Monday, December 5, 2011

Once Upon a Recession

I wrote this yesterday.

*   *   *

There was an old lady who lived in a shoe
Slung over a telephone wire
With all her expenses and bills overdue,
She could not afford to retire.

Her dear friend Peter Pumpkineater
Had a wife and couldn't feed her.
Residing in a pumpkin shell,
They knew their home would never sell.

Old Mother Hubbard lived down the street
Disabled, she dwelled all alone
Her kitchen cupboard held nothing to eat
And no one would throw her a bone.

In this mass Plutocracy
They had such meager means
Because the aristocracy
Spent gold on magic beans.

The king did teeter dangerously
Atop a great stone wall
He'd built a castle in the sky
So it was doomed to fall.

All the king's horses and all the king's men
Could not put the economy together again
But Peter, Peter Pumpkineater
The lady in the shoe
And Old Mother Hubbard
Knew exactly what to do.

Apart, they each were small enough
To live in boots or shells
But then they all united
And stormed the citadels.

They occupied the castles
They occupied the gates
The guards all tried to stop them
But it was far too late.

Millions had joined them
Reaching fever pitch
Demanding fairer wages
And taxes for the rich.

It was no easy trial
They had to persevere
The process took a while
They did not yield to fear.

After strife and labor
They won their due reward
Each man and his neighbor
Had lives they could afford.

Peter and his lovely wife
Moved from their pumpkin shell
To an urban condo
Where they fared quite well.

The little old lady who lived in a shoe
Finally retired.
And Old Mother Hubbard filled up her cupboard
With all the food she desired.

So if you think you're much too small
To have your rights upheld
Remember those who changed the world
Stood up
And rebelled.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tipping the Scales

             Recently, I’ve noticed a trend involving women and body image. It’s destructive, but the opposite of what you might expect. I have heard a lot of people describe skinny women as “disgusting” and assume that anyone who is underweight must be anorexic or bulimic. In my opinion, this is just as harmful as ridiculing women for being overweight.
            Beauty is not narrow (either literally or figuratively). There are different types of it, and it comes in a variety of sizes. Unfortunately, many people who espouse this view do not apply it to women of a slighter build. It’s true that larger women bear the brunt of body criticism, and that slimmer people are generally better received in society. This is absolutely shallow and unfair. At the same time, it doesn’t justify the judgment and degradation of smaller women.
            When I was in middle school, I was underweight. I weighed ninety pounds for the majority of eighth grade and looked completely pre-pubescent until I was about fourteen. I didn’t have an eating disorder, although many of my classmates assumed that I did. I was very self-conscious while changing in the locker room. People called me flat-chested and bulimic. Upon viewing my stomach, one girl asked if I had intestinal worms. As you can imagine, this was painful and humiliating. Locker rooms are mortifying for plenty of heavier girls, and they are often harassed by peers as well. I am not trying to trivialize their experiences. I’m just pointing out that skinny girls also struggle with body image, and bullying is never excusable.
            We’re all acquainted with the expression, “Real women have curves.” This is true, but all women are “real,” and plenty of slim women have curves. By that logic, you might as well claim that a man is not “real” unless he has a beard. I’ve frequently heard thin women referred to as “gross,” “anorexic,” or “twelve-year-old boys.” These descriptions are demeaning and cruel. Such epithets also drip with sexism. Women are predominantly judged on appearance and weight, whereas men are more assessed by their character. This phenomenon is not solely driven by the male gender. Women subject each other to this treatment as well.
            People often jump to conclusions about a woman’s character based on her weight. Bigger women are judged to be lazy and to lack self-discipline while skinny ones are viewed as neurotic or vain. We need to understand that a person’s weight can lie outside of his or her own control, and is not always a reflection of one’s behavior. It can be based on genetic factors, metabolism, or other health issues. Somebody can exercise regularly and eat sensibly but continue to be heavyset. Likewise, an underweight person does not necessarily have an eating disorder or any other disease. If someone does suffer from anorexia or bulimia, they should never be ridiculed for it. Everybody needs to be educated on the health risks of weighing too much or too little. False assumptions need to be set aside, and sensitivity must be practiced.
          Compassion and understanding are the answers. All people should be treated with consideration, regardless of physical appearance.

*     *     *

Side note: You can't force anyone to change their perception of what's attractive, and I'm not advocating that. It is reasonable, however, to urge people to avoid judging a person's character by their weight and to stop making insulting comments to people about their size, whatever that size may be. Also, I didn't touch on male body image because I cannot speak about it from experience. I write what I know. It's true that underweight and overweight males are often ridiculed, and that is also unfair. Nevertheless, I think that the societal practice of body-policing has a greater impact on women.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Occupy Movement: Disentangling Fact from Fiction

             When Occupy Wall Street first broke out in the news, I was skeptical. An online article had described the protesters as a gathering of college-age coeds who publicly smoked weed. It also reported that various woman showed up topless and held signs saying, “I can’t afford a shirt.” Initially, I thought it sounded like a group of bored, immature kids trying to gain personal attention via shock value. Like many others, I assumed it would all blow over as soon as the media spotted another shiny distraction.
            This changed when several New York police officers assailed nonviolent protesters with pepper spray. A hundred cops joined the protesters’ ranks to show their objection to the incident. I believe this was when the movement really gained momentum. Otherwise apolitical Americans were shocked to see police officers use unprovoked force. We looked on in horror as a thirteen-year-old girl was arrested for demonstrating peacefully, and Wall Street executives sipped champagne while watching the events from above.
            By this point, the Occupy movement had spread to New Haven. Mike and I decided to check it out, and then attended regularly for about three weeks. We haven’t been there recently because we began to doubt its effectiveness, but we continue to support it. I learned they’ve been a lot more proactive, and plan to return soon.
            Throughout my involvement with Occupy, I’ve seen quite a bit of misinformation circulated by those in opposition to it. I think it’s generated a lot of controversy due to false rumors and misunderstandings, so I’d like to set the record straight. I can by no means claim to speak for the entire group, but I’ll share my impressions on these topics.
            So far, these are the most common complaints about the protests: “It’s disorganized and they don’t know what they want.” “It’s a radical liberal and/or socialist movement.” “It’s comprised of lazy, unemployed people who want handouts.” “The protesters are anti-American.” For the following reasons, none of these claims are accurate.
            For the most part, the Occupy events are actually quite well-organized. We plan meetings by posting them on Occupy New Haven’s Facebook wall. We contact one another by phone and email. The group is segmented into a handful of subcommittees, but they are cohesive and in frequent communication. They include Media (people who have media connections or are especially adept at speaking to the media), Direct Action (those who plan events), Outreach (members who educate others about our movement and try to recruit more people), Food (people who cook for the gathering and offer free food for anyone), Comfort (those who provide clothing, toiletries, and other necessities to the people who camp on the New Haven green), and Medical (members who offer medical attention to anyone in need). I’m probably forgetting some committees, but these are the ones which come immediately to mind. We have regular marches and general assembly meetings. We vote on our decisions and base them on consensus. There is no official leader, but it’s preferable this way. As one man said, “If one person was the face of the movement, it would be too easy for his head to be cut off. With this many heads, it’s unstoppable.”
            The belief that we have no idea what we want could not be more fallacious. We are a diverse crowd with equally diverse concerns, but there are a number of issues we can agree are central to our movement. The stock market, healthcare, house foreclosures, banks, and unemployment are at the forefront.
            Supporters of the Occupation are critical of the New York stock exchange because of its negative impact on the economy. When a company is publicly traded, the corporation makes cuts that are detrimental to the working class. Employees’ wages are lowered, and it’s not unusual for them to lay off a thousand workers so the stock will rise by a single point.
            Protesters at Occupy also frequently address health care reform, because health insurance has become unaffordable for so many Americans. Over half the people who file for bankruptcy have gone bankrupt because they couldn’t afford their medical bills. Most of them worked before they were ill, had to stop working on account of their maladies, and then lost their health insurance along with their jobs. Citizens live an average of ten years longer in countries where health care is less expensive or altogether free. In America, the CEO of a pharmaceutical company can literally own twenty Porsches while others are denied basic coverage or are underinsured.
            For-profit banks are another subject of concern among Occupy members, and some of us have transferred our money to federal credit unions instead. We’re disgusted with the fact that banks received government bailouts but still refuse to give out loans. We’re appalled that Bank of America had planned to impose a five dollar fee on debit cardholders, and that it foreclosed a man’s home after it was destroyed by Hurricane Irene. (Bank of America canceled their plans on the cardholder fee, but only after a major outcry from the politicians as well as the public.)
            In short, Occupy is fed up with our economic meltdown. We want less foreclosures and more available jobs. A number of us want manufacturing work to be outsourced less, since this has deeply dented our economy as well.
            In addition to the claim that we’re disorganized and ideologically fractured, I would like to answer the rumor that we’re mainly comprised of socialists. As I’ve mentioned, we are a diverse crowd. We welcome people of every race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. I’ve heard Occupiers express the desire to include Republicans and facilitate dialogue with the Tea Party. Some are antagonistic toward conservatives, but certainly not all of us are.
           Specific issues within our cause do relate to socialism, such as the endorsement of free healthcare and education. However, not everyone in the movement advocates for those things. Some simply wish that those services were more affordable. We don’t hate the rich, but we despise the tremendous divide between the wealthy and poor. We believe that homeless people shouldn’t have to die of exposure, and that a basic standard of living needs to be available to everyone. Many critics are conditioned to believe that the middle class would have to pay for this to be remedied, but this is not true. The funds would only be skimmed off the income of the wealthiest one percent. The one percent does not consist of people who earn at least $100,000 a year. It’s composed of the tiny fragment that earns millions of dollars annually. Currently, millionaires pay significantly lower taxes in proportion to their income. A slight tax hike for the richest Americans would not rob them of their affluence. It would simply require them to contribute according to their ability. Some say that “the world doesn’t owe you anything,” but that seems to be another way to say “I  don’t owe you anything.” If those who are in a position to offer assistance do nothing to help, we will devolve into either anarchy or totalitarianism.
           This brings me to another common complaint about Occupy: that we refuse to work and are demanding handouts. I’ve heard a great deal of anti-Occupy statements along the lines of, “Stop sitting on your lazy asses and get jobs.” First of all, there is no one in this movement who I would describe as lazy. It takes a whole lot of time and effort to organize these events. Secondly, the idea that we should all just “get jobs” rests on several false assumptions. It presumes that everyone involved in the Occupy movement is unemployed, which is not so. It also jumps to the conclusion that anyone who’s unemployed has not tried to find work, and that everyone is equally capable of finding and keeping a job. This is a clear example of victim-blaming. Granted, there are some attitudes that can contribute to one’s own poverty. Some people really are lazy. Some expect instant gratification. Others spend impulsively, take no responsibility for their choices, or give up as soon as anything becomes difficult. However, there are plenty of impoverished people who don’t have those attitudes, and one’s poverty is not inevitably due to their behavior. Conversely, plenty of wealthy people display irresponsible and entitled attitudes because they can afford to. Not all rich people have earned their wealth by grit and good work ethic, and no one has become affluent without help. Those who started lucrative businesses have received loans and relied on construction workers, security, and countless other people to ensure their success.
            In the US, “self-made” billionaires are idolized, and wealth and fame are the ultimate goals to pursue. We’re fed rags-to-riches stories from the time we’re old enough to read. This may feel inspirational at first, but there’s an insidious undertone: these tales dangle a next-to-impossible ideal before our eyes and make us feel inadequate. They teach that our economy doesn’t need to change; that it can benefit us if we ally ourselves with corporate culture. These stories also encourage us to blame others for being poor, because they infer that anyone can amass a colossal fortune with the aid of a positive outlook and a little elbow grease.
            Not only are very few fortunes entirely earned, but not everyone is capable of earning an income. Those who are unable to work wish more than anything to be employable. They don’t relish the idea of taking “handouts.” It’s very difficult to get disability, and people often must apply multiple times before their claim is accepted. They may wait for years beforehand, and are treated as if they choose not to work. This is incredibly demoralizing. Disability money may only amount to $600 a month, and the recipient is required to account for every cent. Rent alone usually costs more than $600 per month. Those who are not disabled but earn minimum wage often cannot manage without government assistance. Most people who collect food stamps have to juggle minimum wage jobs to cover their most basic expenses. This especially applies if they have children. People don't collect welfare out of idleness, and they're not living in luxury off of government funds. They can't afford luxury. In the vast majority of cases, they work harder and endure far more stress than middle-class Americans.
            For the aforementioned reasons, many within the Occupy movement propose an increased minimum wage. This would decrease the need for welfare assistance. With additional free healthcare, medical bills would plummet. If regular checkups were more accessible, no one would be forced to wait for a dire illness before seeking medical treatment.
           These are the issues we stand for. Some may call us anti-American, but the Constitution promises us the right to assembly. By engaging in this sacred right, we’re furthering our democracy. For a great many of us, these protests are born of a love for our country. We care enough about our fellow citizens to pursue this vision. We want to polish this nation until it gleams like the beacon that we know it can become.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A poem I wrote last week.

*   *   *

If only I could freeze my reflection
And step into a mirror,
Watching passively behind protective glass
As traffic whirs by
And the sun hitchhikes on the wind,
While my world stands placid and still.

At night I slip behind the computer screen
Into a glowing dimension of vicarious adventures,
Numb mindless clicking and waiting.
I want to stitch my own words
Onto the technological patchwork
But they boil beneath my surface,
Encased by a thick sheet of ice.

I even keep friends enclosed
In glossy mental snapshots
Afraid to dial their numbers
Lest I disturb the frames.

Instead, I nestle into my old chrysalis.
Last time, I'd hoped to emerge with vibrant wings,
Fluttering from one endeavor to another,
Sampling the nectars of success.
Instead, I became a pale moth
Who haplessly chases flickering lights
And dreams of touching the moon.

I wrap myself tightly in this cocoon,
In stasis until the sun
Peeks through my layers
Once again.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I wrote this on the day before Halloween.

*   *   *

As October draws to a close, we pass numerous houses decorated with plastic zombies, grinning skeletons, and models of mummies swathed in threadbare gauze. While visions of the rising dead capture our imaginations, some peoples’ fears are resurrected as well. These anxieties, prevalent in the more conservative religious circles, are never quite laid to rest. They may be buried for a while, but awaken when Halloween merchandize appears in stores and neighbors adorn their lawns with tombstones. Many pious parents forbid their children to celebrate this holiday, lest it lure them into the occult. When asked why Halloween incites such unease, most will list the following factors: its Pagan history, its association with witchcraft, the provocative costumes, and its “glorification” of gore and violence. I would like to explore these issues and explain why I believe Halloween can actually be psychologically and spiritually healthy.
            We might as well start with its history. Quite a lot of misinformation is circulated about the roots of Halloween. Centuries ago, it was known as Samhain. This was an occasion in which Pagans donned masks in an effort to ward off malicious spirits whom they feared would damage their crops. Additionally, the participants read each others’ fortunes. Some believed that the souls of their ancestors would come to visit on this day, so they held a feast in their honor. Details of Samhain have been expanded upon to include tales of human sacrifice and cannibalism. Those rumors are often spread by well-meaning but misinformed religious fundamentalists. Ironically, such stories mimic the B-level horror films often condemned by the same people. There is also a common myth that Halloween is a celebration of “the devil’s birthday.” However, to view Satan as a literal figure is to believe he is neither animal nor human, which would entail that he was never physically born.
            Most adherents of organized religion disapprove of Halloween’s Pagan origins. It no longer entails Paganism, though.  Christmas borrows such Pagan traditions as the use of pine wreaths and fir trees. Regardless, it is no longer associated with Saturnalia or ancient Roman polytheism. In the same way, Halloween need not be tied into Pagan practices. Some may wish to incorporate them, but it’s not an imperative.
            Halloween is frequently criticized for exalting “witchcraft,” but the same point applies here. No one has to dress up as a witch. Besides, the witches displayed on cardboard cutouts are clearly imaginary. No one has warty green skin, the ability to transform foes into frogs, and a flying broomstick—although that would be far more eco-friendly than an SUV. I feel the same way about people who want to ban Harry Potter books. No kid is going to read them and then become a curse-casting agent of the underworld. At most, they’ll attempt to turn their younger sister into a gerbil, realize the futility of their efforts, and get bored. Children know those books are fictional, but some parents seem to have missed the memo (or in this case, the owl post).
            Sexually suggestive costumes are another common complaint about Halloween. Again, no one is obligated to wear a revealing costume, and there are plenty who would dress in a similar style on any day of the year. Conversely, some object to people wearing costumes that are less metaphorically revealing. They liken a costume to a disguise, as if the act of dressing up is deceitful. However, is it any less “genuine” than complying with a formal dress code when you’d rather wear casual clothing? Costumes are a way for some to express their inner nature, rather than conceal it. For others it’s simply a creative, playful, and temporary escape from the mundane.
            The fact that costumes can be used to display a hidden side of the self is worrisome to some people. Those who feel threatened by Halloween fear that the morbid costumes convey our darker inclinations. The same assumption is applied to horror movies, heavy metal music, and gothic subculture. From what I observe, though, macabre entertainment is a means of confronting the darkness.
            From what I see, Halloween doesn’t “glamorize” evil. It mocks evil, along with our shallow perceptions of it. The holiday holds a funhouse mirror up to the faces of death, violence, and all other malevolent forces. It treats them with irreverence and exposes their farce, like a cartoonist who caricaturizes a politician. When we can laugh at what we fear, it loosens its grip on us. When we exploit a personified evil and throw pies in its sallow face, it loses the power of oppression. By poking fun, we drag it out from our shadowy nightmares and distinguish between what is truly nefarious and what is merely kitsch. This aids us in a multitude of ways.
Halloween depicts threatening agents for what they are, weeding out the imaginary from the real. It belittles the banes of our existence, lessening their influence over our psyches. For this, we owe gratitude. Halloween is only one day, but it makes a significant difference.
           It helps us to conquer our fears.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Divided Waters (Part 4)

         These passages won’t persuade everyone. Some will continue to adhere to the doctrine of hell, regardless of what they read. I think some people will continue to believe in hell because they are afraid they’ll be sent there unless they believe in it (though no Bible verse validates such a fear.) For many, the doctrine is simply ingrained too deeply. Some are unwilling to accept the notion that salvation has already been attained because they think it would render all their efforts meaningless. Still others may continue to believe in perdition because they relish the idea of their enemies perishing. People who want those who disagree with them to be eternally damned are the ones I struggle not to hate. If I despise them, I am no better. If I strive to preach tolerance in an un-hypocritical way, I need to make an effort to tolerate the intolerant. I accept those who reject universalism. However, it’s hard to release the bitterness I feel toward those who have rejected me on account of my views.
            I am inclined to feel completely disgusted by people such as Fred Phelps and the other members of the Westboro Baptist Church. They’re easy to hate because they’re hateful. However, it’s important to remember that they are victims too. Fred Phelps abused his children so severely that their rage has never abated, and they must turn their fury against the outside world rather than against their father. They are deeply damaged people who were never able to heal. This doesn’t excuse their atrocious behavior, but I think it’s important to make an effort to understand their attitudes. Instead of seething over them, I need to pray for them and for others with a similar mentality.
            I’ve come across an alarming number of Christians who are not far removed from the religious mania expressed by the WBC. I notice a common trend among such believers: they are disinclined to trust good news. Many seem to think that a sermon can only be genuine or profound if it sounds grim. We don’t need to be cynical about how far God’s love reaches. To me, faith means trusting that a message is good enough to be true.
            My experiences with militantly exclusive Christians have taught me some painful but valuable lessons. I’ve learned that people who say they are “full of God” are deifying themselves in a sense. They may deny it, claiming that they are insignificant and God is everything. But if they truly believe themselves to be God-suffused, then they view themselves as representations of Him. After all, if they are so diminished that “God” is occupying most of their identity, who do they think their peers are really interacting with? Such people may profess humility, but even this can become boastful. It’s a paradox, but I’ve seen it happen: People can brag about their humility. The militant-minded also have a tendency to say they care more about pleasing God than assuaging others’ feelings, but I’ve noticed this is often used to justify tactless behavior or to avoid looking out for others. The Bible discourages us from such an attitude (2 Corinthians 8:20-21, 13:10; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:2, 31-32; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Timothy 2:24-25; Titus 3:1-2; Hebrews 12:14). It’s easy to neglect other people if one is convinced that he or she is pursuing a loftier goal. I’ve even heard some say, “We have to believe in hell. If there’s no hell, why shouldn’t we run around committing crime?” If fear of hell is the only barrier preventing someone from committing rape or armed robbery, I can’t help but feel uneasy about them.
            I’ve found quite a bit of misinformation in exclusivist Christian literature. From what I’ve seen, such media tends to spread false information about abortion. Wherever you stand on the abortion issue, most of us can agree that it’s wrong to show pictures of miscarried fetuses and try to pass them off as aborted ones. The use of gory images is also misguided and manipulative. The fact that something is unpleasant to look at doesn’t make it immoral. (It could be immoral for other reasons, but the mere fact that it’s messy is unrelated.) One could have the same visceral reaction to a photo of open heart surgery, but that doesn’t determine its ethical value. I’ve also heard that Christian family-planning clinics regularly misrepresent themselves and let patients assume they are mainstream abortion-performing clinics. They tend to mislead women in an effort to attract more business.
            In evangelical media, I notice false information about evolution as well. Many Christian apologetics claim that evolution teaches a slow formation of each body part, which would render the parts useless until fully developed. However, modern evolutionary theory doesn’t teach this at all. A lot of people (both religious and non-religious) presume that Christianity and evolution are mutually exclusive. Even a biblical fundamentalist can believe in evolution, though. The Bible says that God created the universe, but never explicitly states how. Many fundamentalists have rejected the literal six-day creation theory, since God’s time is said to be entirely different from ours. The only biblically incompatible teaching is the theory of men evolving from apes, and a fundamentalist could simply choose to dismiss that facet of evolution while accepting all the others.
            Basically, I think God becomes limited to us when we can’t stretch our perception of Him. Our minds are finite, but God is not. As my aunt Tina once said, “Let's face it—would you want to believe in a God who was so simplistic that we could fully understand him? If that were so, who would truly be the superior being?”
            My understanding of God is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Since God is love, He contains all of these qualities. I am sure of this, but I don’t think I have a full understanding of God by any means. I don’t know what it’s like to be fully loving, selfless, or completely forgiving. It’s easier for us to envision God as bitter and resentful because humans can better relate to those qualities.
            I perceive the exclusivist mentality as somewhat related to Gnosticism in that it can easily regress into elitism. It can quickly become a doctrine which teaches that you can only be “saved” with the correct knowledge. A clubhouse is a lot more enticing if you need to know the secret password in order to enter, and there’s only enough room for a few.
            Some will say that you can’t understand Scripture unless you’re “moved by the Spirit,” but I’m doubtful about this. Multitudes of people genuinely believe themselves to be influenced by the Holy Spirit, yet their interpretations of the Bible vary greatly from one another. It also can become circular logic. Many believe this teaching because it’s included in the Bible, but they only trust the Bible because it claims to be truthful. It’s the same old argument of “it’s true because it says it’s true.” We need to reset the skipping record and listen to the rest of the song. There’s nothing wrong with trusting Bible verses, but we ought to base our trust on reason instead of blind faith. Doctrine is an excellent tool for understanding Scripture, but it’s not a god in itself. Over-reliance on it can lead us to overlook the larger picture, and to only define Christianity as a rigid sum of fixed beliefs.
            When we obsess over doctrinal details, we’re often too focused on rituals and technicalities to feel compassion. Such issues are so trivial in the grand scheme of things. They distract us from providing medical care and education to the underprivileged. They distract us from counseling people, donating to the needy, and protecting the environment. When you become overly fixated on small details, it’s easy to become frustrated with people because it can start to feel like you’re working diligently while most others are languishing on God’s property without even pitching in to pay rent. This attitude stunts the growth of empathy.
            When I question the relevance and weight of certain doctrines, I know some will probably ask, “Who are you to question God?” My answer is that I am a human being, and humans are bestowed with the wonderful ability to exercise logic and reason. In the Bible people question God all the time, and He responds by eagerly engaging them in dialogue. Moses questioned God continuously. David questioned Him, as did Job and Lot. If you’re looking for passages in which people question God, read Jeremiah. Read Isaiah 63:17. These passages portray a God who welcomes questions. If we don’t allow for them, we end up slamming the Bible shut in peoples’ faces like a door. The Bible needs to remain an open door and an open book.
            The idea of a completely static Bible is not even a Scriptural teaching. It’s a human-taught doctrine. It’s valuable to know the origins of doctrines so we don’t assume they can never be questioned. In the first centuries of Christianity, the beliefs were even more diverse than they are now. Some early Christians believed Jesus was fully human. Others believed he was fully divine. Some thought he rose from the dead, while others believed he never died at all. They didn’t settle these matters by consulting their Bible, because they had no Bible to refer to. The Gospels had been written by this point, but numerous other texts were being circulated which also claimed to be written by the apostles. Many were proven fraudulent, but others are disputed among biblical scholars to this day.
An official list of canonical books was not compiled until three centuries after Christ’s death. Some books were considered canonical and included in the Bible at first, but were later removed. Authorship was a major factor in this decision. The original gospels were written anonymously, and the specific apostles’ names were not assigned to them until long afterwards. Authorship of Revelations and the Gospel of John is still debated among academic circles. This doesn’t lead me to doubt the Bible’s general reliability, but it does contribute to my doubts of its inerrancy. Studying early Christian sects and apocryphal texts has taught me that the Christian perspective is very broad. I recommend we all research our belief systems, but education is not paramount to salvation. As I’ve said, I am certain that we’re already saved.
            Even Scripture advises us to test it and hold it up to critical analysis. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold onto what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Testing all prophecies clearly includes the prophecies of Scripture. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:6, “He (Jesus) has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This sounds like a warning not to rely solely on Scripture, and an appeal to not exalt Scripture above the things God tells us through the Spirit. A parallel concept is articulated in Romans 12:2. In Acts 17:11, Peter says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” This verse highlights the value of questioning and testing Scripture.
Some will disagree with this interpretation on account of 2 Peter 1:20: “..No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” However, it’s useful to examine the term “Scripture” within the context of this passage. First of all, 2 Peter 1:20 was not considered Scripture at the time when he wrote it. He was not classifying his own statement about Scripture as Scripture. Secondly, many ancient writings were considered divinely inspired at that time. In ancient Greece, the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey were said to be inspired by God due to the grand style in which they were written. The mere fact that they were called divinely inspired did not make them so. I’m not saying that none of Peter’s letter was inspired; I’m saying that this verse isn’t a good reason to avoid testing biblical prophecies. When testing them, it’s helpful to keep these questions in mind: Was the prophecy fulfilled? Have the results of it been recorded anywhere other than the Bible? Did someone deliberately carry it out so it would be fulfilled, or did it transpire without anyone’s aid? Was it a generalized prophecy that would inevitably be met, such as a prediction of war and famine? Testing Scripture is not testing God. It’s the act of examining something to see if it’s really from God.
Jesus himself advocated the testing of prophecy and Scripture. As he asked his apostles in Luke 12:57, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” In Matthew 14:22-33, he told Peter to walk over to him on the water. When Peter began to sink and cried out “Lord, save me,” Christ caught him. He then asked Peter, “Ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus wasn’t admonishing Peter for lacking faith in him; he wanted Peter to have more faith in himself. A rabbi places an enormous amount of faith in his disciples. He only chooses them if he’s certain they can follow in his footsteps.
Jesus entrusted his disciples with a great deal. He granted his apostles the right to bind and loose, which meant to decide which laws would be upheld and which laws would not. The apostles varied in their Scriptural interpretations, so they inevitably arrived at some differing conclusions. God knew this would occur. When we look at the entire New Testament, we see how many laws have been “loosed” over the years. Christian women generally don’t wear head coverings or stay silent in church. Christians no longer greet one another with a kiss. Somewhere down the line, it was decided that such codes need not apply. The church inherited the right to bind and loose (Romans 15:14).
There is continued debate over whether “the church” means specific religious authorities or the individual members of the church. An argument could be made for the latter, because our bodies are called temples. Thus, it could be said that each person is a separate “church,” but we worship together as a collective body. Regardless, Jesus allowed for change within the church and change within our religious practices. The earth also reveals God’s openness to change. He made us the caretakers of this planet and allows us to cultivate it as we desire. In many ways we have abused this privilege, just as the Church has abused its role as the caretaker of Jesus’ teachings. The point, though, is that we’ve been granted freedom to make changes according to our interpretations and according to the times in which we live.
God knows we’ll disobey, but He perseveres in generosity because love always perseveres. I think one of our greatest roadblocks is the tendency to see God as a slave driver. If we regard Him in such a way, we are like the brother of the prodigal son in Jesus’ famed parable. The hardworking son resented the fact that his brother was rewarded for returning home after a long period of wild living, while he had never seen any rewards for his own loyalty or labor. The industrious brother failed to realize that he didn’t have to make himself miserable in an effort to earn his father’s love; he’d had it all along. Jesus elaborated on this point by sharing the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4).
The Bible repeatedly says there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. Some think this means we’ll never be good enough to please Him, but it should be taken to say that we can’t earn what we already have. Atonement is often described as a gift, and a true gift is given freely. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:7-8, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Bible warns us about the pitfalls of debt. If we feel a constant need to self-flagellate for God, we weigh ourselves down with a sense of never-ending debt. Atonement has already been achieved, though. With God’s forgiveness, debt is canceled. Our job is simply to trust Him and live up to what He desires. As it is so eloquently stated in Philippians 3:16, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
One of the central themes woven throughout Scripture is that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Mark 12:33; Matthew 9:13; Micah 6:7-8; Proverbs 21:3). This is not limited to animal sacrifice, but extends to personal sacrifices as well. Sometimes it is necessary to make sacrifices, but only if they’re the means to an end. A sacrifice is pointless if it is an end in itself. An alcoholic who checks himself into rehab is sacrificing his addiction to improve his life and rebuild his family relationships, while a woman who stays in an abusive marriage because she thinks God wants her to suffer is making a pointless sacrifice.
Some believe that it’s noble to torment yourself, based on biblical passages that say we must carry our cross and die to ourselves. This doesn’t require us to make ourselves miserable, though. “Dying to ourselves” sounds like a form of hyperbole, and it means we are to resist sin. It doesn’t demand that we loathe ourselves and denounce everything that makes us who we are. Scripture repeatedly tells us to be joyful, to set aside anxiety, and to avoid enslaving ourselves (Romans 8:15; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 4:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). As it is written in Psalm 8:4-6, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You have made him (man) a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor; You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet.” This expresses how much God cherishes us, both as a collective group and as individuals. There’s a healthy middle ground between arrogance and self-hatred. Since God loves us, why should we not value ourselves?
God’s love and mercy become more apparent when we look into the context of certain verses. Many passages speak of the “glory” of God, and how we should fear Him. The word translated to “fear” did not originally refer to terror or dread. It referred to awe and reverence, which we feel in the divine presence. The word translated to “glory” is actually the Hebrew word kavod, which means “weight” or “significance.” This makes more sense to me than “glory.” I tend to associate glory with victory in war, but God is not warlike. God is a god of peace (Romans 12:14-21, 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 2:17; Colossians 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; James 3:17-18).
Some Christians object to the concept of a peaceful God because of Matthew 10:34, in which Jesus declares, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” However, Jesus is not speaking of violence. He strongly discourages violence in Matthew 26:52. Christ is not speaking of a literal sword in Matthew 10:34, but of the double-edged sword of Scripture. This metaphor is additionally expressed in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. When Jesus says he did not come to bring “peace,” it sounds like he was speaking of smug complacency. When he said he came to bring division, he meant that he wanted his disciples to avoid the immoral behavior they saw in others. They were to set themselves apart as examples. It’s good to remember Jesus’ intended audience. Most of the time, he was not preaching to nonbelievers. He preached to devoutly religious Jews who believed themselves to be in elite standing with God. His harshest words were reserved for spiritual elitists, and he rebuked them for their self-righteousness. His apostles preached equality, not superiority (Galatians 3:28; Romans 2:9-11, 3:29).
When I rejected the doctrine of hell and torment that is commonly preached by exclusivists, I found I could love God all the more. I think the idea of hell often constrains our love for God, which could otherwise be boundless. How can one enjoy Eden if there’s a gaping vacuous pit behind the Tree of Knowledge that swallows up the people you love? Plenty of hell-believers love God, and the belief in perdition doesn’t always bring out negative traits in people. It’s more likely to, though. It can foster a sense of superiority in those who believe they are spared, and give them license to persecute the “damned.” It can plant seeds of fear which germinate into horror beyond anything conceivable in the afterlife. Belief in a hell that exists elsewhere often brings it into existence here.
The further I look into the Bible, the less support I find for such a place. The more thoroughly I research Scripture, the less endorsement I find for violence, bigotry, or exclusion, which all engender hell on earth. I keep discovering more support for three specific themes: unity, balance, and regeneration.
A lot of themes mirror Christ’s resurrection and our resulting atonement. The year of Jubilee is one example. Once every fifty years, all slaves were freed and all debts canceled. Burdens were released, and things were made new. Another example is baptism. Immersing your body underwater and then emerging to the surface mirrors the way in which Jesus was buried and then rose from the tomb. The regenerative quality of water is beautifully symbolic. It cleanses both physically and spiritually. It quenches our thirst and provides for us. It is the origin of all life, and therefore a natural setting for rebirth. Water gives life, and the fire of refinement brings death: not permanent spiritual death, but the death of sin. Just as life triumphs over death and mercy over judgment, water triumphs over fire.
The flow of Christianity has been divided like the Red Sea, which has been reddened with the blood of victims over the centuries. Water, like fellowship, should be unified. Even if we don’t agree on all issues, we are separate droplets that must converge. We are individual streams of consciousness that follow one current, which flows upstream to heaven.
At this time, we are living through a flood of anger and exclusivity. We need to build an ark. Just as all the different animals coexisted on Noah’s ark, we can too. I don’t wish to keep anyone off, but to invite everyone on. Our Jewish brothers and sisters are welcome. (The paternity test came out positive—we have the same Father, even if we disagree on the Son.) Those of other faiths and those of no religion are welcome, but they will not drown if they stay in the water. I believe they will swim and continue to evolve, and we’ll all eventually meet on the same land. Our destination is not a remote island, lest we become isolated islands ourselves. My goal is to follow the rays of Son and hope to finally see a rainbow. It will be comprised of people with different beliefs, distinct but complimentary to one another.
My next question is not a challenge, but an invitation.
Are you on board?
            *      *     *

Suggestions for further reading

Helpful books:

-Hope Beyond Hell, by Gerry Beauchemin (Also see his website,
-Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Bart D. Ehrman (Note: Ehrman is a renowned Biblical scholar.)
-Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong
-Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell
-Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd
- The Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary
-The New Bible Dictionary

Informative websites:
-New Testament Greek Lexicon:
-Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon: (This site is useful for comparing verses in different versions of the Bible.)
-Calvin’s Error of Limited Atonement:
-The Modern Inerrancy Debate:

The Divided Waters (Part 3)

        There are further Scriptural examples which seem to express the idea of eventual universal salvation. The Bible doesn’t say we will all be accepted into eternal life just the way we are. There will be a period of correction and fine-tuning for everyone, but it sounds like we will all be reconciled after a certain amount of time. I base my interpretations on the verses shown below. They are divided into five categories: Verses about God’s mercy, verses indicating redemption after death, indications of God’s love for non-Christians, support for universal reconciliation, and verses I still have questions about.          

Verses about God’s mercy
This section features passages which express God’s forgiving and compassionate nature.
-Micah 7:19-“You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

-Psalm 145:9-“The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all His works.” See Psalm 89:31-33, 145:8-9, 14; Jonah 4:2; Luke 6:35-36; Lamentations 3:31-33; Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 5:44-45; Job 6:14; Acts 14:17; James 1:5, 5:11; and 1 Timothy 1:13.

-James 2:12-13-“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God’s judgments are ultimately merciful. See Zechariah 7:9-10, where He defines true justice as mercy and compassion.

-Ephesians 2:8-9-“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” This is widely interpreted to mean that personal conversion can save us. However, to convert to Christianity is an action, which would fall under the category of “works.” The Bible specifically says that grace is not based on anything we do. Thus we are not saved by the act of converting, but by God’s divine mercy. See Titus 3:3-7.
-Romans 2:4-“Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” God is the one who incites us to repent.

-Romans 11:26-“All Israel will be saved…He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” God will remove the peoples’ flaws, rather than remove the flawed people.

Verses indicating redemption after death:
This section covers the idea that we’ll be able to turn to God after we die.

-Romans 6:7- “For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

-1 Corinthians 15:26-“The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” See 1 Corinthians 15:54. This flies in the face of an eternal hell. How could “death,” aka alienation from God, be destroyed if some people were doomed to eternal alienation from Him? If that were the case, death would not be destroyed or defeated. It would be in effect forever.

Indications of God’s love for non-Christians
These passages show that God loves people regardless of their religious beliefs.

-Isaiah 65:1-“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. To a nation that did not call on My name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’”

-1 Timothy 4:10-“That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” This verse says “especially,” but not “exclusively.” It affirms that salvation is foremost offered to believers, but extends to others as well. If only Christians were saved, the word “especially” would not be included, nor would it say that God is the savior of all. See Ephesians 2:14 and 3:6.

-Acts 17:28-“As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” In this verse, Paul was speaking to non-Christians. This means that non-Christians are also God’s children. See Malachi 2:10.

-Romans 2:14-15-“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” Nonbelievers can be morally upright as well, since God imprints His standards into everyone’s heart.

-Isaiah 54:7-10-“’For a brief moment I abandoned you (Israel), but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer. ‘To Me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” If the Lord said He’d never rebuke Israel again and knew that some Israelites would reject Jesus as the Messiah, He must have also been planning to save the Israelites who didn’t believe in Jesus. If all of Israel will be saved, this includes those who don’t yet worship Christ (see Romans 3:3-4). The text says that everyone will eventually come to know Christ in the age to come.

Support for universal reconciliation
This section contains verses showing that the whole world will see redemption eventually. 

-Hebrews 7:25-“He is able to save to the uttermost.” God is both able and willing.

-Ezekiel 18:4-“All souls are Mine.” Because all souls belong to God, He can do whatever He wishes to do with them. God has expressed a desire to save them all, so that is what He’ll do.

-Revelation 21:5-“Behold, I make all things new.” All things include all people.

1 Timothy 1:16: “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” Christ’s patience has no limitations, which means he has patience for everyone and the supply will never run out. 2: Peter 3:15 tells us to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” When these verses are read together, it follows that all will be saved.

-Romans 11:15-16-“If their (Israel) being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit (Israel) is holy, the lump (of humanity) is also holy.”

-2 Peter 3:9-“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” One can repent in the upcoming age, after they are resurrected. God wills for this to happen and will carry it out. See Romans 14:1-4, 15:21; 1 Corinthians 4:5; and Ephesians 2:1-0.

-1 Timothy 2:3-6-“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” Here, it’s important to note that the word translated to “will” (God “will have all men to be saved”) is the Greek word thelo. The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament defines thelo as “To will as the equivalent of to purpose, to be decided upon, seeing one’s desire to execution…Thelo indicates not only willing something, but also pressing it into action.” In other words, God not only wants to save all men, but also fully intends to do it. See John 1:7-9; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 28; Colossians 1:19-20; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2, 4:14; Revelation 15:4; Ephesians 1:7-10; Acts 3:21, 25-26; Luke 2:10, 3:6, 9:56, 15:4; Joel 2:28; Daniel 9:24; Isaiah 25:6-8, 45:22, 52:10, and 53:5-6.

-Exodus 21:33-34-“If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or donkey falls into it, the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.” This law promotes personal accountability and extends to the fact that God owns us, and is therefore liable for us. In Genesis, He placed the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and was fully aware that Adam and Eve would eat from it. This must have been part of His plan, since nothing catches God by surprise and all is under His control. Ergo, it infers that God was responsible for man’s fall and will redeem us.

-Psalms 66:3-4-“Through the greatness of Your power, Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You.” When everyone is resurrected and the world is renewed, all will eventually turn to God. It doesn’t sound like they’ll be brutally forced to submit, but that they’ll see the full truth of God. Once God’s goodness and truth is fully revealed, no one will want to resist Him. See Philippians 2:9-11; Romans 8:21; and Ephesians 1:7-10.

-2 Corinthians 5:18-19-“All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” The world includes everything and everyone in it. Also, consider Ephesians 4:6: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” If everything is a part of God, it always will be, because He is infinite. If a part of God broke off and was no longer a part of Him, He would cease to be infinite. Losing a person would entail losing a part of Himself. See Colossians 1:16-18 and 2 Timothy 2:13.

-1 Corinthians 4:6-“Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” When the early Christians were warned not to go beyond what was written, they were likely being advised not to trust some of the popular Pagan and Jewish lore which featured dramatic tales of demons and the underworld. Such lore had begun to circulate during this time. A popular interpretation of this passage says we shouldn’t look outside the Bible for answers, but the prophets were not saying this. They didn’t purport to know everything. This is expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:9-12.

-1 Timothy 1:20-“Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” In this letter, Peter uses Satan as a symbolic figure to convey that he allowed the men to face consequences so they would learn a lesson. See 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-6; and Proverbs 3:11-12. (In 1 Corinthians 11:32, “the world” pertains to the world of sin.)

-Romans 5:15-21-“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In this passage, “death” refers to physical death, or possibly unrighteousness. It says that all people receive life and justification through Jesus. Romans 5:15-16 also says “many” receive justification, which some perceive as evidence that God doesn’t save everyone. However, the same two verses also say that “many” are sinners. If taken literally, this would imply that some people do not sin. We know the Bible doesn’t teach this, though, because there are numerous verses saying that everyone sins. For this reason, we shouldn’t be hasty to assume that “many” means a limited number of people, inferring that only a limited number of people are sinners and only a limited number will be saved. The word translated into “many” is pollos, which can also mean “all”. When you look at the verse contextually, you see that it should have been translated into English as, “For just as through the disobedience of one man all were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man all will be made righteous.”
Conversely, in Romans 5:18, the word translated to “all” is pantas. In Greek, pantas is strictly defined as “all” or “everyone/everything”. There are no alternate definitions that would allow for limited atonement. It’s an all-inclusive term.

Verses I still have questions about:
This section contains verses I’m unclear about, but they seem to support the aforementioned arguments.

-1 Peter 4:6-“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” When he says “those who are now dead,” I wonder whether he means physically or spiritually dead? If this verse refers to the physically dead, it refutes the common belief that we receive no “second chance” after we die.

-Isaiah 57:15-18-“I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me—the breath of man that I have created. I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid My face in anger, yet he kept on in his sinful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.” I have questions about this passage. In 57:17, was God implying that He punished man in hopes that he would mend his ways, but the outcome didn’t pan out as hoped? If so, why did God do this if He already knew it wouldn’t work out? At any rate, the message is clear: The Lord reconciles us to Himself.

(Continued in Part 4)

The Divided Waters (Part 2)

Why I don’t believe in limited salvation or the existence of hell

-Some argue that hell exists because of God’s wrath and because the Bible says that God “hates” certain people. In arguing from this angle, one forgets that the ancient Israelites were known to speak and write in hyperbole (obvious and intentional exaggeration) in order to illustrate a point. They had no word in their language for “like” or “dislike,” so they used the terms “love” and “hate.” Romans 9:13 states, “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” God is said to have “hated” Esau because He disapproved of some of his actions and did not select him for the same purpose as his brother Jacob. However, God later redeemed Esau and reconciled him with Jacob. These don’t sound like hateful actions. In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is not telling his disciples to despise their parents and siblings with blood-boiling hatred, nor is he ordering them to loathe their own lives. He’s simply telling them to prioritize God over people.
As for wrath, the Greek equivalent of the word is “orgee.” Orgee means anger. It’s interchangeable with the word “vengeance” and it means “to repay.” God does not repay with inordinate punishments, but doles out a consequence that is equal to the crime. The famous “eye for an eye” legal code was introduced in Exodus 21:24 in order to prevent punishments that were far too severe. It was not meant literally, but used as a means to ensure that the repercussion fit the crime. The Bible describes God’s discipline as carefully and fairly measured (Romans 2:6; Leviticus 24:18-20; Psalm 62:12). No sin would be proportional to never-ending punishment, since eternity is immeasurable.
There are some Biblical passages in which God becomes angry at various clans of people and says He will show them no mercy. Withholding mercy is not a permanent judgment, though. It means He will not relent from disciplining people until they have learned their lesson. Even striking them dead is not a final judgment. God causes the sinners to die physically, but also causes them to die to their sin (Romans 6:7, 7:9; 2 Corinthians 4:11). Their physical death is not final either, as they will be resurrected in the future.
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus says, “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not…either in this age or in the age to come.” Some cite this as evidence that God doesn’t always forgive. This verse does not mean they will never be forgiven, though. It’s reasonable to speculate that their redemption will take place at a later time, or that they must face an appropriate penalty before being absolved. “In the age to come” is not synonymous with “forever.” Plenty of people also presume that Matthew 7:21 and Luke 13:23-28 refer to some being eternally separated from the kingdom of heaven, but neither of these passages indicate permanent estrangement from God. There may be temporary separation, but the people discussed in those passages will receive another chance. In Hebrews 3:16-19, the concept of “never entering God’s rest” is commonly read to mean that the Israelites who disobeyed God were forever barred from heaven, but it actually means they were not able to enter the  Promised Land on earth.

-In early Scriptural manuscripts written in Hebrew and Greek, people are not said to be eternally punished. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated to “forever/everlasting/eternal” is “olam.” Olam describes an undetermined amount of time, not necessarily eternity. It also meant “of God,” “age-abiding,” or “of the age to come.” In the New Testament, the word translated to “eternity” or “forever” is aion. “Aion” is the Greek version of “olam.” Some assert that aion and olam mean eternal because the words are used to describe God. However, they are also ascribed to the amount of time Jonah spent inside the big fish. He was in the fish’s stomach for three days.
The word “aion” is translated to “time” in 1 Corinthians 2:7: “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” Obviously in this case, aion does not mean eternity. “Before eternity began” would make no sense, because eternity has no beginning. In the same way, eternity doesn’t make sense in the context of “eternal” life, because both our physical lives and afterlives have a beginning. The original phrase was “aionious” life. In this context, it meant “of the age to come.” This related to the age following the Second Coming of Christ, when the world will be rebuilt and reconciled with God.
The word “aion” is translated to “for ages past” in Ephesians 3:8-9: “…and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” Obviously “aion” does not mean forever in this verse. An eternal secret would never be revealed, yet it is being revealed in this passage.
Even if the original Scriptures had spoken of eternity, it could be viewed as hyperbole. Regardless, the early manuscripts don’t speak in terms of eternity unless the verses pertain to God’s nature.

-Words relating to fire and torture are also vastly misunderstood. In both the Old and New Testament, fire is a metaphor for correction. It is used to refine a person, not to senselessly torment them. Malachi 3:2 describes God as “like a refiner’s fire.” It logically follows that the Lake of Fire is a refining fire as well. According to Mark 9:49, “Everyone will be salted [refined/corrected] with fire.” If the description of fire in this verse were to be read literally and associated with hell, it would mean that everyone will be damned. Obviously, this isn’t the case.
As for torture, the original Greek word is kolazo. This was translated into English as “torture.” However, the New Testament Greek lexicon defines it differently: “1. To lop or prune, as trees and wings. 2. To curb, check, restrain. 3. To chastise, correct, punish. 3. To cause to be punished.” None of these definitions entail torture. Most refer to correction, which would be a pointless process if it were everlasting. The only definition which could possibly relate to torture would be “to punish.”
There is a distinction between punishment and torture. Torture is sadistic and cruel, which are not qualities of God. Punishment serves the purpose of correction, however, and rehabilitation is punishment’s ultimate goal. You discipline an unruly child with the intent to teach him, not to torture him. You don’t hate your child when he is disobedient. In the same way, God doesn’t hate us when we rebel. He seeks to reconcile us to Himself. Consider Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Compare this statement with Romans 11:32: “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
If God hated sinners, He wouldn’t have reached out to us. This doesn’t mean we face no repercussions for our sins. It simply means the repercussions are doled out in love. According to Hebrews 12:5-6, “And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as His son.” This theme is repeated in Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12; Proverbs 3:11-12; 1 Timothy 1:20; Deuteronomy 8:5; and Revelation 3:19. Since everyone will face discipline in the upcoming age, we can conclude that God loves all of us enough to improve us.
According to world-renowned Greek scholar and translator William Barclay, “The Greek word for punishment here [Matthew 25:46] is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment.”

-A lot of people think that passages about “death,” “destruction,” or “perishing” relate to hell. They actually relate to three different things, none of which include eternal torture. First, the use of the word “death” is not always metaphorical. It sometimes refers to literal physical death. Secondly, it can allude to the figurative death of sin. When the Lake of Fire (in which the “fire” symbolizes refinement and correction) is called “the second death,” one can deduce that it refers to the death of sin which follows physical death. The Lake of Fire is discussed in Revelations, which describes the day in which all the dead will be resurrected and fully reformed. Our reformation is both physical and spiritual. According to the text, we will be honed, fixed, and ultimately healed. Thus, the second death is the death of our sinful nature. The “fire” itself is not eternal, but its results are everlasting. We're not destroyed when our sin is destroyed. Instead, we are renewed. A sinner is “destroyed” in the same sense that you can destroy an enemy by making him into a friend.
“Destruction” and “perishing” can also mean general harm or failure, such as in the context of “the path that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13) or “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16; Proverbs 18:24).
Romans 9-11 makes much more sense to me when read in this context. I interpret it to say that God elects certain people to have specific knowledge and to carry out certain tasks. God allows others to be immoral so that people will learn from them. However, “destruction” does not mean they will be unredeemed forever (See 2 Samuel 14:14 and Romans 11:25-32). In the same way that we can misread the concept of destruction, we also tend to use “saved” or “salvation” as catchall terms. Being saved could mean being restored or being guided toward a productive and healthy path. It can also refer to the preservation of one’s physical life. In light of the other definitions, one can see that it does not refer to being spared from eternal torture.

-The parable about Lazarus and the rich man does not read like a literal description of heaven and hell. It appears to be a metaphor that contrasts Israelites with Gentiles (non-Jews), in which Jesus advised his countrymen to show compassion for Gentiles instead of lording their spiritual blessings over them.
The rich man who is clothed in purple and fine linen represents a Pharisee of Jesus’ day. According to The Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary, “The wearing of purple was associated particularly with royalty . . .” (“Purple,” p. 863). The New Bible Dictionary says, “The use of linen in OT times was prescribed for priests (Ex. 28:39). The coat, turban and girdle must be of fine linen.” (“Linen,” p. 702). This indicates that the man clad in purple and expensive linen symbolized priesthood and royalty. In Exodus 19:6, God says of the Israelites, “And ye shall be to me a royal priesthood and a holy nation: these words shalt thou speak to the children of Israel.” The Pharisees loved money and prestige, just like the rich man in this parable. Pharisees were present while Jesus told the story, so he had to be mindful not to spell it out explicitly. However, they realized he was alluding to them and were outraged.
The poor man, Lazarus, represents a Gentile in the way he waits outside of the rich man’s gate and begs for crumbs of food (which symbolize spiritual blessings). This relates to Gentiles because they were said to have been left outside the gate of Judah in Ephesians 2:12. They wanted to be blessed by the Israelites, but were snubbed due to Judah’s holier-than-thou attitude. Jesus strongly deterred people from spiritual elitism and urged the Jews not to shun the Gentiles. He encouraged people to reach out to all who were needy, sinful, broken, “unclean,” or depraved. He preached equality and unity.
In the parable, Lazarus and the rich man’s death signified a shift in their spiritual positions. Lazarus is taken to “the bosom of Abraham,” meaning he is in favor with God. The rich man, however, is in “hell” (which simply meant “concealed” or “covered.”) He calls out to Abraham, meaning that he assumes his ancestor will redeem him because all families are blessed through Abraham. The rich man believes that he retains righteousness through his ancestry, but does not seek God. When he is enveloped in flames (symbolizing deep emotional anguish), he asks Lazarus to cool his tongue with a drink of water. Now, this is not a literal fire. Everyone knows that a sip of water would do nothing to alleviate the agony of being fully immersed in flames. In Luke 16:26, Lazarus tells the rich man, “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” The great gulf is the rich man’s self-righteousness and lack of faith. If he humbles himself and seeks God, he can overcome his predicament.
Another factor conveys that this parable is not about hell: The rich man represents a Pharisee, but Romans 11:25-26 says that “all of Israel will be saved.” This is mentioned repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. Therefore, even the Pharisees are not condemned to an afterlife of endless torment.

Other points to consider

-The belief in hell generally incites people to obey God more out of fear than out of love.

-If you can’t be saved through your own actions, why would you be damned by them either?

-If the wages of sin is death (in the sense of perdition, rather than simply physical death), wouldn’t Jesus have had to spend eternity in hell in order to pay the full price of our sins?

-How could Jesus be more powerful than Adam if Adam was able to condemn everybody, but Jesus was unable to save all of us?

-Wouldn’t the existence of hell entail that Jesus had failed in his mission to save all of mankind? See John 3:17, 12:32, 12:47; 1 Timothy 2:4, 2:6, 4:10; Colossians 1:19-20; Titus 2:11; Ephesians 1:7-10; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Luke 3:6; Joel 2:28; and Isaiah 45:22-25.

-If we’re supposed to love our “enemies,” would God do any less? Jesus tells us to share our love regardless of reciprocation; not to merely love those who love us. Since this is the case, wouldn’t God be sinning if He only loved those who love Him?

-“The path is narrow” (Matthew 7:13) sounds like it alludes to the fact that there are limited ways to be righteous, not limited ways to be admitted to heaven. When Jesus says that many try to find the path but only a few discover it, he may be using “life” as a metaphor for righteousness.

-If we are judged immediately after death (which the Bible does not say), why would we need to be assessed again at the Resurrection? If God’s punishments are “completed” in the days of the Second Coming (Revelation 15:1), why would they continue in hell? An eternal punishment is never completed.

-If God wills that all people be saved, why would He be incapable of carrying out His own will? This would mean He’s not all-powerful. How would Jesus have won if so many souls ended up in eternal torment? As Gerry Beauchemin wrote in Hope Beyond Hell, “God, as Creator, is owner of all things (Ps. 2:8; Ez. 18:4; Col. 1:16; He. 1:2), and that includes you and I. He has never relinquished that title. Only He has absolute ‘free’ will over His property. Should we be forever lost, He would be the loser.”

-The very word “hell” is derived from “Hele,” the Norse goddess of the underworld. “Hel” was the name of their underworld, and it featured a vicious three-headed dog called Cerberus. Originally the word “hel” simply meant “hidden” or “underneath.” It appeared in the 1611 KJV spelled as “hel.” This type of underworld was introduced to Christian doctrine when the church was trying to convert as many Pagans as possible. They wanted to transition them into Catholicism by allowing them to preserve certain Pagan traditions. In the process, the Catholic Church incorporated some Pagan beliefs into their own teachings.

-Hell was never mentioned in the Torah. If Jesus were first introducing the concept of hell in the NT, he wouldn’t have spoken of it so casually. It wouldn’t have sounded like everyone already knew what he was referring to. He speaks of Gehenna, which was translated into “hell” a number of times. Gehenna, however, was a garbage dump just outside of Jerusalem. This was where worms feasted, garbage burned, and wild animals tore at the trash (hence the description of worms chewing and the sound of animals’ “gnashing of teeth.”) We can assess that Jesus was using Gehenna as a metaphor for the disaster we incur when we refuse to do what’s right. In Matthew 5:26, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there [Gehenna] until you have paid up the last cent.” The word “until” reveals that time spent in the metaphorical Gehenna is of a finite nature.

-In the accounts of Near-Death Experiences in which people report a descent into “hell,” I notice quite a few inconsistencies. Many accounts contradict one another, and they vary depending on the person’s religious beliefs. (For example, one Pentecostal woman believes she was sent to hell for wearing makeup.) NDEs featuring heaven, however, are remarkably consistent with one another, regardless of the person’s frame of reference. Some people genuinely believe they’ve been to hell, but sincere belief doesn’t prove it happened. Others may say they went to hell because they enjoy the attention, or because they want to “scare people straight” and decide that lying is acceptable as long as it gathers more converts.

-The Bible doesn’t say you will be damned for not believing in hell, nor does it say you must believe in biblical inerrancy to be saved. Salvation is by grace, not by “correct” knowledge. The belief in salvation by appropriate knowledge has a distinctively Gnostic flavor. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Gnosticism, it was a religious movement which branched off of Christianity before the Bible was compiled. Gnostics believed in multiple gods and taught that Jesus was fully divine instead of a combination of divine and human. They also believed that one could only be a legitimate Christian if privy to “secret” knowledge. They thought that God selected specific people to endow with this knowledge, and those entrusted with it were considered the spiritual elite. Gnosticism was declared heretical by the Catholic Church, and most Christians consider it so.)

-Jesus said those who aren’t for him are against him, but he also said those who aren’t against him are for him (Mark 9:40). This can be taken to mean that as long as you don’t count him as an enemy, you’re a friend. You can have religious beliefs outside of Christianity without being “against” Jesus. As long as you love your neighbor and do what’s right, you’re on God’s side (1 John 2:29; Romans 13:8-10, 14:15-18). In Matthew 12:30, Jesus was probably referring more to his teachings than to his literal self. If you live by the principles he espouses, how could you be his enemy? The fact that one cannot enter heaven without Jesus doesn’t mean that Christianity is a prerequisite for salvation. It means Jesus is the one who lets you in. C.S. Lewis expressed this view in Mere Christianity: “Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.”

(Continued in Part 3)