I was 11 years old when I first became a Christian. I had an amazing conversion experience where I felt God’s love flood my heart. For two and half years I was very zealous for God, and I shared my faith often. Long story short, however, a lot of things happened in my life and I “backslid.” I began doing drugs and all the other stuff that religion forbids you to do, all the while praying every night that I wouldn’t die and go to hell. When I was 16 I was in a drug-related car accident that left me paralyzed from the chest down.
After the accident I was glad to be alive, and I decided to quit doing drugs and to return to being the Christian I once was. After two years of suffering in a wheelchair, however, I began to question my faith for the first time in my life, especially hell. Having learned what it is like to suffer, I began to wonder how God could allow anyone to suffer in hell for literally all eternity. Eternity is just too long. It didn’t seem fair or just to me that anyone would have to suffer relentlessly for billions upon billions of years with no hope of it ever ending.
I almost lost my faith completely until I found out about two other theories, universalism (the belief that everyone will eventually be saved even if they have to spend some time in hell) and annihilationism (the belief that the lost will simply be destroyed instead of endlessly punished). This gave me great hope, especially universalism, and I studied the topic extensively, but I never could put all of the pieces together. That was not until I discovered preterism, and everything finally made sense. Through preterism I learned about the 70 a.d. destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. I learned that Jesus’ prophecies about the end times referred to this destruction. And most importantly that when Jesus warned about hell, he used the word Gehenna which was the name of a literal valley right outside Jerusalem where 1,000,000 Jews were killed and then burned in the 70 a.d. destruction. It became clear to me that Jesus never preached about hell as a place you go when you die to burn for all eternity, but instead hell was a literal physical place on earth where the citizens of Jerusalem who rejected Jesus’ warnings and rebelled against Rome were killed and burned in 70 a.d. by the Romans (40 years after Jesus warned them).
Having all the pieces put together, preterism finally put the nail in the coffin on the subject of hell. And that gives me great relief, because I have a much easier time believing in God now that I know that He is not going to let people suffer in hell for all eternity without end. If someone could prove to me that the bible teaches eternal conscious torment then I would honestly throw it in the trash. The very idea that people, whom we wouldn’t even put in prison on earth, are going to suffer endlessly for billions upon billions of years is the most sick, twisted, insane idea imaginable. It is not just! It is the worst perversion of justice ever conceived! “Will not the Lord of all the earth do right?” Yes, I believe he will. I believe God is better than me, and if I have the common sense to see that eternal conscious torment is insanely unfair then so does he. If me and you have compassion and mercy in our hearts to where we wouldn’t want someone to suffer for all eternity, don’t you think that God has even more compassion and mercy? If God allows people to suffer in hell for all eternity then he is the most evil, wicked, cruel and heartless being in existence. The very absurdity of the idea of eternal conscious torment has caused me to no longer even consider it a possibility, and to no longer fear it.
This leads me to my next point, restorative justice. Simple-minded people believe that justice equals an eye for an eye, but Jesus taught us something better than that.
Matthew 5:38 – You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus taught that justice is not punitive, an eye for an eye. It is not about punishment. How can punishment make anything right? It can’t. It can only do more damage. One person lost their eye, now two people lost their eyes. Pretty soon the whole world will be eyeless and blind. Real justice is restorative. It is about healing and recovering wholeness. Hating your enemy only leads to more destruction, but loving your enemy leads to healing, connection, restoration, and wholeness. And Jesus says that this is what our Father in Heaven does.
Why do people hurt each other? Usually it’s because they are hurt themselves. Hurt people hurt people, and God understands that. God understands all of us better than we understand ourselves. He understands why we lose control and lash out and do the things that we hate. That’s why he prayed on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” And God isn’t going to condemn anyone to an eternal existence of misery because we were deceived by a false rationale rooted deeply in our own fear, pain, and ignorance that caused us to act in our most primitive beastly manner. I have confidence in God that He is better than I. That his love, grace, mercy, compassion, and yes even his justice (which is restorative and not punitive) is better than mine. I love the passage in Isaiah where God says that his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts, and if you look closely you will see that that passage is all about God having mercy on people whom we thought didn’t deserve it. God is good, and that is why he will not allow anyone to suffer in hell for all eternity.
Michael Read sees himself as a friend of God. He has a firm conviction that God is good and that Christ is life!.
Great to hear your testimony, Michael. Thanks!
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