Thursday, September 2, 2010

Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell

This summer, Leah, from The Weather in the Streets, shared a poignant story from her childhood.  It happened to be about hell.  Well, in part.  Leah is Jewish.  I don't know the Jewish theology on the subject, but her mother told her that "hell is a story made up to scare people into behaving." 

Hmm.  This really got me thinking, about hell, the nature of faith and God, and how, in the end, this might apply to parenting.

Just as I am not a Jewish theologian, neither am I Christian one, though I am a Christian.  The Bible is very clear that the punishment for sin is death.  Death.  Not, hell.  But hell is in there too, so...  Well, I admit, I am not completely clear on the subject.  This is where I refer you back to my disclaimer at the beginning of the paragraph.

Does this mean the I believe hell is made up?  Well, in the same Bible, Jesus himself talks of God being able to condemn one to hell, so I am going to have to go with the it existing.  Though, it is true that it has, throughout history, been used just the way Leah's mother described it.

As a child growing up, it was mentioned much more by people who wanted me to act a certain way, than it is in scripture.  And lets face it, history is full of entire civilizations being manipulated with the fear of eternal damnation.

This got me thinking some more.  Scary, I know.

Faith, or obedience for that matter, based on a fear of hell, is not faith at all, but extortion.  Just as faith, based solely on the promise of heaven, is bribery.  I consider my personal faith to be based on neither.  They factor in, of course, but I believe in Jesus as Savior because of a personal relationship I have with Him, through prayer and scripture, and the million little ways he speaks to me everyday, if I bother to pay attention.  I love God because He first loved me.  I "behave" (to the extent that I do) because I want to please Him.  And I have tried to pass this sense of relationship onto my children.  I have never once invoked hell to them, and we talk of heaven as a place we go when we die, not a place we go if we are good.

This got me thinking some more.

If God is my father, and this is the relationship I have with Him, how might this translate to my relationship with my own children?  Hmm.  (That's the noise I make when I think.)  I have come to the conclusion that, while correction, discipline, punishment, and even bribery (remember those gold fish crackers?) have a place in parenting, I parent best when my focus is building a loving relationship with my children, such that they want to please me.

But, as with most of the stuff I write, I could be completely wrong.


  1. Tracey, I think you nailed it on the head. I completely agree with you and your thoughts here. Hell exists, if you believe the Bible but I hate to see that fact used to scare children to say they believe certain things. That scare tactic isn't real faith and won't hold up to the true relationship they should experience with God throughout their lives. It should be so much more than that, like you said so very well!

  2. I like your idea about a relationship with God, as the father, and a reflection of (or inspiration for) one's own relationship with family, and that is very much how I see it. No threats, just a desire to seek Him. At least, ideally...

    But of course, the God of the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, and writings) be very scary at times--forget Hell, God Himself is threatening! So there's that...

    I suppose in the end, although I'm very religious in my own way, and believe with all my heart in God, I just don't take the Bible literally for the most part, but rather as a series of metaphors and inspiration, a way to learn about our heart's history.

  3. Faith is belief in that which cannot be detected with the 5 senses. As you can't detect hell, it is not inconsistent with "faith" as a concept. It is more a promise to the disobediant. Obey God and accept Jesus as your Savior, else, you "...shall [be] cast into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Accept Jesus, and your reward is presence before Jesus forever and ever.

    Neither is a threat or a bribe. Merely a promise to all humans.

    God loves you and doesn't want you to burn forever...that is the basis of the relationship. A love of a Father that wants you to live as He intended and promised

  4. I have come to accept that I don't know what exactly is out there, what these words heaven and hell fully mean in ways that I can describe, but I do think a lot about spirituality and I think people feel connectedness to God, the universe, in many beautiful ways. I know how horrible it feels to be disconnected, separated from those I love, and this is something for me that is an example of what hell might be. To not be part of the beauty of love. Thinking about our relationship to the divine and how that is reflected in our relationships with our children has to be a good thing.