Hell. Not the one in Michigan.

18 Apr

So far this week I’ve posted about Earth and Heaven, today I’ll try to deal with Hell. (Although Jesus already did! Christian joke – BOOM!)

Most of my recent thinking on this topic has been shaped by Erasing Hell by Francis Chan. It’s a brief and generous response to Love Wins by Rob Bell. Bell represents the most popular summation of the inclusivist position: God will save everyone. If God is love, and wants no one to perish – then love will win. Simple, and sounds good right? On the surface, sure – but as we dig deeper it begins to fall apart.

There are two issues to consider: the “in-house” theological issues and the conversational approach. These things differ not because we want to lie or sugarcoat our beliefs to folks who don’t share them, but because it’s such an offensive and massive concept that we have to couch it in terms of respect and love in conversation, something that can obscure our meaning if we’re trying to get to the essence of the doctrine.

Theological issues

Although CS Lewis wished hell didn’t exist and that it wasn’t part of the package deal (see Mere Christianity) it turns out that Jesus didn’t shy away from the topic at all; in fact he lead with it! We can retain Lewis’ desire that no one go there and utter hatred of such an existence while still embracing the reality that God does punish those who rebel against him.

We don’t know tons about hell, just like we don’t know tons about heaven. It is a separation from God, we won’t like being there, it is intended as a punishment and it was not made for people at all but for Satan.

Speaking about hell

“So you think I’m going to hell?”

I never really know what to say. Most of the times I communicate that every single person will have to face God’s judgment. I ask if 99 out of 100 won’t be an A+ but a failing grade – do they think they pass with a perfect 100? I am certain that I would fail that test.

“I don’t want to believe in a God who would send people to hell then!”

Here is the rub. Everyone is ok with the God who sends people to heaven, but no one (sane) wants God to send people to hell. There are a few points worth mentioning, and I cover some or all of them in conversation.

  • Actions have consequences. God didn’t send the suicide jumper to the pavement even though God is responsible for gravity. Similarly, our decision to rebel against God has a consequence: his judgment. The reason hell is the destination is that we would not be capable of inhabiting heaven in our rebellious state.
  • Hell is simply getting what we’ve wished for. As rebels we want to be in control of our own destiny and subject to no authority other than ourselves. Heaven is also called the Kingdom of God, because he is the sovereign authority. If our chief aim is independence and autonomy then we would be miserable in a place where we were subject to rule.
  • See previous post on heaven re: God’s rule is good, enjoyable, exciting, fulfilling.

We are eternal beings, not mere mortals. That means we all have an eternal destiny. The Bible gives us no reason to suspect that we can alter outcomes after our Earthly life is over so the stakes are high. Hell should frighten, but no one (in my opinion) can make a lasting and genuine commitment to God out of fear. That may motivate our search but in the end it is God’s immense and unyielding love which draws us to Him and enables us to lay down our weapons of war against Him.

The things I feel I must communicate are that everyone will face judgment because actions have consequences. There are only two options: being found righteous and being found guilty. God loves each individual and makes a real offer of salvation to every person, contingent on repenting of sin and placing trust in Jesus. Hell isn’t where all the rockstars are partying for eternity, and we won’t enjoy it.

“if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worth while living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”

– Death row inmate Charles Peace, to the prison chaplain before being executed in 1879

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2 Responses to “Hell. Not the one in Michigan.”

  1. Nav April 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    My whole comment here will be with the assumption that the Bible is the only truth (although I do not believe that).

    “Here is the rub. Everyone is ok with the God who sends people to heaven, but no one (sane) wants God to send people to hell.”

    You are absolutely wrong there. Here I speak for myself and some of my close friends. It’s not that we don’t want to believe in a God who sends people to hell. It’s about WHO he sends to heaven. I view the whole concept of the Christian religion of ‘no matter what you did, however horrific it is, if you accept Jesus and believed in his resurrection, you will go to heaven’ as a BIG cop-out.

    Here is a conversation I recently had with a christian friend,

    Friend: The Boston bombers will get what the deserve. Innocent lives were lost, that too a kid. And a lot of people suffering.
    Me: Agreed. He will get justice on earth by sentenced to life in prison or death, but for the afterlife I think he deserves hell for that (assuming there is a hell). Let me ask you this, if he accepts jesus just before he dies, does he get to go to Heaven?
    Friend: Well of course, yes. If he accepts Jesus and believe in his resurrection, he will be forgiven and go to heaven.

    Now just for a moment, think about that conversation, you will understand why I think Christianity can be a cop-out. Why do we feel like we deserve to be forgiven and go to heaven for the horrific actions we do? Why don’t we want to face the consequences? Forgiving stealing or forgiving hurting someone with words is one thing, but forgiving a brutal action (rape/ murder) is a whole another ballgame. If a victim was a family member, deep down you will probably not want the suspect to have eternity in heaven.

    We should learn to face the consequences of our actions and not take the easy route out. If you rape/ murder someone, you really don’t deserve eternity with God. But if you did learn from that and truly change, the least thing God should do is be just and punish him for what he did (God can come up with a way to punish) and AFTER that, show him the love of being with him in heaven.

    So in conclusion, its about WHO he sends to heaven. It’s a little too easy for the criminals like the bombers, murderers and rapists to accept Jesus in a minute and go to heaven after death the next second.

    • stevewimmer April 20, 2013 at 7:41 am #

      Nav, thanks for commenting. For me the key to our difference of opinion lies in the theology of the cross. You ask why we (people) think we deserve to be forgiven for the horrific actions we do – and there is some truth behind that. Especially in the west we have developed a sense of entitlement. However, you seem to be distancing those who commit horrific actions from the actions you have committed. On Earth there is a difference between the man who hates another but does nothing and the man who hates another and sets off bombs. In the view of God, according to Jesus both men have committed murder. The Bible teaches that ALL are guilty and NONE deserve heaven of their own accord. You ask where God’s sense of justice is, and I say it is entwined with his sense of mercy. Because heinous crimes like the bombings (and heinous crimes like my own hatred, greed, and envy) deserve punishment from a just God and because God wants none to perish He created a solution. The penalty for our crimes against God has been paid, by God. We can refuse that payment like we would refuse to let someone pay for a meal, and then we must make the payment ourselves. I can totally understand why it could SEEM like a cop out – but I trust that mere lip service or an eleventh hour “conversion” will not fool God. If someone however does truly repent and allow Jesus’ payment to cover their sins then God is within his rights to forgive them for what they have done, as their heart and will have now been transformed. Hope that helps.

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