdom of God. But I can't help feeling the way I do. Then I look up and remember some of my fellow Christian believers - well educated middle-class professionals who were seldom seen smiling but instead always going about their business with stone-cold expressions on their faces.
And that is a shame. As I have written here last week, whilst I visited the Kerith Centre in Bracknell, I was able to observe some regular long-standing members with cold expressions. And the Kerith Centre is by no means unique. Even in my own church at Ascot, there are some of the same stone-cold expressions, who hardly ever smile, and there is one in particular who is very much aware of the existence of Hell, and who is outright hostile towards me and very judgemental - even towards others. And I have been to other churches around London and the Home Counties, and have seen very much the same sort of thing. And going by my own experience in relating with other Christians, I have come to the conclusion that just by the mere existence of an eternal hell may be behind such cool, sombre attitudes.
The universal awareness of the existence of Hell may be one of the base-rocks of the belief in Darwin Evolution. In fact, I would not be exaggerating when I say that the majority of Christian graduates I have met and spoken to over the last forty years believe in Theistic Evolution over Divine Creation. This is quite simple to understand. To embrace Evolution - Theistic or Secular - is to deny the historicity of Adam and Eve and their Fall into sin. And to believe that death reigned long before our first parents had ever existed invalidates the significance of their deaths, and therefore robs the Atonement made by Jesus Christ on the cross from any significance in restoring humanity to eternal life. If death did not occur due to the Fall, but instead, necessarily integrated as vital for Natural Selection to work and for Evolution to progress upward, then sin is not the cause of death, and if sin is not the cause of death, then there is no need for an eternal hell. By dwelling on such a concept, it does not become too difficult for me to realise that the awareness of hell provides that vital bedrock for Darwinism to flourish, and by believing in Evolution as fact provides an escape from such an awareness of hell.
It is rather like the wife who is stuck in a loveless marriage to a law-giving husband. Because of her own imperfections, she feels that she isn't really loved at all, but instead remains under the eye of judgement. When another man arrives who shows none of this judgement, it isn't long before she shares his bed. Evolution is perceived as very much like the suitor. It provides an escape from the dire reality of hell, even in the subconscious, perhaps making the faith more appealing, but at the same time denying its reality.
Sure enough, I have written enough blogs here to demonstrate the significance of what the Atonement made by Jesus Christ on the cross, followed by his Burial and Resurrection three days after his death, all have in reconciliation and restoring us back to God. And by believing this causes the believer to have his spirit regenerated and becomes an eternal child of God. I think I have been pretty clear on all this. But the Bible also says that the wisdom and knowledge God has is beyond understanding (Job 36:26, Romans 11:33). My knowledge is far from infinite - there is many things about God which I am not aware of, and neither would I ever be aware of this side of the grave. But there is one thing that I have an inkling of awareness - and that Hell exists, its eternal, and such a dreadful place was not initially prepared for human habitation. Instead, it was prepared for the Devil and his angels.
I suppose that it's easier to understand that anyone who deliberately side with the Devil in defiance of God's calling may indeed deserve to suffer with the one he was so consciously keen to follow. But the truth is, the vast majority of humans are totally unaware that they have Satan as their "father". Even the Pharisees weren't aware of this (John 8:44), and they all thought that they were doing God's will. Such a concept, straight out of the mouth of Jesus Christ, makes me aware of the millions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, alongside followers of all other heretical religions and their eternal destiny. I guess this is part of the wisdom of God which lies outside my finite knowledge. I once looked at a photograph featured in a past issue of The Guinness Book of Records. It showed the world's largest crowd assembled at a public venue. They were all Hindus, men, women and children, who all gathered there for a religious festival. But according to Jesus' own words, recorded in John 14:6, they are all destined for eternal damnation, with most, if not all, totally unaware of this. Indeed, there are times when I question God's love for the world, so popularised by John 3:16.
I don't think it's hardly better here in the UK. For example, were you aware why I was for remaining in the European Union, and against Brexit? I guess the answer to that was concealed in my subconscious, but now, in writing this blog, I became aware of the main reason in my conscious mind. By being part of the European Union was meant for easier access for the Gospel to spread across to the Continent. Instead, we as Christians have become distracted by the want of our island isolation, that we have but forgotten the Gospel altogether. We became so obsessed with our English Bulldog culture, or rather the restoration of it, that we have either forgotten the Gospel, or we were ignorant of the fact that this very Bulldog spirit we hold so dear, is responsible for the blinding of many from the true light of the Gospel.
Perhaps you may argue that throughout the forty plus years we have been in Europe, the Gospel had never spread across the English Channel. Never mind that New Frontiers International, based at a large church in Brighton, had just this in mind, and no doubt efforts were made, but now the need of tougher international barriers to hamper their mission.
This is an unusual blog, I will admit. In general I love to exalt the love of God, his power and his redemption. But this week I wanted to "out" my real thoughts and emotions, to share my doubts which at times plagues me. However, allow me to finish with a bit of Solomon's wisdom:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Ecclesiastes 11:13-14, AV.