Faith and worldview, part 5 — security of the believer and the road to Hell

A recurring distinction between evangelical Protestants and Catholics and some mainline Protestants is the issue of “security of the believer.”  The basic issue is that evangelicals, for the most part, believe that salvation, also called the “new birth,” is an irreversible process.  Once you are born again, you are born — you do not lose that birth and you do not have to re-enter the allegorical womb.  The author of the book of Hebrews, as quoted below, states that doing so would mean recrucifying Jesus.  Other denominations hold that it is possible to lose one’s standing with God and be at risk of damnation by sinning after conversion.  Thus, for instance, it is (or at least was) important in Catholicism to go to confession, else if you die without it, some recent sins are not forgiven — and you may die at risk of damnation.

I am a firm believer in the security of the believer on the basis of scripture.  The scriptural reasoning behind the security of the believer is pretty clear and the logic is firm, I believe.  I won’t dwell on it here, since there are plenty of places to look already — and if you are a Christian with questions about it at that level, please go talk to an evangelical pastor or elder.

But what I will do here is try to cast it in terms of this worldview model that I have been playing with.  I’m not deriving this belief from the worldview stuff, I’m inserting the belief into it.

As I have noted, if one considers faith to be making a choice or commitment to the basic underpinnings of the Christian worldview and rejecting the nonchristian worldview, then it becomes pretty simple, if one accepts one particular part of the Christian worldview — that of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So, here’s the thing.  Since I believe in “real” (in the William Wilberforce meaning) or “mere” (in the CS Lewis meaning) Christian worldview I necessarily also believe in a “real” Holy Spirit and in a “real” personal, interactive God.  This is where the Christian worldview theology separates from simple worldview theory and becomes a theology.  Upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a person who accepts salvation from God “locks in” at least some part of the basis of the Christian worldview.  You can cover it up, you can deny it, you can walk away from it, but it is etched in there at the foundation of whatever you build on top of it.  Even if someone rejects the Christian worldview entirely, he or she cannot scrub away that mark.

I think of it a little like stamping a serial number onto the barrel of a gun.   When the serial number is stamped, the metal density is changed deep into the metal.  A person can file down the metal and obliterate the serial number, so that it is not visible.  But, if you put etching solution onto the barrel, it will reappear; the metal where the mark was put is denser than the metal around it, and will etch or dissolve at a different rate than the surrounding metal.  That serial number is part of the metal forever.

The same sort of thing occurs at salvation.  The mark of God is stamped deep into the soul.  You can file it away, you can cover it up, whatever, but that mark is now part of your eternal being.  Being saved “as if by fire” is a little like being marked “as if by etching.”

But how does this fit into the worldview stuff?  I think the biggest issue is to look at it from an existential rather than legalistic point of view.  Being saved is not a matter of signing a paper or saying some words (though confession and acknowledgement is part of it).  Salvation is making a commitment, and meaning it.  You can’t do that if you don’t really believe. You can’t both really believe and be faking your belief.  You can go through the motions, you can get baptized, you can say the words.  But whether or not it’s a real commitment — and thus truly salvation — is between you and God. Not everyone who says the Pledge of Allegiance is a patriot.  Not everybody who claims to be a Christian is a “Real Christian”.  But once you are, then that fundamental foundation of the worldview is in place forever, regardless of whether you choose to build on it or beside it.

The “problematic” scriptures that seem to imply that it is possible to lose salvation in fact, I believe, deal with this situation where that commitment was not really made, and thus there was, in fact, no salvation.

Further, many of the scriptures that are said to imply loss of salvation say nothing of the kind. Thus, in the 6th chapter of Hebrews, the author notes:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age  and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

This is not talking, I think about the loss of salvation.  I believe that this is a foreshadowing of the Judgment of Saints, where those who are found lacking have their accomplishments burned and are saved “as if by fire.”   As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,  their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

It’s the same fire in Hebrews and 1 Corinthian, I think.  This particular kind of apostate — in contrast to someone who was never saved to start with — is still saved, but in the end, the accomplishments of that life, the “thorns and thistles” or “wood, hay or straw”  are burned away.  In essence, this is a person who started on the road to building a Christian worldview, but changed course, tore down that work, and rebuilt with a secular worldview.  The imprint will still be there, but after death, the worldview this person built will be be worthless, and this person will not fit into the instantiation of the worldview he or she discarded in the “real’ kingdom of God.

It also makes sense that those who do this will not return — not because God will not allow it, but because it is impossible for them to desire it. There are profound changes that occur to a person once they become a “real ” Christian.  These are not trivial changes in attitude, but they are existential and foundational shifts in how they view the world.  If a person once becomes a Christian and then truly turns his or her back on it, I can’t imagine what kind of thing would convince him or her to return.  It should be noted that this concerns folk who truly denounce the faith, not those who merely drift away from religious practice, or those who have doubts and hesitation.  Those latter things are natural parts of growing up.  In life, it is natural for a young person, particularly an adolescent, to question and even rebel against his or her upbringing — but that’s different than truly deciding that the family is dead to him or her.

When I was a young adult, I left the church and went on my own quest to look for other things.  I tried Buddhism, Islam, Crowleyism, Odinism, and a host of other things.  One of the things I noticed was, particularly when I was toying with pagan and new-age stuff, was that I would get to a point, and a voice inside of me would say “Go this far and no further.  If you go further, there is no return.”  This was not a little nagging voice, either.  It was a wall.  I knew, way down deep, that I was on the edge of a cliff.  And, each time, I decided not to cross that line.  I don’t exactly know what would have happened had I moved forward, but I suspect that I would not have returned to the faith as I have done.  That particular path for me ended up making me a stronger Christian once I returned, but I still am sorrowful about the years I wasted away from my faith.  I believe that you can ignore the Holy Spirit.  You can build a padded room around him and close him in so He is less than a whisper —  but you cannot exorcise Him.

Back on the family ranch in Oklahoma, we had a number of generations of my extended family all living on the same property. Just about 200 feet south of my house was my grandmother’s house.  About 400 feet south of that was my aunt and uncle’s house.  On the other side of my aunt and uncle’s house, another uncle and aunt had a mobile home.  Between my house and my grandmother’s house, there was an old abandoned cellar.  I asked my dad about it, and he told me that the cellar was where my great-grandfather’s house was in the 1800s before it was hit by a tornado.  After his house was destroyed, he built another house just across the road.  He then donated the land where his old house had been to the county, and they built a schoolhouse there. It in turn was hit by another tornado and destroyed around the time of the Dust Bowl.  Then my father built his house there.   I asked my Dad why people kept building here if tornadoes kept coming through.  His answer was that “this is where the well is.”  In this part of Oklahoma, it’s dry and water is deep below layers of limestone.  Houses can come and go, but wells are expensive, and last forever.    I sort of see salvation a little like that.  Once you are saved, the well is there.  You can build on it.  You can burn the house down around it.  You can move over to the side, and build next to it.  But it will always be there.

In contrast, if I were to believe that I could be completely saved and headed for heaven one day and doomed for eternity on the next, that would imply that my worldview — and any Christian worldview —  was pretty rickety.  God has provided me with this wonderful foundation and tools for building my Christian worldview, I love God with all my heart, I spend years making connections and building structure into this world view — and in one day it all falls apart and I’m headed for Hell.  That just doesn’t make sense.  I don’t think that God is such a poor designer.

This fits into my personal opinions about Heaven and Hell, though I am not confident about any of my thoughts about those subjects.  Personally, my vision of both heaven and hell is a bit of a mix of that of CS Lewis and the movie “What Dreams May Come,”  in which people, for all practical purposes choose and design their own hells.  As CS Lewis wrote in “The Great Divorce,”

“Milton was right,” said my Teacher. “The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy – that is, to reality. Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends. Ye call it the Sulks. But in adult life it has a hundred fine names-Achilles’ wrath and Coriolanus’ grandeur, Revenge and Injured Merit and Self-Respect and Tragic Greatness and Proper Pride.”

“Then is no one lost through the undignified vices, Sir? Through mere sensuality?”

“Some are, no doubt. The sensualist, I’ll allow ye, begins by pursuing a real pleasure, though a small one. His sin is the less. But the time comes on when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. He’d fight to the death to keep it. He’d like well to be able to scratch: but even when he can scratch no more he’d rather itch than not.”

“But what of the poor Ghosts who never get into the omnibus [the bus to heaven] at all?”

“Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, go do it.  It’s short, and it will make you think.

Don’t get me wrong, this is CS Lewis, not God, and a lot of people think that he went off the rails a little in this book.  I’m not planting a flag here.  I just find it attractive and it makes some sense in my own theology, since it puts the Christian worldview. the “Kingdom of God” within all of us, center stage.    There exist strong criticisms of Lewis’ view, and they make some very good points — the  descriptions of hell, of wailing and gnashing of teeth, of fire and brimstone, the fiery furnace, etc. are pretty dramatic.  It’s hard to get from there to something that someone would choose.  Most important, there are plenty of descriptions of God passing judgment and consigning people to hell, and no scripture of people choosing it.  So, it’ s hard to buy into Lewis’ idea wholeheartedly.  God casts people into the Lake of Fire – they don’t run and jump in of their own accord.  There may be a middle ground somewhere. I don’t know.  Since I’m a believer, I’m not going to Hell, so it’s not really my problem.

This also provides a way of looking at why people who are “good” but not “saved” are doomed.  A worldview requires effort to build, effort to maintain, and effort to defend.  My personal opinion is that the default worldview of any human is a theistic one.   As Blaise Pascal wrote in 1662:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

This is the famous “God-shaped vacuum” in every person.  Or, as St Augustine wrote:

“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom. And man desires to appraise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to appraise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to appraise thee, for thou hast made us inclined toward thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.”

An atheist must actively reject the “God-shaped vacuum.”  Aleister McGrath, the famous British theologian and Biblical scholar, has noted that of all non-Christian paths, the atheist is necessarily the most intolerant.  Diests, of whatever stripe, look on forms of deism other than theirs as being flawed, often fatally, but all containing at least one aspect of truth — that of the reality of God.  In contrast, atheists necessarily believe that *no* path that accepts the existence of God can contain *any* truth in that belief.  The *only* true religion is that of atheism (and yes, it is a religion, but that’s for another day).

From a worldview perspective, non-Christian deist worldviews are like rickety shacks built without foundations.   Some diest perspectives perceive the need for a foundation and attempt to construct one.  Atheists build an entire worldview on their intuition and cultural heritage alone. There’s a valiant attempt to construct something, but in the end it is too flawed to withstand to the end.  Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 7:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

One of the most amusing things I read in the writings of evangelical atheists are the strident denunciations of Christians for cruelties and evils perpetuated by nations who claim a Christian foundation, as well as egregious high-profile individual Christian moral failure.  Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett rail against Christian failures as a reason to denounce faith in general.  What they don’t seem to realize is that the standards against which they measure Christianity are little more than late 19th century Protestant ethics that they have internalized and now claim as some sort of atheist ethos.  But without Christianity, they would believe none of it — as actively atheist societies have shown, earning such names as “Reign of Terror,” “Killing Fields”, “Holmodor,” “Shoa”, “Great Leap Forward,” and others.   If you want to see atheist ethics cast adrift from internalized Christian beliefs, just look for the piles of skulls.  In the absence of a Christian foundation, the atheist worldview collapses into the Lord of the Flies.

Non-christian deists have built their worldviews on somewhat more substantial earth, but still lacking.  In part this is why it is so important for them to censor and silence Christians by murderous persecution, such as in the Islamic world and, more recently, in India.  In order for a non-Christian who has been exposed to Christian thought to maintain that non-Christian worldview, it is necessary that he or she actively reject perspectives that would allow it, and further to build and support defenses against it. Part of that defense is to kill someone who provides a substantive threat to that worldview.  And Christianity, with its foundation built on rock, is exactly that threat.  It is no surprise that “woke” Progressives have begun the same pattern of active anti-Christian persecution.

Many people decry the idea of “damnation” of unbelievers by God as something that is “mean” and something that a “loving” God would not do.  But, viewed from a worldview construction perspective it could be no other way.  The nonbeliever worldview precludes God.  For God to “insist” on “saving” the nonbeliever, He would be necessarily need to remove freedom of will and reduce that person’s humanity itself into caricature.   In this sense, whether CS Lewis’ view of Hell is correct or not, this view of the *path* to hell is almost necessarily true.  In any situation where there is signficant exposure to the word of the Christ, rejection is not just simply declining an opportunity, but is an active choice to reinforce the non-Christian worldview and to run away from the Kingdom of God.  If one is running away from the Kingdom of God, it is not “mean” for God to allow him or her be be outside of it.

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