Sunday, August 2, 2009

Does God send innocent people to hell?

Wow, it's been awhile since our last post.

Long story short:

The four of us (Jeremy, John, Brent and myself) are doing a Bible study together through e-mail. This is Jeremy's brainchild. He e-mails us his commentary/thoughts on chunks of verses in the book of Romans. We read the verses, his comments, and write responses.

It's a beautiful thing.

Anywho, an interesting topic came up in the section we're in. This section deals with what has been termed "natural revelation," or simply put, the idea that each of us has in us the ability to look at the complexities of creation around us and truly know that God exists. In fact, "men are without excuse." Of course, by "men" it means everyone.

The verse:

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

I'm not going to discuss the verse, but rather, some implications that come up.

How often does this question come up: What about the poor foreign children from _________ country who have never heard of Jesus? Are you really telling me they are going to hell? Doesn't the Bible say that?

It's a great question. Another version of the same question: How could a "loving" God send someone who didn't know about Him to Hell?

The typical, unloving response: God is Just and holy. He can't be around sin or people who are sinful, so it has to go somewhere else (i.e. Hell).

While this is a 'technically' true response, it's definitely not a FULL response--there are pieces missing that reflect God's true nature. Also, before I go on, this needs to be said: many, if not all, thought processes here are based on a belief that what the Bible says about God is true, without exception.

I've had more than few discussions with people about hell, God and all that jazz. Here's how I like to structure the discussion:

In my discussions about the idea of a loving God sending his children to hell, here's how it usually goes:

1. For the discussion, we both need solid footing, so we have to believe what the Bible says about God is true. Arriving at an answer to this question is a moot point if we both can't agree to believe or assume that the Bible is true. For the sake of the discussion, let's agree the Bible is true.

2. Some aspects of God according to the Bible: God is Good. God is Just. God loves his people (i.e. EVERYONE). God's promises/statements always come true. We are, at the very least, assuming it's true for the sake of the discussion.

3. If God is Just, every action from every person must be brought into account. One of his names is Judge. However, part of his judgement also includes how we use what resources we have been given. This includes abilites, knowledge, talents, finances--everything. However, in this discussion, we only need to talk about knowledge. So:
- If someone in a forgotten, foreign country, with only the basic, mysterious and innate knowledge of God, suddenly dies, will he/she go to hell? Would that seem fair? Does that seem good? or just? Not to me. This brings us to point 4.

4. Does God send that person to hell?
- Most common answer I've heard: Yes. They don't know Jesus = goes to hell.
- Quicker, more palatable answer: There's no way of knowing. We only truly know our own story.

My answer (remember, I have no authority here. this is my experience in life combined with what I've read in the Bible--this is what I perceive to be what the Bible says about this question):

When searching the Bible for answers, we have to remember that
every single verse in the Bible needs to be viewed in context with every other verse in the Bible. That's why we have to be SO careful when we start throwing Bible verses around in sermons, essays, blog posts and everything else.

With that in mind, we can look at this question:

We have to remember that God is intimately aware of the fact that this person had no contact w/anyone who told him/her about Jesus. It would be unfair (at least in our eyes) to send this person to hell. God is also intimately aware of how much that persons soul was crying out for Him/Jesus and how much actual 'searching' this person has done for the Truth. Jesus said that those who are truly searching for the Truth will certainly find it. Again, God's promises/statements always come true, so if this person was truly seeking God, he/she would have found him.

Verse again (so us lazy people don't have to scroll up):

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Another implication of the verse from above is this: no one, not a single person, has an excuse for "not knowing."

The opposite of not knowing something is, of course, knowing something. With that said, does it not make sense that the Bible is literally telling us that no one will be surpsied when they end up in Heaven/Hell? So often I think we get the idea that God is up there pushing random buttons that send us to our eternal destination when, in reality, we all make clear and concise choices that lead up to that moment.

In other words, the temporary life here and now decides the eternal.

So, does God send innocent people to hell? The answer, I would say, is that really, there aren't any innocent people. With creation all around us, it seems we are continually provided with evidence that God exists, despite His invisible and hidden nature. I think sometimes we let the noise of everything drown that out.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways to refute what I've stated above. My main purpose in writing this is to present an argument and an answer(ish) to the question that explores not only what the Bible says about those who go to hell but also what the Bible says about the character of God and the lengths He will go to to be reunited with his children.

And, in no way, am I minimizing the very clear command to evangelize and spread the message of Gospel (i.e. make disciples) that Jesus gave when right before he ascended to Heaven.

Feel free to respond on here to get a discussion started! No pressure :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

dealing with anger

Ok... I'll admit it. I'm angry now. I'm really angry. God only knows why I feel motivated to write at this moment. 

Someone came by my house today that was very rude... very angry. That, of course, ruined my day. 

I'm sort of a sponge. I love to talk to people that are happy. It cheers me up. A similar thing happens when I'm around people that are angry. I can't shut anger out. It either has to be resolved right then and there... or I get angry too.

Its a disease.

The guy that came by my house believed that his anger was justified. In truth, I knew he felt this way. He had revealed this anger to me time after time. So why was today different?

We are leaving. My wife and I are heading back to the United States. This man will be left to deal with his anger. I would like to think that I could play a role in resolving his anger. I haven't succeeded yet. It usually sounds more like an argument than a therapy session.

I can pray. Even though I know the power of prayer, it still seems like a cop out.

I have a personal relationship with this guy. Can I just walk away? Maybe I have to... I know that God is at work. I have to trust that.

If you think this problem is going to resolve itself by the end of this post, you are wrong. God will have to show me what to do in this specific instance.

But that isn't the point. This post isn't about a specific instance.

Anger ruins everything. Righteous anger is great! Don't mishear me. It is used to expose problems and create an opportunity for healing. You have to realize that only God knows if your anger is truly justified. We can play the justification game all day long. In the end... Only God knows.

Will your anger expose problems and bring healing? Will your anger just ruin someone's day and ultimately lead to nothing?

The guy that vented had no intention of finding healing. His complaints weren't aimed at me. They were aimed at someone else. I still had to stand there and listen. I either had to agree and feed the problem or disagree and create an arguement. 

We argued.

We didn't get anywhere. We were both angry when he left. 

Double the anger.

Have you ever been loved for no apparent reason? Let me be specific: 

Have you ever been standing in line at the grocery store and had the person in front of you insist that you go first?
Have you ever been to lunch with a friend and had them pick up the check?

Have you ever had someone hold the door for you? You know the scenario... you are so thankful that you run your final steps to get inside so you can show your appreciation.

Love is infectious. So is anger.

How do you want to impact this world? You will leave a mark whether you intend to or not.

Consider the other guy when you are angry. Consider the strangers. Consider your family. 

When I'm angry, I don't allow people to go ahead of me in the check out line. 

When I'm angry, I don't pick up the check for my friends lunch. 

When I'm angry, I don't hold the door for anyone.

Anger steals joy. It steals the desire to spread joy. It steals the happiness of those that would have otherwise been blessed.

I'm less angry now. Writing is therapeutic. 

I'm going to look for an opportunity to bless someone else. I'm going to try harder than usual. I'm going to see to it that someone smiles because of me. 

Ultimately, this person will smile because someone else was angry. 

Won't that be a fun way to break the cycle?

"Love wins." - Rob Bell

Thursday, January 8, 2009

moldy kraft singles

About a year ago my wife and I were walking around downtown Venice, Florida. We had lived in Venice for a few months. It was known to be a very wealthy area. The constant barrage of art and craft shows at least kept up an appearance of wealth.

Anyway… Sarah and I were looking for a night out. We decided to head downtown to grab dinner and go for a walk. I even wore my sport jacket.

The evening felt perfect. We could feel a soft ocean breeze. We walked up and down streets, looking into shop windows. We stopped for dinner at a little Italian restaurant before walking some more.

Everyone that was out looked their best. Old men smoked expensive cigars while old women walked expensive dogs. Expensive cars cruised up and down the street. We started feeling… expensive.

It felt great. 

Finally, we stopped for ice cream. We strolled in, looked at the menu and our jaws dropped. An ice cream cone is HOW MUCH? Do I need to insure the cone in case I drop it?

It didn’t matter how tasty it was.

The show was over. We didn’t drive there in an expensive car. We certainly weren’t walking an expensive dog. We were brought back to Earth by… ice cream.

Which brings me to moldy Kraft singles…

I opened the refrigerator once and went straight for the cheese drawer. I wanted a snack. The only cheese left was a small stack of Kraft singles. They looked… old. I think they were in there for quite some time. I considered serving them with a glass of wine to our friends. Aged cheese and wine. I laughed out loud.

Nobody would fall for that.

We only temporarily fell for our act of wealth.

We were trying to be something we weren’t on our downtown date. It wasn’t as funny as the thought of serving molded Kraft singles as an appetizer. It was all a facade nonetheless. Sticker shock on an ice cream cone ruined our evening. Most of the drive home was spent talking about it. What a waste!

We put on a mask. It wasn’t even an original one. It was borrowed from thousands of people doing the same thing that we were doing.

God didn’t make us all the same. In fact, I don’t think He made two of us even close to the same. So why do we try so hard to be like other people? Why do we try to forget who we really are? Sarah and I did not recently retire to our summer home in Venice like so many of the people we had seen on our date. We lived in a small apartment and worked in Venice.

God gave us all specific talents, desires… God gave us all something that we love. When we reach for the things that God gave other people we are coveting. God wants us to have the things that He has for us. Could you imagine the way your parents would feel if on Christmas morning you opened your presents and then started trading them with the other kids in the room?

Doesn’t God know what we need better than we do? Doesn’t God know what we want better than we do? We should be a little more content. Especially since God has promised to fulfill a great work in us.

He is working on us. He is building us. We have no idea what we really need or want in order to become what God wants us to be.

One last thought:

If God is our father, that makes us royalty. God is King so I am a prince. Why am I trying to trade that for an ice cream cone? I am what God made me. I am going to be what God is making me to be.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

rope sandals and coffee

The authors of this blog are very close friends. You might know that...

Biblical friendship is a strange thing. I differentiate because there are types of friendship that are not biblical. (Drinking buddies for instance) 

Now that I wrote that I have to clarify. Nothing is wrong with having a beer. Something IS wrong with having 12 beers. There is a line in there that is between you and God. The bible calls the line "drunkenness." You know when you've crossed it. 

Now I am WAY off subject.

I've had a lot of friends that didn't bring me closer to God. There was a point in my life where I gave up those friends to give my life to Sarah and God. 

I put God second in that list for a reason. Sarah made me want to be closer to Him. God was second for a time. 

Sarah and I dated for 2 weeks before I asked her to marry me. I have no idea why she thought that was a good idea. Her parents were less thrilled. I don't blame them one bit. One of the rules in order to marry Sarah was that I had to get a job. Sarah's mom found a job for me at a local dry cleaners. 

Thats when a very cool thing happened.

I was immediately partnered to press shirts with this guy Cary. He was awesome. He didn't seem to care about a thing. I don't mean that in a bad way. He had passion. He was very nice. He just didn't seem to let things bother him. He always wore a bandana and drank from gallon jugs of water that he brought with him EVERYWHERE. He also wore rope sandals in the winter. 

I loved working with Cary.

One morning, Cary asked me if I wanted to meet his friends. For some reason, I was REALLY nervous. Friends were people that always got me in trouble. For the past several weeks, I had abandoned my old friends. I didn't know if I wanted new friends. I agreed to meet them for coffee.

I don't remember the details of our first hang out. I can't tell you who all was there. I remember it being incredibly liberating. Here was a group of guys that didn't care about the things that I had spent so many years caring about. They talked about Jesus without making it sound phony. His name kept coming up in sentences. I thought we were only supposed to talk about Him in church. I remember feeling awkward when they talked loudly. I didn't want people to know we were "religious."

We started hanging out several nights a week. As I grew closer to my friends I noticed that I was growing farther from my old habits. I noticed that my relationship with Sarah was getting so much richer. I was excited by these changes. The most important things in my life were Sarah, my friends and God. 

Did you notice that God was number 3? God knew I would put him in the 3rd slot. He knew what He was doing.

God had shown me true friendship for the first time. I wanted more. 

I could talk to my new friends about my struggles because they were constantly sharing theirs. I never felt judged. I started to notice that our burdens were growing lighter. We were being set free. For my friends it might have been a slower progression. For me, a massive weight was being lifted very quickly. 

One day our friendship progressed into something new. We wanted to apply it. We wanted to set everyone free. God became the most important thing in my life and I wanted to do something about it. 

God went from the 3rd slot to the first.

That was when God did an unexpected thing. Jeremy announced that he was moving to Springfield for college. Cary announced that he was moving away for college as well. The four of us quickly became Brent and I.

It was very sad. 

God accomplished some very big things during this transition. Jeremy married his long time girlfriend Kate. Sarah and I joined a mission group in Florida. Brent became a missionary to Ukraine where he would end up meeting his wife. Cary fell in love with Candace and didn't have to be alone anymore. (thats an inside joke for Cary)

God had accomplished something great during our time apart. There are thousands of miles separating us. We are still linked as strongly as ever because we all have Jesus. God isn't finished yet.

Biblical friendship is rich. I can't tell you where to find it. I think you have to try to make it. I believe that being more like Jesus is the first step to being a great friend. My friends brought me to Jesus. They showed me His grace. I don't know how God would have saved me without using them. I don't know what would have happened to my marriage with Sarah.

There are a lot of people that are hurting. You see them in college, at the bookstore, at the park... They are everywhere. Some people are really good at looking as if they are just fine. In fact, they might even look like they are doing better than you are. That's called a mask.

Look at the friendships that are already around you. Make an attempt to be more like Jesus everyday and watch those friendships start to change. You have no idea what seeds you can plant. You have no idea how free you can be. Lives will start to change and maybe someone will find Jesus that never knew Him before.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I kept meaning to update this blog.

Every time I checked for new comments or emails I would think to myself, "I need to write a new post."

I understand that nobody waits breathlessly for new posts from us.

I started to realize that I was putting this off. There is no good reason. I wasn't scared to post. I just felt like I didn't have anything super important to say.

It dawned on me tonight... thats the same way I view prayer.

I have 2 kids. One is a baby and the other is 2. My wife and I make a point of praying at every meal. We are trying to instill those habits into our children. We bless the food and then move right into the next, more enjoyable phase.

Real prayer time for most people does not include a meal. Have you ever been at a church picnic? You know how you can feel your stomach churn with hunger. You are so ready to dive right into the food while the pastor gives the LONGEST blessing you have ever heard? The whole time you are thinking, "end it... I'm really hungry." That is how a lot of Christians view meal time prayers.

It sounds crazy... but I know you have done it on one level or another. 

Anyway... praying for God's blessing on a meal is rarely the spiritual connection that the Bible describes when talking about prayer. That is totally our fault. I'm not discounting blessing the food.

Sometimes I lay down at night and try to conjure up the will to pray. I finally tell myself that God doesn't want me to fake it... and I fall asleep. 

How insulting that must be. 

My daughter, Evie, always follows a routine when I put her to bed. If she decided one night to skip the nightly kiss, I would be crushed. Sometimes she gives me a quick peck and then goes right back to cuddling with her stuffed Eeyore. I'm not offended on those nights. At least she made the effort for my sake. That tells me that she still cares about me.

Sometimes we have to pray for God's sake. He is our father after all. I'm not saying that God needs us. He is the infinite God of the universe, after all. But, He does WANT us. He wants to spend time with us. He wants to hear from us.

I believe that God enjoys hearing our prayers about the same way I enjoy getting a kiss from my daughter. When we don't mean it, God still might be happy that we took the time to talk to Him.

I often realize that when I start out a prayer without feeling very enthusiastic, it turns out to be a very close, real prayer. I admit that I am tired, burdened... God lightens that load to meet me where I am.

Prayer isn't about the words that we say. God knows our hearts. Phony sentiments only make us look like fools. So why not lay it out there?

God often surprises me when I don't feel like I deserve it. 

Monday, October 27, 2008


Currently Listening: My Sundown - Jimmy Eat World; To Me, This Is Heaven - Jimmy Eat World

So, I had this conversation with my wife the other day. It's a conversation I've had with many people I know on multiple occasions. It's the typical "oh great, Cary's talking about life's purpose again" conversation.

If you know me at all, then this is probably something you and I have discussed at some point. For a long time, I have struggled with the idea of wanting to have some artistic skill or ability I was super-good at. I would use this ability to stir others' hearts and draw them to God, as I had been in my adolescent years.

But, no matter what I tried, I never could do anything as well as I wanted. I practiced guitar and remained mediocre. I painted and still couldn't get past stick figures. My sketches never took off either.

The result of this mentality resulted in a wall being built around my heart. When Candace, my wife, would compliment me on my guitar playing, I would acknowledge it but not receive it.

Thanks to Candace, I was recently made very aware of this problem and we worked through it together (by praying together in a parking lot--it's funny how God times things). But I still sometimes find myself frustrated by my inability to really invest myself in some type of art that could reach others.


I think I'm beginning to realize something. I can't really put into words what I'm beginning to realize. I know that makes little sense. If I had to put this realization into words, it would be that I'm beginning to understand that every little thing I do is a part of a bigger whole.

There is no larger role for me other than the one I have been given.

I would say, for me, it's easier to see God in the extremes of life--pain, death, frustration, joy, happiness, laughter, fun. It's extremely difficult for me to see God in those inbetween moments that occur many times a day. Drinking coffee in the morning. Reading the news. Showering. The carpool drive to work and back home. Making my students laugh in class. Talking with co-workers during our plan periods. Hanging out at home. Making dinner. Cleaning up after dinner. Watching TV. Playing video games. Sleeping.

I am often frustrated because I feel like I do very little to--I'm not even sure how to put it--live as Christ would have. I don't heal people. I don't feed the hungry very often or clothe the poor. I don't stop and pick up every hitchhiker by the side of the road that I see. These are things that I feel are the milestones of the follower of Christ, yet I also feel I do very little to help others.


The other day, I was talking with a fellow co-worker that I hadn't talked to in long time.

She said: "Hey Cary, we were just talking about you!"
I reply, "Really? What were you saying?"

Her reply really made my day.

She said: "Oh, about how you make the world a better place."

As my life as a follower of Christ has progressed, I've always wanted to give a voice to that inner feeling/yearning to complete some purpose God placed within me. I think I finally found it.

I want to make the world a better place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Bible Podcast

If you are like me, when it comes to reading non-fiction, you prefer audio. It is nice to have books in digital format to listen to while driving in the car. 

Most people have heard the Bible on CD by James Earl Jones. 

I struggle with seeing Darth Vader's face while listening. 

Anyway, my sister-in-law recommended The Bible Podcast. I listened to a few podcasts and I really like it. There is enough voice talent to make it easy to stay interested, but not so much that you feel like you are listening to a kids story.

Just go to the Itunes Store and search for "The Bible Podcast"

Or you can go to their website and download entire books at one time:

Hope you enjoy!