From Atheism to Faith: Discovering the Hidden Story of Humanity


About my journey from atheism to faith, and how our historical impulse for religion points to the hidden story of humanity. I also engage with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and his take on religious metafictions.

For my seminar and Q&A “Jesus for Atheists,” click here.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

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“How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” — Five Difficult Truths About Heaven and Hell

Photo from his-desert-rose

colvmbiana asked a question:

I love God very much. But I recently saw a post on my dash that said, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” and now I can’t stop thinking about that. How can He?

Hey dear friend, I truly struggle with this doctrine too, and if it were up to me, I’d be done with the whole idea of hell in a heartbeat. But I do want to consider the question, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” — and examine the words loving, send, and hell.

First I have to say: I’m not sure that any Christian is irrevocably bound to believe the doctrine of hell. I know Christians who believe it and some who don’t. I love them both. We must not make the ancient mistake that 1) our theology is only about “consequences,” because it’s primarily about intimacy and oneness with God, and 2) to bicker over such dogmatic differences. Too many people wrongly emphasize the doctrine of hell as a motivation for Christianity, and that’s a false phantom motive that boils down to, “Date me or I’ll punch you in the face.” If there really is a place called hell and people are going, then 1) no one would become a Christian just by trying to “avoid” hell, and 2) the devil would love to have us arguing about it instead of loving on people towards God.

The following are some thoughts to consider. Please feel free to disagree, to fill in, to discern and to question and to dismantle. I recognize that many of us are appalled at the idea of hell and find it atrocious, and I’m with you: I hold the same feelings, while pondering the gravity and depth of its possibilities. There are no easy, satisfying answers here, but only ruminations, in which you and I must land on a conclusion, however differently.

1) Hell couldn’t be just for anyone. No one could be “sent” there. It would be hard work to get into hell.

C.S. Lewis says, “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside.” What he means is, getting to hell takes a massive amount of effort over a lifetime.

I think it’s a lot harder to get into hell than we think. A prison, at least in its original intentions, isn’t meant for someone accidentally wandering in without effort or knowledge. Hell is designed for the unrepentant, remorseless, unconscionable person who is deliberately dead-set on chaos and sadism. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” That sort of person is rare, but they exist.

In tiny blips throughout history, someone will perpetually abuse their own singular life to the point of irreversible perversion, and very consciously choose everything against God’s design of love, compassion, and generosity. I believe that the idea of hell, in its purest conception, is a place exclusively reserved for that kind of cruelty. I might even replace the word “hell” with justice, or safety, or balance.

Of course, anyone can be rehabilitated. I will always believe that. I would never ever be satisfied at anyone going to hell, not even at the worst sort of criminal. Anyone who relishes the thought of someone going to hell must really re-think their own sanity. I believe that God gives a billion chances, over and over, all throughout Scripture. Many of our “Bible heroes” were murderers and tyrants and cheaters who reformed. Yes, there is grace even for child molesters and kidnappers. That’s the craziness of grace. If you care even the slightest about God’s divine heart for the world, then no, I highly doubt you’ll fall into hell.

Continue reading ““How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” — Five Difficult Truths About Heaven and Hell”

A Faith Crisis: When My Theology Is Shaken by Science, Debates, and Headlines

Anonymous asked a question:

So I’m taking an honors world history class taught by an atheist teacher and we’re learning about evolution and it’s really really testing my faith. Honestly I don’t know what’s true right now. My theology isn’t the greatest because I’ve only accepted Christ for two years now. I’m just now finding it hard to believe in the Bible and God right now.

Hey dear friend, thank you for sharing this with such honesty.

The truth is, every single type of belief system will eventually get shaken somewhere. When this happens, we can 1) investigate deeper into what we really believe, and 2) incorporate the new information into our beliefs somehow.

We each experience a kind of cognitive dissonance when our worldview is shaken. It can actually make you disoriented, nauseous, and depressed. Sometimes it’s from learning more about the world, or it’s from a terribly brutal tragedy, or it can be a very persuasive argument that uses flowery language. And these experiences will inform our theology and philosophy, and vice versa. But none of this has to be a threatening, stomach-punching trauma.

While we’re certainly going to feel what we feel, we can still explore this new information in light of what we currently know, and then navigate a way through it. It’ll be tough, and you may be scared or surprised by your conclusions, but it can actually make you a more thoughtful, whole person, too.

Continue reading “A Faith Crisis: When My Theology Is Shaken by Science, Debates, and Headlines”

How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?

Anonymous asked a question:

How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?

Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.

If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”

Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”

The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.

In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?

Continue reading “How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?”

Theology Showdown: The Narrow Gate Vs. the Broad Road

Anonymous asked a question:

I am a little confused about something and I was hoping you could help. In Matthew, it talks about the narrow path and gate into heaven. How can I, as a Christian perceive that to mean something other than that lots of people walk towards God but very few actually make it. This seems to go against grace? And also the profession of Jesus as a saviour?

Hey dear friend, this is certainly a troubling passage that is very off-putting at first glance: but I’d like to balance this passage with the entirety of Scripture.

Let’s look at the passage in question, Matthew 7:13-14, which says:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

So it looks like most people alive today will end up in Hell, an eternity under the wrath of God, while only a fraction will make it to Heaven.

But then, let’s look at Matthew 25:13 here, known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins (or Bridesmaids). To summarize, Jesus tells a tale about a wedding where ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to begin the ceremony, but only five of the bridesmaids came prepared with extra oil in their lamps to greet him (this sounds like a weird custom back then, but weddings have always had weird customs throughout history, e.g. throwing bouquets or fishing for garters or dancing past a reasonably non-creepy age). So five of the bridesmaids make it, but five don’t. This implies that at least half of the people we know will end up in Heaven.

Lastly, let’s look at Matthew 13:24-30 here, known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. To summarize, Jesus tells a tale where a farmer’s field is sabotaged by weeds. The farmer, instead of pulling up the weeds, decides to let the wheat and weeds grow together, and at the time of harvest he will separate them. This implies that most people we know will end up in Heaven.

So which one is true? Is it the story of the Narrow Gate, or the Ten Bridesmaids, or the Wheat and Tares? Do only a few of us make it, or half of us, or most of us?

Continue reading “Theology Showdown: The Narrow Gate Vs. the Broad Road”

Mythical Messiahs vs. the Real Jesus: 10 Reasons That Jesus Is Unique Among Myths & Legends

Anonymous asked a question:

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Apollonius of Tyana but there are some people arguing that he also had followers, performed miracles and rose from the dead. That’s why they kept saying he’s the ~real~ Jesus. Thoughts?

Hey dear friend, here’s a cool fact:

A ton of people in the first century claimed they were the Messiah. Only one is really remembered today, and that’s a strange historical truth that must be taken seriously for both Christians and those exploring faith.

Here’s the context. The Jewish Israelites in the first century hadn’t heard from God or any of His prophets for about four-hundred years, since the prophet Malachi, who also wrote the last book of the Old Testament. They were waiting on either 1) another prophet, or 2) the prophesied Messiah, the “Suffering Servant,” who would apparently liberate them from the oppression of the Roman Empire.

The Jewish Israelites believed that God hadn’t spoken for centuries because of continuous idolatry and rebellion against God. This mindset incidentally formed a group called the Pharisees, who devised over 600 laws to follow, so that such perfection would honor God and possibly hasten the Messiah’s appearance. The Pharisees were so strict that any person who claimed to be the Messiah was almost immediately shut down, because worshiping any god outside the true God was only more idolatry, which had put them in this position of God-silence in the first place. So even though we dismiss the Pharisees today, I can definitely understand their mentality back then and how fast they were to condemn Jesus.

Many new Messiahs did appear. Two of them are mentioned in Acts 5 by a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean. History books also talk about Judah the Hammer, who enacted a siege against the Roman Empire but was just as quickly crushed. All of these “Messiahs” acted as warrior-presidents that used military force to throw a coup, like a militia attempting to oust the government. Nothing came of them. And the Pharisees were pretty happy about this, because in their mind, such false Messiahs only kept God at bay.

When Jesus came around, he was different than every other Messiah. Here are at least ten reasons why Jesus was unique compared to the religious leaders of his day, and perhaps among every other religious leader.

Continue reading “Mythical Messiahs vs. the Real Jesus: 10 Reasons That Jesus Is Unique Among Myths & Legends”

How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?

Anonymous asked a question:

How do you believe when, pardon my french, you’ve been taught that everything about Jesus is bulls__t? I’d love to believe it, I really want to, it’s just hard to when you’ve been taught the opposite. Do I have to unlearn the foundation of my education?

Hey dear friend, to be truthful: you’re in the best place possible, with the single biggest advantage over someone who’s been raised in the church.

You get to be in a place where you’re starting with a hugely skeptical eye towards Christianity, which means that if God starts to lean in on you, you will have already encountered your biggest questions about faith. If only every Christian honestly encountered every doubt and argument and problem with Christian theology, with complete openness and abandon, then we might see how deep Christianity can really go.

Please do not think you have to unlearn anything you’ve learned. I suggest the opposite. Use your education to fairly weigh every piece of evidence you encounter. Keep digging into Christianity down to the bottom, to see that it’s both true and fulfilling, that it’s both intellectually coherent and existentially satisfying.

Continue reading “How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?”

Is It Okay to Be Angry with God?

Anonymous asked a question:

What if I am angry at God. How do you cope with the frustration and anger towards Him?

Hey dear friend, I’m really sorry. There must be many things happening internally and externally, and I’m with you and for you. So is everyone here.

I have to tell you up front: I’d much rather be mad with God than mad without Him.

That’s not some cute little statement that only works abstractly on Instagram. I’m dead serious. If you’re angry with God, at the very least, you’re talking with Him. He’d rather you be mad at Him than displacing that anywhere else. God isn’t put off by our barest, most raw emotions: because He made them, and He made you, and He’s going to work with that.

Continue reading “Is It Okay to Be Angry with God?”

Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?

Anonymous asked a question:

How should I respond to people seeing Christianity as a eurocentric tool for imperialism?? I’m sometimes embarrassed that I’m still holding onto Christianity when it seems like it’s only the “popular religion” that it is today because of its adoption by white westerners and the imperialistic conquests, genocides, physical and cultural displacement, etc. caused by efforts to spread it. I don’t know what to think of this haha. Thanks (for a lot of things i don’t have room to explain here haha)!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for this question — I believe it’s absolutely important to get this one straightened out, quickly and completely.

First please know: I’m responding as an Asian-American Easterner born and raised in the West, who is fully aware and infuriated by the danger of Western imperialism and the cultural gentrification of “manifest destiny.” In other words, I have every reason to be disgusted by Christian/western/imperialist attitudes. My own country’s history (South Korea) also has a terrible past of being oppressed by particular people-groups that have nearly stamped out my heritage.

There’s no doubt that Christianity has been associated with some awfully terrible injustices. The Crusades, witch hunts, slavery, child abuse, and the early church’s indulgences and cycles of corrupted power are just a few of the detestable atrocities that, whether directly or indirectly, were fueled by religious fervor. We must be held accountable for every single infraction.

When a Christian asks me, “How do I defend Christianity’s history?” — I can only say, “Don’t.” Christianity ought to be the most self-critical life philosophy, always asking the simple question: Is this making us better or worse? We must own up to our past, not avoid it, and if anyone challenges us on how Christianity has been harmful, we must give ground to these righteous accusations. Many people are mad (including me), and understandably so, at how Christianity has danced around its mistreatment of others.

Having said that: I believe the idea of the Christian Imperialist, while obviously holding some credence in very specific instances, is largely a tired, exaggerated myth if we look at the whole picture of Christian contribution.

Continue reading “Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?”

Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?

shadytyrone asked a question:

For someone brand new to the faith, what is a good chapter of the Bible to start reading?

Hey dear friend, great question. I think it really depends on your learning style, but I can recommend a few ideas:

– The Book of John is almost always the best place to start. It has a ton of theology and shows specifically what Jesus came to do on the earth. It elaborates on seven miracles by Jesus in ascending order of power (starting with turning water into wine, ending with Jesus raising someone from the dead), and suddenly Jesus gets a hit contract on him because he’s considered too powerful. Jesus gives a few sermons before he dies, sort of like “last words,” and there’s a detailed account of Jesus’s activity after he jumps out of the grave. I also like the Book of Mark, as it’s the “action gospel” and moves very quickly through Jesus’s life, like a Robert Ludlum novel.

Continue reading “Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?”

Sexual Temptation Vs. Christianity: A Conversation With Yumi About Sex, Singles, Marriage, & Faith


An interview by Yumi about Sexual Temptation Vs. Christianity and the extreme difficulty (and freedom) of the Christian sex ethic, for singles, dating, and married couples.

This is a portion of the interview (plus a little awkward extra at the end). The full 30 minute version is on Yumi’s channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK9Uo-yhp8Y

Subscribe to Yumi! https://www.youtube.com/user/yumigirlofficial

The post mentioned in this interview by Gothic Christian –
http://gothicchristian.tumblr.com/post/129744315870/you-dont-have-a-right-to-sex

Subscribe to my channel here! https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Writing Them In Instead of Writing Them Off: A Grand Vision of Saul to Paul

Photo by VSP, CC BY 2.0


Hello dear friends! This is a message I preached called, Writing Them In Instead of Writing Them Off: A Grand Vision of Saul to Paul, on the story of killer Saul becoming Apostle Paul, from the perspective of his first roommate, Ananias.

I talk about how the disciple Ananias helped to turn a Christian-killing terrorist Saul into the Bible-writing healer Paul — and how God does that kind of work in us. Stream below or download directly here. I’m also on iTunes here.



Some things I talk about are: Adopting my abused dog Rosco and rehabilitating him, how an African-American musician befriended and changed a KKK leader, why I agree with the Elder Brother against the Prodigal Son, the impossibility of outgrowing your nickname and time-stamped hometown past, the one frustrating difficult person that never changes, how the back-row of punk kids at church completely humbled me, and the freedom of finally becoming the kind of person that loves no matter what.

All messages are here. Be immensely blessed and love y’all!
J.S.

The Gospel in Two and a Half Minutes


The entire storyline of the Bible in two and a half minutes. And a different way to see the Gospel.

Subscribe to my channel here.
Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]


Why Do We Need the Cross and Resurrection?


Why did Jesus have to die? What does the Resurrection do? Why did Jesus punch death in the face?
The story of those three fateful days in three minutes. And why the Resurrection is just as important as the Cross.

Subscribe to my channel here.

Happy Resurrection Weekend and love y’all!
— J.S.

[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]


Does God Use Pain “For My Good”? Does Everything Happen For a Reason?


Is suffering a “part of God’s Plan”? Does God use trials to teach us a lesson? Does everything really happen for a reason?

A hard look at the Problem of God vs. Suffering, and why easy answers won’t work in the middle of the mess.

Get my book on persevering through trials & suffering, Mad About God.

— J.S.

Grace Is For You, Too.


“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
— Philippians 3:12-14


What Is Grace? How Does It Change Us? The Grace of God in Two Minutes


What is grace? How is it different than pampering or enabling or being “nice”? How does grace confront sin and change our lives?
Two and a half minutes on how grace pulverizes us into new people.

Subscribe to my channel here. Love y’all! — J.S.

[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]


Everything Is Wrong With Everything And We Know It: About The Loaded Word “Sin”


What is “sin”? Is it merely just drinking and cursing and skipping church? Why is the word “sin” still important today?
How sin explains the itchy longing inside every human heart, and why it’s good news that you’re a sinner.

Subscribe to my channel here.

Love y’all!

— J.S.


[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]