What were you told of what happens to you after death as a child? Was the afterlife something that was taught to you? Or were you forced to listen to some preacher a relative’s funeral – giving long winded talks of heaven and hell?
For me the afterlife, specifically heaven and hell, was an import part of my childhood. My parents taught me very early on about sin and salvation. And how my sin affects my position in the afterlife. One of the very first verses I memorized was “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23.” Then followed by, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved – Acts 16:31.”
I heard often in Sunday school about how we were all sinners from birth. Born causing harm to others and to g-d. And anytime we sin we push g-d further away from us. As a child I was told of g-d’s love and care and how he wants us to be with him in heaven.
My mom and church told long stories about how heaven would be this glorious place filled with love. We would feel no pain there, and no tears would ever be shed. We would also be able to see all of our loved ones that had gone on to be with g-d. Jesus would be there showing us his wonderful love and compassion. My dad told of the exact dimensions of heaven and the jewels and gold that decorated the structure of heaven. I can remember him describing it as a huge gold cube decorated with every type of jewel imaginable.
On the flip side of this, I was also told of hell. How those that rejected g-d would be sent to a place of eternal suffering. I can remember my parents describing it as being continually burnt or continual feelings of extreme pain. There people would have thirst and hunger that would never be satisfied; and they would be in total isolation, no light or sense of community. They would be doomed to an eternal life of isolation and suffering.
So I did what any child would do in those circumstances. I asked g-d to save me from my wickedness. To take all of my bad things away and to be with me forever. I wanted to go to heaven, not to hell. Mind you this isn’t something I decided as a teen. This is something that I did before I even have a solid memory of it at three-four years of age.
The concept of being “saved” from hell was ingrained in me. I grew up believing and thinking I was saved from my earliest memories. I KNEW I was “saved” and I KNEW that hell was real. Any other world view or religious view was downplayed or “proven” false to me. I trusted the adults in my life and I 100% believed what they taught me.
But the older I got the more I heard about my “sin” and how I was a sinful person. I struggled because I was suppose to be saved, but I couldn’t reconcile my “evil” actions with how a christian was suppose to act. Further complicating this were multitudes of sermons on the idea that a true Christian shows “fruit” in their life. Basically the idea is that if you are “saved” then you will act like a perfect saved christian boy / girl.
As a pre-teen I would feel less and less like a “true christian” and more like the people I judged for “sinful” actions. The very same people I thought were going to hell. So I would ask god for forgiveness pray the “sinner’s prayer” and try to move towards being a “true christian.” But I was never able to find that comfort or security others claimed to have.
Hellfire is a great motive, but it sure leaves people with a lot of guilt and fear. Fear that they will suffer for all eternity. Fear that g-d will punish them for their sins. Fear that their children or loved ones will suffer in hell. Guilt that they aren’t sharing the “good news” of salvation so that others will not suffer for all eternity.
I’ve had a lot of discussion with people still in the same belief system I left. About how g-d can send people to hell for all eternity, and how he can willingly create a system that allows for people to go to a place of eternal suffering.
Quite often these conversations lead back to the idea that g-d’s ways are beyond our knowledge or understanding – so we can’t understand why g-d does anything. The other main idea presented is that g-d created man to love and worship him. Man is given the choice to serve or not to serve g-d.
These answers worked for me for many years. But the more I dwell on it; the more I struggle with it. I was told g-d is a just, compassionate, and loving g-d. Does a just g-d chose to place a child in a dimension of utter suffering and pain? Is that g-d’s love to “allow” us the “choice” of hell? That doesn’t seeming loving to me. Nor does it seem just to condemn a person that wasn’t even offered that “choice.”
Most of the world has heard a “christian” message, but what about the areas that haven’t heard it. Is g-d still willing to condemn them? According to my childhood teachings, yes, g-d condemns those people to eternal damnation. Because they had the “witness” of g-d through nature and chose to ignore it.
I can’t and won’t believe that. I did for a large portion of my life, but I can’t worship and serve a g-d like that. A wrathful g-d of so called justice that condemns most of his creation to eternal torment. That is not a g-d I wish to have as part of my life.