Jul 192017

Hell, The Devil and Evil


Christianity has spent a great deal of energy, often to the detriment and demise of millions of human beings, with the ideals of Hell, the Devil and Evil.  But where do they come from, and why?  Is there a Hell, that place of eternal torment for bad people?  Is there a Devil who rules over Hell?  Where does Evil come from?

First of all, our modern image of Hell is a Middle Ages construct as a means for the early church to scare the crap out of people to keep them in line.  They added the Devil, that red pajama wearing, horned and tailed image, to terrify simple minds and to put of face on evil.  That leads us to the last point, evil.  Where does evil come from?  Evil comes from within humanity when they reject God’s love and God’s laws regarding love, and our relationships in community with others and with nature.

While Satan is mentioned in scripture, it is important to understand that Satan is not this great evil we associate with the Devil.  Satan is God’s advocate, to test people’s devotion to God’s will.  You see this in Genesis, in Job, and in the Gospels.  In short, Satan might best be seen as God’s shyster lawyer.  But is Satan Evil?  No.  Satan is neutral, doing God’s bidding.  The Devil, on the other hand, is that Middle Ages invention, mostly attributed to Dante.  The purpose of the Devil, and this image of a horrible place called Hell was to control the masses, to give them something to fear above all else, and a place where church authority could point to as where bad people who don’t adhere to the ultimate authority of the church go, especially on the say-so of the church itself.

The devil is not some being to fear on the outside, but the evil that resides within people who do evil.  It is that force that rejects all that is good and works hard to serve only one master, themselves, to the detriment of everybody else.

Where this fails in biblical understanding is simple; God, according to Christ Jesus, is an all forgiving and all compassionate God.  Why would such a God even conceive of a place like Dante’s hell, or a devil to rule it?  But this also begs the question about evil, and what are the consequences for major sin.  God didn’t create evil.  People did.

If there is no hell, and no devil, what happens to those who live very evil lives after they die?  Would God just forgive them of their deeds while living?  Would we find souls such as Hitler’s and Nero’s and Caligula’s in Heaven today?  Where they forgiven of the horrific sins against humanity and God that they have committed?  It’s a good question, and also a question on where does evil come from.

There are consequences for our actions, but in the end, God does forgive, but in God’s own time, and to God, a second can be an eternity, and an eternity can be merely a second.  But what would truly be hell to a spirit, a soul, but absence from God’s glory and love even if for a moment, or an eternity of moments, until their penance is done?  To be deprived of God’s presence would truly be punishment until God forgave.

As for evil, it does not require some mythological devil to inspire or create evil.  It is not something God created though.  Evil, true evil, is created by human kind.  Evil comes into a person, or group of people, when they reject God’s call to compassion and love, when they reject the commandments to love God above all else, and love our neighbor as ourselves.  Evil comes from selfishness, greed, power for power’s sake, and a lack of compassion and mercy.  Evil comes when people reject all that is good in the world, what is beautiful, and set about on a pathway to destroy what they can’t have, or even destroy what they do have all for the sake of personal wealthy and power.  Evil comes when the plight of the less fortunate is ignored, or abused, when people are mistreated through ignorance and fear, and when hatred for the other is greater than compassion or love.

Evil is in the hearts of humankind when they reject God, but this becomes particularly evil when it is done by people who profess they are acting for God. When you have pastors and priests and ministers who become rich upon the labors of others, and in turn feed them the lies of hate for the sinner who is the other, and that enriching the minister will help in the fight against the other, or those who terrify their own congregations in fear with Fire and Brimstone damnation if they don’t give ’till it hurts, leaving the minister rich and the people poor, of those who do it for their own ego of power and control, you have the worse of evil.  These people pervert the Word of God into words of hate, not love.  These people twist impressionable or weak minds into believing anything they are told, including who to hate.

Evil is what leads people to war, killing and death.  Evil is what leads to great wealth, and great poverty, side by side.  Evil is what leads men in power to punish the less fortunate, just because they can, or because they don’t like the life style, religion, race or gender of somebody else.  When you use power to take away rights, to deprive people of equality and justice, health and the chance for prosperity, that is evil.

We often ask, why did God allow Evil like this into the world?  In a nutshell, God didn’t.  People did.  God gave humankind the power to think, to reason, and to have free will of our actions.  Granted, there are consequences for our actions.  Those consequences can be good or bad, depending.  Good consequences can be uplifting another person who is suffering in some way, or helping others less fortunate in any number of ways, and in the process, feeling the warmth in your own heart for the action.  But down the line, because of your own acts, recognized by others, that good turn may come your way in reward.  But we don’t do good deeds to seek such rewards.  We do good deeds just because they are good, and it fills our own hearts with goodness when others are benefited.

Bad consequences, on the other hand, have a tendency to materialize in a more palatable way, and often much sooner.  Hitler’s actions against Europe and Russia, as well as his own people destroyed him.  The hateful and evil actions of many of his people led to the destruction of their own country.  Dictators who abuse power often find, in the end, themselves hated and destroyed.  Somebody as simple as a neighbor who is impossible to live near, can find themselves outcast in their own neighborhood, shunned by all.  Hateful actions and behaviors can isolate people from community, leaving them alone.  A time might come when they need help for something serious, and help will not be there.  There are always consequences.

But this does not come from some mythical devil, or demonic spirits as some charlatan religious leaders might tell their flock.  This kind of evil comes from within.  If you really want to know evil, just listen to people in power, at whatever level, who use their power for causing pain to others.  The Bully, the Liar, the thief, the corporate executive who treats employees like slaves, the politician who uses their office to further their own fortunes and power while neglecting those who voted for them, all show what evil is within people. 

The Bible is filled with examples of such evil, and the lessons to learn from it. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed because they reject the sacred rights of hospitality, turning their backs on the stranger seeking safety.  The parable of the Rich man and the Beggar, Lazarus, shows what happens to those who mistreat or neglect the poor, while hording their own wealth.  The warning to nations in Matthew 25 speaks strongly of what becomes of those who deny God’s children for their own sake.  Even the Beatitudes tell of how we are to treat others, and why.  We are, in truth, our brother’s keeper, and they are ours.

So why is evil so attractive when the consequences can be so dire?  Greed is a powerful force.  It is like a drug.  The more a person has, the more they need, and like a drug addiction, they will stop at nothing to have more, no matter who gets hurt along the way.  They crave more money, more power, more things, and they will lie, cheat and steal to achieve it.  For others, their greed is also short sighted.  It is the immediate that matters, not the long term.  They will destroy everything for the riches now, because they won’t be around to pay the price for what they have done.  For others, evil becomes a means to an end, so satisfy pleasures of a hurtful nature that are outside convention.  They lack empathy or compassion.  It is all about themselves and the moment.  And then there are those driven by the simple desire to inflict pain for its own sake, to commit violence on others because they derive an immediate sense of power born of fear.

But this is not God’s plan, nor God’s will.  This is not what the Bible demands of us, nor what the Qu’ran asks, or the philosophies of a score of other faiths across the planet.  At their core, all of the major religion’s writings speak of love, giving for others, compassion and respect.  They call for harmony with nature and all life.  But as humans, we have failed this in our own selfish nature.

There is still hope though, with those little moments combined with the goodness of individuals who shine above the rest, showing us the way.  There are people who help light the light of reason and wisdom through the arts, in writing, film, music and paintings.  They reach out to show humanity what its better nature can achieve, in spite of the struggles we all face.  They give hope of a better world, a better humanity.  All it takes for this to happen is for ourselves to want it to happen.  We can reject greed, and power for power’s sake.  We can seek to heal wounds rather than inflict them.  We can treat others with deference and respect, kindness and mercy.  We can give back the bounty we ourselves have received in life, to uplift others.  Most of all, we can show our care for the planet, and all life upon it, with the desire to pass forward everything positive for future generations.  We are not to have dominion over the earth, or each other.  We are caretakers of the planet, and we are to be in harmony with all life upon it, especially each other.  Star Trek had a wonderful quote from James T. Kirk many decades ago, when he told another planetary race that “Yes, he was a barbarian, but he chose not to be a barbarian that day.”

We have free will.  He can choose to be evil, or we can choose to be good.  We can walk in the light, or in the darkness.  We can love and respect others, or we can fill our hearts with hate and fear, surrounding ourselves in ignorance.  There is no devil other than our own darker and baser nature.  But we are also angels with the capacity to make a paradise on earth as God calls of us, where all of humanity lives in a just piece.  What will be chose?  Heaven or Hell?  It is up to us, and us alone.


Jul 192017

This is my sermon at Chatsworth UCC this past Sunday.

Reading: Matthew 13:44-52

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Have you understood all this? They answered, Yes. And he said to them, ˜Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

Sermon: All you need is love

It can be difficult to take much in the Gospels, or even many things in the bible for that matter, strictly literal, when even Jesus didn’t do that much of the time.  He either told a story or a parable or some other antidote, or couch it in metaphor, to create imagery and symbolism.  Abraham Lincoln did many of the same things when he wanted to get his point across, but didn’t want to give a straight answer, or to be pinned down with any kind of literal statement.  Again, it was always in a fashion to get his listeners to think about what was being said, rather than just hearing the words without thinking, and to often internalize the parable, to find meaning in their own life experiences and internalize it…making it their own in a way.

I have found this with so many of the parables of Jesus and have also found those parallels in my own life, bringing greater significance to the parable, making it personal if you will.  I do believe this was much of what Jesus hoped to achieve by this process.


These three readings are similar with others, such as when Jesus talked about the corrupting nation in our more conservative world with the highly disruptive nature of the mustard seed growing into a tree, or of the yeast being added secretly into the flower.  Both of these examples indicate how unconventional, radical and wild God,..and heaven can be.

Once again, in these readings, Jesus stays with the parables, and again sets examples of what the kindom of heaven is all about.  Our very nature sets so high a store upon it, or at least should, that we will go to any lengths to achieve it.  It is a treasure so great we are willing to part with all we have to obtain it….or we should be.  But heaven does not seem to be for everybody, as the last parable indicated.  Some make it, like the good fish pulled up in the nets.  Some are not so good a fish, and are picked out of the catch and cast into the fire to burn.  But does Jesus mean this literally?  He’s comparing us all to fish mind you, and he has done this before when calling upon James, John and Peter to become fishers for humanity.

No.  Like all his parables, metaphor is used to represent one thing for another.  We are not fish, nor wheat of even weeds, but people, and it is not a real net that will be cast, but the word of God through Christ that will be heard and believed and accepted, or rejected and ignored.

But what is that word?  What is so important in humanity that Jesus would be born, that God would walk amongst us through Jesus, to experience humanity, and finally give up earthly life to share in our own fate in total empathy and community?  That word is Love.  In fact, that has always been the word.  As God so loved the world……and the Bible is full of such references, for God’s unconditional love of all creation, and the great efforts in scripture to get us all to understand this, and what’s more, to love each other as well.

Love is also that connection we have with others, in harmony and peace, fellowship and family.  It is what creates community and relationships.  But love can also be misplaced, where we can love others, but receive no love in return, even if we think we are.  But even in such a case, as the second great commandment tells us, we are still to love, even those we find difficult to love.  It is easy to love those who love us back, but a great challenge to love those who do not, to show respect when none is given, to give compassion where none is returned.  It can be painful at times, and can even seem like a betrayal of sorts, especially if we believed those we loved have loved us back, only to discover they never did.

God may also feel this as well.  In fact, the story of the Prodigal Child is a prime example of that rejection of all God is to us and for us, to demand our share and to turn our backs and walk away.  But in the end, we find that what we had in God’s love is more important than we realized, but have so much pride we find it difficult to come back to God and beg forgiveness.  So few it seems realize that God is always there, waiting with arms outstretched, hoping for our return.  There is no condemnation or guilt trips…there is only love.

But what do we do about those who are so hard to love?  How do we then love when we find those we love do not love us, or even fear or hate us?  The answer is simple to say, and terribly hard to do, but we are called to do it anyway.  We forgive.  We forgive them, and we forgive ourselves.  We forgive them just as the loving parent forgave the Prodigal child. We take the high ground, if you will.  We can also be the good fish at the same time, those prized and saved, or that excellent pearl, or the buried treasure.  We remain worthy of life, even when we are not loved by those who might find trouble even loving themselves.

This was a hard learned lesson for me, and one that took a lot of soul searching as well.  I had always loved my family, from my parents and brother to my aunts, uncles and cousins.  I would do anything for them, and all they had to do was ask.  After all, that is what family was all about, or so I thought.  But my family, my relatives, also knew my secret from an early age, since my father had told them, so I was also that skeleton in the closet, the one they didn’t really talk about, and secretly feared.

I never knew this.  I did not know the festering sore that was deep in the family mind, that cancer they could never forgive, or forget.  But for 30 years, life just continued on, until my ex and I separated, and suddenly, that skeleton in the closet was no longer in the closet.  Old fears came to the surface, and they closed ranks, shutting me out.  It was another 15 years before the truth all came out.

The sadness to this story is this…all those years that I was unaware, but they lived in this hate, fear and dread, it hurt nobody but them.  I was untouched.  When I was older, it still did more harm to them than me, since now I had options and opportunities well beyond the relatives to create family, which I did.  I never really suffered for their hate.  And yet, through it all, I still loved them all, and I think lived the happier life for it all.

We are given a choice in life.  We can love, as God commands us to love, and in that love, find joy, happiness and peace.  We can find fellowship, relationships and community that are giving and warm.  I have that.  But we can also reject love, or withhold it from others.  We can hold grudges and anger and resentment, which often never really impacts the object of our ire, and in doing so make ourselves miserable inside, sullen, depressed and alone.  We can find ourselves cut off from people who might otherwise strive to love us, in spite of ourselves.  This I could not do.  But family meant more to me than it did to them, but in the end, I was left with no family to love, only miserable individuals, so I had to walk away to find my own peace and joy.

I never stopped caring or worrying or loving, I just had to do it from a distance.  They never stopped resenting or hating or fearing me, for whatever reasons they had manufactured, and there was nothing I could do to change that.

They had trouble understanding what God calls us to do.  They could not set aside their own self interests for those of God.  Still, I will never believe they are the weeds to be burned, or the bad fish to be destroyed.  I still feel that God loves them even more than I could, and much more than they could love me.  That is also what forgiveness is all about.  To forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of others.  We ask this of God every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.

You see, love is that great pearl, to want to possess we will give up everything to have.  Love is that great treasure in the field.  Love is those good fish.  No greater treasure is there than love.  It is what brings us together, into community, relationships, friendships, marriage.  It is what causes us to sacrifice something of ourselves for the sake of the others in our lives knowing they will to the same for us, or have done it, and will do it again, just because.

This is what the Gospels are all about as well.  Gospel.  God Speak.  Good News.  That is what it means.  To hear the good news God speaks to us through Christ Jesus on how much God loves us as we are, how we are to live in harmony with God and all of creation, and how we are forgiven in that love.

But being forgiven has a price.  This is also part of the third parable.  There are always consequences for our actions, both here and beyond.  The beggar Lazarus and the indifferent rich man is such an example of what could happen to those who turn a blind eye to the suffering of others around them.  The story of the fish, or the wheat, is what happens when we also neglect our responsibility to others, to place selfish desires ahead of God.  Matthew 25’s warning to all nations illustrates this.  What we do the least of God’s children we also have done to God.  After all, we are all God’s children, and as such, a bit of God is also within us, that spark of the divine.

It is not for us to speak as God, or to judge as God would judge though, for that is only for God.  But we are to be merciful as God shows mercy, compassionate as God is compassionate, forgiving of others as God is forgiving of us.  This is what the Gospels are all about.  They are not about how God hates this group or that group, just because some human being says so.  They do not know God if this is their claim, nor do they speak any kind of truth.  To paraphrase the Bible, they would speak with the tongue of a viper.

Seek the Pearl and treasure it, for that Pearl is God’s love for us.  Do everything you can to obtain that buried treasure, for that also is God’s love for us, and through that love we will know heaven.  Be the good fish caught in the net, those who are willing and ready to hear the word, to live the word, to embrace the word so that all who see and hear you will understand your love.  For the kingdom of heaven is, above all things, love.