If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Every Sunday the preacher shouted from the pulpit that you’re a terrible sinner. God is angry at you. Because of God’s wrath, you’re going to burn in hell for all eternity.
  • Your parents drilled it into you that you’re just no good. And they’re probably right. You just can’t feel good about anything you do.
  • You’ve done terrible things . . . horrible things. What you’ve done is so bad that you deserve to be in hell. There is no hope for you. You’re a goner.
  • No matter how hard you try, you just can’t be good. You know what you should do, but you just keep on doing the things you shouldn’t do.

If any of these are much too familiar for you, I’ll be straight: There are no easy answers. Besides, you’ve probably tried the easy answers already, and learned the hard way that they don’t work.

I’m also not going to tell you that all you have to do is believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus is great. I highly recommend it! Being born again is wonderful! But for Christians, believing in Jesus is only the start. Then come the many years of growing from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity.

The fact is, if any of the things on this list describe your experience, then no matter how you slice it, you’ve got some hard work to do. And it may take years to fully recover, even with God’s help.

What I can offer you is new light and a new understanding of your situation. Nothing I say will snap you right out of it and instantly make your life a bed of roses. But it will give you hope that there is a path out. And it might help you take your next steps on that path toward the life of heaven God has in mind for you.

No matter what that preacher or your parents or anyone else has said, God created you for heaven, not for hell. And there is no reason on earth that you can’t find your way to heaven . . . no matter what your history.

So let’s straighten a few things out.

Is a wrathful God angry at you?

The short answer is: No.

Huh?!?

Then what about all those Bible passages the preacher quoted about God’s wrath and fury?

Doesn’t the Bible say, “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11, King James Version)?

Well, there’s a funny story about that verse . . .

First, the word for “the wicked” came from an ancient Aramaic (or “Chaldee”) version. It is not in the original Hebrew text, nor is it in the other ancient translations. Even in the King James Version, the words “with the wicked” are in italics, meaning they are not in the original. So it should read, “God judges the righteous, and God is angry every day.”

But wait, there’s more!

You see, the Hebrew word for “God” in the second half of the verse could also mean “not,” depending on how the Hebrew is interpreted. And that’s exactly what most of ancient translations, including the well-known Septuagint Greek translation, have in that verse. The first half of the verse is also a little off in some of the older English translations.

What does this all mean?

The verse almost certainly should read, “God is a righteous judge, and is not angry all day.” (Compare Young’s Literal Translation for this verse.)

Picture a judge taking hundreds of cases, one after another, pronouncing just judgments all day without ever getting angry, even at the worst evildoers. That’s the picture the Psalmist is painting. And it’s just the opposite of what that old fire and brimstone preacher said!

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are lots of other verses in the Bible that talk about God’s anger and wrath. But as I pointed out in the article, “If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?” that’s just how God’s love looks to us when we’re bent on an evil and destructive path that’s opposed to God’s love.

God’s love is like the warmth of the sun. But what if you’re a snowman? What if you want to be cold and unloving? If you’re a snowman, God’s love looks wrathful and destructive. It’s a horrible, destructive heat that melts and destroys you.

When the Bible talks about God’s wrath, it’s talking about the effect God’s love has on everything that’s evil and false in us and in our world. It’s only when we identify with the evil and cling to it as our own that we feel God’s love as anger and wrath. And the Bible often speaks to us according to the way things seem to us, even if the reality is different from God’s perspective.

Did you know that the Bible talks about God’s love far more often than it talks about God’s wrath? Here is a beautiful passage assuring us that God feels only love toward us, whether we are evil or good:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43–45)

And the famous verses from the Gospel of John:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17)

Notice that it doesn’t say God was so angry with the world, but God so loved the world.

So here’s the first ray of new light, and the most important new information about your situation: No matter what you may have been told, God is not angry at you. It’s just the opposite. No matter what you have done, and no matter how horrible or worthless a person you think you are, God loves you.

God sends you the sun of divine love, and the rain of divine truth, whether you are evil or good, and whether you are righteous or unrighteous.

There is nothing you can do to make God stop loving you. As the Psalm says:

O Lord, you have examined me, and you know me. . . .
If I go up to heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
(Psalm 139:1, 8)

Are you condemned because of what your parents did?

Our parents were responsible for bringing us into this world. They are supposed to love us, care for us, teach us right from wrong, and guide us toward a healthy and responsible adulthood. And some of us were fortunate enough to have parents who did a fine job.

Unfortunately, some of us were born of parents who fell far short of the mark. Maybe they just weren’t ready to have children. Maybe they were too focused on money or power or pleasure to really care about their children. Maybe they were just plain evil and destructive types who used and abused their children at will. Bad parents can cause great damage to their children.

If you were one of those unfortunate children, does this mean your life is ruined from the start, and you might as well just throw in the towel?

In ancient times, it was common for whole families to be condemned and executed for the offenses of the head of the household. For example, when three men named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against God’s commandments to the ancient Hebrews about the priesthood, not only they, but their wives and children died as a result of their disobedience. You can read the story in Numbers 16.

However, in course of time, God pronounced an end to the practice of children being judged guilty for the crimes of their parents. This pronouncement comes in Ezekiel 18—one of the most beautiful chapters in the Hebrew Bible. Here’s how the chapter begins:

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. (Ezekiel 18:1–4)

The chapter then goes on to explain in detail that if a father is good, but his son evil, then only the son shall be held guilty; and if that son has a son who sees how his father lived, and resolves not to live that way, but to live a good life instead, then only the father, not the son, shall be held guilty.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

To us today, yes. Our justice system is based on individual innocence and guilt. To the ancient Israelites, though, this seemed quite unjust. They thought it was right and proper that if a man sins, his whole family should be punished!

God was quite clear, though, that this was not to be our practice anymore:

When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. (Ezekiel 18:19–20)

However, when it comes to our spiritual and emotional life, sometimes we haven’t gotten the message. We think that because our parents were evil, and neglected or mistreated us, that means we, too, are doomed, and headed toward hell.

It’s not true.

Yes, we may have a long, hard road undoing the damage that our parents did to us. It might take much prayer, counseling, and much difficult and painful introspection and rearranging of our emotional and social life.

But God does not hold us responsible for the errors and sins of our parents. And neither should we. If our parents drilled into us that we’re just no good, they were lying to us. And if they used and abused us, they were perpetrating evil on us.

That lying and that evil was theirs, not ours. And though it did have a profound effect on us, there is a pathway out of the damage our parents did to us. It is the path of recognizing that what our parents did to us had nothing to do with us. It was their own immaturity, neglect, and evil, not ours, that damaged us. As we recognize that what they said was not true, and what they did was just plain wrong, we can gradually recognize that we ourselves are not what they said we were, nor did we deserve what they did to us.

If you were neglected or abused verbally or physically by your parents, it is not going to be an easy path out of what they did to you. But there is a path. And it starts with recognizing that you are not condemned for the sins of your parents. God created you for a reason. God loves you, and has prepared a place for you in heaven (see John 14:1–3, 1 Corinthians 2:9).

You have the rest of your life to leave behind the lies and the wrongs that were inflicted on you when you were young. You have the rest of your life to walk, even if painfully sometimes, the path toward the life of heaven that God has prepared for you.

Have you committed terrible sins?

What if it wasn’t your parents who did a number on you? What if you yourself have done terrible, horrible things? What if you don’t deserve to go to heaven because of what you’ve done?

If that’s the state of mind you’re in, then Ezekiel 18 has a message for you as well:

But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21–23, emphasis added)

Based on his experience in the spiritual world, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) tells us that this is precisely how it works after we die. In Heaven and Hell #509, he writes:

No one suffers any punishment for evil things done in the world, only for current evil deeds. . . . Good spirits are never punished, though, even though they have done bad things in the world. This is because their evils do not come back.

Swedenborg is simply affirming what God tells us in Ezekiel 18: We are not held responsible for things we have done in the past. Only for things we keep doing in the present. If we have done something terrible in the past, but have repented of it, have reformed our character, and no longer do things like that, then none of the transgressions we have committed will be remembered against us.

If you have done something terrible, there is no way to undo it. You and those you hurt will still have to live with the repercussions of your actions. But one of those repercussions is not that you must go to hell for it.

Of course, if there is any way you can make amends for what you have done, you should certainly do so. However, when your time on this earth comes to an end, you will find your place in heaven or in hell depending on the person you have become in the present, and the way you are living now, not based on any wrongs you have done in the past.

As the old saying goes, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future.”

So please don’t worry about the terrible things you have done in the past. God has already forgiven you for them. God has no pleasure in your eternal death. No matter what you’ve done, God wants you to turn from your old ways and live! Now it’s time to build a new life for yourself, so that you won’t do things like that anymore. For more on how to do this, see the article, “What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?

What if you keep doing things you shouldn’t?

It sounds like you’re in the same boat as the apostle Paul when he wrote:

I know that my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong. . . . In every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. What a miserable person I am! (Romans 7:18–19, 23–24)

As he went on to say, Paul found a rescue from this situation in Jesus Christ. However, as I said earlier, for Christians, believing in Jesus Christ is just the first step. After that comes the more challenging steps of living according to Christ’s teachings.

And for many of us who are very sensitive about our own wrongs and our own bad habits, one of the ways we don’t follow Christ’s teachings is to lay burdens on ourselves that are much too heavy—and are sometimes completely unnecessary.

In a recent article titled, “Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?” I expanded on this saying of Jesus:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

I invite you to read that article if you feel you just can’t live up to what you know is right.

Here’s another thought that might help:

Have you considered that even though you have some bad habits, and do some things that really aren’t good, maybe they aren’t really evil either?

Let’s face it: neither you nor I nor anyone else is ever going to be perfect. Each one of us will die as an imperfect human being, still thinking, feeling, saying, and doing some things that we really shouldn’t.

What we need is some standard by which to decide just how serious our bad habits and wrong actions are.

There are many possible standards. In case you don’t have one that works for you, may I suggest something really simple? The Ten Commandments. Especially the second part of the Ten Commandments, which is about how we humans are supposed to behave toward one another. I’m talking especially about these commandments (in their short versions):

  • Honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet.

“Covet” is an old-fashioned word meaning wanting something that belongs to someone else. The problem with coveting is that it tends to lead to the other offenses: murder, adultery, stealing, and lying.

And about honoring your father and your mother, if the parents who raised you abdicated their parental responsibilities and did a number on you, feel free to think of God as your father and your mother instead. (For more on this, see “The Mother of All the Living.”)

Now here’s the question: Are the things you’re currently doing that are wrong actually against any of these commandments? Are you killing people, committing adultery, stealing, lying about other people, and so on?

If the answer is yes, then you do have a real problem—and you need to do the work of rebirth or “regeneration” in order to overcome it.

But if you’re not actually breaking any of these commandments, it’s quite possible that you’re laying too heavy a burden on yourself. Do you think you have to be perfect in order to get to heaven?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t continue to work on yourself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep taking steps to give up your bad habits and stop doing hurtful and destructive things. There is always room for improvement.

But are the wrong things you say and do really bad enough that you should go to hell for them? Chances are, they are not. They are simply areas where you still have work to do.

So go a little easy on yourself. The very fact that you’re concerned about your eternal state, and want to become a better person, suggests that you are on the path to heaven, not on that slippery slope to hell.

God wants YOU in heaven

God wants YOU for heaven

God wants YOU for heaven

Maybe you’ve given up on yourself. But God hasn’t given up on you. If God had given up on you, you would no longer be alive on this earth. In fact, here’s a thought to take home with you:

As long as you are alive and breathing on this earth, you can still find your way to heaven.

God has given us a lifetime here on earth because God knows that it takes some of us many years to whip ourselves into shape—with God’s help, of course. So use your time here well. Then you will not be disappointed when your time on earth is finished, and you move on to the next life.

If you still think you’re going to hell, consider these final words from Ezekiel 18:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live! (Ezekiel 18:30–32)

Why would God say these words to us if God did not know and expect that we can leave our past behind, and live a new life?

Heaven is possible for you! The choice is yours. God will be with you, guiding and strengthening you every step of the way, because God loves you and cares about you. God has a job for you in heaven, and has prepared a home for you there. Do you really want to leave it vacant?

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Spiritual Growth, The Afterlife
160 comments on “If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First
  1. Carmen Walisser says:

    When you believe in God, believe he created the heavens and the earth, and live a life accordingly, is this not good enough to get to Heaven? Are Christians today are running around scared that they may not go to heaven if they don’t evangelize and have so many people say “the Sinners Prayer?” I have not found that prayer in the bible as of yet. Seems to me there could be some danger lurking in all of this. Carmen

    • Lee says:

      Hi Carmen,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      In answer to your question, yes, I believe that believing in God and living accordingly is good enough to get to heaven. All those Christians who are running around scared and trying to convert as many people as they can to save them (and themselves) from hell have completely misread and misunderstood the Bible.

      For more on this, please see my article: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

  2. Jenny says:

    I believe in god An Jesus . I know Jesus died for our son. But to be with god u have to believe in Jesus . I’m worried I don’t believe hard enough. I still have questions An ask why. I know it’s ok to ask but not sure if my faith is strong enough for judgment

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jenny,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Just be aware that God is loving and merciful, and not quick to judge and condemn. God knows that we are dust. And as long as we are continuing to learn and grow in love and faith, even if ever so slowly, God will gladly welcome us into heaven, and into God’s loving arms.

  3. Joy says:

    I am sorry Lee, but I am going to have to disagree with you. A lot of stuff in your article has a lot of truth in it. However when you started saying that hell is a choice, that is very false. No where in the Bible does it say that people who get sent to hell, can choose to leave hell anytime they want. That’s not how it works. If you have Jesus living in your heart and follow him and repent, then you are saved and will go to heaven. However if you don’t follow God or believe in him or repent, your destiny is Hell. Where you will spend eternity, there will be nashing of teeth, weeping and misery. and God will turn his back on you. No one will ever love Hell, it is eternal punishment and torture.
    While we are on this earth we have free choice, to follow God and repent. Once we die there is no longer a choice. We shall reep what we sow.
    We need to make the choose now, this is our last and only chance. Once we die, it is too late to choose.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Joy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. However, I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to. I didn’t say, nor do I believe, that once people go to hell they can choose to leave. They have already made their choice, and they have no desire to change it. As you say, we make our choice between heaven and hell here on earth.

      However, I also don’t believe that God turns his back on anyone. Rather, when we choose hell instead of heaven, we turn our backs on God. God continues to love us even if we turn our backs on God and make ourselves enemies of God, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43–45:

      You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

      And about hell, please see:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

  4. Well, Lee, I’ve been thinking a lot about all this subjects and my heart, conscience and knowledge tells me that the existence of hell is absolutely immoral. All those arguments that you wrote in your different articles make some “philosophical” sense, but definitely there is not an emotional (and, well, we are emotional loving human beings) argument to defend them. It doesn’t matter if the people that freely choose to go to hell really want to be there… for me it’s something abominable.
    It’s like if the father or the mother says to the son: “don’t do that, you’re going to suffer, we love you”. And the son still wants to do the bad thing… and they let them. That’s a poor example of how a mother or a father should act. In fact, they show lazyness or a passive-aggressive attitude. A good father or mother would just stop him, doesn’t matter if the little kid insists on harming himself. They would correct him in any possible way, even if they have to choose for him to show him what is good and what is bad. My parents did when I was young and in love (and I’m not making a Neil Sedaka statement). First I was angry because they chose for me. Then, I realized that they just loved me and made the right choice to make me grow better. To put it in other words… If I see someone who is going to jump from a bridge, I stop him or her. It doesn’t matter how much he or she thinks it’s good to commit suicide and leave this world. That would make us better than God. And that’s not the God I believe in.
    Now, you will probably tell me about the spiritual truths written in Bible… It’s okay. I find a lot of spiritual truths in there… But… How can I trust in a Father that doesn’t show Himself? I remember that amazing dialogue between Antonius Block and the Death in Bergman’s Seventh Seal:
    Block: I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and feel loathing and horror. My indifference to men has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams.
    Priest: Yet you do not want to die.
    Block: Yes, I do.
    [as Block looks away, we see now that the “priest” is actually Death]
    Priest/Death: What are you waiting for?
    Block: Knowledge.
    Priest/Death: You want a guarantee.
    Block: Call it what you will.
    [Block kneels as if praying to the figure of Jesus]
    Block: Is it so hard to conceive God with one’s senses? Why must He hide in a midst of vague promises and invisible miracles? How are we to believe the believers when we don’t believe ourselves? What will become of us who want to believe but cannot? And what of those who neither will nor can believe? Why can I not kill God within me? Why does He go on living in a painful, humiliating way? I want to tear Him out of my heart, but He remains a mocking reality which I cannot get rid of. Do you hear me?
    Priest/Death: I hear you.
    [Block turns to kneel before the priest behind the confessional screen]
    Block: I want knowledge. Not belief. Not surmise. But knowledge. I want God to put out His hand, show His face, speak to me.
    Priest/Death: But He is silent.
    Block: I cry to Him in the dark, but there seems to be no one there.
    Priest/Death: Perhaps there is no one there.
    Block: Then life is a senseless terror. No man can live with Death and know that everything is nothing.
    Priest/Death: Most people think neither of Death nor nothingness.
    Block: Until they stand on the edge of life and see the Darkness.
    Priest/Death: Ah, that day.
    Block: [laughs bitterly] I see. We must make an idol of our fear, and call it God.
    Priest/Death: You are uneasy.
    Block: Death visited me this morning. We are playing chess. This respite enables me to perform a vital errand.
    Priest/Death: What errand?
    Block: My whole life has been a meaningless search. I say it without bitterness or self-reproach. I know it is the same for all. But I want to use my respite for one significant action.
    I think it’s kind of hypocritical for a Supreme Being to say: “you are free to choose if you want to go to heaven or to hell”, but at the same time He puts conditions to that choice. You say that we freely choose to enter one place or another, but you also say that it depends on our actions where we go. That is, again, a passive-aggressive attitude. That simply doesn’t make sense. If a murderer kills five persons, he shall pay for that actions (but not forever, and ever, and ever, and ever…). The penalty shall be proportional to the crime. He (or she, once again) just needs to go to jail and pay for his/her actions. Someone convicts a murderer. In our Western Society, the Justice. Then God would convict a “bad person”, making His divine justice. The problem is that the justice He makes… is completely disproportionate.
    There’s free will on what we do in our lifes, but definitely not in where we choose to go. So, when you say that hell is a place we “choose” instead of heaven, because that would be too good for us, I find it contradictory… Or we are conditioned by an external being to make our choice (and in that case we won’t have the free will to choose) or anyone could enter into heaven, even evil, terrible, horrible, despicable people.
    That leads us to the next step: if we cannot choose whether we go to heaven or hell, there is definitely someone that sends us to one place or another. That “someone” must be God, or the Supreme Being of Light, or whatever you want to call it. I find it simply impossible for someone to choose hell over heaven, as well as no one (at least not most of the people) would choose jail over freedom.
    Which leads us, again, to a next step. For me death penalty is an absolute abomination, as much as life sentence without the possibility of parole (somehting, in my opinion, also absolutely immoral). I believe (and most of psychologists and psychiatrists would agree) in social reinsertion. Not doing so implies a denial of the very essence of the human being: the ability to choose. Every single human being needs a second chance (physical, emotional and spiritual) when he or she truly confront the “evilness” of their choices. If a bad person has commited horrible crimes all his life and ends up in hell… for me it’s immoral the impossibility of repentance after being shown it’s reality. That shows me a wrathful God. And contradicts some very interesting NDE’s (https://www.near-death.com/science/research/hell.html#a12).
    If there is no possibility of repentance… the souls sent into hell won’t be themselves, but spiritual beings “chained” to the condition they died in. Then… they are not themselves, but the state of mind in which they died. No mercy, no repentance, but also no evil desires to fuel. No one desires something forever. We are finite beings. That state of mind can’t represent them as a whole. Something external must be forcing them to act again and again in the same way. Then they are not free, but conditioned. Also it’s unfair to “judge” or to “choose” just by the state of mind that you die in and not as a whole in your life.
    So… if hell exists… I think the most mercyful way of acting is to destroy every single human soul in there. Cease to exist. A perfect nothing. We don’t remember anything before we were born… Why should a person remember something after dying?
    I don’t know why you find so terrible the possibility of reincarnation. I find mercyful and wise a God that gives us enough chances (even in different lifes) to find love and purity and spiritual growth than one that says to us: “it’s now or never… you ain’t gonna life forever”. It’s more mercyful to give us every single chance we need to reach perfection than tending us a pistol with just one bullet. That’s why I sympathize with the Eastern philosophy.
    I also sympathize with the famous Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, which said that hell is an invention of the church to control people’s minds:

    I can imagine you know him. For me, that’s being moral and follow a dignified own conscience.
    Anyway, Lee… I find quite interesting your thoughs about these subjects. Hope you don’t find “aggressive” my comment.
    Greetings from Madrid!

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Some thoughts in response:

      About hell:

      Like Spong, I don’t believe that the hell that the Christian Church has taught for many centuries exists. I don’t think there’s a place in the afterlife where people are tortured forever as a punishment for their sins here on earth. Any God who would create or even tolerate such a place would be an madman, not a loving God.

      What I do believe in is a place, or state, in which people who enjoy doing evil are allowed to engage in that evil. Unfortunately, evil inevitably has bad consequences that boomerang back on those who commit it.

      What traditional, literalistic versions of a fiery hell of pain and torture miss is that hell is actually based on pleasure, not on pain. It is based on the pleasure people feel in doing evil. And those for whom the pleasure of evil is their primary pleasure choose hell because that’s where they can engage in the actions that they find so intensely pleasurable.

      In hell, nobody is punished for anything they did here on earth. But they do feel the consequences of the evil they continue to do there. And those consequences are not imposed upon them by God or by any great Devil, but by their fellow evil spirits, and by their own fears and internal contradictions. And yet, they continue to engage in their evil pleasures because they greatly enjoy them.

      For more on what hell isn’t, and is, see:

      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      In other words, people in hell actually enjoy being there, even if to outsiders it looks like a horrible inferno of evil, lust, and pain. The people in hell don’t want to be anywhere else.

      About freedom vs. determinism:

      If we do not have real freedom, but are determined beings, then all of creation is a meaningless, inexorablably grinding machine with no purpose. I reject determinism because it destroys our humanity and the entire purpose of God’s Creation. For a philosophical look at this, see:

      God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

      I believe that we humans truly are free to choose what kind of person we want to be, and what kind of life we want to live. No, we’re not radically free. There are some limits. We can’t decide to live three feet above the ground with no means of support. Gravity doesn’t let us. And there are some aspects of our character that are baked into us, that we don’t have the ability to change. But when it comes to our moral and spiritual character, we do have the ability to choose, assuming we have reached full adult maturity and self-responsibility.

      For those who don’t reach full adulthood, the default destination is always heaven, never hell. We make our home in hell only if we choose to be there as rational, self-responsible adults.

      About reincarnation:

      What I find “so horrible” about reincarnation is precisely that ultimately, it takes away our free will, and our humanity along with it. In the standard Eastern theory of reincarnation, we continue to be reborn until we reach enlightenment. That, to me, is about like a parent saying, “I don’t care if you have to sit at the dinner table for a thousand years, you’re not leaving until you eat your peas.” But what if we hate peas? What if we never learn to like peas? Doesn’t matter. You’ll sit there until you not only eat them, but enjoy them.

      That, to me, is a universe created by a control freak, not by a loving God.

      But there’s much more about this, including a story from Swedenborg about evil spirits in hell speaking of how intensely they enjoy their pleasures there, in this article:

      The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

      If ultimately we can make only one choice, and we have to keep doing it over until we make that choice, then it’s really no choice at all. We are not human beings, but puppets on a string dancing to a tune selected and determined by God.

      There is much more that could be said, but much of it I’ve already said in the linked articles, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

  5. Lee says:

    To a reader named James Claflin:

    You don’t have to do weird and crazy things to get to heaven.

    Instead, you have to love God above all, and love your neighbor as you love yourself, just as Jesus taught.

    Loving your neighbor means doing good things for other people as part of your job and your daily activities. And of course, it means not doing bad things to others or to yourself—something the Bible calls “repenting from your sins.”

    Short version: To get to heaven, don’t do bad stuff, and do good stuff instead, because it’s the right thing to do and because that’s what God commands us to do.

  6. Ty For responding so quickly. But what do you mean when you say that you will have to experience heart stuff to get to heaven ?

  7. Lee says:

    Hi James,

    Those are indeed intrusive thoughts, as you say. God would not tell you to do those types of things.

    If you read the Bible, you will see that God tells us not to do things that are wrong, and to do things that are right instead. Some of the particular things in the Bible were aimed at the culture of that time, but the general message is not to do bad and destructive things, but to do good and constructive things instead. There’s nothing in there about beating ourselves up, damaging ourselves, or doing painful and disgusting things in order to get to heaven. It’s all about doing good deeds of love and service for our fellow human beings as commanded by God.

    The hard things we experience on the pathway to heaven are mostly from our old bad habits and our resistance to changing them. We cling to our usual ways of doing things even when they cause us all sorts of trouble. That causes us to experience hard things as we struggle to leave those bad habits and bad ways of living behind, and as their harmful effects haunt us afterwards. For example, if we’ve been in the habit of stealing, we may still have to go to jail for past thefts even if we’ve realized that stealing is wrong and have committed ourselves to no longer doing it.

    Think of an addiction to cigarettes or alcohol, and how hard it is to break that addiction. That’s what it’s like to break the bad ways of living that we’ve grown used to, and to live in a better way instead.

    The path to heaven itself is not hard. It just involves loving God and loving our neighbor, as I said. But kicking our old bad habits is hard. Here is an article that may be helpful:
    Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?

  8. Lee says:

    Hi James,

    First, it sounds like you’re struggling with some self-destructive thoughts. There’s only so much I can help you with on that from here. Is there someone you trust that you could talk to about it? Perhaps a teacher or counselor at school?

    I can assure you that the sorts of things you think God wants you to do are not the sort of things God wants anyone to do. And they are certainly not the sort of things God requires us to do to be saved. I don’t know where these thoughts are coming from, but they’re not coming from God. If they’re coming from the spiritual realms at all, they are coming from evil spirits who are trying to get you to think that God wants you to do these sorts of things so that they can get their jollies seeing you fall for it. So don’t fall for it.

    Beyond that, I don’t know anything about you or your life, so it’s hard to say what you should do. However, in general, I would suggest two things (and then one more), if they are possible for you, and if you’re not doing them already:

    1. Get a job or get involved in volunteer activities.
    2. Get outside regularly and do some sort of exercise or activity that you enjoy.

    To take the second first, exercise, especially outdoor exercise, is one of the best antidotes to all sorts of mental struggles, depression, anxiety, and so on. Physically and physiologically, it gets blood circulating to the brain and produces all sorts of healthful hormones and antibodies that help keep us on a positive track mentally. Personally, I do a lot of bicycling. It helps keep me healthy both physically and mentally. It may seem hard to get going at first, but once you do, you’ll find that it lifts your mental state considerably. Get out three or four times a week, and keep doing it week after week. Join a local outdoors or activity club if need be to keep yourself motivated. Or if the outdoors really doesn’t work for you, join a local gym, and go work out there regularly.

    And on the first one, doing things for other people, whether in a paid job or as a volunteer, is one of the best ways to find stable and lasting satisfaction in life. Even something as simple as making your own personal project of picking up all the trash in your neighborhood and keeping it clean can give you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, knowing that your existence has meaning and makes a difference in other people’s lives. If you do have a job, think of the people you are helping and serving through your job, and do your job with that in mind. Human life is all about community and service. That’s where we gain our greatest joy in life. See, for example, this short article:
    Serving the Neighbor: Simple yet Profound

    Finally, you’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. It’s not too early to start thinking about what you want to accomplish with your life, and to set yourself some goals. They don’t have to be big, fancy goals. Just something you want to accomplish in the coming years. Then set about doing the things that you need to do to get there.

    None of this will magically fix everything. Even people who have a job, have goals in life, and get regular, healthful exercise have their struggles. But these things help stabilize us and keep us going when our mind is doing wacky things and life throws curve balls at us.

  9. Lee says:

    Hi James,

    If you think God is telling you these sorts of things, then honestly, it would be better for you to stop believing in God. Because that is a false God anyway. The real God does not tell people to do these sorts of things. Just look at the Ten Commandments and you’ll see that God would not tell you to do these things.

    I seriously urge you to talk to someone in your area about these things. Your parents, a teacher or counselor at school, a priest or minister. Please get some help before you do something you’ll regret for the rest of your life.

    Your final question is a complex one, and has been heavily debated for many centuries. However, it basically boils down to our need to have free will for our life and choices to have any meaning. Here is a recent article that deals with this very question:
    Response to a Christian Universalist: Is There an Eternal Hell? Wouldn’t an All-Powerful God Save All People?

  10. sizakele says:

    how i needed to hear this,I’ve commited big sins of abortion and I lied to my loved once that i was never pragnant but now the guilt its killing me I want to come clean but I’m afraid that the will leave me all by myself,I read about your article and it made me think twice!please write for me more i want to know God more because ive comitted the sins being a Christian

    • Lee says:

      Hi sizakele,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your story. I’m glad this article was helpful to you.

      About committing sins, it’s what you’re doing now that matters, not what you did in the past. See also:
      Ezekiel 18: God’s Message of Hope . . . If You Think there’s No Hope for You

      Having said that, the past still happened. Denying it can cause problems. What actually happened is likely to come out sooner or later—and sooner is usually better than later. If he’s going to reject you, it would be better for it to happen before you get even more tied together, and the rejection is even harder. You need to know whether he can accept the person that you have been, and the person that you are now. Without that, the relationship will always be built on a faulty foundation.

      Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  11. Donald Ferguson says:

    I try to believe for miracles and my healing but just fall way short on the believing. Yes, a lot of times I think God hates me. I have had to go through the loss of my 21 year old son and only brother in a 5 month period and several years later be diagnosed with not one but 2 life threatening illnesses. 1 has been cured but according to the dr.’s the other one is incurable. I don’t buy that I keep my Faith in God not man. I forget what it is like to go through a day and really feel good physically. I really want to ask you one thing that will help me out a lot emotionally and spiritually if you can tell me. I read the KJV of the bible. But like you said in your article there is a lot of wrong translation going on. So, could you please tell me the best bible to read that is the best translation of the Greek and Hebrew meanings. I realize it’s almost impossible to expect that because some Greek and Hebrew words don’t have an English translation. They throw in a word they feel best fits what they’re reading. Thanks!!!:)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Donald,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for telling your story. I’m very sorry to hear about the deaths in your family, and about your own life-threatening illnesses. (However, I’ve edited out the financial part, since that’s not what this blog is about.)

      About the physical illnesses, things don’t always go as we want them to, and God doesn’t always heal our physical illnesses. Many people do die of serious illnesses before they’ve reached their threescore and ten years—even people who have prayed fervently to God for healing. However, what God does ensure is that we always have the ability to go to heaven rather than hell if we are willing to think of others as much as ourselves, and devote a significant part of our life to serving others, while still taking care of ourselves as well. In other words, God may not always protect our body from harm, but God will always protect our spirit from eternal harm as long as we are willing to listen to and practice God’s commandment to love one another as God has loved us (John 13:34–35; 15:12).

      About translations, the King James Version in general is a fairly faithful translation, even if it is not perfect. Unfortunately, every translation is influenced by the doctrinal stance of its translators, and is bent toward that doctrine whether or not the translators intend it. So the best thing for those who have no knowledge of the original languages of the Bible is to read various translations and compare them with each other. Young’s Literal Translation can be helpful in getting a sense of what’s in the original languages, though its language also sounds a bit strange, so it’s not a good translation for devotional reading or reading aloud.

  12. Sheri-Lynn Coughlin says:

    I’m a bit confused when you say God doesn’t send you to hell I have watched dozens of NDE’s that state different they say that you cannot ever get out no matter how much you beg. That is your life is not changed completely you are doomed to hell for entirety. That is what got my anxiety to the max

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sheri-Lynn,

      First, though NDEs provide us with fascinating snippets about the spiritual world, they are just that: snippets. People who have NDEs get a glimpse into the spiritual world. They cannot provide us with a comprehensive picture of the spiritual world any more than someone who has a three-hour layover in a foreign city can provide a comprehensive picture of that city.

      Second, the experience NDEers have is influenced by their own particular background and beliefs. Yes, there are many common elements in NDEs. But, for example, traditional Christians sometimes experience pearly gates, whereas people from other religions experience the entrance to the spiritual world differently. The spiritual world is not an objective world like the natural world. In the spiritual world, our surroundings shift and change according to the state of our thoughts and feelings.

      Third, God gives people NDEs for a reason. Commonly that reason is to change their mind and outlook on life, and motivate them to focus more on their spiritual life. For some people, the fear of hell is, unfortunately, necessary to snap them out of destructive ways of living. If that’s what a particular person needs, that’s what that person will experience. But as with statements in the Bible about God sending people to hell, that is only how things appear. It’s not the reality. For more on hell and how it works, please see:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      Anyone who truly wants to get out of hell can get out of hell. The problem is not that they’re locked in. The problem is that they have set their heart on evil, and they therefore can’t stand the atmosphere of heaven, but keep themselves in hell because that’s where they can be the (evil) person they have chosen to be. It might even feel to them like they’re trapped there. But the reality is that they’ve trapped themselves there.

      An interesting parallel in literature is Jean Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit.” In the play, three people find themselves in a room together. At first they believe they can’t get out. As the play unfolds, however, they discover that they actually can leave if they want to. However, they’re so engrossed in using each other for their own selfish purposes and reasons that none of them is willing to leave. (This synopsis is from having read the play over forty years ago, so it may not be correct in all of the details. But that’s the general idea.)

      There is no need for you to fear hell as long as you are willing to love others as you love yourself, as Jesus taught. This means, in practical terms, spending your life not only taking care of yourself and your own needs, but devoting your life also to engaging in useful services for others in your job, in your community, and in your family. Just to be clear, you don’t have to spend every waking moment doing things for other people. Jesus said to love your neighbor as you love yourself. This means you also must take the time you need to take care of your own physical, emotional, and mental health. For more on loving our neighbor, please see:
      How Do I Love My Neighbor?

      No one who is willing to think about the wellbeing of other people and do good things for other people either in a paid job or as a volunteer, or just in ordinary everyday life, has any reason to fear hell.

  13. Jeff Farinholt says:

    I never disagree with positive comments about our Creator, His Son Jesus Christ, my Savior, and I prefer to never again hear of a person suffering because of them not knowing God and Jesus. I also would like for all people to allow God to speak through them, as He did for Moses, and this privilege is available for all people if truth is in their heart. To provide my opinion of saying “I know I am going to Heaven” is this. Know your heart, and when our heart has been given to God through His Son, God knows as Jesus tells us “what you do on earth, I will tell our Father in Heaven”. So on one day, a person feels great and says for all the world to hear “I know I am going to Heaven”, and the next day, they perform knowledgeable sin against others. For another to excuse them and say “we are all sinners” is not our excuse in life, but this is the merry go round that exists today. When a person, and here is the answer many do not know, because they only gain guidance through mankind, the answer is when our heart is true to the Father and The Son, said person will become comforted through the communication sent by an angel that is sitting as we speak, at Gods footstool, waiting on their next mission, it is written. If it is the Father and Son we seek, then do so and stay attentive to their communication and answer back, or you may miss out and be delayed on what you seek, and believe me when I say this…you will then understand the verse that is written “Jesus is the Prince of Peace”. This is by far different than earthly or worldly peace. Have a great day and thank the Father for creation, and thank God and His Son Jesus for our opportunity to give ourselves back to Him. Believe you/me, at one point, the world was a blink of an eye away from a complete…”No More”. This was because of almost complete disobedience from mankind, and most are on that same path today and there will be a “No More” because Jesus is our last chance. With love to all…

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. While I would express some of these things differently, I appreciate your positive words. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  14. Michael says:

    I survived an intracranial hematoma and subsequent brain surgery so I’ve gotten close a couple times. Loved some other stuff you’ve written but really disappointed with this one. You appear to have really struggled on this topic and I’m guessing that it’s how you kept your faith, which is exactly what the concept of hell was designed to do: keep you programmed. It doesnt mean much of the other programming isn’t valid, but it’s still a stopgap in the code. For anyone reading this: hell doesn’t exist except in your mind, but the human mind is powerful in manifestation. So why should you be a good person? To have a good life. No one really wants to have a bad life, but some people are programmed knowing no other way. Hell is just manipulative mythology

    • Lee says:

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Sorry to hear about your health problems. It does give a different perspective on this life.
      About hell, I agree that it exists in the human mind. But as you say, the human mind is powerful in its manifestation. And it is when the human mind manifests hell that it becomes real for us.
      However, hell is not the place of eternal punishment in fire and brimstone that traditional preachers think it is. Those are simply metaphors for the spiritual fire, in a negative sense, of greed, selfishness, anger, and hostility that the human mind manifests in action when we go to the negative side of life instead of to the positive. And ultimately that is entirely our own choice.
      For more on what the hell of the spiritual world is and isn’t, please see my article:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
      Personally, I do not fear hell or struggle with a feeling that I will go there. But due to the many faulty and wrong teachings about hell made popular by the materialistic Bible interpretations traditional Christianity, millions of people do have that fear. These are the people for whom I wrote this article.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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