I wanted to put into writing my own journey out of hell. That is to say my journey out of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. In a way it is a journey out of a personal hell because this doctrine did in fact torment me for a long time. As a non denominational pastor of 30 years with a full gospel Assembly of God back ground, I was reaching a place of intense inward struggle with all that I knew about Gods grace and love and acceptance, and then having to believe an alarm goes off and He transforms into a merciless judge who hates anyone who for a plethora of reasons did not come into Christ in their short span on earth.
I fought this for a long time. Of course hell is forever. Its right there in the bible.
The only problem was that this created an ever increasing spiritual dissonance inside of me of which the effect on my life and spirituality and view of the world I did not fully comprehend.
Could believing in eternal conscience torment make a person more judgmental, less merciful, more prone to anxiety and depression and even make carnal thoughts and temptations harder to resist? Could this undermine the gift of grace a person was promised in Christ and keep them from living in the peace and joy and love that is supposed to accompany those born again?
I would have never guessed that could be the case. The fact is I struggled in all those things for so long. I knew the standards I was to live by but I just assumed the devil was really concentrating on me because Im a leader and we get more enemy fire.
But when I finally opened my heart and began to read the volumes of online study available from the well researched and well reasoned proponents of Universal Reconciliation, It was like a desert was being filled with streams of living water down inside of me. I began to experience the grace powered life like never before.
As I look back I realize that my spirit never really bore witness with the doctrine of eternal hell. The truth is I could muster the confession if asked directly, but I never really preached it. Not out of a deliberate refusal or a fear of man. I have preached many things people did not want to hear about Gods Word on all manner of human sins. I want to be a faithful messenger even if it leads to some people walking away because of unbelief. I don’t scratch ears. But descriptions of a hell of eternal punishment were not flowing from my inner man onto the page like so many other things from Gods Word. Maybe thats because thats never been what the Spirit was saying to the world. In fact I found myself wishing that hell might just be a temporary situation for sinners even before I was enlightened in the truths of Evangelical Universalism. That must have been God preparing my heart for a personal reformation.
Yet I was very vigilant about my doctrine. I had seen others go off onto extra biblical tangents and lead people astray. I saw the legalist and the mystics of the early church corrected and rebuked by the Apostles in the epistles and how they passionately defended the flock from the false teachers.
I saw how famous pastors were leaving sound doctrine and claiming all will go to heaven and there was no hell and that all religions lead to God and that all lifestyles are OK as long as we have love. Maybe its wrong of me to say this, but I don’t have a good feeling about Rob Bell or William Paul Young. I don’t think they want to lead people to repentance. I think they are trying to make repentance irrelevant. I don’t like the tricks they play with the bible. I heard Rob bell say in a video that God sent Jonah to bless Nineveh but Jonah refused to go. That made me angry because he deliberately exploited the ignorance of the general public and distorted the mission of Jonah which was to say “40 more days and Nineveh shall perish!”
In judging peoples sincerity I have always found that you can identify an ulterior motive by looking for contradictions in their actions and words. I have seen many try to exploit or undermine others over the years through feigned love or spirituality. But I was able to see early on before others that they were up to something because their actions betrayed their words in irreconcilable ways that identified their true agenda.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment, built on certain wordings in the New Testament, just did not agree with the rest of the picture the bible was painting about God. There was a fundamental contradiction that for me betrayed a flaw, but not in Gods Word or plan. It betrayed a flaw in the nameless, faceless, unaccountable people who the worlds understanding of God has been handed to as gatekeepers. These are the translators of the original manuscripts.
In considering how the bible reveals God i see two modes. Statements and stories. The thing about a statement is that every single word in a short statement about God has the power to misinform us if chosen or translated wrongly. Whereas in story mode, certain words can tolerate variation or even a little inaccuracy, yet you still come out with a clear accurate picture of what happened and what the story reveals about God.
As I look at all the stories about Gods dealing with people, I see an unrelenting determination for love and mercy and restoration to win out in the end. Mercy triumphs over judgement! James 2:13
Yet some New Testament statements about Gods dealings with man at the end of the age seem to conflict with these stories. This of course is not a bible error. As many have so skillfully illustrated there are some serious translation issues and Gnostic pollution in the formation of our traditional doctrines.
I would close this post by sayin I am experiencing a renaissance of joy in my life as I study the words of the wonderful people on this forum and other Evangelical Universalists across the web. I feel a brand new passion for the lost in my personal ministry, a renewed thirst for prayer and I cant wait to engage the world on a whole new basis of spiritual motivation which is flowing from a more perfect way.
Please know that I realize I dont have every position perfectly organized in this belief and I may say things that you could correct in some way. But this is not an argument, its my testimony and I hope its appreciated as such.