Theology

doubting my salvation

Picasso_Pablo-Crucifixion
Picasso, “The Crucifixion”

One of the phrases I heard quite a bit in the fundamentalist church I grew up in was “You need to check up on your salvation.” It usually followed a long diatribe on sin, or wordliness, or unrighteousness, and the church-cult leader would say it to make sure we all understood that real Christians feel convicted when they hear sin being preached on. Real Christians feel crushing guilt. Real Christians have the Holy Spirit pricking their conscience day in and day out. If we could get through an entire sermon on sin without feeling a single twinge? Well, then, we needed to “check up” on our salvation, because we probably weren’t saved.

Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, I got a completely different message about “doubting my salvation.” Real Christians didn’t doubt their salvation, because real Christians could point to a specific time, a specific place, a specific prayer; and any time the Devil assailed them with doubts (and it was always the Devil doing this), a real Christian could point to that moment and say “get thee behind me, Satan!” That moment gave us “assurance of our salvation.” That moment became our testimony.

My first “moment” was when I was five or six. It was around Halloween, and my Sunday school teacher told a horrifying story about druids going from house to house flaying little children alive and burning pieces of their skin inside of pumpkins. He finished his lesson by telling us that Jesus could protect us from the demons if we “asked him to come into our heart.” Terrified, I spent the entire night curled up in my dark bedroom begging Jesus to protect me from the demons I was positive were going to snatch me out of my bed.

Later, when I was around eight, I realized that Christians got baptized, and when I asked to be baptized the lady I spoke to at church asked me when I’d “gotten saved.” Initially I was frustrated because I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, and it took a few weeks to communicate my confusion to my mother. When I finally understood what “getting saved” meant to a Baptist, I explained to the woman about that night when I asked Jesus to come into my heart to save me from the demons. She wasn’t entirely convinced by that story, so she led me through a “sinner’s prayer.”

When I was eleven, I was in a revival service listening to an evangelist describe the horror of the crucifixion. The next night he preached a message about the difference between “profession and possession.” He explained how people can walk around saying they’re a Christian but who aren’t “saved” at all. In a sudden burst I realized that I had never really “gotten saved,” so I decided I’d go down to the altar at the end– but wait, what if the Rapture happened before the end of the service? I’d be “given over to a reprobate mind” for not getting saved before the Rapture and go to hell!

So, I walked myself through the Roman’s Road and prayed another sinner’s prayer in the middle of the sermon.

Those were my moments. Those were the times I could point to and declare, definitively, that I was saved. I didn’t have to worry about “doubting my salvation.” I had a rock-solid testimony. Any time I felt conflicted, or unsure, or afraid of hell, I could point to that moment and tell myself there was nothing to worry about.

~~~~~~~~~~

There are moments when I wish for the simplicity of my childhood. When I long for the comfortable black-and-white of saved and not saved— it was so quantifiable, so objective. Saved people had repented of their sin and asked Jesus to save them during a sinner’s prayer. Unsaved people had never done that. It was simple. Easy.

Now, though, that things have become far more complicated and far more gray, I find myself struggling again and again with questions.

Is God real?
Does he love me?
Was Jesus God?
What is Election?
What does the Atonement mean?

Does God send people to hell for no other reason than they’d never heard of Jesus?
Do I want to be a Christian anymore if the answer to that is yes?

And, when I’m asking these questions, you better check up on your salvation comes flitting through my head, unbidden and unwanted. I wish I could banish that phrase from my memory. I wish I’d never heard it once– let alone the countless times it was screamed at me. I wish I could get rid of it, because it makes these questions so much harder. There is a part of me– and sometimes this part of me is big, sometimes it is small– that wonders if I could possibly be a real Christian if I am plagued by these sorts of doubts. How can I call myself a Christian if I’m putting myself into the position of “judging God by human standards”? How can I call myself a Christian if I doubt his existence– or, if not his existence, then if he cares about human reality at all?

How can I be a Christian and doubt?

I know, most of the time, that doubt isn’t the antithesis of Christianity or faith. I know having serious questions about my religion doesn’t disqualify me from embracing it. But, I’m still, sometimes, terrified of being sent to hell– eternal conscious torment–  for my unbelief. Somehow strangely sure that not feeling constant nagging guilt means that I can’t be a real Christian. That my new-found comfort of dwelling in the gray means that I no longer “know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” I am comfortable questions, with perhaps never knowing what it means to be “saved” or “one of the Elect” and that must mean that I’m not. Because surely real Christians know that.

There is still a little girl inside of me curled up on her bed begging Jesus to protect her from the demons.

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  • I like Martin Luther’s response to such times: he would place his hand on his head and say, “Baptismus sum” (“I am baptized”). That reminded him that Christ had taken care of his salvation.
    This kind of preaching keeps one in turmoil and agony all the time–and, what does it say about God’s work in/through Jesus? That kind of God doesn’t seem trustworthy to me. Preachers/teachers who use this approach week after week after week seem to abusive to me. They certainly keep people in a stage of anxiety and fear, such as you described.

  • I never doubted my salvation, up until the time that I decided to reject religion.

    Is God real?

    That was one of my persistent questions.

    Was Jesus God?

    I eventually came to doubt that. And I doubted it, because I could not find a clear place where he claimed to be God. He called himself “the son of man”. He referred to God as “father”, but it seemed that this was in a sense that we could all say that.

    How can I be a Christian and doubt?

    How can you be a Christian, and not doubt? To be a Christian, as I understood it, is a serious commitment. And there should always be doubt about serious commitment. Why would you even need faith, if there was no doubt?

    ———

    Footnote: I am not trying to challenge or question your faith. I am just giving you my experience, as I remember it from a somewhat comparable stage of life. I hope it is helpful to know how others experience these issues.

    • Neil, I am thrilled to read these views of yours! These are themes I’ve been exploring in my blog as a non-Christian who has been exploring Christianity. I’ve been looking to find the truth in Christianity and bring forward an understanding of Jesus that everyone can connect with.

  • Doubt is a demon I am learning to embrace, but he is in a way more frightening than the ghouls that I, like you, prayed to be freed from as a child, because those were something outside of me; but doubt comes from within.

  • What is a “real” Christian anyway? Who gets to define the word “real”?

    These people that want to say “real” Christians never doubt are the same ones that say “real” Christians never vote democrat, or listen to rock music, or read the NIV. I don’t want to define my faith by their definitions.

  • I’ve long held a theory that “elect” means that God knows beforehand who will accept the Gift, and who won’t. What would be the point of free will otherwise??
    Secondly, I’ve long believed that there will be a moment, for every single person, during life, or after life, that they will know, without a doubt, who Jesus is… and they will have a chance to make that choice. They will know everything, see it all, know for sure… and choose.
    I imagine you’ve read Chronicles of Narnia?
    There’s a moment in which the animals come to Aslan, and they split into two groups… one group turns away, snarling, they become ordinary beasts… the other group goes onward with him, to His country…

    I’ve heard all kinds of theories on hell…. the only one that makes real sense to me is that it’s lonesomeness… just eternal darkness and being utterly cut off from God… from everything… c.s. Lewis described it rather well in The Great Divorce, I thought.

    Those are just my thoughts on the questions you’ve raised… The short versions of the long process I’ve already gone through, reading, thinking, pondering, learning, that you’re going through now… That I’m STILL going through.
    I don’t mean to offer them as shortcuts, though…. That would be disrespectful- because you’re going through your own process, and you may come up with completely different answers.

    Happy travels, friend. and (hugs) for those dark times. 🙁
    Mary

  • L

    I bet you would really enjoy reading George MacDonald’s novels. He was a preacher a couple hundred years ago who got tossed from churches and persecuted quite a bit for doubts and for becoming a universalist. “Robert Falconer,” “Malcolm,” and several others gave me such a strong idea that doubt was important for proper growth as a Christian that I used to be quite upset that I (at 9 or 10 years old, lol), didn’t really have a bone to pick with God yet.

    • I do love MacDonald– the Princess and the Goblin and the Light Princess are some of my favorite stories.

  • I’ve had so many of the same experiences regarding salvation. Although my pastor used to say that doubting your salvation was proof you were* saved, because doubting meant you actually cared about being saved. That comforted me when I was younger, but now
    I’m no longer sure what I think on hell and what it means to be saved, other than Jesus. And if I’m honest, I often doubt God’s existence, too. Sometimes I even fear I’m a heretic, though I still desperately want to be a Christian.
    Thanks for writing this.

  • Momma Tee

    I can relate to the feeling of confusion about being able to nail down a specific moment in time upon which I knew my salvation was complete. I wondered if my growing relationship with Jesus was indeed valid because we hadn’t had any kind of dramatic introduction, but rather a gradual familiarity. Your post reminds me of the need I have for grace. Grace that goes before me and allows me to doubt. This grace woos me to the person of Jesus. It provides room for questions and skepticism. If I could say anything to that little girl praying to Jesus to protect her from the demons, it would be that I am so sorry you are scared. Jesus’ love for you is big enough to include your doubts.

  • “Does God send people to hell for no other reason than they’d never heard of Jesus?”

    To me, this is the entire and irrevocable problem with Christianity. Because if the answer to the first question is “no,” then, to me, Christianity as a religion ceases to exist. It is fundamentally unnecessary and becomes nothing more than an earthly tool to be wielded by men (sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but still – wielded by men). And if the answer to the first question is “yes,” then, to me, God itself ceases to exist.

    “God,” in my mind, is something or someone who is greater than I can understand. So great that my feeble human mind can scarcely begin to comprehend its existence. Beyond comprehension. Any God that could create the heavens, and earth, and physics, and cancer, and treatments to cure cancer, and the human mind, and the human creative mind which is capable of its very own subcreation, passes all human understanding. Such a God could only be infinite and infallible. Perfect and viceless.

    But, the God described in the Bible and worshiped by Christians is a flawed God. Man is, allegedly, created in “God’s image” and man is flawed. And the God of Christianity is jealous and bitter and angry, and it is indisputable that these are human failings. So, Christian God is human in his failings – if, in fact, Christian God is a jealous and angry God who would send people to a place of eternal torment for the coincidental and utterly unintended crime of not worshiping him properly because they have never heard of Jesus. This is a vicious and primitive God that looks just like a vicious and primitive man. Under this analysis, therefore, far from worshiping God, Christians worship man. They worship themselves.

    And I just can’t get past any of it.

  • My wife and I have come to a conclusion about salvation. If God is truly love, then he would never subject any of his creations to eternal torment when reconciliation is possible. “Love is patient” means that he’ll go on trying to rebuild his relationship with everyone for as long as it takes, our own lifespans be damned (I guess that was a pun). Consequently, hell can’t be eternal, if it exists at all, and if it is then God’s a monster on par with Yog Sothoth or that thing at the end of Cabin in the Woods, and if that’s the case, then why the hell would I want to be in any position except damned by such a monster?

    That is all to say that doubt is a healthy and vital part of faith, and anyone who says otherwise is doing serious damage to the spiritual well-being of others.

    • Aibird

      Yes. What you wrote here is the conclusion I’ve come to as well.

    • Amen.

  • Angela

    Whoa! I cannot believe that your teacher told you such a horrific story. As the mother of a somewhat sensitive and anxious 5 year old I would be livid if anyone were to frighten him with nonsense like that.

    Secondly (and I really want to be respectful here) I have to admit that the whole being saved concept is kind of confusing to me. In my Mormon upbringing I was always taught that we needed a combination of works and grace to be saved. Basically God will only help us if we put forth the effort but since we’re human we all would fall short without the atonement to carry us the rest of the way. Anyway, I have a really hard time understanding the concept of being saved by faith. In my outsider’s perspective it seems like it would hardly matter if one sinned or not as long as you’ve been “born again.” Theoretically you could get saved and then go out on a killing spree the next day without fear of hellfire. And yet, I’ve yet to hear any faith-based church teach that sin is irrelevant or that sinners won’t go to Hell. Can anyone explain this to me?

    • Momma Tee

      I am new to this blog, so please let me know if I offend you. My intention is show much love and grace.
      The way I see it, being “saved” or “born again” is not simply a means to an end. Salvation is not just about heaven and hell. It’s about choosing to follow God in the here and now, and living a changed life that has eternal value. Salvation is not a result of anything we can do, it is a result of God’s grace. How we live, is evidence of that grace. From what I believe, your scenario of getting saved and then going on a killing spree with out fear of hell, leaves out some key components of the salvation process.
      In the process of salvation, there are stages, if you will. The first stage is God’s prevenient grace. Grace that draws us to knowledge and relationship with him. This is the stage where God’s loving kindness pursues us trying to win our hearts. During this stage we can experience freedom to accept the second stage, which is God’s justifying grace. Justifying grace works when we agree to accept the relationship God offers us in Jesus. This happens suddenly for some, yet gradually for others. Our faith in this aspect of God’s grace is where most people seem stuck. This is the event that many teach is the only important part of salvation. But I do not agree. Being justified, or forgiven from sin, is a key element of salvation. The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus is necessary to “be saved”. However, the final stage of God’s grace is equally as important. When we experience sanctifying grace, we participate with the Holy Spirit in living a changed life… a life that demonstrates love for God and for others. Salvation matters in the now, not only in heaven or hell.
      I do not believe that sin is irrelevant. It hurts us and it hurts others. The question is not whether or not we sin, because everyone does. There is a heaven filled with people who are sinners. The way I see the difference is that some have chosen to accept God’s grace gift through Jesus and allowed the Holy Spirit to work to change them. Some have chosen to reject it.
      Our main responsibility in our salvation is our agreement or disagreement. I believe that God created us to have a free will that chooses whether or not we want to love him back. In my opinion, that is what decides our eternity.

      • Angela

        Thanks for the explanation. Parts of it make sense to me but it does seem to me that if this is the case then either 1)This saving transformation is sometimes reversible or 2) That people’s ability to gauge whether or not they’ve experienced it is extremely unreliable based on how many people profess how sure they are of their salvation only to later fall from grace. Given this it seems it would be only natural for people to doubt their own salvations. It would also seem that if you still grapple with temptation it would be evidence of not being saved.

    • Your confusion is not unfounded! I was raised in that type of church and it never made sense to me, even though I bought into it while I was a child/teenager. My church would say that faith was of utmost importance, not works. Theoretically a “saved” person could turn around and commit mass murder, and their “fire insurance” would still stand. However, if they were really, truly saved, they would not murder people–it just couldn’t happen. If it did, it probably meant they weren’t really saved in the first place. (Although demonic possession could also be an explanation…) For normal sins, they would be considered “backslidden” and needed to repent, but they wouldn’t be sent to hell. They just would be a little embarrassed on judgement day and not get as great rewards in heaven. For a brand of religion that gains its appeal through offering absolute certainty and black & white answers to everything, the whole idea of salvation was very confusing and uncertain to me.

  • There is a writer I read often who said something one day that really struck me, and I think she was paraphrasing someone else but I can’t remember who… she said, “If the only reason to follow Jesus was that you’d go to hell if you didn’t, he would be a very poor savior indeed.”

    That quote struck me so intensely – and it’s the root of my continued Christianity, despite my doubts and my worries and my fear, despite it all. I follow Jesus because of who He was. I’m a Christian because of Jesus, not because he wielded fear but because of the opposite.

    One thing I am glad about is that I was not raised in a church that pushed ‘testimonies’. They seem so bizarre to me, to push for kids who are being baptized at 15, kids raised in a church, to talk about their ‘testimony’. I’m not sure I could quite have handled that, if there had been that pressure on me.

    I’m also glad that my parents and hcurch never made Halloween anything other than what it is to little kids, what it should be. That they didn’t try to make the world something to be terrified of when I was too young to look further than their words.

  • Peter

    The whole obsession among many Christians with there having to be a specific moment of sacramental decision leads to all sorts of weird distortions in Christianity. Some people certainly do have a moment of decision, but for many — especially those raised Christian — there’s not so much a point as a process. But Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestantism teaches that there must be a decision, so children have to work themselves into forcing a time-specific decision. For some kids, there is an actual moment of awakening; for many, they convince themselves that one of the many little epiphanies suffices, and it works out fine; for others, there’s difficulty in both having that decision moment and being honest with themselves.

    I say “sacramental” decision because in these low-church Protestant groups that teach the necessity of a decision, which generally consider themselves anti-sacramental, the same sorts of things are said about the decision as sacramental churches say about Baptism, and often, the Eucharist. In effect, they wind up teaching that Baptism and the Eucharist are not sacraments, and that the “Sinner’s Prayer” is.

    Now, I’ve got nothing against Sacraments (I’m Orthodox), but if you’re going to have them, why not have the real ones?

    • Absolutely. There is no place in scripture where it says you must “make a decision for Christ” or “say a sinner’s prayer”.

  • I’ve struggled with these questions too, to the point I felt uncomfortable calling myself a Christian because I wasn’t sure if I really, truly believed what Christians are suppose to believe. My family was Catholic, and I was raised to believe if you didn’t follow the Catechism to a tee, you were damned.

  • Stacey

    Wow! You are talking about the EXACT same things that I am dealing with in my own head! It is really hard trying to fit all the pieces together. I keep debating with myself “Is God real? Is He real to me anymore?” Is what I have been taught all a lie? Is there truth to some or all of it?

    These are hard questions to wrestle with… I am currently reading a great book that is helping me to sort out some of my feelings. It is called: Losing your Faith; Finding your Soul, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00C0AM1H8/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1/184-3832899-8828967?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_r=161VEZ2GZFDCANNJ8E1Q&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_i=0307731200

    It is always encouraging to find your not alone in your musings!

  • Your salvation is NOT dependent on the “quality” of your belief, or your doubts. Your salvation is GOD’S WORK, not yours. All this talk of being good enough, believing enough, not having doubts, makes salvation YOUR work, not God’s, and that is why you are so unsure. None of us is ever good enough. If we could be good enough, if it were humanly possible to “not sin” then we would have no need of Christ.
    That is the main problem I see with fundamentalism – all the focus on our perfection – being without sin. When tempted to “check on your salvation” remember your baptism. Even if your faith then wasn’t perfect, God IS, and the power of baptism is God’s power, not yours.
    For me, struggling, or wrestling, with faith is a sign of a more mature faith, not a weak one. Blessings on you as you continue growing…

    • This!

    • I hate to speak for someone else but I don’t think that anything you wrote here answers author’s main question (one that is in bold font), which is: Does God send people to hell for no other reason than they’d never heard of Jesus? Your post however does raise a whole lot of other troubling questions.

      I am a deist so I don’t really have a horse in this particular race but your post, plainly read, suggests something like universal salvation. Because if it really where ALL God’s work there would no need for us to supply faith. God could simply GIVE faith to everyone. The fact that God has apparently failed to supply his faith to the author so far (evident by her doubts) can mean one of two things. Either God doesn’t want to give some of us faith, so he doesn’t love everyone equally. Or our performance counts, which invalidates your point and drags us right back into fundamentalism.

      There are some other problems that accept-Jesus-or-go-to-Hell paradigm creates, such as how can you even trust God that arbitrarily tortures almost everyone to treat you any differently regardless of what you did? (a point that I have raised before, I think)

      You can’t just say “trust in Jesus” to someone who doesn’t.

      • I can’t speak for lisaleben here, but I agree with what she did say. I would also add that it does answer the question in a way; namely that no-ones salvation is dependent on them. So it does answer the question as a no, He wouldn’t send anyone to “hell” just because they’d never heard of him. I personally don’t believe that he will send anyone to hell, because that notion doesn’t actually exist in the bible. Hell is a construct of poor/ dubious translation and equally dubious theological presuppositions; but the typical modern Christian notion of hell does not actually exist in the pages of scripture. Judgment is occurring/ will occur, but it’s purpose is to correct and heal, not punish anyone forever.

  • Here’s what I see when reading through your questions: you’re still approaching faith through the old fundamentalist mindset. I say this not as a criticism: I was once here, too (and not that long ago!). When I began wrestling with these questions, I discovered that the old mindset and most evangelical theology didn’t work. They couldn’t help me answer the questions. To answer them, I had to go seeking a new doctrine. In several ways, I’m still seeking, but my occasional struggles no longer throw me into a crisis of faith. I know that God loves me (and you, and all of us) unconditionally, and a moment of doubt doesn’t nullify God’s stated desire to bring us into an eternity with Him. I sort of view my relationship with God as a marriage; a joke or a spat or a pointed question isn’t enough to dissolve the union–or even to make Him think badly of me. In this regard, faith is much more than being sure or checking off doctrinal boxes: it’s about being committed to the relationship wherever it goes.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about the fear that still is tugging at you about hell. I went through a very similar multiple-conversion story. It’s shocking, really, how common that story is, and yet Christians don’t seem to notice that something is wrong.
    It’s shocking how modern fundigelical Christians play up that conversion-moment type of “salvation”. Over and over again you hear about kids just like us who felt horrible guilt because we weren’t really saved. You take an evangelist who’s practiced for years at manipulating emotions to get a desired response, send in some impressionable, vulnerable kids who have been taught that they will go to Hell if they’re not saved, and that they must believe whatever preachers preach…
    I was very worried about hell when I began to question my beliefs, but I am not anymore. I think Jesus loves me, if he is real. Jesus knows how much of my life I spent serving him as best I could. He knows that I seek the truth, and how to be righteous, not just seeking my own “sinful pleasures.” That seeking has led me to atheism. I don’t think a loving Jesus, if he exists, would let me fall into atheism and condemn myself to hell since I was praying to him throughout my whole deconversion. I think he would have showed me a way to keep believing instead.
    Do you believe Jeremiah 29:13 applies to yourself? (You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.) That to me is a promise: if you are honestly seeking, you will find the truth. Nobody can claim you just didn’t read the right books or talk to the right pastors, or that the devil dragged you away. If God is real, than God has promised that an honest seeker will be rewarded.
    Atheism can be very freeing because you no longer believe in hell. If you’re not ready for atheism, I can recommend reading this comment thread, where a liberal Christian explains her reasons for not believing in hell. She says she believes in “universal reconciliation,” so everyone eventually goes to heaven. Later she states Jesus’ teachings about Gehenna were a metaphorical reference, not a warning about eternal torment.

  • I just wish I could sit with you and watch TV together or whatever, so you had some extra company during these dark times of the soul. A lot of fundamentalism is based in fear, isn’t it? Its leaders manufacture fears and needs, then coincidentally have just the product you need to fill them–and your compliance means you’ve bought the product they’re selling. Like others here, I think the Bible is a product of its time–a savage, manipulative document describing a savage, manipulative religion and a savage, manipulative godling at its core. The New Testament authors tried hard to “rescue” the religion, but they didn’t move it nearly far enough ahead–and Christians themselves destroyed most of that progress within a couple of centuries.

    You’re trying to move past that to a god who is more loving and benevolent. That god may not look a lot like the Bible, but that’s not a bad thing. Old tapes of that indoctrination start running in my head too sometimes–they are based on ancient fears that are difficult to dispel, being as they are rooted in things we cannot see or ascertain until we are dead–and I just have to remind myself that I don’t make life decisions about spirituality from a place of fear.

    Is God real? — unknown. The universe certainly seems to work just fine without a divine hand involved in it. If gods are real, it seems certain that they either do not want us to have evidence of their existence, or else cannot get it to us.
    Does he love me? — unknown. I’m not sure what to say here. I think it’s the height of arrogance for most people to think that a divine being drools to love them, like they’re just sooooooo important. I’d rather gods not care about me, to be honest. Why is it important to you to be loved by a being you can’t really talk to or interact with? What happens if this god does not love you? How would life look different?
    Was Jesus God? — impossible to tell if there even was a Jesus at all, much less who he was or how we’d prove it. But every madman who’s said something like that that we have been able to test has turned out to be, well, a madman.
    What is Election? — a purely Christian concept manufactured to terrify and terrorize Christians and give them permission to shun and ostracize dissenters.
    What does the Atonement mean? — whatever your particular take out of tens of thousands of takes means. You might be interested in knowing that the Atonement’s changed definitions more than a few times through the history of Christianity.
    Does God send people to hell for no other reason than they’d never heard of Jesus? — again, depends on what your take on the Bible says; different takes say yes, others say no. I don’t think you’re asking the right question here though. The real question is: why would a god of love and mercy have a purely punitive punishment scheme that tortures (or allows the torture of, same diff) sentient beings eternally for finite lifetimes’ worth of largely thought crimes, a torment that is not built toward reconciliation and rehabilitation but upon pain and suffering for the sake of pain and suffering? Does this god send anyone to that kind of hell for no other reason than refusing to bend knee to him?
    Do I want to be a Christian anymore if the answer to that is yes? — only you can answer this. My answer was “no, absolutely not,” because such a god would be a monster and I do not love or worship monstrous beings.

    There are a lot of religions out there besides Christianity, you know. If your god starts looking too different from the one in the Bible, maybe you’re looking in the wrong place for information about him/her/it/them.

  • Have you looked into studying inclusivism? There are a lot of inclusivists out there, even in the evangelical world (Randal Rauser comes to mind, he writes about it on his blog sometimes), and inclusivism is certianly not heretical by any means (for those who don’t know, inclusivists believe that “Christians” are not the only people who are saved, though all are saved through Jesus. It’s a little unintuitive, but basically the idea is that you don’t neccesarily need to know Jesus’s name or who he neccesarily is in order to have a saving relationship with him). I recently became an inclusivist myself, as it seems to have the support of scripture. Moses and Elijah never heard of Jesus, but they showed up at the transfiguration and all signs point to them going to heaven. It seems very unlikely that Abraham and all the prophets are going to hell too. Also Revelation does say that people from “Every tribe, nation, and tongue” will be saved, and a lot of all three of those lived and died before Jesus came to the Earth. I think you can definitely be a Christian and be an inclusivist (funnily enough, as an inclusivist I think you can be a Christian and a universalist as well, even though I think universalism is incorrect.)

    • Inclusivism is where my reading and thinking and praying is leading me. It seems bizarre that Abraham and Moses could be “children of God” without ever knowing who Jesus was or what he was going to do but then, Jesus comes and BAM suddenly everyone who’s never heard of him is responsible? Yeah… that makes less and less sense as I move forward.

      • Peter

        In Orthodox popular piety (not quite all of this is doctrine, but a majority believes it anyway), something like inclusivism is described thus:

        Before the Resurrection of Christ, the dead went to sheol/hades (depending on which language you get the term from). When St. John the Baptist was beheaded, he announced Christ’s eminent coming to those in hades, at which point Abraham and Moses and all figured out who it was they’d been waiting for all along, but then, so did people like Aristotle, who never knew to wait for someone in the first place. Then, when Christ died, He broke open hades, since Life doesn’t fit in death, and led out all who wanted to leave with Him. Since then, those who have died who are Christian can go directly to the presence of God, since the (metaphorical) gates of death can no longer hinder them. That much is doctrine.

        However, according to a lot of people, St. John the Baptist voluntarily stayed in hades — or some approximation of “staying” — explaining who Jesus is to anyone who winds up in hades. Thus, no one who winds up not being saved on earth through ignorance or misunderstanding can have everything cleared up. This doesn’t cover those who intentionally and knowingly reject Christ, but that’s probably rare.

      • A whole lot of theological good happened for me when I first read Mere Christianity and realized that C.S. Lewis’s chapter on atonement basically said “Honestly, we don’t really know exactly how salvation works, just that Jesus is responsible.”

        • Liralen

          I love that book. It resonates, probably because C.S. Lewis started out as an unbeliever, same as me. It was the part about the fact the we have a God shaped hole in our hearts that most resonated.

      • Liralen

        Along those lines, my reading of the Bible so far as a new Christian (pretty much untainted by doctrine because I haven’t been taught any. I just read the Bible and take it a face value.) hasn’t revealed anything that even remotely suggests that innocents of any type will be tortured in hell.

        Demons, yes. Wicked, refused recognition at least, but not something I understood as tortured forever and forever with no hope of redemption. Pits/Abyss/Sheol, ambiguous. I was an unbeliever for most of my life and I don’t understand that Sheol is any different than what I expected when I died?

        I also don’t understand why it seems the ability to choose is closed after death. Where is that stated?

        These aren’t rhetorical questions – I don’t know the answers. Just another data point to consider from someone who wasn’t taught doctrine, but believes the Bible has value, despite being taught the contrary.

        • It’s not stated anywhere in the scripture that the matter is closed at death, although that is a wierdly common modern Christian misconception.

  • Oh man, I have spent so much time thinking about this as a child and teenager. I have said the “sinner’s prayer” hundreds–if not thousands–of times. I remember a few key times, beginning around age 4, but it became a regular ritual. I was taught that one time was enough, but only if you really, really meant it. And sin/doubts later on could indicate that maybe you hadn’t really meant it originally, after all. So any time they cropped up, I said the Magic Words again, just in case.

    I think this view of salvation, hell and the sinner’s prayer was the single most harmful/crazy thing about my religious upbringing. If I have children, I hope they never have to hear that.

    • Oh, one more thing: the bible story that fueled all this was the one about the sheep and goats on Judgement Day. And the verse that talks about people calling Jesus “Lord” on Judgement Day but then Jesus says “I never knew you!” I always imagined that the “goats” in the story actually thought they were True Christians–and spent their whole lives living as such–but deep down they hadn’t meant it hard enough. But then it was too late and they had to suffer the eternal torment. It was the stuff of nightmares!

      • Liralen

        That’s just it.

        Matthew 25:31-46

        New International Version (NIV)

        The Sheep and the Goats

        31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

        34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

        37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

        40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

        41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

        44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

        45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

        46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

        I don’t think that most of us are guilty of the above, whether we believe in Jesus or not.

        • Liralen

          And I don’t see where any of the above condemns a non-believer or anyone else who hasn’t read the Bible.

          • Liralen

            Quite the contrary.

          • Liralen

            I should add that I have no idea what the “sinner’s prayer” is, but rather am trying to say that there is nothing sinister in the above. It’s really beautiful, on its face, when read by someone who has no clue about doctrines.

        • There are so many ways that verse could be twisted! People could easily use it to mean we have to ‘earn’ our salvation by feeding the poor, caring for the hungry, etc. If we don’t do that “good enough”, if we don’t help others enough, we haven’t earned salvation and will be sent to hell.

        • Yes, that’s the chapter! I have no opinion on how those verses were originally intended, although I’m sure I’d prefer your non-sinister interpretation to the one I was raised with. But in my church, it was used as a reminder to “check up on your salvation” and to feel pretty consistently guilty/fearful/unworthy. The main backing for the “sinner’s prayer” was Roman’s 10:9, I believe. They called it the “Roman Road” and you were supposed to follow the ABC’s of “Admit, Believe, Confess” in one crucial moment in your life to ensure your salvation.

  • Just to add: I totally hear where you’re coming from Samantha, I’ve been (and in some ways, am) there myself. For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt your salvation, or mine, or anyone else’s for that matter. Jesus took care of all of that at the cross, and promised that he would (eventually) draw all to himself.

    At any rate, questions and doubts are a normal, healthy and necessary part of spiritual growth. We are all on the same path, just at different places, and it’s perfectly ok to be where you are.

  • As I read your post, all I could feel coming from you was fear. That overwhelming sense of fear is why I turned away from religion. Why should I be a part of something that forced me to be so fearful when it was supposed to make me feel secure about an eternal peace?
    What do you feel inside your heart? You repeat how someone told you this and someone told you that. What about listening to what you tell yourself, what you feel inside? That’s called your “gut” telling you what to believe.
    I told myself to quite believing what everyone else told me was truth, and all the fear fell away. It was such a relief, and now it’s not so scary anymore.

  • Josh

    Remember the words to “Jesus Loves Me”? Little ones to Him belong… they are weak but He is strong.

    The assurance & security of your salvation has nothing to do with your ability and whether or not you doubt, question, or fear. You are held by His strength, not yours. Jesus made a precious promise in John 6:37 – “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never, in no wise, cast out.”

    Have you ever come to Jesus for salvation? If so, than trust His promise. He has you. It’s not that you are tightly holding on to Him, it’s that He is tightly holding on to you.

    Concerning the question, is Jesus God? Jesus is God the Son. Read these scriptures:
    John 1:1,14
    John 8:56-58
    John 10:29-33
    Matthew 28:18
    Colossians 1:15-19
    Colossians 2:9-10
    Titus 2:13
    Hebrews 1:8-12 (God the Father calls Jesus “God”)

    Jesus is God the Son. Don’t get too hung up on the mystery of the trinity – God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit – God is too big for our minds to understand. Just follow what scripture reveals.

    He is God. He died for you. He rose again. He has the power to save and forgive. You have come to Him for salvation. You are saved – not because you are strong, but because He is strong. He is merciful to those who don’t deserve it. We all don’t deserve it.

    • Ok, Josh, I think you might have missed the point of my post. Everything you’ve said here– I’ve heard it all before easily a thousand times. Being told all of this, again, isn’t all that helpful.

      Also, handing me a list of Bible verses that claim that Jesus was divine is also extremely unhelpful. I’m familiar with the Bible. I’ve read those books dozens of times. I’ve even handed someone a far more extensive list of verses when they claimed that Jesus had never claimed to be God. I’m not questioning whether or not Jesus was God because I’ve never read the Bible before, and being reminded of what it says when I am already more than intimately familiar with what it says . . . isn’t going to convince me.

      And, if you read my original post, that I “came to Jesus for salvation” should be more than abundantly clear. I told three stories of how I’ve done exactly that.

      The struggles that I’m having cannot be so easily dismissed. When someone like me writes a post like this one, the appropriate reaction isn’t to sing a children’s song at them and then hand out a list of verses. That reaction is extremely patronizing. I’m assuming that you feel comfortable with your faith right now. From your comment, it seems apparent that you’re not struggling with the same sort of soul-wrenching questions that I am. That doesn’t mean that you never have or never will, but please, if you interact with someone like me in the future, don’t respond this way. It does more harm than good.

  • Dhk

    There’s a good book called “stop asking Jesus into your heart.” I also recommend the preaching of RW Glenn. He gets to the heart of the issue and is easy to listen to.

  • Crystal

    Dear Samantha,

    I am sorry to hear about the phrase “you better check up on your salvation” being applied to you. A good book for you to read would, I think (although I don’t agree with his perspective on everything) be John MacArthur’s Saved Without a Doubt. You might like to critique it at least; he’s a traditionalist, but he believes that although if a person is truly saved, they are saved for eternity; he also believes that the saints must persevere in salvation; ie living a godly life. I don’t think it’s very much about “checking up on your salvation” with him; I think he says you can know. Also, the Bible says, “No man can pluck them out of my hand.” If you are saved, you are saved forever, according to John MacArthur. I’m not doubting your salvation or anything, nor am I suggesting that you need to become like John MacArthur in your views; I simply wish to point this out as an interest. I mean this as a help. By the way, please keep writing and searching for truth; you are helping many, although they may not necessarily agree with you on everything you say, their hearts are with you and they wish you only the best.
    Crystal