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.
Guilty as charged.
I gave up trying to make people believe and worrying about “witnessing” when I finally admitted to myself I couldn’t live up to the life the church wanted me to. But here’s the thing, I still love Jesus,but I just don’t like the graceless type of faith they taught me to live for 30 years. In truth, I am trying to unlearn all that I learned.
I haven’t pursed Jesus in a long time. Not out of hatred towards him but a fear I will never do it right. I guess I am afraid of the possibility of no help. I am scared to the bone because if there is no hell then what happens if I die and find there is one? Am I doomed because new facts may countermand old ones and it turns out the old one was right? Where is the love of God when you are afraid of the new path being wrong? I guess that is my sticking point and one of the reasons I don’t knock on your door.
Eddy, thanks so much for reading this article and sharing your honest reflections. I hope that this article makes the statement that if a person is going to believe in hell and that their faith commissions them as the primary way God works to keep them out, they need to believe it all the way. I hope it comes across that I am in no way advocating the faith construct and performance based way of living this article describes.
The topic of hell often trips people up. While no one can put God in a box and define or describe His kingdom, we learn to trust that God has good things in our future since we experience little tastes of God’s presence and God’s actions as we live our lives of service to Him.
The “absence of God” is frequently where I go when I think of hell. Then, we can see hell present in the physical world. Then I can explain to myself why we have so much suffering and ugliness in the physical world. Remember that Jesus spoke often in parables and stories (unbelief ending in punishment included) and unbelief does separate us from God.
While I, like all people, have my times of doubt, I have learned to trust that God will bring me back to Him, because the world is too cruel without Jesus Christ. I need Christ to get out of bed in morning!
We are all so terribly broken as souls and so we wish to be more like God (the story of Adam and Eve). Soon, we are all over the place with theologies that make us glorious even as we know God is glorious. Prosperity gospel, only one kind of baptism, rules and judgments on others, religious right, etc., so that we can throw others under the bus, and emerge on top….we make ourselves gods. We love the view from high up here, and so we compete to make more money and more power to “lord” it over all others.
WE have thousands of denominations in the USA because of this phenomenon. So many declare that only their ideas and rules will bring you into this high up position of being a god. Yes, and as broken as we are, we still think of ourselves as Christians while throwing genuinely good and loving people into hell.
The USA is indeed broken. Just tune into this current administration.
Thanks so very much for this special blog. I just found you recently. njp
Nancy, well said! Thanks for reading and articulating your reactions to it so well! Grateful for your readership!
Excellent Chris! One of your best EVER!
Thank you Michael!
Thank you for your essays. I wonder if you are going to compile them into a book? I hope you do.
I’m a Christian, former Catholic. AND I don’t believe in HELL. Hell on earth, yes. BUT, I don’t believe that a loving, kind, forgiving God would send me or our non believing sons to HELL. It feels like a giant con game. Like a very dysfunctional family system. The Father threatens the children with eternal damnation if they don’t do as he asks. Sick. The threat of hell feels like a way to CONTROL people. This way or the high way (to hell). I do not respect this crazy system. Oh, by the way, I’m an Art Therapist and I work with kids in trauma. I see hell on earth in these kids eyes, I know.
I will not be bullied, threatened, manipulated spiritually to believe that a loving God would send me and others, religions or non religions to torment for eternity.
I call B.S. If this was a family system (no identifying names) diagrammed and studied on a whiteboard, in a graduate course, the students conclusions would all agree that it’s messed up. Very unhealthy and impinges relationships. Really messed up.
Thank you Tita, so great to connect with you! I am right with you! You are certainly onto something when you reveal the control issues behind many of the doctrines of hell! Thanks for taking the time to comment!
This blog is especially applicable to my current torment. Allow me to explain:
Last night I found myself both furiously angry and unmistakably frightened, courtesy of our present governmental morass. A Facebook friend expressed her sympathies with me because I am a Transsexual female and, therefore, one of the targets for punishment from man who would be king. Then she asked why. Why do “they” care? Why do “they” hate me so violently without even knowing me?
I answered her thusly: The B’rit Hadashah – the new covenant – enjoins us all to go out into the world to spread “the Good News”. Many Christians call it “The Great Commission”. However, instead of confining themselves to that single directive, they eagerly carry with them all possible weapons of condemnation and judgment so that if the person to whom they are carrying the Good News falls short of their expectations of a perfect new recruit, the self-righteous can immediately cease being an Emissary and become judge, jury and executioner. The self-righteous have all but abandoned The Great Commission to sow seeds of salvation and have become zealous 15th century Jesuits searching for apostates to lash to the fire stake.
Proselytization has much less about introducing the Word and much more about savaging people with condemnation because they aren’t just like the emissary. I am not a clone of the Pentecostal fire-and-brimstone screamer, therefore I am apostate and worthy only of Hell’s hungry fires. Worse still, when I vey honestly profess my love for the Lord, I am told that I can’t possibly love Him or I wouldn’t be such an evil, filthy, bathroom-lurking sex fiend.
The point is, too many Christians have not only taken The Great Commission to heart, but they have assumed the title of Judge, a title we all know belongs solely to Yeshua HaMashiach – Jesus the Messiah. And because I don’t fit their mold, because I have dared to heal myself before suicide claimed me, I am cursed and punished. Punished by being ejected from my church home (I was once Pentecostal, too) and punished further be self-righteous ‘Christians’ who have the power to make my life a living Hell before, in their view, I am cast into the eternal Hell. The worst aspect of it all is that this condemnation is so completely hate-driven that there is no possible room in the minds of my persecutors for the compassion and love that Yeshua spoke of and lived. They don’t know, don’t know anything about me except that I’m bound for perdition and they are zealously eager to send me on my way. The love of G-d is not within them while they shout their obedience from every possible forum, and they would eagerly hold the match to set fire to the pyre to which they have consigned me.
Shalom, Past Chris. Thank you for another great essay.
Stefani, so well and eloquently stated! I stand with you and celebrate you! Stay brave, and together, let’s hold onto Jesus who is pure Grace and Truth! Thanks for sharing your insight and willingness to risk the vulnerability of communicating the beauty of your soul!
I live in a rather isolated, small mountain town, with about every stripe of “Christian” church imaginable, and a few others besides. I have not attended any for over a year, and yet feel closer to God than in many years. My sincere dilemna is that I don’t know how, or where to find others to fellowship with, or support each other in our walk of grace.
I’m so grateful for what you do. I’d like to print enough copies of this blog of yours and nail it to the door of every church for tomorrow morning!
Thank you. It’s like a lifeline I keep hanging on to.
Gale, thanks so much your encouraging words. I am right there with you in terms of finding a community of grace. I guess, for me, some of my best relationships have started around a pint of craft beer. 🙂 Let’s stay brave together!
I once read that the Archbishop of Canterbury was discussing this topic with Julian Huxley, an atheist. At the end of the discussion Mr. Huxley replied, “if I believed in what you’re proposing half as much as you claim to, I would crawl across Europe on broken glass in an effort to get the message out”.
Well said, Thomas.
I prefer not to talk about my faith. I prefer to try to live it out to the best of my ability. Do I fall short? Oh yeah…every day. Am I perfect? Nope! However, I’ve learned over many years of my walk with Christ, that a smile, a loving attitude, using words of Grace instead of words of condemnation can go a long way to earning a hearing about my faith. We’ve been through some very hard times, yet I keep smiling and keep striving. When I’m asked why I haven’t fallen apart, again, I earn a hearing about my faith. I truly believe that God is real and He is the one who holds ALL of us in His hands. People ought to try love instead of condemnation. Our job is to “love one another”. Leave the judging and condemnation to Him who is so much wiser, just and merciful than any of us could ever be.
Caroline,thanks for sharing your heart and reflections to this article.
LOL, you mean Mormon missionaries have never knocked on your door??? Amazing.