Once I had laid to rest the notion of hell as conscious, eternal torment for the unbelieving masses, I naively assumed that my journey with hell was over. Oh, I expected that I would have to defend my views on occasion but I was confident I could do this with integrity.
Then I met Bradley Jersak. When I read his book, Her Gates Shall Never be Shut; Hope, Hell and the New Jersualem (2009), I felt I had found a definitive book on the subject of hell that wrestled well with all the relevant biblical passages on the subject. And then I came across Brad’s latest book, A More Christlike God; A More Beautiful Gospel (2015), in which he fleshed out what the Good News looked like without the traditional notion of hell as its cornerstone. I read it slowly, absorbing the far-reaching implications of his thesis. A rainbow appeared in my sky! This really was Good News from beginning to end. In many ways it provided the capstone to my life-long quest to find a “more beautiful gospel.”
My former Bible School teacher, turned friend and mentor in later years, was reading the same books I was and coming to similar conclusions to mine. Henry Dueck in fact attempted to make personal contact with Brad Jersak. At first it didn’t work out but one day Henry called to inform me that Brad was coming to Winnipeg and that he was open to having breakfast on a Friday morning. And so it was that, on February 19th, 2016, I joined Brad at Henry’s house for a two-hour breakfast. “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!”
It turned out that Brad had come from British Columbia to conduct a conference at the Seeds Community Church in Altona that weekend on his latest book. We couldn’t go on Saturday because of bad weather, but Ruth and I found our way to Altona on Sunday morning. I wept through the whole service as Brad demonstrated the “Gospel in Chairs”. I had read about it in his book, but this personal presentation was deeply moving and affirming.
After the service I met Ted Enns-Dyck, one of the pastors at Seeds Church. He gave me a few more books, including an earlier book Jersak had written in 2003, Can You Hear Me; Tuning in to the God who Speaks. Upon reading the book, I discovered that not only was Brad a good theological thinker and writer, he was also a deeply spiritual person. His assumption is that Jesus is real and present in all of life’s moments and ready to heal any wounds of the past. Through reading this book, I became aware that, even though I had passed by hell intellectually, the wounds of living with hell as a youngster had never been healed at an emotional level. My heart cried out for such healing.
I called Ted and arranged for a lunch appointment. Over lunch I told Ted some of my story, especially the part about the trauma in youth related to hell. When I expressed some skepticism about whether such wounds could ever be healed, he kindly and lovingly suggested that I needed some help. He offered to arrange a time to meet with a prayer team from Seeds Church to see what Jesus had to say about these wounds.
Ruth and I met with Candice Letkeman, who heads up the prayer teams at Seeds, along with Ted Enns-Dyck. After sharing for a while, Candice coached us into recognizing the presence of Jesus, not only in the present, but also in the times of trauma in the past. This was a very emotional time for me as I relived the dreams of falling into hell and waking up in a cold sweat. I won’t go into detail about what all transpired in these two hours. Those who are interested can ask me about it and I will share the intimate movements within my soul that occurred with them personally.
The long and short of this encounter was that I was assured by Jesus in a very personal way that the trauma inflicted on me as a youth in relation to hell did not come from God. And furthermore, I was affirmed that God is indeed a God of Love and that God’s mercies never cease. It was a holy encounter. I came away from it with a profound sense that these wounds of the past had begun to heal. To this day, although I can still remember the trauma of the past, I am aware that this trauma has no teeth left to disrupt my spiritual development.
I don’t expect that all my readers will fully appreciate the depths of this experience. But I simply share it as a testimony to God’s goodness and love. I walked away from that encounter with Jesus knowing that something important had happened. I was freer in my spirit than I had been for more than half a century. I had been healed from hell!
When I shared this experience with some of my church leaders they listened politely. I got the sense that they wanted to affirm my experience but it was difficult for them to do because, for them, hell as conscious, eternal torment had to remain a cornerstone of their theological construct. Affirming my experience might call their way of thinking about hell into question.
It might not be surprising for my readers to know that increasingly Ruth and I were drawn to the Seeds Community. In many ways it embodied the vision of faith and life we had been moving toward for many years and it had facilitated my profound “healing from hell.” On April 8, 2016 we moved to Altona and now make Seeds our church home. I sometimes wish we had found Seeds sooner, but it is enough to know that we have found our way home at last.