Security in the Midst of Uncertainty

     I became convinced years ago that sin plays absolutely no role in defining my identity before God. When He looks at me, He calls me “perfect” — and He is not a liar. I may still have a ton of growing to do, and I may sin in more ways than I even notice sometimes. Nevertheless, none of that changes who I am at the core of my being. I am a child of God, a saint, the righteousness of God in Christ. I am holy and clean.

     My best friend Jackson reminds me that Christ’s righteousness has been both imputed to me (covering my sins when I fall) and imparted to me (infused into my very being). In other words, I am intrinsically good because of the blood of the Lamb — even if I am still learning how to imitate Christ in my behavior and thought life. Further, there is an Advocate who stands on my behalf if I do make bad decisions in the meantime.

     All of this essentially means that nothing about who I am or what I do can interfere in my access to the Presence of God. I have been brought into an eternal relationship with the Holy One, by no effort of my own. And He keeps me there.

     In other words, there isn’t anything that can separate me from the love of God. In any sense.

     Becoming convinced of all of this was a process that took me about three or four years, starting around 2008. It was by far the biggest discovery I’d ever made (and it was actually something I fought a lot at first). Through numerous Christian leaders from various camps, and through much biblical study, I eventually caved into accepting the joyous reality that I really am already, presently, fully dead to sin. (It turns out Paul was right! — see Romans 6). Beyond this, I am in unbroken union with God, and He is not threatening to withdraw from me any time soon.

     All of this set the stage for so many other changes in my worldview…

     Since that seismic shift in my understanding of things, I have re-analyzed and changed my stance on so many doctrines that I never thought I would even consider another perspective on. In hindsight, I realize that so much of what I used to believe (and act out) was absolutely ridiculous and also harmful in its effects. I could never have repented though if I did not first realize how pure God says I am and how safe I am in His loyal love. Why? Well, I used to think that if I got too “deceived” I would somehow loose God’s commitment to me. That made questioning a lot of things about my worldview unthinkable.

     I want to encourage you, if you (like so many believers going through a “deconstruction” journey these days) are wrestling with major doubts, questions, and new ideas about the nature of all things — God is with you. He’s is for you. He’s not going anywhere.

     Ask your questions. Be open to new possibilities. Be honest with yourself and with others about what you are re-considering. Just remember the basics of the Gospel that will keep you grounded;

     You have been made new.

     God likes you.

     Jesus is your righteousness.

     He is faithful and unchanging.

     You are secure.

     If you can cling to those simple truths, they will provide you great stability in the midst of great uncertainty. You will feel free to make mistakes, to be confused, to disagree… and to still belong.

     For it remains true…

     You have died, and your life is [even] now hidden with Christ in God.

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More on Uncertainty and Deconstruction

     In my previous article I hinted at how difficult going through a process of deconstruction can be (when one questions important aspects of their faith in a serious manner). For my readers who are currently on this road, I wanted to offer a couple other thoughts.

     First off, I would like to suggest that when our minds are confused and we are no longer able to rest our faith on the presuppositions we used to hold dear, it is a good time to lean on spiritual disciplines to find some of the “substance” of our faith. Through community, service, prayer, the Eucharist, and even by continually meditating on portions of Scripture that speak to us, we can practice our faith despite how our mind doesn’t always know where it stands on everything. This takes our relationship with God and His people out of a merely cerebral playing field and into something that feels more concrete and active.

     Along with this, we can also reflect on and cultivate mystical experiences with the Divine. We don’t do this to prove our faith per se, but to enjoy it. Spend some time in silence and solitude, reminding yourself of the favor and nearness of God. Talk to Him out loud and journal any responses you sense from Him in your heart. Pray in tongues. Gaze on Christ in the eye of your imagination. Maybe listen to some spontaneous Bethel worship sets on YouTube and sing along. Feel the connection you have with the Spirit and don’t just analyze it. This will center and ground you in a way that ideas and arguments will not always be able to do so.

     Beyond all of this, I encourage you to check out some of the following resources that I have found incredibly helpful:

“Deconstruction: Side B,” by Jonathan Martin :

This is some wonderful pastoral advice that podcast-er Jonathan Martin gave his listeners in a Q & A session on his show. It was full of wisdom and empathy, and can definitely inspire courage in anyone feeling stuck or afraid in their process.

Deconverting from Certainty and Giving People Space, with Audrey Assad :

Pete Enns discusses faith and doubt with singer Audrey Assad. It’s an insightful conversation with a woman who I am sure many listeners can relate to in her journey.

Doubt is Not Unbelief

Michael Hakmin Lee shares on a Christianity Today blog about why our doubts do not necessarily indicate that our hearts are in a bad place.

Nine Reasons Faith Does Not Equal Certainty :

If you feel uncertain about feeling uncertain, this excerpt from Greg Boyd’s book “Benefit of the Doubt” might help give you permission to explore your questions further.

Blessings and grace to you!


How Do We Rethink Hell?

     The doctrine of hell is a tricky one. One who respects the counsel of Scripture cannot easily assert that the writers of the Bible did not want us to believe there is a state of hell altogether. There are just too many verses in the New Testament that shape the contemporary understandings of hell that the Church has. That said, we believe the Bible because the Bible so clearly reveals to us the grace of God that is found in Christ. And many versions of hell-teaching today lack in their ability to make sense with the non-retributive character of God as it is revealed in Christ.

     So how do we best maintain a belief in hell without undermining our faith in the generous goodness of God’s heart? 

      Some respond by essentially claiming that hell is the same place as Heaven — where the “all-consuming fire” of God’s zealous love torments those who want to resist it. See John Crowder’s discussion of this idea, or this summary of Greek Orthodox thought related to this the subject. William Paul Young also gives a nice take on this sort of viewpoint in a recent interview he did here with Brian Zahnd. 

     Some say hell is chosen by people and not by God, and that it is merely a miserable separation from the Divine for those who want to live independent of Him. Tim Keller recently shared this article on Twitter that he wrote years ago, espousing this idea. I thought it was a well reasoned and well articulated view of this sort of “eternal conscious torment” version of hell.

     Some say that hell is actually the death of a person’s consciousness, the end of their existence. I previously shared one of Bruxey Cavey’s sermons about this a while back, which does a great job of grounding this perspective in Scripture. It’s worth checking out, along with Preston Sprinkle’s podcast episodes such as this one discussing this viewpoint.

     And of course the list goes on of other interpretations of this doctrine. It is helpful to listen to and learn from multiple viewpoints, so as to have a more “big picture” perspective on this debate. The Bible itself is not nearly as clear-cut and straight-forward about this topic as many conservative evangelicals have pretended in the past. It’s worth doing our research on before we come to any kind of conclusion.

     No matter what stance we take, I would like to offer a few thoughts that we might agree upon:

     1.) Jesus is much more opposed to hell than we are. He came to bring us abundant life and to destroy the works of the devil. His passion for our well-being is way greater than ours ever has been.

     2.) Preaching about hell is not necessary to preach the Good News itself. The Good News is about Jesus and His Cross and His love. It is about reconciliation, not about threats of suffering.

      As Roger Olsen explained so well

Hell is not part of the good news; it is its shadow.  My shadow is always there when I’m sitting or standing in light.  But my shadow is not me.  Anyone who would treat my shadow as part of me would be ludicrous.  I would say “Get away from me!” (if I thought they were serious).  So it is with hell.  It is the shadow of the gospel but not part of the gospel itself.

     3.) John tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

     We ought not use a narrative of hell to inspire fear in others as a manipulative means to get them into the Faith or into a certain lifestyle. God’s goodness and kindness is what draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and sharing the goodness of the Gospel alone was powerful enough for the early apostles when they called people to Christ in the Bible. We can trust that it is likewise effective to follow their model today.

     4.) The Lord does not want us just to be concerned about our future state of being, but to walk in union with Him in the here and now. Further, it is our responsibility to bring His Kingdom to bear on others in our sphere of influence in this life — bettering this world every chance we get by the power of His Spirit. We must not be too consumed with theories about the afterlife if they are distracting us from being present to people around us in an Christ-like manner.

     All that said — let’s take our theology of hell seriously, and make sure to wrestle through the text of Scripture to get a truly New Covenant understanding of what we believe about hell and why. We can further seek to have everything we believe agree with the truth that God is always and only good, merciful and loving — even in His justice.

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