It was a question via Facebook messenger, completely out of the blue from a high school girl from our Youth Center. She simply asked,
“How do you stay so positive?”
I wanted to hug her.
It’s such a simple, little question packed with SO much.
I remember what it is like to be a teenage girl. It’s overwhelming. It’s difficult. It’s lonely. It’s confusing. I love that this young lady feels all the feels and wants to fight negativity. Fight lies. Fight cynicism. Fight apathy. And have positivity.
Here’s how I responded to her that night (it was late, and a little jumbled :)):
“I know it’s a little cliche-but honestly, it’s my faith. Faith and age I wasn’t always like this-when I was your age, I was on depression medication, Zoloft, and definitely had breakdowns and felt despair. I’ve even had those in the last couple of years (though the older I get, the less and less frequent that happens). My faith keeps me positive for 2 main reasons: one, I believe that absolutely everything that happens, God can use for good-to grow me into a better woman. He is doing a million different things in my life all at once, for me- for my good, and I only can see a few of them. I believe He is good and patient and kind-so that helps a lot. And secondly, I believe that no matter what happens in this life–it’ll pass. I know it will. And eventually this life will be over and the best life will begin! And that helps me maintain a positive perspective too.
It doesn’t come naturally always. A lot of times i have to “walk myself to truth” and journal out what I know to be true, and what lies I may be believing that are causing my heartache. It doesn’t just happen overnight; it is a journey. But I can say for fact, that choosing joy and fighting for positivity now, is sooooooooo much easier today. So wherever you’re at-keep fighting for joy. Figure out truth and preach it to yourself and have others speak truth to you too! God really is the great Comforter and believing in him-his power & goodness & control- is the only way I’ve found to really BE positive!”
A few days ago I posted about a recent conversation I had with someone who is passionately wrestling with God about His choice to punish humankind via the eternal punishment of hell. I reached out to some wise, believers I know to help me process my subsequent thoughts after the conversation. Here is what some of them said:
- Here are a couple thoughts about your question on the eternality of hell and ministry. First, a rather blunt response: You have no hope of being “amazing in ministry” if you disagree with Jesus, who clearly believed in the eternality of hell. See Mark 9:48 and Matthew 25:46. You could also add Revelation 14:9-11 to this list. Is Revelation as directly from Jesus as the Gospels? Perhaps! That text is quite clear. Luke 16:26 speaks to the idea of moving from hell to heaven, and it is impossible. There is a great chasm “fixed” between them. Second – and perhaps more gently – I am concerned about what lies beneath this move away from the eternality of hell. It is sobering to remember, but the reason hell is eternal is because God is so holy, and sin is so awful. Hell’s eternality also tells us why the cross is so wonderful. I would like to gently ask your friend with doubts about these things. To diminish hell is to diminish God’s holiness, sin’s awfulness, and the cross’s wonder. Here is why: sin is terrible rebellion against the infinite God. The measure of its vile nature can only be truly seen when we compare it to the holiness and beauty of God. Rebellion against such a Lord can only be justly punished by infinite punishment. God is that infinitely good, and sin is that bad. Sin’s terrible rebellion can only be satisfied by an infinite sacrifice – which is why Jesus himself is the only Savior qualified to redeem us. It has to be the God-man who goes to the cross. That is the only way God-sized justice can be satisfied. This is why Paul calls us to worship in Romans 5 when he reminds us of the incredible love of God: “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When we confront the temptation to shorten hell, we do so believing we are elevating God’s love and compassion. In reality, we are diminishing his holiness, and the love he showed us when he sent his son to be our Savior. It is only on the cross where God’s perfect justice and love meet. I hope that helps!
- Great question. I would def affirm the struggle. It’s a doctrine I don’t like at all, yet clearly laid out in scripture. Why doesn’t this individual think it should be eternal? I would ask if you haven’t already. Asking a ton of questions is great too. The short answer is that a finite being sinning against or rebelling against an eternal God equals an infinite offense. Since God is eternal, then an offense against Him is as well. Since He is completely just, it must be punished. If would be gross if He didn’t punish it in such a way. But ultimately this magnifies the gospel and Jesus sucking dry the wrath of God. There is no more offense, ever, for those in Christ. Amen!! The struggle is on the human side. Simply put, we just don’t understand holiness or the gravity of sin. I know I don’t!! I say all that to say, the grace of God is immense, even for jokers and fakers like me who don’t get it, question it, and get frustrated by it. And I’m so freakin thankful!!! He has an “along the way” kind of grace that is very much for our wrestling through it. I would encourage this person to begin by agreeing with God and His Word, confessing ignorance and the struggle, and asking Him to help them see the reality of this doctrine, to help them believe what is true. And then to celebrate God’s scandalous grace for blind sheep like us. I’d be glad to dialogue w this person too (not that I have any answers or know it all, but I def struggle w such doctrines, yet am learning to trust scripture over my broken feelings and shady perceptions). Good stuff!!
- Betty, thanks for asking. To be brief, I think it can safely be said that if Scripture teaches the doctrine of eternal hell so clearly, that we should in a sense cover our mouths (like Job) and not give our minds to wonder whether this is one of God’s lesser attributes, his “dark side”, or something that Christians should be embarrassed or confused about. God’s wrath is an action that flows from his profound and eternal love. To the degree that he is glorious and that the Father loves his Son, so must he act in accordance with that love with jealous vengeance on any who should oppose whom He loves most. Any of us can understand this emotion (to a much lesser degree!) when a loved one is attacked. The problem with hell is not that God is out of line and overly severe with his punishments, rather it is our human tendency to think more highly of ourselves (and our race)- that we deserve better and that our sinful state really isn’t that bad. I do not believe any one who is confused about this doctrine can rightly preach the gospel in view of all that Christ endured for us on the cross. It wasn’t just a six-hour ordeal in the flesh that Jesus took upon himself, it was our eternal damnation that he swallowed whole! Concerning what this young man should do, if he desires ministry, I would not hesitate to tell him (if I were with him, after hearing him out, and trying to understand his heart and desire for ministry, and his struggle with the doctrine of hell) that to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus, one must not be discomforted by the concept of eternal damnation, as the Savior who loves and died for us in the gospel is the very Savior who taught us about this very place of eternal torment. He should not enter into ministry if this critical doctrine is not understood, embraced, and yes, that God should even be worshipped as the God of justice and wrath. When someone struggles with this idea of eternal torment, I generally find that they are in the end minimizing the love and graciousness of God by lessening his justice and wrath. One cannot shrink one attribute without doing the same to all the others. More could be said, for sure. Let me know if you need clarification to what I’ve shared. Blessings
- Betty, there are varieties of ministry, so a placement in some form of ministry isn’t out of the question. The concern of the day is in how we seem to have opened ourselves to interpretations of clear and straightforward doctrines of Scripture which have been contrived to mean something other than what they say. Is this person inclined toward that type of hermeneutical approach in other areas as well? Again, whether this person is directed toward the pursuit of full-time ministry hinges on the type of ministry and their inclinations with other topics biblically. We both probably know people who are wonderful and winsome and loving who would be great at ministry except that their theology is antithetical, so be careful getting caught up with the persona
- my first gut reply would be to focus on the work of Jesus Christ. If God is going to swoop down into hell and rescue everyone after all is said and done, what is the point of Christ’s sacrifice? Wouldn’t that diminish the glory of the Cross? Also, the very character of God would be challenged in this – His faithfulness, holiness, justice, etc
- I resonate with everything you said, and I would love to entertain the thought that perhaps God has a really sweet way to end the story. However: if we all end up in heaven. What’s the point? What’s the point of the gospel, and Jesus telling people to make disciples and God promising to take care of those who love Him. This is different than the argument of “what’s the point of choosing God if you believe He chose you” sort of thing. This about a consequence to sin.
- Thanks for the post. It is a very real question for many. I do think you are right in much of what you say — faith is the bottom line, but there are a couple of other things that also factor in. We just visited Korazim, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Jesus said it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than these because of their lack of faith. That suggests to me that there are degrees of punishment in hell, though it is not clear what that means. Second, to choose to reject God means rejecting life and all that is life. God does not force anyone to choose, but absence of God will include death. In fact, the goodness of God requires that he does not force his presence on anyone…. Just a few thoughts. Ultimately we really do not know what “hell” means in real terms, but we know it is just and necessary.
- I have struggled very much with this exact thing. I think you’re exactly, right Betty, in that the answer is prayer. It’s not just the short answer though. It’s THE answer. Prayer for God to allow his perfect peace to set in and let the issue rest. I’d still love to see God one day storm the gates of hell and redeem all of creation in his unending love, but he has given me the peace in my heart so that I can understand and be at rest with the existence of an eternal hell.
- The externality of hell has been a long time discussion in the Christian community. However, when it is all said and done it comes down to our trusting in the character of God. We hate to see injustice and unnecessary pain in the lives of those we love and know, but what position are we in to call into question the heart of God? We don’t like the sound of an eternal hell because we can’t comprehend eternity or understand a perfect God. A person seeking to go into ministry must be in a complete place of trusting the heart of God no matter how much they don’t like or understand pain and suffering. Ministry is being an ambassador of the Gospel and God’s word. We can not be an effective ambassador of someone we do not trust to be perfect and holy and just regardless of our ability to fully understand the purpose behind the decisions they make. No one really knows the reality of what hell looks like, but I have to trust that God would not condemn anyone to a place that is beyond the bounds of his perfect character.
I have wonderful and wise friends 🙂
But I then I thought to myself, I’m sure he does too! He told me how deeply he has thought through this! I am sure he has been told these same sorts of things by similar people! I’m sure he has thought through perhaps each of these points, and read articles and blogs and listened to sermons and had long conversations over dining room tables. It was almost discouraging. Almost discouraging to think that I may offer no new insight, or compelling argument. Almost discouraging to think that he has heard all of these things before, and his heart will continue to hurt and question despite my efforts to help and encourage.
Almost discouraging. But not quite.
Because Sunday morning during our Acts sermon series my Pastor, Joel DeVinney, preached on God sovereignly opening unbelieving hearts. He spoke of how eyes were blind, hearts were stone, and minds were closed prior to God giving faith. He encouraged us to speak/share/plead/preach etc., because that is the venue that God often uses to open hearts in His perfect timing and mercy.
So speak and trust God’s sovereignty!
Well, if that is true with unbelievers—is it not also true with us?
Is it not then my responsibility and privilege to speak truth to believers (and to myself) and with prayer trust God’s sovereignty to graciously open their eyes to see truth?
I need not be discouraged even if he has heard and been dissatisfied with these truths A HUNDRED times, because God in his mercy will reveal truth to him perhaps at the one hundred and first time-and I want to be faithful if the Lord chooses to use me in that way.
So even though he has perhaps heard of/thought of all these things before, I will share. I will share them trusting that God is giving me the opportunity to pile truth on top of his wrestling heart. And at just the right moment, in His grace, God will open up his heart and mind to receive and trust these difficult realities. Then all the truths that have been piling up will fall into his heart and by God’s grace he will move forward in peace, trust, and joy to make a GLORIOUS impact for the Kingdom.
The last few speaking engagements I’ve booked, the organizers of the event have asked me for a bio and a headshot. Being the unprepared young lady I am, I would quickly jot down a few lines about myself and submit a selfie from Facebook. Real cool. Real professional.
(note the sarcasm)
Fortunately for me, and anyone looking to have me speak, I have a dear, sweet, INCREDIBLY TALENTED friend, Olivia Craft, who took the time to take photos of me for headshots!
Here are some of them:
Isn’t that crazy? What great lighting, shots, poses and angels! Trust me, that has nothing to do with me! I don’t look that fly in real life-Olivia works magic! The session experience was so very pleasant! She was so very encouraging, and kind, and incredibly helpful! She made me laugh, made me feel like I was doing a great job, and gave me lots of tips to help me know what to do with my hands/feet/head/hair/anything!
In the midst of this, you know what I thought?
God is awesome- he thought of photography.
He brilliantly made a way for images to be captured, frozen in time, and printed. He didn’t have to do that-it is out of his abundant grace! Before time, he fashioned the ideas of lenses and flash. He created the ability to zoom and edit. Before matter was formed he had already thought of negatives and dark rooms and film and prints and focus.
- He is incredibly kind (Isaiah 30:18)
- He is creative and loves for us to be creative (Ephesians 2:10)
- He loves for us to recall, remember, reflect, and look back (Psalm 105:5)
So next time you appreciate photography or a photographer, don’t worship the creation, but rather the creator (Romans 1:25). Take time to thank God for his kindness, his creativity, and our ability to be creative too. Then, think about what He was teaching you, what lessons you learned, and what you can praise Him for concerning the event photographed.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
What pictures do YOU have that you praise God for?
P.S. Do you need an amazing, sweet, encouraging, relaxing, talented photographer? Check out this brilliant, beautiful young lady at her website- http://www.oliviaraephotography.com/
Recently, I wrote a paper on defining the relationship between knowledge acquired through the social sciences (reason) and knowledge that comes through the Bible (faith). Here is an excerpt:
“In Greek mythology it is said that human beings were first created with four arms and four legs and were extremely powerful creatures. Zeus, fearing their influence and strength, cut them in half and split the two parts as far away as possible hoping individually they could never accomplish what they could have when united. This is where we derived the idea and terminology of “soul mates”. There is someone who is our “other half” that we must spend our lifetime trying to find in order to be truly whole and most powerful. Though clearly biblically inaccurate in the human sense, can we apply this unique notion to the relationship between faith and reason? What if faith and reason are actually soul mates? What if truly, they are two parts of one body who originally were designed to labor and flourish in harmony, but have been torn apart because of the fall? What if it is not a matter of who came first or of who holds more value because they are in fact, one?
…If faith and reason are two parts of the same coin; if they are soul mates, what are the repercussions of this for the work of ministry? …During the evening session [of a ministry I served in] there were sermons taught…[and] I am aghast to inform you that during too many of these evening gatherings faith was the only truth present and reason was asked to sit in the back row and not speak. Questions were not encouraged, and neither was deliberation. One evening an alter call was given, sternly telling the teenagers in attendance that he “wasn’t going to wait long”, and that they “only have a minute to make their decision”. What damage this does! What a shame to not encourage thinking. This is truly the most important decision they will ever make in life, and though not all their questions can be answered, let not them go unasked! And to not assure them that salvation by faith is accessible at whatever moment God opens their eyes to his grace is heartbreaking. I fear that has banner of, “Don’t overthink, just believe” did more harm than good.
…Similarly, far too often in the church pulpit on Sunday mornings, faith is preached, but not its other half-reason. One of the most sneakily detrimental norms of Christianity in America today is the palatable topical preaching being lofted from our stages. When we preach only child-like faith without integrating intellect, reason, and truths found in social sciences we are setting our congregations up for failure. We are at war. The enemy troops have cannons loaded with fact, philosophy, and rhetoric. We are fools to think our dart guns of easy application and slingshots of skirting difficult issues with “love” will win us any battle.
It would be equally foolish to swing the proverbial pendulum the other direction. To speak only of knowledge gained through social sciences with no regard or integration of faith derogatorily displays our faith and our God as a puny one…
Faith and Reason are a breathtaking, perfectly balanced couple. When manifested in a life, culture, or topic well, God’s glory shines in such undeniable brilliance, his name is seen as great. We need joyful, strong believers to be educated, deep thinkers in every facet of civilization. That happens not by chance, but by penetrating intentionality. Though we all share in this mission, the burden should weigh heaviest on the shoulders of parents, pastors, and educators. They have the hallowed charge to both live and teach the truth that knowledge gained through research in the social sciences and knowledge gained through the study of God’s word are soul mates and should never be torn asunder. For his name’s sake, may God grant us wisdom, stamina, and winsomeness for such a cumbersome, arduous task.”