Guest post by Ian.
In Sunday School, I was taught the second half of a verse that was used to control me, and countless others, over the years. Numbers 32:23, as I learned it, says, “…And be sure your sin will find you out.” I was told that any sin I committed would eventually be found out. No matter how secret the sin was, people would eventually know. This verse was a strong motivator for a boy who was taught to fear corporal punishment. I never questioned this verse until I was older.
I finally read through Numbers and found that verse. It is part of a story about how the Israelites settled the Promised Land. Two of the tribes of Israel wanted to stay on one side of the Jordan River, while the rest of the tribes would go across and settle the land. Settling the land would include battles and anything else that it takes to conquer a new territory. The people in those two tribes told Moses that they wanted to stay, but they would send men to help the others settle the land. Here is the portion of Numbers I am referring to:
Numbers 32:16-24 “And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones: But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward. And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war, And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him, And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out. Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.”
So, from reading the whole story, you can see Moses did tell them that their sin would find them out. The sin would be not helping the other tribes, nothing secret there. Their sin would show their character; that is what Moses meant. If they didn’t fight (which would be a sin, because they had promised to do this), it would show them to be liars and/or lazy. Everyone would know exactly what kind of people they were. Conversely, their good deeds would find them out, too. By keeping their word, it would show they weren’t liars or lazy people.
I have read a lot of nasty replies, written by self professing Christians, to blogs that speak out against the actions of Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB) and their leaders. It doesn’t matter who is writing, Christian or atheist; the hate is still there. Any judgment or pointing out failings in that belief system will bring swift retribution from the faithful. This probably happens in all faith systems, but I am most familiar with the IFB group.
As a child growing up in this belief system, I knew there were people who spoke out against what I was taught to be the truth. From the pulpit, I heard pastors speak sternly against these apostate people. My parents and their friends spoke against them. I heard that Hell was appropriate for unbelievers and they were thankful that such sinners would finally receive their just rewards. Eternal punishment for words that will be forgotten in less than a hundred years, that certainly seems appropriate. Or, so it seemed at the time.
As I got older and gained life experience, I had a hard time agreeing with strong condemnation and found no joy in the thought of people spending eternity in Hell. Although I attended strict churches and finally ended up in a Calvinistic belief system, I struggled with the idea of everyone, save a select few, going to Hell.
I heard people talk about salvation and grace, yet they were just as quick to speak of eternal torment and punishment. This was presented as both sides of the same coin; there could be no salvation without first having damnation. Over the years, it seemed that people seemed to relish the fact that everyone else (including other Baptists who didn’t follow the “right beliefs”) was bound for Hell.
After my deconversion, I realized that I didn’t just imagine this delight in seeing people go to Hell, it was a very real emotion. I don’t think that most people who are Christians even realize that they have this feeling, but it is there. When this is pointed out to Christians, they are quick to deny it. Unfortunately for them, actions speak louder than words. Their words and actions show that they are full of hate and it finds them out- it tells what kind pf people they really are. They say they are sad people go to Hell, but their actions prove otherwise. They say that they are concerned about each other in the church, but they don’t act on those concerns. They talk about love and forgiveness, but they seem to have long memories when it comes to people who have wronged them.
I have now been on the other side of the fence and have even had some of the hate directed at me. All I have done is say that I don’t believe in Jesus and I instantly became the worst person imaginable. I haven’t cheated on my wife, or done any number of bad things, yet I am hated. Oh, people say they don’t hate me, but their actions prove otherwise. I’d like to think that some of them are afraid of the repercussions form the church, if they were to have anything to do with me, but I can’t be sure. The people who have remained my friends have shown it by not shunning me. They do this at the risk of offending the people they go to church with. Both groups of people have been found out by their actions.
Maybe Christians forget what Jesus said on two occasions. First, in Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
I see nothing about railing on non-believers or wishing Hell upon people in these verses.
Then, in Mark 12:29-31, Jesus said,
“…The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
The version of this story in Luke 10 goes on to describe who your neighbor is. What is sad is the fact that many non-Christians follow the second commandment better than the Christians do. Christians seem to feel that their hatred is justified because they hate people who aren’t like them. They see themselves as sanctified and humble, with a touch of righteous anger thrown into the mix. All I see are people who have had their sins of hate and pride find them out.
And, yes, I am quoting scripture to prove my point. If it is OK for Christians to use the Bible to condemn me, then I can throw it right back at them. After all, the Bible is the book Christians claim guides their lives.