Tag Archives: Hell

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

Advertisements

Not What She Deserved (Spoiler Alert)

My friend Julia and I have been watching a series called Once Upon a Time for a while now. I watched it for the first time with my friend Nick, and it was totally necessary to share. Eventually it becomes evident that the series follows a pretty basic good versus evil scenario, typical of any fantasy series, and rather apt, considering all the characters are, in fact, from fairy tales or Disney movies. Over and over again, the heroes are faced with a villain or several villains, and several problems that have to be solved. What’s great about the series is that it sometimes changes the nature of characters, so, for example, characters that were heroes in the original telling of the story, are villains in the “real world,” and characters that were once villains become heroes.

One might think that a series that follows a basic good versus evil plot like this where the situations simply get more and more difficult to handle might get boring. It doesn’t. Just when you think the heroes have won and it could never possibly be worse, it gets worse. From a writer’s perspective, it’s fantastic to see just how creative these writers are.

There is one part in the series where the heroes actually get sent into the Underworld–where the Greek god Hades lives. The afterlife system in this series is actually pretty interesting. Basically, one goes to the Underworld if one has unfinished business, and one has to stay there until one has taken care of whatever that may be. Once it’s finished, one moves on, either to a better place or a worse place; in other words, Heaven or Hell. There is one character in particular who definitely does not get what she deserves. She plays a significant part in the series, and she is utterly detestable, but because of something she does for her two daughters while she is in the underworld, she moves on to the better place.

I mention this because Julia and I had very different reactions to the scene. I found it rather satisfying, while Julia was thoroughly displeased. I don’t know all of Julia’s reasons for her reactions, but I could likely guess a few. I do know my reasons. To be sure, there is nothing redeemable about this character. However, she has a brief moment when she realizes how awful she is, and she freely and honestly chooses to help her daughters. I like it when people are given the gift of redemption. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’ve done. This character didn’t have a long, drawn out redemption story. She simply saw reality for what it was, acknowledged that she deserved the worse place, and was given the better place because of it.

In real life that’s called Grace.

Making Sense Of Things

It took me a very long time to understand how one is supposed to love and fear God, when actually, it’s not all that complicated. There are a lot of passages in the Bible where, in the same sentence, the speaker will say one ought to fear the Lord and, oh by the way, he loves you. On the surface that sounds contradictory, but what I think it means is that God is exceptionally powerful, and his power, understandably, should be feared and respected. There are a lot of verses that instruct the reader not to be afraid of dangers in the world. We are loved by the most powerful being in the universe.

Before I continue, I want to address some objections. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are as follows:

1) If God loves us (all of humanity), then why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just fix everything?

2) If God truly loves everyone, then why does the Bible, as well as many followers of the Christian faith say that a large portion of the world’s population is going to Hell where they will be tortured for eternity?

These are two questions I encounter a lot, and they are questions that have bothered me for a long time. I don’t think I will ever find answers that will completely satisfy me, let alone anyone else, but I wanted to share the conclusions I have come to over the past several years.

1) God has a plan. It’s a good plan, and God intends to redeem humanity: to make the world a better place where there will be no more suffering. For whatever reason, it’s taking a long time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means that it has to take this long.

2) The fact of the matter is, I know close to nothing about the afterlife. I am certainly not an authority on the issue. I have come to a couple disjointed conclusions, based on research and personal experience, which are as follows:

I: No one is predestined for Heaven or Hell. I should preface this by saying that my understanding of Heaven is being in the full presence of God, while Hell is complete separation. In God’s presence is love and joy and peace, while outside of it is some sort of emptiness and danger. I believe that, in this life, we are stuck somewhere in the middle. That being said, It’s a choice where we end up.

II: Jesus died and rose from the dead so that all of humanity could be redeemed. God doesn’t want anyone to be left outside. Historical and linguistic evidence suggests that while some might go to Hell, it won’t be forever. When the Kingdom comes, even the worst, most immoral people who rejected God their entire lives will be returned to him. In fact, there is reason to believe that Hell is a place of reformation. This is evidenced by the development of the idea of Purgatory.

III: It isn’t the duty of any Christian to condemn people. It’s our duty to teach love and salvation. For one thing, it’s more effective, and for another, it’s closer to the Truth.

Another objection I can think of is: If salvation is universal, then why bother being Christian?

Salvation isn’t about booking a room in eternity. It’s about making the world a better place. Most of what Jesus told people to do was relevant to here and now. It was about taking care of the poor, making peace among enemies, and respecting people because they are worth a lot to God. It’s a way of life: not strictly an escape from death.

I just wanted to get this out there.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Free Will, God’s Plan, Faith And Unbelief

I read something interesting for class the other day. A guy named Gerald Sittser said–not a direct quote–that if we seek God’s kingdom first, then our choices become his will for us. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It feels too simple to me. I tend to think that God is really complicated. Maybe complicated isn’t the right way to describe him. In some ways he’s no more complicated than any average person. Maybe it’s more that what he does and controls is complicated. In fact, he’s more one-track-minded than most people. He’s not emotionally volatile for one thing, and he never sways from his plan for the Universe.

People tend to fall off the wagon. A lot of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives or what we’re supposed to be doing. It seems to me that if God has a grand, master plan, and if we’re part of that plan, then wouldn’t it follow that he would want us to do certain things? A lot of people talk about God’s calling; what God calls them to do. How does that relate to free choice? Obviously people can ignore God’s calling, but I think it tends not to end well–at least not as well as it otherwise would. This is coming from personal experience.

Is there a best way to go? Sittser used the analogy of a road trip. He and a friend had a set destination and a date they had to get there. They planned their road trip around these. They decided not to follow any highways if possible, and instead, meandered along seemingly random back roads. Is this like how we choose what to do with our lives? He said that we can see how God had a plan for us in what we chose if we look at it in retrospect. Is this just conjecture, or is this God’s way of showing someone how they’ve progressed towards their destination?

I believe that I was destined to be a Christian and maybe I was destined to be a musician, but for a long time I chose not to be. For a long time when I was younger I decided that while I believed in God, I didn’t believe in Christianity, partly because I didn’t understand it. However, I believe that God made me so that I would need him, emotionally, among other reasons.

I do think that people are a product of their environment, upbringing, etc, but I also believe that God makes people in specific ways, and I think he makes people for other people. I also think that people can choose to be whoever they want to be. This is just an idea I have, but I think God presents us with choices throughout our lives and I think he probably wants us to choose certain things, but he also gives us the option not to. Furthermore, I think there are certain choices we make that God probably doesn’t care much about either way–like if we want chocolate or coffee flavored ice cream.

I was thinking about my friends last night. Many of them don’t believe in God partly because they don’t see any reason to; they haven’t seen any evidence that he even exists. I wonder if they think I’m crazy. I think I always believed in God; at least I’ve always believed that he exists. I’m not sure why. I guess because I was able to imagine it. For a while it didn’t really matter that much. He was just there. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that prayer saved my life when I was a baby… Which is a long story for another time.

The point is, I’ve always felt like he’s just been around. I can’t even understand not having that feeling. I know I choose to believe because I think I have good reason to. Can someone choose to believe without thinking they have good reason to? Isn’t that kind of the point of faith? If someone doesn’t have faith in God, what do they have faith in? Not believing in God sounds as crazy to me as believing probably sounds to my friends.

A large part of the reason I believe in free will is because some people don’t believe in God, but many people change. I don’t think God would intentionally create people who don’t believe in him. I’ll say it here because very few people I actually know read my blog, but I’m closeted universalist. I believe that Jesus died to redeem everyone. My belief is that at the second coming, everyone will be rejoined in the same place and we will all finally be on the same page. I don’t like talking about hell, but I do think that nonbelievers and really terrible people spend different amounts of time there for different reasons. This is why I desperately want my friends to be saved.

Would I give up free will to make this happen? Not a chance. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? I think God gave us free will for that reason, though. I think he wants us choose to believe in him. Are some of us destined to? I don’t know. Maybe. I think actually, some of us are made in such a way that it’s easier for us to believe. God gave me a crazy imagination, which made believing easier.

What about when it comes to music? Was I destined to be a musician? I’ve always loved it. There’s always been music in my life. When I was 14 I came to the realization that my friends were all good at something, and I was okay at writing poetry, but I didn’t think that counted. I told my dad that I wanted to learn to play guitar, but I didn’t think I could because of my disability (I can’t turn my hands over). He told me not to worry about it and took me to guitar center. It turns out I can play guitar upside down. Now I want music to be my career, partly because it’s wicked fun, and partly because I can use it for God’s glory. Was this all part of the plan? When I first started playing guitar I wasn’t Christian, and I intended to play in a punk-rock band. When I became Christian I was conveniently getting good at songwriting.

Something we talked about in one of my classes is that maybe God has an overall plan for humanity but not necessarily for every individual. At first I kind of liked the idea, but now I don’t think I do. I think God definitely had a plan for people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. The only way I can see free will and God’s plan working together is that he gives us the option not to operate according to plan. It’s sounds sort of weird to me, but then I think I know what God’s plan is for me, and I like it.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!