Spiritual folks often do more harm than good when telling others about God. Randal Rauser points out in his blog that according to one study, when people were the object of Christian witnessing 59% developed a more negative perception of Jesus and/or Christianity while only 19% developed a more positive perception. In other words witnessing is three times as likely to produce negative results (randalrauser.com, Nov 2, 2015). Years ago I was the best at making friendships awkward. Unfortunately, I was misinformed.
Misinformation about Hell in the Bible is one of the main reasons for unnatural relationships or interactions. Some may mess up a friendship because they feel pressure to talk to people about God or they are going straight to Hell. Others may not talk to friends about God even if it comes up naturally because Hell as a place of eternal, sadistic torture is something not even a human would think up much less a loving God. It is said after death God tortures people forever for sins committed in a few short years here on earth. Who doesn’t know unending suffering is pointless as it doesn’t produce any good. Most Christians don’t really believe in Hell or shame on them for not offending everyone possible because they could die in a blink of an eye and burn to a crisp.
The traditional meaning and understanding of Hell, which you will burn in Hell after death for not believing in God while on earth, is a fabrication that doesn’t exist in the Bible. Hell, not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words, is an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. Sheol, wrongly translated as Hell in the OT, was a place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. Even Job, a righteous man in God’s eyes, desired to go there to escape tremendous suffering. Gehenna, wrongly translated as Hell in the NT, was a real valley in Jerusalem. Jesus used Gehenna to symbolize the horrors of adversaries of God who disposed of their enemies into the burning, worm-infested valley. Simply avoid a valley near Jerusalem close to death if concerned about going to Hell. The God I know though will invite all after death to join Him. I doubt any reading this or their loved ones will reject such an invitation.
Believe it or not Jesus whole reason for coming was to simply encourage and inspire all to treat others like you want to be treated. Jesus came to let us know we are loved by our Creator and desires to help us be the kind of persons we all want to be deep down. Jesus said this was the most important commandment or the main thing (Mt. 24:37-38). When Jesus was asked how one obtains eternal life, Jesus said simply to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). John 3:15 refers to eternal life as being in Christ, thus referring to a quality than future destiny. Jesus did not focus on Heaven, perfection, or the destiny of those who reject the pursuit of an unselfish life. Jesus taught life forever can begin here on earth. Jesus came to earth to convey knowing who God really is empowers one to shun evil and do good.
Who doesn’t know the story of how Jesus responded to the religious elite who had caught a woman in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11). When Jesus rightly shamed the crowd by getting them to look in the mirror, they dropped their stones and left Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus didn’t lecture, pray with the woman, or tell her to go to church. Jesus simply said “Go now and leave your life of sin.” C’mon! Didn’t Jesus have a better evangelical spiel? It didn’t matter that Jesus may never see this woman again. Jesus had said all He needed to – God loves you and encourages you to do what you know is right in your heart for your own good and others. It is a slap in God’s “unconditional love” face to suggest Jesus’ agenda with people was anything other than loving people as they deep down desire to be loved. Jesus didn’t use Hell to threaten others into heaven because no such place existed. The thief on the cross just asked to be remembered. Jesus said “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23).
What is our purpose in our relationships with others? It may be obvious for those not weighed down by misbeliefs about God. Who thinks when getting with friends they that should have hidden motives? Spiritual readers can relax because no one has to say the sinner’s prayer to get a free pass out of Hell. Love doesn’t have a hidden agenda. We get together with friends to enjoy one another’s company and love them how we wished to be loved. I love talking to others about my relationship with God as must as I do a good book, but only if natural and mutually desired. Jesus wanted all to know how much they are loved by their Creator. Mother Teresa said that she was simply responding to God’s boundless love for her and for all of humanity. When one feels extraordinarily loved they simply want to return that love to others.
Jesus did not come as a theologian but lover. If our beliefs are truly life changing than people will simply know by the way we love others. But, since I suck at loving others I often find it easier to write about beliefs that may hinder ones relationship with their Creator. God was always willing to live in peace, despite one’s beliefs, as long as they didn’t engage in such evils as child sacrificing, raping, killing, etc. Jesus did not attack people’s sexual preferences. Jesus attacked the real hypocrites – the religious. If you claim to be spiritual ask a friend where they see hypocrisy in your life. Years ago no one was asking me to pray in non-religious group settings. Now, people look to me as if I am expected to pray. Maybe they sense God and I hang together. Maybe they know I went to seminary a year and mistakenly think that qualifies me. But, my prayers are fun and open because God in my life is fun and open. I love having my conversations with God out loud. It is like asking me to play tennis. Anytime, anywhere! Knowing God can be life transforming and help to face challenges in a not so friendly world.