“Dear God, I have been hiding from You, imagining You can’t see my mind when I am worrying about Hell. But You see it all and there’s no use denying it: I sometimes have a hard time seeing You as a loving God and I often feel guilty for following a God that condemns people. It literally makes me feel like a bad person.
I think the problem is that I am trying so hard to see how we deserve death that I fail to see how beautiful You have made humans to be. The reason I try so hard to understand our sinful nature is because I cannot justify putting it out of my mind since our fallen nature is what leads us to thankfulness that You saved us.
Another disturbing thought that has been going through my head and preventing me from seeing You as loving is the thought of other people suffering in Hell. For me, this thought is so troubling that it consumes my mind and distracts me from contemplating Your love. I am utterly baffled as to how we can experience joy while we are aware that people are suffering in Hell. Empathy is generally a good thing, but I think too much empathy can overwhelm us. There is no doubt that You have empathy. I should not assume that You are up in Heaven not experiencing any anguish and empathy at all.
For example, if I am being murdered and I call out to You and nothing happens, I can still trust that You love me because You are empathetic, and You are not sitting there, nodding Your head in enjoyment, thinking “she deserves this.” I don’t know why, but sometimes I think You are like that. However, I know that just because You allow suffering doesn’t mean You enjoy watching it. Instead, You despise suffering and feel it along with us because of Your empathy.
My anxiety about Hell has become a habitual thought that has overwhelmed me, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I can acknowledge the fact that I deserve Hell without becoming emotionally invested in that fact. To me, the word “deserve” is such an emotionally-charged word, though. I think my difficulty with the word, “deserve” prevents me from being as thankful to You as I would like to be. I think that is why I am so focused on trying to understand “deserve” with my emotions. It just doesn’t feel right accepting Your grace when I do not emotionally understand the reason it was necessary.
I absolutely accept the fact that we deserve Hell, but I do not understand it nor am I wholly passionate about it in an emotional sense. However, I think I need to give myself permission to rejoice in Your grace even when I do not feel like I have sufficiently felt a strong desire for justice to be served no matter what that looks like. Belief is more than emotions.
I am so confused, though. Can I still consider myself a Christian if I am so confused? Can I passionately say “thank you, thank you!” if I cannot passionately say “I deserve suffering!” I can authentically say that my fallen nature results in eternal suffering. I accept that cause-and-effect relationship but the mechanism behind it baffles my emotions.
This is a very trivial metaphor but maybe this will help me: If a child breaks a lamp, the father cannot make the broken pieces disappear so someone has to experience the natural results of breaking that lamp. The father can forgive the child and tell her she doesn’t have to pay for the lamp but there is a cost to that forgiveness – the father has to pay for the lamp. Similarly, when You forgive us, You cannot make the consequences of our actions disappear so You suffer those consequences as the price of that forgiveness.
A God who is not full of grace would create without intent to redeem, but You are full of grace because You have always intended to save us so why should we get so hung-up on the what-ifs, as in “what if God hadn’t redeemed us?” It has never been Your plan to do that so why should we determine Your goodness based on a “what-if” that didn’t happen? In our human understanding, we think that since You are full of grace, it doesn’t make sense for You to be wrathful, but not being wrathful doesn’t necessarily show more grace than being wrathful with intent to redeem.
I’m glad I got that out in the open. It’s been driving me insane. You are good, and I am going to continue to believe that despite what my emotions tell me. And while I am in the midst of confusion, I will trust that I am indeed a Christian and You will grant me more understanding when the time is right. All I know is that there are consequences to sin, and You saved us from those consequences so I cannot think of anything that could make me more thankful.”
A few months ago, the young adults group I was involved in went through a study on the book of Revelation. The pastor talked about how some of the things in Revelation concerning God’s judgement should naturally make us uncomfortable. For some reason, I took that to mean that I should be in complete anguish for the next few months, struggling with obsessive thoughts about Hell and doubts about God’s goodness. I don’t think the pastor meant to imply that we should be in a constant state of confusion and discomfort. I think he meant that we can acknowledge the fact that some things are uncomfortable for us while not allowing that discomfort to conquer our trust in God. I think his point was that we shouldn’t completely ignore it or put it out of our minds since we need to know who God really is, but we also shouldn’t obsess over it to the point where there is no more room in our minds to contemplate God’s grace.
It’s sad how almost everything I hear about God and read in the Bible is twisted by my mind into something that ends up causing me anguish.