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Esther's Take On Hell A nine-year old girl lays awake on the top bunk in a dorm room in a far-away, war-torn country, asking Jesus into her heart for
what she really hopes is the final time, but it will probably happen again the next night. She clutches her Raggedy-Ann doll tightly to
her chest, tears streaming down her face under cover of darkness. Mommy and Daddy are far away preaching the “gospel” to those who haven’t heard. Even though she wishes she could call out for them in that moment, she tells herself over and over again that this is a good thing and this is what God wants because, like all the grownups keep saying around her, “we are all playing a part in saving the lost from Hell,” the lake of fire that burns forever and ever. “But what if I’m lost?” she asks herself as she drifts off to another nightmare-filled and fitful sleep. Many years later and continents away, another nine-year old girl races into her aunt’s bedroom in the middle of the night, awakened by a terrifying nightmare. Her own mommy has just died several days before after a long battle with cancer, and this getaway is supposed to give her daddy some space to get the house in order. All she has heard these last several months is how, “mommy
is going to be with Jesus because she has been elected from before the foundation of the world and this is God’s will.” Her daddy preached at the funeral about how not to go to Hell, that place of eternal pain and separation from God, and how to be in heaven with mommy. All anyone has to do is repent and believe the gospel. She’s confused because she had heard in church that God chooses some and not others, and since it’s all up to Him, whatever brings Him the most glory is what will happen. “What if I’m not one of the elect,” she sobs into her aunt’s chest, “what if God hasn’t chosen me and I never see my mommy again?”
I am the missionary kid and I am the aunt.
This is how the chapter that I write in the book, Deconstructing Hell, begins. So many of us have experienced something similar to this or know of those who have. We've said the "magic prayer" over and over again. We've been so afraid for ourselves, our "non-Christian" friends at school, our "unsaved" family members and it has eaten us alive. We've literally experienced trauma we still feel in our bodies from the doctrine of ECT (eternal conscious torment).
Especially when we were kids.
I've come to believe that the doctrine of Hell stems from being pushed by FEAR and not led by LOVE, the loose title of my chapter. And fear is a powerful force that, coupled with power and the desire for control, drives us into spaces and places that bring harm, destruction and "hell" here on earth. So, I am saying a big fat "NO!" to Hell. Because I am saying a big fat "NO!" to what destroys, harms and traumatizes. To be honest, all this writing and talk of Hell has been triggering in many ways. Having to unpack my own trauma surrounding it and the anger and indignation and also sadness that has risen inside of me has been quite the ride these past several months. It's why my chapter ends with those same two stories told in the way I wish were true, ways that I believe would have brought hope, healing and life. But I'll leave that to you to read when you get your own COPY.
Lizz's Take On Hell
I remember the smell of the chairs in the sanctuary as I bowed my head into them to plead for my eternal safety. I was six years old at most, and it wasn’t even the first time I’d spoken the words of a prayer that I was taught alone can save me. I was afraid.
The fiery flames of a place in the depth of the earth’s core was a thing of nightmares-come-true. For the majority of my life, the purpose of Jesus and my relationship with my higher power was to keep me from Hell. Who wouldn’t want to do everything possible to stay away from the fate of eternal conscious torment?
I shudder to think about this now and the many nights I spent obsessively praying to a God I pictured as an angrier version of Thor. Not immediately scary, but ready to take me down if I made a wrong move. I was confused. On the one hand, I wanted God to save me from harm, but on the other hand, I lived in fear of not being “chosen.” I was told that heaven is my hope. So, what if I didn’t make it there?
As a child who suffered from debilitating anxiety (I wonder why...), the hope of Heaven was one that I was desperate to cling to. The world was a hard, scary place. I looked towards Heaven
every day. But in order for Heaven to exist for those who had the right beliefs, who had said the right prayer, and who had done the right things, there had to be Hell for the others. There was just as much of a possibility that I could end up in that place of suffering and pain. Where then, was hope? Peace? Safety? Who was this God whose love was unconditional, but somehow also conditional? My lack of ability to trust God in my formative years is one of the biggest things I keep coming back to as I deconstruct my belief in a literal Hell. I created walls and moats all around me because God just seemed completely mad, and not to be trusted. Everything that I did felt like one more nail in my coffin. If God was all-knowing and I was screwing up all over the place, then eternity did not look great for me. It never even crossed my mind that God might allow me to be myself, and that somehow God was secure enough in who they were to give me appropriate space and not be tallying up my shortcomings. What if who we are isn’t completely tied up in who God is? What if there’s a beautiful boundary there? What if God doesn’t take everything we do personally but approaches us with empathy, respect, and understanding?
What if we can trust God to keep us safe and to honor our needs?
What if it’s not all about God? What if it’s a little bit about us too, and that’s how God always meant it to be?
I have learned that the things my soul deeply longs for are okay.
The empathy, and respect, and understanding, and healthy boundaries that I need, are valid. People have asked me, “How do you know what God is like?” My answer is very simple, “I don’t. But I will continue to believe that whoever makes me feel safe and loved and beautifully whole, is who God is.” These are some excerpts from the chapter that I write in the book, Deconstructing Hell. I, too, just like Esther, my co-hostess on our podcast, am saying a big fat "NO!" to Hell. How could I not? Get your own COPY of Deconstructing Hell to read the rest.
This Week on the Podcast:
"I would hope never to feel so confident in my theology as not to be willing to correct a wrong view once presented with compelling evidence." Chad Bahl (Deconstructing Hell)
Chad Bahl is our podcast guest this week. Chad is a theologian, step-dad and author. Chad is also a kind, humble, deep, brilliant soul who is on a personal mission to seek the whole truth no matter what the cost. On this episode, after we find out one of Chad's fun and super unique hobbies and his surprising day job, we take a deep dive into Open and Relationship Theology (think and un-controlling, loving and co-partnering kind of God), the problem of evil, but mostly the horrific and toxic theology over Eternal Conscious Torment (otherwise known as Hell as many of us grew up understanding it).
We also talk about our the book that Chad compiled and edited that Lizz and Esther had a chance to be a part of called Deconstructing Hell and how each one of us got to the place where, as we like to say in these parts, "hell is OFF the table." And then, especially how this "hell" thing plays out in parenting (hint, it's awful). This conversation will pretty much get you thinking out of the box and free you from that box that has kept you afraid and small. Because, being pushed by fear is terrible, but being led by love is something entirely beautiful. You can find Chad in these spaces:
Join Our Private Facebook Community and receive access to the recording of this Live Q&A with Lizz & Esther about Parenting & Hell. You can access this by supporting us on our PATREON platform.
Lizz & Esther unpack some of our own thoughts and then work through these four questions:
1. What if someone else tells my child about hell?
2. What should I tell my child about the afterlife?
3. How can I teach morality without the consequence of hell?
4. I can’t stop being afraid hell might be real, even though I’m deconstructing that belief. I randomly get scared I’m wrong and I’m going to burn for eternity. What should I do?
Come join us HERE!
Deconstructing Hell - The Book Deconstructing Hell is a “hell of a book!” Like a prism, it presents and challenges images of eternal torment from a variety of perspectives—theological, historical, psychological, spiritual, and autobiographical—and from a variety of voices—scholarly, lay, ministerial, female and male. It asks hard questions and does not give ready-made answers. This is a book for questioners and seekers, for persons from whom the doctrine of eternal torment is an insult to the vision of a loving God and a source of terror and alienation. This book challenges the belief that God needs hell to be just, and that God’s love is compatible with torture. Beyond doctrines of the divine abuser so dear to certain strains of conservative Christianity is the open and relational God to whom all hearts are open, and all desires known, the one whose love companions us in life and death and beyond, and whose love never ends for each and all of us.
—Bruce Epperly, The Elephant is Running, Messy Incarnation
P.S. (from Lizz and Esther) Don't you think it has THE coolest cover ever?
Deconstructing Hell - The Podcast Perhaps no modern church dogma has been more destructive to the mission of Jesus, created more atheists, or generated more religious trauma than that of eternal conscious torment (ECT) for the non-believer. This Podcast aims to bring together experts in their fields to take the listener on a historical, philosophical, and theological journey to deconstruct this harmful doctrine. Along the way, the listener will be not only offered pathways to reconstruct a compelling perspective of ’final punishment,’ but ways to heal and move beyond the dire impact of ECT indoctrination. Thanks for listening, as you join us on our journey. The journey towards Deconstructing Hell. Plus, Lizz's and Esther's episodes (LIZZ HERE) and (ESTHER HERE) might just be worth a listen!
Can't wait until Tuesday and need just a little snippet from our podcast episode that's coming up on Tuesday, November 14.
One last thing. We want to remind you that we are so glad you are here. We wouldn't be the same without you. You will always find GRACE for where you've been and who you are now, and SPACE for who you are becoming and will be.
Carry on, our new-found friends. Welcome to the twisty-windy, full -of-adventure faith path that's laid out before us all. Love,
Lizz & Esther P.S. SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER HERE!