This is my first jump onto Medium and I’m glad to be here! I plan to write about and wrestle through spiritual things, and participate in the discussion that so many are part of already. Thanks for allowing me to add my voice to the conversation.
To begin I want to explore one specific issue, which I plan to do over a number of weeks and months, both here and on www.reallygoodnewsreally.com. I plan to write in about one page increments and to create 2 minute videos, and I look forward to discussing things on a deeper level with some of you who comment or respond in another way.
As a way to introduce the one specific issue, let me tell you my story:
I was born into a wonderful Christian family in western Canada. Two loving parents and three siblings provided life with an appropriate balance of order and chaos as we learned to relate to one another and to the world. Home was a safe place where I experienced the love of God through the love of my parents, where I saw the principles of the Bible lived out, and where I received the discipline and guidance that has shaped my life. The more life has continued, the more I am grateful to God for the place and circumstances into which I was born.
At the age of 8 I “accepted Jesus as my Savior,” a moment that happened November 18, 1984 after the Sunday evening service at the Bible church we attended in our small town. That morning the pastor’s sermon included a warning to those who think they are saved, but maybe are in fact not, and my 8-year old mind took heed. I remember praying with my mom that evening in a back room at the church, confessing my sin, I suppose, and asking Jesus into my heart. I don’t remember anything I said specifically, except for one phrase: “I do so want to go to heaven.”
Since that day I never doubted that God had saved me, that I was in right standing before Him . . . until I went to seminary. There, a serious examination of my faith produced more questions than it did answers (not a bad thing) and I found myself giving new consideration to my Sunday evening conversion experience.
In that consideration I discovered faith motivated by fear, an 8-year old scared into salvation, afraid of spending an eternity separated from God. While the promise of eternal life and the joys of a relationship with Jesus were attractive, more gripping was the possibility of being tormented forever in a place metaphorically similar to a lake of fire. Despite the phrase I remember, my prayer that Sunday evening was not so much about going to heaven as it was about avoiding hell. Of course I was scared.
Let me stop and say that I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for my parents and for the faith community of that small town and church. The people there, and many I have come to know in other churches and communities, are caring, loving, genuine people who are doing their best to follow God and respond in the way they believe He would have them respond. My mom, the pastor, my Sunday school teachers were, and are, gentle, kind people who presented the message of Jesus to me in a way that was positive and uplifting.
But hell is part of the message, and kids talk. So I knew what would happen to those who didn’t accept Jesus as their Savior. God was going to punish them forever. Asking Jesus into my heart that Sunday evening wasn’t just a nice thing to do; it was my ticket out of hell. Faith motivated by fear.
My seminary consideration of that moment has continued, and in the coming weeks and months I want to ask whether we ought to examine again what we believe about God’s love, heaven, hell, and eternity. I want to look at what the Bible teaches, think about what we really believe, where those beliefs lead us, and discuss whether or not God might just manage to ultimately redeem us all.
I wish I could say my salvation experience was unique, but my dad’s contained the same mixture of faith and fear . . . and so did my son’s. More about that next time.