Forbidden Books: Her Gates Will Never Be Shut
Books That Broadened My Perspective, Birthed Curiosity, & Lured Me Down Beautiful Paths
“The stubborn fact is that Scripture is richly polyphonic on the topic of hell and judgment- as if by design. Thus, if we become dogmatic about any one position, we reduce ourselves to reading selectively or doing interpretive violence to those verses that don’t fit our chosen view.”
Bradley Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut
A note: Before you begin please read the introduction to this series here called “One of the Most Life-Changing Decisions” over on my website.
When my husband began telling me about the book, I couldn’t register what he was saying. He mentioned hell, the afterlife, and how he was starting to question the traditional evangelical Christian view we held at the time.
Ironically, we were zealous, new missionaries working at a church in the Netherlands. Perhaps this wasn’t the best timing to be…
Doubting the existence of hell?
Wondering if there were more ways to read and interpret the Scripture?
Questioning Jesus’ words?
At first, I didn’t think the existence of a literal hell really mattered to me. A benign issue I could ignore. How could thinking critically about my beliefs in the afterlife change the way I loved people? After all, loving people was my focus, and I was content to not disturb the hairy hell monster under the bed of my Christian faith.
I knew it was there of course, but why bring up the fiery pit reserved for the unrepentant when my ultimate purpose was trying to convince people of the simple Good News through rehearsed phrases like, “God loves you so much He sent Jesus to die in your place, rescue you from your sins, and give you eternal life.”
From our early morning conversations, I could tell my husband’s view on one of the cornerstone beliefs of Christianity was rapidly changing. But what disturbed me more was another question arising in me,
Could my perspective on what happens when we die actually be guiding my entire life’s mission?
What if I doubted this so-called biblical belief in the existence of hell where my fellow humans are tortured for eternity? What would happen if I started to wonder about an entire worldview stenciled into my heart by the repetitive, yet compassionate pleas of well-meaning Sunday School teachers: “If you don’t know if you are going to heaven, please come forward so we can pray with you.”
Of course, my 7-year-old self wanted to run down to the front every Sunday, but I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. When I scanned the room, it seemed clear I was the only one in the room who lacked the confidence (every week) to declare my final destination would be with Jesus in heaven.
I knew I sinned- I lied to my friends, hurt my brother, and threw shoes at my door when I was angry. I was taught if a person didn’t ask for forgiveness from God then you wouldn’t be granted access into His gold-plated Kingdom.
But the prayer.
The prayer in the front of the room appeared to be the secret escape route. After reciting some words with the sweet Sunday school teacher, you would be granted clarity and peace of mind about your standing with God. I too would be welcomed into Jesus’ arms when I died or He flew down from the sky to judge everyone on earth. Both of which sounded horrific to me.
The fear of eternal punishment started early and made obedience to the rules of Christianity my only option when it came to trying to navigate my way through the world.
I was too young to recognize how deeply it affected me. How the reality of a hell would drive me to ask Jesus into my heart nearly every night, how it would feed off my natural good girl tendencies, thus urging me to become a super achieving Christian, attend a Charismatic university, earn my bachelor’s in ministry, become an ordained pastor, and eventually commit years of my life to serve as a missionary (which felt like the ultimate selfless act and a sure way to stay close to God here and in the afterlife).
Although I never did read the entirety of Bradley Jersak’s book on hell, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, I don’t think it was necessary.
The sections I did peruse were enough to start conversations, stir up hard questions, and get me to peek behind the curtains of the faith I had always assumed was the Truth, The Only Way.
Perhaps there was more to beauty to see, truth to behold, and views to take in, and this was just the beginning of learning how to walk towards and gaze into the Unknown with longing eyes.
I’d love to hear, as you think back over your own journey, what was one book you stumbled across that caused you to “peek behind the curtains” and start asking hard questions?