The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
– David, Third King of Israel and Judah (1035-970 BC), Psalm 23:1-3
Ours is the first generation to know that what we call Heaven is a genuine place. And we even know a great deal now about what Heaven is like, where it is, and how it works. We also at last know the truth about Hell. The human idea that we will face punishment after death for things that we did in life is as old as the notion of religion itself, so it is not surprising that nascent Christianity latched onto the threat of Hell as a way to persuade its faithful to submit to the religion’s strictures. The problem is, of course, that when we imagine a Hell and the concept of eternal punishment, we create an awful version of God.
The most terrible take on God and God’s punishment is the reductio ad absurdum of Calvinism. John Calvin (1509-1564) used bits of the Christian Bible to support the idea that since God knows everything, God must know even prior to each person’s creation who will be saved and who will be damned. So God created some to be saved as “the Elect,” and God deliberately created every other human being to burn in Hell. If God’s power and knowledge are infinite, then clearly the whole game must be rigged.
It is easy for anyone who open-mindedly reads the whole Christian Bible to abandon the notion that it is all “God’s Inspired, Inerrant Word.” The Old Testament is full of barbarisms, and the Bible as a whole is rife with internal contradictions: it cannot possibly all be the Inspired Word of a wise and loving, or even of a consistent and rational God. Much of what Jesus says in the Gospels, on the other hand, does feel like genuine divine messages. It feels as old as truth and as modern as tomorrow’s news! Among other wonderful gifts to us, Jesus short-circuits the idea of eternal punishment by telling us that the only eternal judge we ever will face is ourselves. He has to share this truth carefully, since for Jesus to have come right out and contradicted Jewish teachings would have been a capital crime; but over days and with differing Temple guards, He gave us three parts of one solid message. He said:
“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). Okay, so now Jesus is our judge. God is off the hook. But then on another day He said, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him” (JN 12:47). So neither God nor Jesus judges us? Then who is our judge? He tells us plainly that we judge ourselves. He says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (MT 7:1-2).
And the afterlife evidence confirms the Lord’s words! Those that we used to think were dead consistently tell us there is no Hell. All judgment is by ourselves alone. We learn further from the not-really-dead that unless we can forgive ourselves for everything that we did in life, our post-death spiritual vibrations will slow to the point where we can no longer remain at even the lowest Summerland level. If we cannot halt the slide by forgiving ourselves, eventually we will end up in the lowest afterlife level, which is dark, cold, smelly, disgusting, and populated by wailing, demon-like people who all have unfortunately put themselves there. And, what do you know? Jesus warned us about that outer darkness! When a Roman officer trusted in His healing powers even more than did His followers, He said to them, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (MT 8:10-12). Jesus knew two thousand years ago what the actual outer darkness is like!
People who have sat at deathbeds tell us that many of the dying become increasingly peaceful as death approaches. This calm acceptance and actual anticipation of death and what comes after death seems to be a natural part of the process of finally going home. So it is tragic that it often doesn’t happen this way for the most devout Christians! I have spoken with hospice workers who described how they had tried to comfort dying Christian ladies who had never done a bad thing in their lives, but still those poor souls were terrified by the thought that they hadn’t been quite good enough. They feared they were going to spend eternity in Hell. As Jesus says of all religious ideas, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (MT 7:15-17). Dear God in Heaven, if terrified old ladies are the fruit of Christianity, then Christianity is the worst tree of all!
Many Christian preachers are sure that those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior are condemned to hellfire. They insist that Jesus Himself said so! There is Biblical support for every kind of nonsense if you cite just a sentence or two out of context, and here are what may be the most misunderstood and overused passages in the whole Christian Bible. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (JN 14:6). And He says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (JN 3:16). On these few sentences many Christian pastors have built their entire fear-based careers! But what is Jesus actually saying here? No mention of crucifixion, sacrificial redemption, substitutionary atonement, or saving us from God’s wrath. And Jesus tells us throughout the Gospels that it is His teachings that really matter! He says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (JN 8:31-32). Clearly, those who first transcribed the Lord’s words simply used “I,” “Me,” and “Him” as a shorthand way to refer to His teachings. Doing that would have made sense to people so steeped in the Lord’s words that they equated His words with His mission and His life; but it became a trap for future clergymen, who would use that ancient shorthand to condemn non-believers to a non-existent Christian Hell. And we know that for a fact, because now we know what happens after death! Jesus is right in saying that our following His teachings (or their equivalent in some other tradition) is an essential part of our preparation to live the best eternal life. He is right, too, about the lack of divine judgment. Here is some of what we have learned about the afterlife:
There is not, and there never could be any punishment by an infinitely loving God. Every fear is human-made! Jesus came to us two thousand years ago to end false religions, end human fears, and teach us how to relate to the Godhead so we can attain at last the perfect love that is our eternal birthright. Jesus told us His teachings are essential to our beginning to understand the only God. And so they are! He was especially down on religions leaders who put their human-made traditions first, even before the divine will of God. He said, “Why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… You hypocrites! Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (MT 15:3-9). Still, the human-made traditions of Christianity are favored over the Lord’s divine words, to this day! But now we really know the truth. And as Jesus promised, we are being set free from all the untruths of human-made religions. Now a richly better world for humankind can at last begin! Let’s resolve to make 2021 the seminal year when we will follow Jesus in perfect love. Let us join at last in spreading the Lord’s genuine teachings over all the earth!
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
– David, Third King of Israel and Judah (1035-970 BC), Psalm 23:4-6