Bad Theology Kills- Relationship
Today we have our first guest blogger!
Danny Ferguson is a very dear friend of mine whose thoughts I and heart I value very much. He has 18+ years of youth ministry experience walking with hurting young people and sharing the hope of Jesus. He has written a piece on how being obsessed/preoccupied with saving people from hell is ironically often the very thing that drives people away from God.
For your consideration I present to you.... "Bad Theology Kills Relationship" by Danny Ferguson
I once challenged a group of community youth to write a letter to God. One person shared their letter. It said, "Dear God, Sorry I am an atheist. Please don't send me to hell. Limbo is fine." The letter made me laugh, but it also highlighted something. It is the question of what happens after we die. Is there a heaven? If so, how do we get in? If not, then what's the alternative? Why does it matter that I figure it all out anyway? These are big questions. Answering the questions of life and death is one of the mainstays of religion. What do Christians want people to know about life after death?
When I was young - this was THE question. I met the elders of the church to be interviewed before I could participate in communion. They asked this question: "If you were to die tonight where would you end up?" The answer was simple. It was in the clouds of heaven or it was the fires of hell. I wasn't sure exactly what heaven was all about. My view of it was largely sitting on clouds, lots of singing, and maybe growing a pair of wings. Hell, on the other hand, seemed very clear in my mind. Lots of continual fire and endless pain, the place reserved for the worst of the worst. People who raped children, drug dealers, and course Hilter. However, in God's eyes all sin, be it a white lie or murder was a violation of the perfection of God and would land you in hell with Hitler and the devil with nonstop a non-stop country music soundtrack. There was only one way to avoid hell: accept Jesus and live right. And so most people live with this simplistic notion of "Good people go to heaven while bad people go to hell."
So why would my young friend continue on as an atheist when he knew about hell? Many people I interact with don't have a very positive view of God. They either see God as a distant observer, uninterested in helping them through the pain of their lives or as someone waiting to strike them with lightning when they screw up.
There is a picture that shows a beautiful serene picture of Jesus knocking at a door. This is drawn from the words of Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” This is often used as an invitational proposition for someone to enter into a relationship with Jesus by letting them into their hearts. I once shared this image with a young friend and he showed me the same image however, someone has added this dialogue:
Jesus: let me in
Jesus: So I can save you.
Me: From what?
Jesus: From what I am going to do to you if you don’t let me in.
Me: I’m just going to keep the door locked then
Staring into the eyes of my friend, I could find nothing to say. He was riddled with major health issues and spent the majority of his childhood in the hospital fighting for life. To him, God was the one to blame for this and so he decided he would rather take his chances on hell than being associated with a God left him to suffer through life and would threaten after death to torment and torture him and his loved ones. Don't think that is a fair representation of God?
Consider these words from Jonathan Edwards, an 18th-century pastor, considered by many to be one of the greatest preachers of all time:
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours." (https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/edwards_jonathan/Sermons/Sinners.cfm)
I could see why he wouldn't want to open the door. Think about it. Would you let someone into your house that was known to do be threatening and violent? It wouldn’t be safe or healthy. And this view of God isn’t safe or healthy either. In fact, a study issued in 2013 shows that this view not only pushes people away from God but holding such a belief has long-lasting negative effects on peoples mental health.
Somehow we have bought into belief that we have to, literally, scare the hell out of people. Some worry about how we would motivate people without fear, but did you know that in all the messages recorded by the earliest followers of Jesus encouraging people to follow him never mention hell? Not once. Were they holding back the truth to make more converts? Were they simply ignorant of this reality?
Have we developed a bad theology that kills a true relationship with God?
And if that is the fact - I wonder who is in more danger - the people that don’t know God, or people that misrepresent him?
Stay tuned for part two