It’s not an issue of debate, at least, probably not for you.
In sync with your faith understanding and interpretation of the Bible, you believe hell is absolutely real and anyone who doesn’t repent, say the “sinner’s prayer,” and make the proper life adjustments is destined to spend eternity there.
For you, hell is a God appointed, forever place of unbearable torture and suffering where the occupant’s greatest desire is to die, but they can’t—it’s hell, their due punishment for rejecting a holy and just God.
Therefore, the understood purpose of Jesus is to communicate and manifest God’s love to people while making it possible for them, through their repentance and faith, to be “saved” from the terrifying, agonizing, eternal reality God has prepared for them if they don’t love Him back in return. In your mind, perhaps God doesn’t exactly “send” people to hell nor desire their eternal demise, but they rather choose it. Either way, at the very least, God allows hell for the unbelieving, is holy in doing so, and your prescribed mission is, out of love and obedience, to do everything you can to keep people from going there.
I’m not being critical nor condemning of your faith understanding, just descriptive.
Which leaves me with a question.
If you believe hell is so real and terrible, God loves me enough to send His Son to die a gruesome death on a cross to make it possible for me to avoid it, and you are His plan to tell me all about it so that I can believe all the right things to escape it, why aren’t you pounding on my door every minute of every day to convince me of it? Even if I should turn away, brush you off, or even reject it all together, why don’t you keep relentlessly pursuing it? It’s a hell of eternal torment that you believe in, is it not?
What could possibly be more important? Certainly, not your marriage, family, career, or enjoyed way of life—that would be ridiculously selfish in contrast to the eternal suffering of even just one person, especially in the kind of hell to which you subscribe. What kind of twisted love could one possibly possess that would ever consider resting for just a moment, knowing the potential result if you do?
With millions of “lost” people, you believe, standing at the edge of forever fire only a heartbeat away from eternal torture, how is it that you can be doing, investing, spending, prioritizing, and participating in anything less than the direct pleading, door-pounding, begging, and drawing of every person possible?
And what about your behavior? I hear that your faith tradition believes that little bugger can actually become a stumbling block, even unto the saving faith of another. With all due respect, as much as you seem to be comfortable in talking about everyone else’s personal conduct, for just a moment, can we talk about yours? To think that, for example, an overweight, gluttonous pastor or smoking parishioner might be the primary reason a person concludes, “this whole Jesus thing isn’t for me,” shouldn’t that send every Christian to their local Gold’s Gym after Sunday preaching, not the typical gorging at Golden Corral commonly themed? If that doesn’t potentially shutdown a heathen’s moment of saving faith, what about your 50% divorce rate? What about the 60% of church leaders who watch porn? What about all the church gossip and political infighting? We’re talking about a hell of eternal torment that you believe in, are we not?
Which reminds me, I also recall a couple central, pivotal passages from the Bible that are highly faith defining. One dictates that in actuality, it’s “God’s kindness that leads to repentance” and the other, “the ministry of the Law is death.” So, wait a second. If a white-hot hell is so real and repentance is the sure ticket to the cool breezes of heaven, shouldn’t we be the kindest people on planet earth and exuding a ministry of Grace like the world has never seen? Shouldn’t we be revered in every corner of the planet as being the gentlest, most compassionate, radically gracious, unconditional loving, patient, selfless, generous, serving, and humble people ever known upon the earth—even to a fault?
I know this might be a tough question to answer, but in light of the seriousness of your claims about hell, why isn’t yours a clear, resounding, and flat out earth-shaking lifestyle of relentless kindness, radical Grace, and compassionate character that’s pounding at the doors of every heart and mind in every moment of every day to convince them? I hate to ask this yet again, but this is an eternal hell of unimaginable pain, suffering, and brutal torture at the hands of demons that we are talking about, is it not?
I, and many others, have been carefully listening for your answer, and perhaps we have sadly received it. For as much as this is difficult to say, the truth is, our doors have almost never felt your genuine knock, our hearts rarely ever hear the plea of your kindness, our eyes see so much hypocrisy, and our souls starve in absence of observing and feeling any genuine love, acceptance, and true Grace from you.
Rather, if I’m honest, you seem so desperate to insist that your hell is so real and that I need to take it so drastically serious. Yet, I am growing more and more convinced that, by all the things you do and don’t, you yourself don’t actually believe it, perhaps not even in Jesus either. For if you did, with all due respect, I just have to believe you’d be so much more loving, so much more kinder, so much more gracious, so much more concerned about your own walk, and so much more focused on loving, respecting, accepting, and pursuing mine—you know, like Jesus.
Instead, I see state-of-the-art church buildings, lighting systems, worship packages, budgets, and million dollar pastoral homes and salaries. I see Christian clubs with crosses on top where like-minded, like-skinned people gather like herds of cattle to daintily drivel amongst themselves and viciously judge the world. I see people who are addicted to the sound of their own spiritual voices, consumed by consuming, and content with making their spiritual satisfaction the idolatrous priority of their faith. I see people leaning on their ideologies to the detriment, harm, and abuse of others. I see people who demonstrate little-to-no restraint in highjacking Jesus for political power, personal empire building, and ministry fame. I see people who are feverishly unkind, selfish, privileged, and pretentious—totally at peace with a faith-life of spiritual navel gazing, people-judging, bible-weaponizing, and personal significance seeking. I see people who marginalize, discriminate, and torment those with whom they disagree, dislike, or conveniently deem to be sinning differently. I see people who view the world as a spiritual project—a pasture of beastly humans to ultimately rope into their brand of religious performance, rule-keeping, soul-milking, and mold-fitting. I see people who have spiritually rationalized nearly every form of evil under the sun while joyfully passing it off as biblical faithfulness. For much of modern Christianity has become so thin, white, privileged, cutting, and square, you could use it as piece of paper—best crumpled up and discarded, to be sure. “LeBron pulls up, he shoots, he scores”—all of it, into file thirteen.
If your hell is so true and your faith so loving, how in the world could you ever have time, energy, imagination, resources, or heart for becoming so much of what Jesus is clearly not?
Perhaps the real truth is, “hell” is only as important to you as far as it involves theological debates, condemning perceived sinners, drawing lines, spiritual justifying your platform, mission, and pride, and fearing people into your beliefs.
It obviously doesn’t bother you—that much. Cause you to love—that much. Inspire your kindness and graciousness—that much, nor compels your every all.
Hell—it’s all so convenient, is it not?
With all due respect, if you want me to believe your hell is so real, you are going to have to do a lot better at convincing me that you actually believe it, first.
Grace is brave. Be brave.