Tips for Surviving College: Leaving your Bible at the Door? (Thinking Objectively)

As a Christian, if you watched the Movie God’s Not Dead, you probably thought it was ridiculous when the professor made his students write “god is dead” on a piece of paper. Rightfully so. I remember my sophomore year of college when I was first told to “leave my Bible at the door.” I was slightly worried about what was going to happen. Frankly I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, and I pictured a similar scenario in my head of a professor forcing me to proclaim the death of God before progressing onward through the class. Thinking back over my college years studying religion at a liberal university, I’ve slowly begun to understand what it is meant to “leave one’s Bible at the doorway” before you begin studying a topic. As a disclaimer, I must acknowledge that not all professors are the same. Some are very much against religious faith, while others may be part of a religious sect. I’ve heard members from both sides ask their students to leave their religious texts outside of the classroom before entering–and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing altogether. My goal in this post is to not do defend this method, but to help you better understand what many professors mean when they ask their students to do this. I’m going to explain why, as a Christian, this can be extremely valuable for you as an individual, and why you can leave your Bible and not your brain at the door without forsaking your faith.

If someone asks you to approach a topic objectively, what exactly are they asking you to do? Well, you might gather that they’re asking you to approach a topic without a personal bias. That’s a pretty good assessment. Now, everyone should know that it’s impossible to approach (for example) a religious topic without a bias. All of our experiences with religion in the past, good or bad, color our perception of it. But when someone asks you to approach a topic objectively, they’re asking you to take it at face value. They’re not asking you whether you think it’s necessarily true or not. When I’ve studied Islam in the past, I’ve had to do research and write papers on Islamic doctrine explaining why or how Islam views a specific topic from an Islamic perspective. Many times I’ve been asked to write from the perspective of Freud or Durkheim—which means I’ve often had to get inside of their heads and explain to an audience how one of these two men might view religion. As a Christian, we should not shy away or freak out at these assignments. They help us tremendously when it comes to gaining perspective. I could have easily written this:

“Islam is not true because I don’t believe in Islam.” -which is circular, and no argument at all.

Or

“Karl Marx is dumb because he believes that religion is only for poor and hurting people.” -which is patronizing and unintelligent for me to say.

What good would come from this? All I’ve done is closed the door to any perspective in opposition to mine. I’ve learned nothing about different worldviews or religions, and I’ve guaranteed myself a well-deserved F on my paper. As a Christian, you must be able to look at different worldviews without dismissing them instantly because you disagree. I cannot stress this enough.

To quote Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Leaving your Bible at the door does not mean to throw your faith in the trash. It means to not approach a topic with this kind of attitude: “The Bible preaches against this, so this is a waste of time.” This kind of attitude will hamstring your capacity to interact with people with different worldviews. It’s okay to try to speak objectively. In fact, it’s incredible useful. If you are afraid that you will lose your faith, then your faith isn’t very deep to begin with. As Christians we are not to run away from the world, but to engage it.

It’s possible to leave your bias at the door, but not your brain.

Learn to put yourself in the shoes of another. Learn to be able to listen to views contrary to your own without instantly becoming offended. Learn to speak to and about other worldviews intelligently. People will take you more seriously, and you’ll be a better ambassador for Christ.

Is it the Devil, or You?

Life is challenging for everyone. Though we may be tempted to attribute it’s difficulties to material lack of some sort, certainly biographies of the rich and famous shoot down our misconceptions that “more” is the prime attribute of happiness. While some ambiguity remains on exactly how the story of The Buddha began to unfold, all of the accounts are somehow centered on a wealthy man destined for greatness in his father’s kingdom. Wanting to preserve his son from the hardships of life, the father forbids his son from penetrating the walls of the utopia he has created for him. Inside he is showered with every pleasure and delight that the world has to offer. Eventually, the son ventures outside of these parameters and is quickly confronted with the reality of suffering in the outside word. His life is never the same. He forsakes the kingdom, the riches, and the prestige in search for spiritual fulfillment and enlightenment. Life isn’t easy for anyone. It is a daily struggle. For the Christian, life is a constant battle between the spirit (the things of God) and the flesh (the sinful desires). I’ve heard many Christians make the claim that Satan is homing in on them continually. They speak of spiritual warfare and the Enemy (Satan) constantly oppressing them in their everyday lives. Perhaps without knowing it, many times we try to justify our failure, or the failures around us, as being the result of Satan lobbing his darts in our direction without rest. “The devil made me do it,” as silly as it sounds, is probably not too far off from where we might be. I recently heard a story from a woman who told about her two sons: one struggling with drugs, the other struggling with his sexuality. A man began to pray for her, and asked God to remove the hand of Satan from this woman’s boys. The way that people pray out loud says a lot about what they believe. Unfortunately, I became extremely distracted by the man’s request for Satan to be removed from the situation, for the simple reason that I couldn’t help but ponder if it was really Satan that was at work here. Perhaps he was referring to Satan’s influence–though the rest of his prayer seemed to indicate Satan’s direct influence in the situation. It raised a question to me, and I raise the question to you: is Satan responsible for all that goes wrong in our lives?

The first thing we need to address is an issue of solipsism: do you really believe that Satan is on the hunt for you in particular? In Satan’s limited attributes (though not as limited as ours), he is unable to be everywhere at once. While the Spirit of God is capable of hovering over the earth in its entirety at once (Gen. 1:2), and nothing decays without his notice (Matt. 10:29), nor does a hair remain unaccounted for (Matt. 10:30), and every object is noticed through his sovereignty (Prov. 16:33), Satan is restricted to roaming the face of the earth (Job 1:7). God’s sovereignty remains, by nature, his own. There is no cosmic struggle between God and Satan, as a dualist might presume. God is alone in his omnipresence. That being said, of all the powerful and influential people on planet earth—what makes you so sure that Satan is going after you? I don’t mean this as an insult; I’m presenting this as food for thought. I mentioned in an earlier post that we should be praying for our world leaders, and this is the precise reason. In Satan’s limited resources (namely, time) his focus is certainly on greater targets than you or I.

A more Biblical thought could be introduced here: it’s entirely possible that evil is done to human beings partially as a result of influential evil beings in an unseen world. If you’re a Christian, you believe in the “unseen world”—the supernatural realm that is connected to the physical realm by a supernatural bridge that only the supernatural can cross. Certainly men and women were tormented by [non-human] evil spirits in Christ’s time (Mark 5:9, Luke 8:2). We wouldn’t necessarily count out the possibility of evil beings playing an influential role in our decisions. Wayne Grudem addresses psychic abilities in this way “A physic might be able to tell me what I had for breakfast by suggestion of a demon. How would a demon know what I had for breakfast? It simply watched me eat it!” While demons are certainly a more libel possibility than Satan himself directly antagonizing us, there’s a third option that I tend to side with in most situations: your heart is partially evil.

Evil is an unpopular word in a world where relativism is prominent. But regardless of popularity, we would certainly say that some actions are evil. Would anyone deny that Hitler was evil? Or that a man that sexually abuses children is evil? The person that sees no evil in these actions serves as a great reminder to lock your doors at night. That being said though, before we start blaming demons or Satan, you might want to take a closer look at yourself. I would be willing to place a statistical percentage on my actions, and say that 99.9% of the wrong things that I do towards myself, and other people, are the strict result of the rebellion in my heart. That rebellion is of course, evil—let’s not try to sugarcoat it in any way. All rebellion towards God must, by nature, be evil, if God in his nature is good, and just, and true. Therefore my heart tends to also side towards what is evil, since by my own nature, I am not intrinsically good, just, and true. And you aren’t either. Remember Paul’s confession in Romans 7?

 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? –Romans 7:15-25

Life is a struggle. Which is why Romans 7:26 is so important: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Sometimes the Enemy isn’t Satan. Sometimes it isn’t demons. But you might say, “It was Satan in the garden of Eden that tempted Adam and Eve to sin!” That’s true, but it wasn’t Satan who made the decision for Adam and Eve to sin. They did it on their own accord. Ultimately they chose it for themselves. Sometimes the real enemy is you and I. What causes you to do wrong? Is it the devil, or you?

Wealth, Health, and Faith

Not too long ago my wife and I were attending a small group Bible study that focused on teaching the essentials of theology. We touched on the subject of God giving rewards to those who place their faith in him, and this verse was given:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. –Hebrews 11:6

My wife and I were both curious how the teacher was interpreting this verse, but my wife had the courage to speak up and ask “what does it look like for God to reward you?” The teacher paused and reflected for a second, and then said, “It looks like many different things for different people, but I’ll give you an example.” He went on to tell a story about a woman (who was in our small group) who had a shoulder injury and was healed during one of the teachers sermons. “You see, because she had the faith in God to step up and believe—she was healed. If you believe in God and trust in him, he will reward you. He gives you the thing that you desire.” I’ve heard many pastors speak about wealth and personal issues with the following premise: “If you just believed more, and if you just gave more, God would answer your prayers. God would reward you.” Is this what God really rewards? Does our faith simply yield healing or wealth or restored relationships? Take a look at this popular verse:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. –Psalm 37:4

It is commonly understood to mean “delight yourself in God, and he will give you what you want.” However, what this verse is communicating is actually crystal clear: delight yourself in God and he will give you what you delight. Himself.

If you delight in God, God is the desire of your heart. Therefore he promises to give you himself.

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:14

If you think you are placing your faith in God in order to get something from him (healing, wealth, a spouse, etc.), you are using God as a means to an end. He is not actually the desire of your heart. You are not actually placing your faith in him. Faith is a conscious act of resting in something. It is putting your trust in a defined position. When you place your faith in God, you are essentially communicating, “You are enough for me. You were enough for me yesterday, today, and you will be enough for me tomorrow. My body my fail, my family may desert me, but you are enough.” Faith does NOT say, “God I trust that you will heal my arm. God I trust that you will get me this job. God I trust that you will help me achieve financial stability.” Faith communicates to God that regardless of what happens, that it will be for your (potentially unseen) good. It is the idea that “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16), but I will be satisfied in God. Sometimes that pain is the very thing that strengthens your faith in God. Sometimes that financial situation is the very thing that breaks your need for comfort and material abundance. God is more interested in your relationship with him than your comfort in stuff. He provides comfort in himself. His desire is for you to find rest in him, and him alone. At that point, he gives you the ability to prevail in all circumstances because the treasure of your heart is that which can never be stripped of you. When life, love, money, and your body begin to deteriorate, you, yourself, will not waste away because your soul was not grafted into any of these things. It was grafted into Christ who is eternal and unfailing.

To go back to our Bible study that I mentioned at the beginning, the teacher left out one of the fundamental teachings of Christianity. Yes, God may bless us with health, and wealth, and children, but he may not. The question is this: when God takes these things from you, is your world taken from you also? This is a difficult question for me to contemplate as well, but it reveals what is truly important in my life. Remember Jesus’ temptation in the desert: everything was promised to him by Satan, under the condition that he put his trust in something other than his Father. But Christ revealed what the greatest treasure to behold truly is: God himself. When Paul wrote to the Philippians his famous verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” notice this context:

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:12-13

He isn’t saying that he can accomplish great personal or material feats with Christ’s help. He is saying that regardless of where he is in life–hungry or full, rich or poor, with much or little–God is sufficient. We may never get that job, or spouse, or child, or health. Are we okay with that? For God to grant us everything, and exclude himself, is for God to reject our truest need.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. –Psalm 20:7

Christians: This is Why You Should Support Obama

Quick: what are two topics that stir up the most passion and disagreement? If you answered politics and religion, then you answered correctly. Every other hot topic falls under one of these two categories. Why is this? Because these are the two biggest forces that influence the world around us. Politicians could be likened to gods of men, while God himself becomes a figure we use to reinforce our political beliefs. Sadly, this happens frequently within Christian circles. It’s easy to disguise our obsession with politics as being the product of “concerned and involved US citizens,” though it’s seldom convincing. The reality is that if we spent as much time studying our Bibles as we did watching the news, we’d be radically more effective in the grand scheme of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. And it is that plan that truly matters. That being said, we need to be careful about what we say about our politicians in person and on social media. Regardless of whether or not you voted for Obama, you should support him. I don’t mean that you support or agree with his causes or ideologies—I mean that you support him as a man. Let me explain.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:1-7

What is clear here is that God appoints authorities. This does not mean that the government is beyond scrutiny. But we should be very careful how we talk about them, regardless of whether or not our freedom of speech enables us that right; regardless of whether or not we agree with them. The point remains that it is God who appoints our authorities.

So how do we respond to our politicians?

In two ways:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. – Peter 2-13-18

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Listed above, we see that we respond to our leaders it two ways: 1) Obedience, 2) Prayer. As Christians, we should pray for wisdom for our politicians constantly. We should not be surprised when our leaders fail in wisdom and morality when we fail as Christians to support them through prayer. We are not required to support the causes of our leaders, but we are required to support them through prayer.

Obama, whether you agree or disagree with him, has been appointed by God to be our ruler and our authority. Therefore we honor him as it says in 1 Peter 2, and we pray for him, as it says in 1 Timothy 2. These are non-negotiable for Christians. Knowing that God has selected our leaders, we are empowered by God to have peace of mind with whoever ends up in the White House. We are given the power to love them and support them through prayer regardless of whether or not we buy into their vision. If you can’t find it in your heart to love and pray for your leaders (especially the ones that you disagree with) then you must conduct a serious revaluation of your heart. Jesus said in John 13:35 that people would know we are his disciples by the love we have for one another. Some may be tempted to say, “Well who is this another that Jesus talks about?” Jesus was asked a similar question in Luke 10:29, which Jesus followed up with the story of the good Samaritan. In short, the answer is that this another that we are called to love is everyone. ( Luke 10:36-37, Matt 5:44, Luke 6:35). It is by our love that people will know that we are different.

We are called to be set apart, and we are called to be like Christ. Are we like this?

Is Being Single Really a Gift?

“I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” (1 Corinthians 7:7)

I was single for the first 20 years of my life. I can remember times when I wondered whether or not God had planned for me to remain single forever. I sometimes wondered whether or not I had the gift, which, to those who hope to be married one day, the gift sounds more like the curse—a sort of “cross to bear” in the name of the gospel that we didn’t really choose for ourselves. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Not everyone is sitting around waiting for their future husband or wife to arrive on the scene to take this “gift” away from them. But most people seem to desire marriage at some point in their lives, and when this doesn’t come as soon as they expected, it’s natural to wonder if singleness is a gift that they’ll have forever. We need to redefine the way we look at singleness, and in particular, the way we understand it as a “gift.”

How is singleness a gift?

First of all, being single is not a gift that necessarily lasts forever. Let’s get this misconception out of the way. As a single, you are the gift to the people around you. It becomes obvious very quickly that as a married person, you cannot do ministry the way you used to as a single. Even if you and your spouse are both looking to serve in ministry, and match each other perfectly in terms of theological beliefs, you still won’t be able to serve to the extent that you did before. This isn’t to paint marriage in a bad light at all. With marriage comes the ability to minister in ways that you couldn’t before. But you must realize that your time and attention are now considerably more divided than they were before. Serving your spouse and your family should come before giving your time to a particular ministry. In fact, the Bible says that if you can’t manage your own household spiritually, emotionally, and physically, then you aren’t fit to lead in the church (1 Timothy 3:5).

God>Spouse>Kids>Church>me

Many pastors and leaders in the church have attempted to live life as if they had the gift of singleness, placing the priorities in their lives like this God>Church>Spouse>Kids which results in the latter two getting the short end of the stick. That sometimes means that the family falls apart in the name of serving the church. This is ironic, especially considering that this person is seldom fit to serve in the church after this happens. And of course it naturally becomes harder for a person to be effective after he or she has let their family fall by the wayside in the name of their ministerial ambitions–regardless of how pure these ambitions seem, and regardless of great of a leader they are.

So what does this all mean?

It means that singleness is a way of maximizing the potential to serve those around us without other obligations. Singles are not in some kind of purgatory waiting to be qualified for marriage. The longer I’m married the more I realize that I’m not qualified for it. Nobody is. Singles are not deficient, or ill-suited for marriage. Both Paul and Jesus were single, and nobody would argue that they weren’t qualified for marriage. The church needs singles because they have the incredible potential to do great things that many other people in the church will simply not be in a position to do. They are a vital organ in the somatic make-up of the church. When we think about the gift of singleness, let’s not think of permanent loneliness or an inescapable duel with lust. After all, if marriage removed loneliness and lust then people wouldn’t have affairs. The “gift” should be viewed as a fantastic window of opportunity to serve. It is not only for certain people and it is not necessarily forever.

Forgiveness, Relationships, and the Gospel

We’ve all heard the mention of the “Prosperity Gospel.” Articles circulating the internet concerning the latest statements made by Victoria Osteen have reaffirmed what we already know to be true: the Christian life isn’t all peaches and cream and the gospel isn’t about material prosperity. While it’s always nice to have reminder of theological truth, eventually we must put our attention with a false gospel to the side, and be diligent in preaching the true gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. If we are to dismantle a false gospel, we must do it with a true gospel. And when I speak of the true gospel, I’m talking about a gospel that is affirmed with actions, and not merely with words. The world will never see the beauty of the gospel if we’re only talking about it. We have to live it out daily. At the heart of the gospel is the doctrine of forgiveness; and it is a difficult doctrine to swallow.

When Peter asked Christ how many times we should forgive someone who has done wrong against us, Jesus responded, “70×7,” (Matthew 18:21-22) or if you’re familiar with significant numbers in the Bible, Jesus practically said, “A perfect amount, times a perfect amount,” which translates into, “An infinite number of times.” But come on, Jesus said that. He knows we’re not perfect, so we can’t possibly be expected to do that, can we? This is where we need to preach the true gospel to ourselves.

So what is the true gospel?

The true gospel is this: God loved humanity enough to take on human form and die for it. Why did he die for it? Because relationships are costly. For an imperfect people to be reconciled to a perfect God, someone had to pay a steep price. Every single relationship has a price. We subject ourselves to pain and hurt and we all know that in order to have a deep, fruitful, and loving relationship with anyone, we have to sacrifice for them. Just last night, I was in a terrible mood. I was absorbed in my problems, and so deep in my own selfishness that I wasn’t thinking about anyone else but me. The end result was my wife finding herself in the crossfire between my frustration, and my self-pity. I was ugly. Who do you think paid the price to be in a relationship with me during this time? My wife. When I refused to die to myself, my wife stepped in and put herself before me. She died to herself, so that our relationship could live. How did she do this? She was forgiving and gentle towards me when it wasn’t easy. And of course, she didn’t leave me! All functioning relationships must work this way. Two people must regularly die to themselves to keep the relationship afloat. If I refuse to die to myself by being selfish, then the other person will have to die to themselves by staying with me even when I’m ugly. This is what Christ did for us on the cross. Even while we’re spitting at him, he says, “Father forgive them—they don’t know what they’re doing.”

So how does this play out practically in our lives today?

You must forgive. It is the bittersweet truth of the gospel. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). The bitter part is that we must forgive. There is no alternative. The sweet part is that we’ve been forgiven, and through the gospel we have the resources available to us to forgive when we are lacking the strength. No relationship is as costly as your relationship is to God. The central theme of the gospel is not just about gain (as in the prosperity gospel), but about loss. There is no gospel without loss. But through loss, we gain more than we could have ever dreamed possible—even our own freedom. John Eldredge once said that “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, and then realizing the prisoner was you.” We show the gospel through our actions by forgiving others since we’ve been forgiven. It is God’s command to go and do likewise, what he has done for you.

Hell, and Why Many Self-Proclaimed Christians Will Be There

Even as I typed out the title of this article, I felt a certain uneasiness in my stomach about it. Hell is perhaps the most controversial doctrine within Christianity. There have been hundreds of books written about it—either refuting the traditional idea of hell, or reaffirming it. The Bible doesn’t go into too many details about hell, but it certainly acknowledges that it exists. In this post, I’m going to make a controversial argument—I’m going to argue that hell is fair, and even preferable to some self-proclaimed Christians. This post is not meant to flaunt some personal self-righteousness. Honestly, I wrestle with why God would want to save someone like me on a regular basis. This post is about hell actually being a preference for  some who claim to be Christians—most of which (if not all) are completely unaware that this is their hearts desire. I’m aware that this sounds strange, if not impossible. However, give me a couple of paragraphs to unpack what I mean when I say that many self-proclaimed Christians would prefer hell over heaven.

There is a reason why Jesus says that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Many Christians will look at this and think, “This verse is talking about people who haven’t served in the church or haven’t done ‘Christian-like’ things.” But Jesus is not referring to this at all. Because in the next verse Jesus says that many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” Here he is talking about doing Christian-like works, yet he says that people will be rejected from the Kingdom of God despite having done these things. His point is that many people will consider themselves Christians, and do Christian-like things in God’s name, but will still be rejected by God. How can this be?

First, we need a proper understanding of what heaven and hell actually are. Heaven is a place where those who desire to be in God’s presence for the rest of eternity will be rewarded with God. Hell is a place where those who do not want to be in God’s presence for all of eternity will be awarded with an eternity without God.

Many people consider themselves Christians, but are not at all interested in God. They are attracted to Christianity because they agree with its moral doctrines, or because it provides a social outlet for them. There could be thousands of reasons why someone might find Christianity attractive, but one thing is for sure—they aren’t interested in God himself. They may be interested in what God can give them, and they’ll especially be interested in heaven—but what they don’t realize is that the reward of heaven is God. And to them, an eternity with God is actually hell.

CS Lewis made the observation that heaven is a place where a person is free to be in the everlasting presence of God—a joyous and fulfilling experience that grows and spirals out for all eternity. But not all people would want this—many self-proclaimed Christians included. That is where hell steps in. Hell is a place where human selfishness is free to spiral out for all eternity. And we see practically how human selfishness creates hell for people on earth. There will be many people who called themselves Christians, pastors, and missionaries who will stand before God, and he will say to them, “I never knew you.” How is this fair? It’s actually very simple: In the end, everyone gets what they want. Those who want God, get God. Those who don’t want God won’t get God. The truth is that many people, who think they want God, actually want something else. They simply want God because they want a spouse. Or they want God because they want money. Or they want God because they want to feel physically secure. But they don’t want God for who God is. Which is why when love, or money, or security is removed from them, they throw God away. Tragedy has a way of unveiling the desires of a person’s heart. And even some of those who claim to be doing the work of God often use him for power, authority, money or respect. I’m reminded of a scene from The Three Musketeers where the Cardinal, played by Tim Curry, attempts to seduce the queen in her room. Realizing this, the queen reminds the Cardinal that his “devotion [to his religion] is what brings him closer to God.” “Yes,” says the Cardinal “But it is not God whom I wish to be close.” Yes, even religious leaders are capable of using God to get what they want. Believe it or not, there will even be people who will side with Christianity just to escape hell, and will end up there. Why? Because they have no interest in a relationship with God. They simply want what he gives.

Atheist Christopher Hitchens died at the end of 2011 from esophageal cancer. Even though I disagreed with Hitchens on his views about Christianity (to name just one of many things), when I heard about his death, I had my own period of mourning for him. Even if we had no common ground, I would have enjoyed picking his brain over coffee on issues of the past and present. In regard to the subject of this post, I have to remember that Hitchens entered into eternity receiving exactly what he wanted. He once stated in an interview that he found the idea of heaven undesirable—a sort of party that no one could ever leave. Who would want that? He was somewhat right. Heaven is a celebration—a wedding party where at last, the bride (the church) is united with the groom (God). But many people, including those who label themselves as Christians, will not want this. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins was controversial because Bell seemed to be siding with the belief that hell is a place of purification where all of its inhabitants will eventually choose Christ and be freed from their prison. Bell claimed that he had a hard time with the idea of a God who would send people to hell for all of eternity. What Bell has forgotten, is that there are many people who would prefer hell for all of eternity—many of which do not realize it. So what is really worse? A God who allows people to choose their own way, or a God that forces people to worship him for all of eternity? For some—even some self-proclaimed Christians—that is hell. They will prefer an eternity left to their own devices; a prison of the self. In which case, God will say, “Thy will be done.”