|Spiritual Abuse of Children
Spiritual Abuse IS Child Abuse!
Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and do not forbid them for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14).
Millions of Christian parents lovingly guard their children against pornographic Internet sites, violence on TV, scary movies, etc., but they, with the best of intentions, take their children to churches which expose them to spiritually abusive preaching and teaching about God tormenting "unsaved" children [those who have reached, “the age of accountability”], as well as adults, in hell fire forever! Teaching children that hell is literal and eternal fire is CHILD ABUSE! As I stated in my book, “Christianity Without Insanity,” it is SPIRITUAL PORNOGRAPHY! It is also spiritual insanity.
Severity and Long-Term Consequences of Spiritual Abuse
The tragedy of spiritual abuse of children is vividly illustrated with the real-life story of a man I will call Jerry. This Christian man, a professor at an Evangelical college, has daily lived in fear for 55 years that he will be tormented in literal fire in hell forever! After reading my book, CWI, he emailed me, and then we talked several times by phone. In essence, I have given him free psychotherapy long distance, since he lives in another state. He shared with me that he was frightened, through fear of eternal torment in hell, into accepting Christ as his Savior as a child, but he has still lived in fear that God will condemn him to hell forever, since his church teaches, as the vast majority of churches do, that Christians can lose their salvation for sins of what they do and/or don’t do. Jerry related that for most of 55 years he has had Panic Disorder, so much so he has been on anti-anxiety medication in order to function emotionally and physically.
In my book, “Spiritual Terrorism,” in chapter six, “The Ultimate Dilemma,” I listed all 13 symptoms of Panic Disorder in, The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders-IV. Some of the most debilitating ones are: racing heart, sense of choking, smothering sensations, shaking, fear of going crazy, fear of dying, etc. Without medication to control symptoms, a person may well have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. In CWI, in chapter two, “Holistic Health,” I rewrote Psalm 23, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” from the perspective of victims of panic attacks. I titled it, “Panic Is My Shepherd.” As a Mental-Health Counselor, in private practice, patients have told me how very realistic and helpful this paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm has been for them. Jerry is a good example of how bad Panic Disorder can be, but, after several phone sessions, he is now doing much better. He is having panic attacks less frequently and they are much less severe. As Jerry has greater tranquility of mind, due to no longer living in fear of eternal torment in hell, the prognosis is his symptoms will continue to diminish, then disappear.
Preventing Spiritual Abuse of Children
My son and daughter-in-law are devoted-loving parents. She and my son discipline their children appropriately—judiciously and proportionally. They connect the discipline with the misbehavior by calling it a “consequence.” At times, I have heard my grandchildren say to each other, “If you do that or don’t stop doing that, you’re going to have a consequence!” This means apologizing, making amends, having a time out, etc.
A Four-Year-Old’s Questions About God and Heaven
“Soul Surfer” is a video about a teen girl, a surfboarder, getting her arm bitten off by a shark. This is a very inspiring story in that, with excellent medical care and a strong faith, she recovered and was able to return to surfing, which she loved to do, even with only one arm. Several weeks after my son’s family had watched this movie, my four-year-old grandson asked his mother, “Will there be sharks in heaven?” She thoughtfully answered, “Yes, but they will no longer bite people.” In essence, this was an extrapolation of the classic image of universal peace—a lion lying peacefully by a lamb. At a very young age, children may be thinking deep thoughts and asking profound questions in the spiritual realm.
Later, my daughter-in-law called to say that my grandson had a question for me, since I am considered the expert in the family on God and the Bible. He asked, “Is God high in the sky?” I replied, “Yes, God is high in the sky, but not just in the sky.” I asked him if he could say the really big word, “om-ni-pres-ent,” and he was able to pronounce it. I very briefly explained to him that this big word, he will learn more about as he grows older, means God is everywhere.
Will Everyone Be In Heaven?
A couple of months after asking me about God’s location, this grandson asked his mother a profound question, “Will everyone be in heaven?” Readers, if you believe in the doctrine of eternal torment in hell fire, how would you answer this question? If you would not answer it, not wanting to traumatize a child, that would send the message that this is not a safe topic—don’t ask such questions. If you would say, “I don’t know,” that would introduce doubt about God’s unconditional everlasting love and infinite mercy. If you would say, “No, not everyone is going to be in heaven,” I am quite sure the next question would be, “Who isn’t going to be in heaven?” Doubtlessly, such an intelligent child would have follow-up questions, such as: “Why won’t they be in heaven?” “Where will they be?” “In hell?” “What’s hell?” “Fire!” “Forever!”
Thus, children, asking good questions, can easily and unintentionally be spiritually abused, at a very young age [as Jerry was at ten and I was starting at age eight], the toxic effects of which may last for the rest of their lives. Reactions to toxic religion varies from compliant children who try to diligently “toe the religious line,” to those who withdraw into a shell living [or just existing] in fear of God and hell, and strong-willed ones who say, “to heck with religion” and go have a “good time” sowing “wild oats.”
My daughter-in-law is very alert and vigilant to protect her children against various forms of potential abuse, such as: physical, mental, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse. Her wise answer, from her heart as a loving mother and from reading, CWI, though their church does not teach this, was “Yes, everyone will be in heaven, after those who have hurt others have had a consequence.” Wow! This question was answered in such a simple but profound way that even a four-year-old child could understand it!
This loving, Biblically correct answer, and follow-up spiritual nurture, will enable children to grow up having reverence for, due to a sense of awe [meaning of Biblical fear] about, God with zero morbid fear of God. This healthy conception of God will also motivate children to love, worship, and serve God altruistically, not out of fear of God and hell, nor expectation of reward—just doing the right thing for the right reason.
The word “fire” is used metaphorically in The Holy Bible and the sacred writings of other religions to symbolize purification. The best example is the metaphor of God being a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). Jewish believers will be purified by the Messiah’s refining fire (Mal. 3:3). Penitents will be purified by fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:15). All impenitents will be purified, per Jesus’ mixed metaphor, “salted with fire,” in [Greek] Gehenna/Hell [KJV] (Mk. 9:49). The best translation of Jesus’ mixed metaphor of being “salted with fire” is in The Good News Bible: Today’s English Version, which says, “Everyone will be purified by fire.”
Another metaphor for disinfecting and healing from sin is the lake of fire and brimstone [KJV]—burning sulfur [NIV] (Rev. 20:10). Sulfur, long before and after Christ, had multiple beneficial uses. Sulfur was a multi-purpose medication. It could be taken internally for various illnesses. Externally, a sulfur paste would cure body sores. Long before canning and freezing, people used burning sulfur to preserve their produce. Sulfur was burned in religious rituals to symbolize prayers for purification. If someone died in a home of infectious disease sulfur was burned to disinfect it. Sulfur was also burned to disinfest homes of lice, mice, and other vermin.
Since sulfur was the wonder drug in the ancient world that penicillin is today, a modern medicinal analogy would be a fiery lake of penicillin to cure sin infection. A chemist, with a doctorate in chemistry, stated that, theoretically, a sulfur compound could be made which would cure any bodily infection. Logically, spiritually speaking, could not God, who is omniscient, make a sulfur compound [i.e., “the lake of burning sulfur”] that would cure any sin infection? This common-sense view means Jesus can draw all to Himself (John 12:32), all can live in Christ and God can become all in all (I Cor. 15:22, 28)—thus all shall worship God eternally (Rev. 5:13)!
Biblically, hell is the cosmic recycling center, the fiery presence of God transforming sinners into saints. The nonsensical doctrine of eternal conscious torment is preached in graphic detail by some but preached much more tactfully by others—not as hell being literal fire to torture sinners forever, but—“just” as “eternal separation from God.” This more nuanced preaching of hell is still a direct contradiction to the teaching of The Holy Bible. Why? The Psalmist exclaimed to God, “If I ascend up into heaven, you are there. If I descend down to Sheol, Hebrew for the grave or place of departed spirits [“hell,” KJV], you are there” (139:7-9). Consequently, there is no place on land or sea where one can go from God’s presence.
Yes, indeed, sin can temporarily separate sinners from fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:2). But no person can be separated from God’s presence for even a moment, much less for eternity, due to the fact God is omnipresent!
Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D.
Master of Arts Degree in Counseling
Master of Divinity Degree in Biblical Studies
Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Integration of Psychology and Theology
Chaplain, Mental-Health Counselor, Ordained Minister, College Professor
Board Certified Chaplain; National Board Certified Counselor;
Licensed Professional Counselor
Author of: Book, Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb
Book, Christianity Without Insanity:
For Optimal Mental/Emotional/Physical Health
Outreach Booklet, SALTED WITH FIRE: Five Liberating Truths—Religions in a Nutshell
Brochure, The Three Most Liberating Truths of the Christian Faith
Most-Concise Summary of Christian Universalism [Bible Study Key/Bookmarker],
The Gospel in a Nutshell: Salvation of ALL Simple as ABCs
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