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Stream of Consciousness

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The words of Jesus are absolutely compelling. But the fact that we do not have free will is absolutely compelling. God tells me one thing, which is very compelling. The Bible tells me something different, which is very compelling.

I have ambitions, through which I aim to alleviate suffering. Sometimes this seems noble. But then I am struck by the fear of acting in a way that is not totally submitted to Jesus.

The warnings of hellfire carry weight because the teaching of Jesus is so compelling. Yet when I commit to follow Jesus I soon remember that because we have no free will, the idea of sin, which is key to the teaching of Jesus, doesn’t make sense,

So I think, the Bible must be wrong. I almost feel certain of this. I lay out logical thought processes which convince me that Biblical theology is illogical. But then I consider that the Bible describes everlasting torment for those who don’t believe.

I consider everlasting torment and how cruel it would make God. Yet I also know there is great joy in following Jesus. But how can God punish people in hell for acts that He, by His sovereign will has caused them to do?

So I consider God wouldn’t be so cruel as to send people to hell. But then this is to deny the teaching of Jesus, who claims to be God. And yet Jesus seems kind, which makes me think God must be merciful. But then I consider hell, and that God is willing to show no mercy to some, according to Scripture.

But all I have to do is put my faith in Jesus to avoid damnation? No, for I must also pick up my cross and follow Him, which could involve great suffering, even martyrdom. But surely this is preferable to eternal punishment. All the martyrs of the past chose worldly suffering over eternal suffering.

But then there are martyrs for Islam as well as Christianity. How am I to make sense of that? I consider this and reflect that surely God has a role for every human being, not just those who follow Jesus, and He unfolds the lives of Muslims and atheists, as well as Christians.

Then I consider the doctrine of double predestination, and how it is the only way to understand Christianity if God is sovereign over all events. But it is such a cruel doctrine, and I don’t want to accept that God would be cruel.

Here lies Martin Elginbrod

Have mercy on my soul Lord God

As I would do were I Lord God

And ye were Martin Elginbrod

Are all Christians as afraid of God as I am? Why is God so frightening if He’s a loving God?

The Bible speaks of God’s wrath over sin. Why then, does He not just unfold a universe without sin? If hell exists, and God is sovereign, He must choose to damn people. Even though He has been in control of everything they’ve ever done.

But the Christian will say, we DO have free will. No, Christian, we don’t. When you pray to God, Christian, you ask Him for things that prove that you know He is in control of your life in its entirety. You pray for Him to bless your marriage, your children, your spiritual life, your job. And then you claim at the same time you have free will? Christian, you are in error. You say ‘God is in control’ because that comforts you, but then you say ‘We have free will’ because the Bible teaches sin. This is a logical contradiction at the very heart of the Christian faith, which I cannot ignore.

But maybe I should ignore this contradiction, and adopt the position of Pascal and his wager? Even if Christianity makes no sense at all, maybe I should just do my best to live in accordance with Biblical theology? Yes, that’s what I should do. But then, despite my prayers for peace and clarity, the free will problem comes up again, and I am certain that we don’t have free will.

Look, it’s obvious. God’s being is boundless. He is omnipresent. There is not a place where the being of God ends and freedom from God begins. There is nothing outside of God’s control. I know the to be true. We do not have free will.

The solid truth that we do not have free will is a knock down argument against Christianity, isn’t it? Or perhaps, in line with Pascal’s wager, I must ignore this truth and believe the gospel, because that is my only chance of avoiding hellfire.

Yes, that’s it. I must obey Jesus. The words of Jesus are so compelling. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” “I am the light of the world” “I am the bread of life” “The only way to the Father is through the Son”.

Well, either these claims of Jesus must be true, or they aren’t. They are incredibly persuasive, especially in the context of the whole Bible. But maybe those people who compiled the Bible did so in such a way as to make it as convincing as possible. Maybe they left out all the contradictory and troublesome bits, and put together something theologically cohesive just to make the argument for Christianity as compelling as possible. Bart Ehrman and others have studied the Bible in incredible depth, and come to the conclusion that it is not trustworthy, so why shouldn’t I agree with them?

Oh gosh, Jesus said ‘He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God’, that means I can’t be fit, because of these thoughts that I am having that are doubting the veracity of the Christian faith. But God is controlling these thoughts, so there’s nothing I can do about it.

I suppose God might want to damn me. Then there’s nothing I can do. Does God want to damn me because I can’t make up my mind about Christianity? But He is the one who is causing me to not make up my mind, so why doesn’t He just make me make up my mind?

Perhaps all of this questioning is a demonstration of my fear of God, and my love of Truth, which would be something that would please God. Perhaps the most important thing in life is to be kind, to do good, and to love my my neighbour as myself. Then it doesn’t seem so important that everything I do is in line with Biblical theology, I just have to love people.

Didn’t Jesus say that the whole of the law is to love God and love my neighbour? I think I do love God and love my neighbour, so maybe I am safe. But the Christian would say loving God means loving the Christian God, and loving the Christian God means being submitted to Jesus, and I don’t think I am fully submitted to Jesus, otherwise I wouldn’t be thinking like this.

Actually, come to think of it, do I even know Jesus? In the past I have been so immersed in Christian life in a very genuine way. I have sung songs about my love of Jesus in a very genuine way. I have preached about Jesus to others in a very genuine way.

Perhaps I am a backslider, but I hate that term, because it doesn’t appreciate my struggle. I am not backsliding, I am trying to establish TRUTH. But yes, there it is again, Jesus is the way, the TRUTH and the life, so I must follow Him.

But actually, so what if Jesus said He is the truth. If someone else says they are the truth, then should I follow them? Why are Jesus’ words to be believed over and above anyone else?

Well, the Christian would say, because Jesus is God. Well that settles things, doesn’t it? If Jesus is God then He has all authority. But the Muslims claim that calling Jesus God is the worst sin there is. There are a billion Muslims who believe this. So are these Muslims going to hell? Or are all Christians going to hell, because claiming God has a son is blasphemy? Muslims believe this! What if they are right?

If the Muslims are correct and Jesus is a prophet, then maybe Christians should be more humble. Perhaps if Christians were to embrace Jesus as a prophet, then common ground could be found among Muslims and Christians. Perhaps the divinity of Jesus is a fabrication.

But there are compelling scriptures in the Bible that demonstrate Jesus really did claim to be God, so how are we to know? Perhaps we cannot know for sure, and that is why we have to have faith. So I suppose I must put my faith in Jesus, and do my best to wholeheartedly follow Him. But I am not in control of whether I do that or not, it is God who controls that.

My goodness, my Christian readers are going to think I am an awful person for wrestling so much about things which they find relatively easy. The scripture comes to mind about the man who built his house on the sand, it had no foundations. I suppose that’s what my Christian readers will think of me — Steven is such an idiot because he can’t just put his faith in Jesus and make the commitment.

But Christian, God is in control of my life, I have no choice in the matter! Maybe some Christian readers think that’s a cheap cop out. But God know the truth of the matter, which is that I am being completely honest.

I get excited when I think about my plans for the future. But I don’t know whether my plans line up properly with biblical theology. Maybe it’s selfish have plans and dreams. But don’t they come from God? Doesn’t every thought we have come from God? Of course it does. But this means God must want me to be struggling with all these issues.

Perhaps God does want me to struggle with these issues, because He is refining my character and teaching me about Christianity through my struggles. Yes, that would make sense. That is a comforting thought, that all of this might be part of God’s plan, and that He doesn’t hate me.

Why would God hate me? He has made me exactly the way I am.

I’m so tired of this struggle. Sometimes I enjoy the struggle, sometimes I hate it. I love my writing, because I think it contains important and deep insights. But then the Christian might say that any book which doesn’t reflect submission to Jesus is pointless. Maybe I should burn every copy of every book I have written that doesn’t demonstrate submission to Jesus.

But hang on, another thought. Within Christianity there are countless denominations and countless viewpoints. Isn’t Roman Catholicism the only true faith? That’s what Roman Catholics believe. But then Roman Catholics often talk about how everyone will be saved eventually, perhaps after a spell of purification in purgatory. Perhaps I should commit to Catholicism because it’s the largest Christian denomination… can all those Catholics really be wrong?

But the idea of the Pope! All those fancy robes and the way people worship him. Protestant Christians hate all that. It certainly doesn’t seem to line up with the teaching of Jesus.

Which reminds me, I haven’t taken communion for ages. Maybe some Christian readers will think that’s another reason why I’m struggling. Perhaps my Anglican readers would think that, because communion is a big part of the way they practice Christianity.

But then my friends in Hillsong church barely ever take communion, and they don’t think it’s important to do it regularly, although they do once a month or once every two months. They are much more relaxed about it than the Anglicans.

I think some Christians sin all week long, and then they take communion on a Sunday and say a few prayers, and thereby are cleansed from their sins, which they then go off and commit again. Well, perhaps this is okay? Or are they living a lie?

This feels good to be getting my thoughts out in the open. But it hasn’t brought me any closer to settling my predicament. Do I embrace Christianity or don’t I?

I will have to make a decision soon, because God surely hates indecision. Even though He is causing my indecision, I am 100% certain of that.

Look, I must be taking all of this way too seriously. 99% of the people on the planet don’t care at all about these things. They just get on with their lives. Agonising over Christianity in this way must make me very strange. But actually, it doesn’t feel strange because it is honest. And anyway, the Bible talks about entering through the narrow gate, which leads me to think only a small number of people will be saved, so all those people who are getting on with their lives are going to end up in hell anyway.

But actually, maybe it’s the case that even if someone has lived a life of sin, entirely outside of the Christian faith, but then on their deathbed confesses Jesus, they will go to heaven and everything will be fine for them? God could certainly choose for that to happen. God can do whatever He pleases. Maybe to God, someone who lives their entire life in sin but then repents on their deathbed, is just as valuable as someone who tries to do good works for their entire life.

Protestants argue that works are not important, but are a natural sign of true faith. Roman Catholics on the other hand argue that works are crucial. So either millions of Catholics are wrong, or millions of Protestants are wrong. So how am I to know which denomination to choose?

Maybe I need to find a spiritual guru to support me with these struggles. I tried talking to a priest in Wandsworth about panentheism but he didn’t say anything helpful. I think most of the people in the Anglican church who are priests don’t even consider half the things that I do. Not that I should be judging them.

I think about my relationships, and how they have always been much better when I have been following Jesus. There is always a joy when one feels one is serving the Lord. When I’m serving Jesus I become more aware that I must honour my father and mother. Well, my mother passed away long ago, but I become more aware that I should honour my father. It’s easy to forgive others when one is conscious of God’s forgiveness.

Actually, that’s quite reassuring. Maybe God is forgiving. But then why does He damn people to hell?


Okay folks, I’ll leave it there. This was a stream of consciousness and I haven’t re-read it or edited it at all, I’m just going to publish it as is. So it will be full of errors. When I started writing I wasn’t really planning to publish this as a blog post, but it could be interesting for readers to see the kind of things that I’ve been wrestling with. If you read the whole thing, let me know in the comments (you deserve a reward!) I doubt many people will, though, it is rather lengthy.

(Image by cgrape from Pixabay)

34 comments

  1. As one of your Christian readers, I’d just like to say that I don’t think at all that you are an “awful person” or an “idiot.” I appreciate the depth of your thought and the genuineness of your desire to get to the truth. A lot of Christian would be better off if they had more of that.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Steven! I think it is a precious treasure to God that you are seeking truth and wrestling through ideas about him. Your faith is beautiful. Regarding hell: I have made several videos on this topic. I don’t believe hell is a concept that comes from the Bible, even though most Bible translations say “hell.” I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Steven, after reading this I see that you have MANY questions. I value your desire to seek out truth and not settle for surface level answers. I believe God applauds your efforts to know Him. I’ve been through a similar journey where I felt like I had nothing but questions. Endless what ifs and fears and concerns. So I would like to comfort you with these words. (though I know if you’re anything like me you’ll have to figure it out on your own)….. God is sovereign. He is in full control. But it was His choice, out of His unlimited ability and power, to allow humans to have free will. Our freedom to choose does not negate His sovereignty… because it was HIS sovereign will to give it to us.

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    1. Hi Amanda. Your messages always feel to me as though you are adopting a position of authority over me, suggesting that my knowledge is lacking, whereas yours is not. I felt the same thing when you said on your blog that I should read the Bible from cover to cover. I have read the Bible cover to cover numerous times. You are not appreciating the depth with which I have explored Christian theology. Regarding free will, I’m very sure that you are wrong about that. I made many comments in relation to free will when I commented on your blog, and you ignored them all. Frankly, I wish I hadn’t engaged with you. But I wish you well.

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      1. I’m sorry if it came across that way. That wasn’t my intent. My suggestion that you read the Bible cover to cover is just that, a suggestion. I assumed you hadn’t because most people, including myself, have not. I’m not sure how I ignored your comments about free will? I felt like I responded to them the best way I could. I’m not sure what else you were expecting from me. Sorry this chat did not go as you planned.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No worries. It’s interesting that you told me to read the Bible cover to cover when you haven’t done so yourself. It seems quite arrogant. But I’m grateful that you’re writing with more kindness now. Apology accepted, and no hard feelings.

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          1. Steven, I assume that talking through text has lead you to believe things that are untrue about me. You can’t hear my tone of voice nor see my eyes when I speak to you. But I assure you I speak from a place of understanding not arrogance. I’ve asked all the same questions you’re asking. When I told you to read the Bible cover to cover, I wasn’t saying that from a place of believing I have achieved spiritual enlightenment and must share my brilliance with the world. I suggested that because it’s the only thing that has set my mind free. If anything… I am passionate about seeing others not be bound by relentless questions and fears. So I Point them to the only truth I know. Even though I haven’t read every word in the Bible, I’ve seen myself change enough in the last few years to know it’s power is real. That’s the only solution I can offer to your questions. Maybe that’s an “annoying” Christian answer but Jesus called Himself “the word” so that’s the only place I can logically think to go to understand him better.

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            1. You said “I’ve asked myself all the same questions you’re asking”. You have no idea what questions I’m asking. I actually don’t feel I am asking any questions at all. I spent years asking questions, and I found the answers. The trouble is, those answers make life difficult. That’s my struggle. You shouldn’t speak to me like you understand my journey when you know nothing about me. It’s patronising and unkind.

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  4. Is it possible to think of truth as a spectrum, rather than all or nothing? I have lived in Muslim countries for 9 years, and I love the faith of my Muslim friends. They have much knowledge about God. They are just wrong about Jesus. No one has a perfect knowledge of God. God doesn’t wait until our theology is perfect before he touches our lives. All Christians are probably wrong about some things. We are all on a journey with God, and we are learning about him along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rebekah. When I read the words of Jesus they seem very much all or nothing. That’s why they create such a struggle in me. But I respect your desire for inclusivity, it’s something I consider important as well. And like you, I respect Muslims, as I respect people of all faiths.

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  5. God hates sin. That is why there is Hell. God calls all of us to repentance and doesn’t want anyone’s immortal soul to be lost, which is eternal separation from God. He has been patient with us, giving all of us the chance to come to Him. But His patience will not last forever, as the people of Noah’s day certainly found out. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, one of the Godhead three—Father Son Holy Spirit. It is only through Jesus that we can come to the Father. Salvation is through Jesus Christ, and we most certainly do have the free will to choose—Heaven or Hell.

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    1. This is why I close comments on most posts these days. Because Christians just post a summary of the gospel again and again and again with no real thought or love. It’s so annoying. But thank you, and I wish you well.

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        1. It doesn’t sound as though you’re sorry. It sounds as though you’re being sarcastic. The fact that you think you perfectly reflect the wisdom of God might mean you need a humility check. If you want to persuade people to follow Jesus, then reflect the love of Jesus and try to actually be loving to the person you’re writing to.

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            1. I see that you’re being sarcastic again. I’m suggesting that you engage with people on a personal level. A deeper level. Try to understand their thinking and then respond to it. Rather than just stating your beliefs. I believe that is more loving, which I assume is how you would like to be?

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  6. Hi Steven, I like that you share a steam of consciousness that most certainly many grapple with. One or more of your questions probably resonated with someone. As far as what I think, I agree with the above comments that your genuine search and faith is precious. But I also think that this grappling is a good way to cause others to question and grapple. Interestingly, one of the seeds planted in my life that moved me towards faith in Christ was by a person confronting me with such questions. After grappling awhile, I finally came to the realization that my only choice was to believe that Jesus is the way to God, and to receive him as my Savior even though I did not understand everything. I see now that was God calling me, and giving me faith to believe. Now, years later, I’ve stopped questioning so much. I enjoy life more by simply loving him, like a child loves a parent. That’s just where I’m at now. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand God or his Word, but that’s okay. God bless you in your writing ministry. May God work in you and through you glorify his name. Stay well.

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    1. Thanks Leila, I enjoyed reading your comment. The way you describe choosing a simple faith in Jesus is appealing and persuasive, however issues of doctrine and Truth seem so important to me. Maybe I’ll be like you and just trust Jesus in the future, I don’t know. Actually, is there even such a thing as ‘just trusting Jesus’ and is that enough for salvation? Can one really be a Christian without grappling with all the problems of Biblical theology? Maybe.

      I do believe my only choice is actually no choice, which is that I’ll have to see how God unfolds my life.

      Blessings to you, Leila.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Steve, well, these are interesting questions you pose. Maybe it’s a personality thing too. We are all wired differently. May God unfold his plan before you. In the meantime, I appreciate your sharing. It’s a blessing. Take care 🙏🏻

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sandeep. I hear you, friend. I prefer to talk of suffering, rather than evil. I believe God is in control of all suffering, and that He must use it as part of a bigger plan, as was the case with the crucifixion on Jesus. I’m tempted to say there is too much suffering in the world, but I will hold back, because any God who has created such a vast universe must be infinitely wise.

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  7. Steven, people who are “wrestling with God” are closer to embodying the beatitude about “hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” In my years of studying scripture, I’ve noticed that humility vs. pride underlies almost everything, and you are obviously very humble. You love God and your neighbor, and Jesus Himself called those the greatest commandments. Though I am a Christian, I still grapple with questions like these constantly. As I’ve read major prophets in the Old Testament lately, I’ve noticed that, even in the instances of God’s terrifying wrath, there is always some mercy and hope offered, even if minuscule.

    It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that God is love and always offers that small bit of hope in the midst of wrath yet would damn people to Hell for all eternity. I actually pray that God will allow people in Hell to repent and be reconciled if they are willing. I want to believe that even those in Hell can seek mercy. A lot of Christians would call it foolish…but I can’t so easily condemn people to everlasting torment. Also, our modern conceptions of hell are based more on Western culture than scripture. My pastor has brought up that the word used as hell in some of the Greek texts is “gehenna” or something like that and means “outside of the city gates” which might have all sorts of implications when it comes to whether someone in Hell could repent. It’s a subject I plan to explore.

    Enjoyed this rare opportunity to leave a comment on one of your posts! I apologize on behalf of Christians for the response above. I’ve never understood why some Christians think parroting their beliefs like an impersonal robot is somehow “loving.” I’ve had similar exchanges with people who think I’m going to hell for giving a sermon as a woman…(never mind that Jesus first appeared to women after rising from the grave)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful and kind comment, Lily. I appreciate your kindness so much.

      On the subject of hell, a blogging friend of mine Amanda did a series where she discussed all the mentions of hell in the Bible. She mentions the gehenna / city gates example in the series. It’s quite a lengthy series (in 4 parts which, individually, aren’t too long) and if you’re interested I wrote a post directing readers to Amanda’s series. You can view my post here.

      Bear in mind that Amanda wouldn’t call herself an academic or anything, she’s just a lay Christian with a real passion for understanding the Bible. The comments on her series are quite interesting as well.

      Yeah I opened comments and then kind of regretted it, haha. No, actually it’s been okay 🙂 I need to be more patient and kind though.

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  8. Hi Steven,

    Thanks again for your honesty. I feel that your words speak out many hidden conflicts that others struggle with, or have delved into in the past ( I mostly refer to myself, but I’ve had many similar conversations with others.)

    Praying for you. May you have peace, may your struggles enlighten you and may your light continue to shine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, friend. Thanks so much for your kind comment. You made me feel as though what I write is worthwhile, thank you for that. Trying to bring the hidden to light is a key focus. I hope it helps someone to suffer less, as I believe honesty can be healing. That’s my motivation. God bless you.

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