Archive for category damnation

Found Jesus? Try looking in Hell


“Hell is the absence of God”.  This is a pithy definition that many Christians find attractive. It shoves under the rug any suggestion that God might have created Hell as a place of eternal torment and punishment for human disobedience.  Since God will not force us to love ‘him’, we must make the choice ourselves, or so it goes.  And what Christian would not choose  the presence of God in Heaven?  If God is omnipresent, if “he” is everywhere, then his absence is ‘no where’.  Hell is the last death, annihilation.   This makes the bitter pill of damnation a bit easier to swallow.

But Jesus is suggesting something else, that God is not in Heaven but may actually spend a lot of time in Hell.  Many of his followers readily choose to spend time in Hell, living with and helping those who cannot escape, at least not on their own.  Classic examples are Father Damien,  Dorothy Day, Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Boom, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.  Thousands, if not millions, of others, have forfeited comfortable Sunday church meetings, choir practice and Bible study to devote their time and energy in the service of the sick, the poor and the imprisoned.  This is where they find God.  This is where they lead others to God. Not through pseudo-evangelical proselytizing about Hell and Heaven.  Not through fear and intimidation, but through self-sacrifice and love.

The other day I suggested that,  to many Evangelicals, both progressive and fundamentalist, if you took away Hell you would take away their vision of Jesus.  Hell may even be a more important tenet of the Christian faith than Jesus, because without Hell what is there for Jesus to save us from?

But maybe there’s another way to look at Hell, a way that is not so doctrinaire but more holistic.  Maybe the closest we can get to God is in Hell, though not by reflecting on our own pain but through focusing on the pain of others.  No gains or rewards, no divine pats on the back.  Just encountering the beauty and presence of God in some of the vilest and most horrifying cesspits of the world.  Why else would anyone willingly live their lives with those people, in those places? A love of God that I can only imagine.

Perhaps this points us to what Heaven ( or more accurately, the Kingdom of God ) might look like.  It’s not a place where we go when we die and it’s not a return of the mythical Garden of Eden.  It’s not something God gives to us for being good, but a world that we must earn by working towards eliminating our man-made Hells.  Of course, the chances of this happening does not look  good, but some amazing people are busy making it happen, one piece at a time.

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No Hell = No Jesus


As long as I can remember  my mother has said, “As a Christian you have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is  there.”  This is her gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine.  Though she didn’t know it,  this understanding is a Christian “heresy” called Universalism, a heresy  that says all of us,  even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic, and most Christian doctrine. But wasn’t she right about one thing:  Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.

Not long ago Rob Bell was  in the hot seat with many Evangelicals (and some Catholics)  because his recent book, “Love Wins”,  suggested that no one goes to Hell.  He set the conservative Christian bogs on fire and most of them essentially condemned Bell to hell for not believing in Hell.

The ensuing progressive  Christian defense of Bell was great.  Many Emerging Church and progressive Christian bloggers  busted the chops of people like the Three Johns ( Piper, MacArthur and Hagee) for accusing Bell of  Universalism . They rightly criticized the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point where this doctrine  obscures a lot of the Gospel message.  But, unfortunately, few of them go far enough.

Because in their defense of Bell they made it quite clear that they also believed in the doctrine of Hell, they just adapted it to make it more palatable.  Most seemed to accept the conventional orthodoxy  of a Final Judgment and the potential prospect of Hell (even with little or no scriptural support for it) coupled with the salvic solution of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, as God’s blood sacrifice, to free us from eternal damnation.  Which, to me, flies in the face of what Jesus spends a lot of time telling us about God.  As I heard a pastor once say, God is either merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both.

I think one reason why so many Christians are unyielding about Hell, and why the progressives still can’t shake the doctrine off, is that, in reality,  Hell is the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus.  Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?

No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus that many Christians claim to believe in, have faith in.  Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose along with the primary meaning he may have for millions of Christians. So the idea that there is no Hell is just too damn frightening to consider.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

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Heaven Insurance


I’ve been fortunate to land a part-time job working with youth at a local Presbyterian (USA) church. Realizing that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to the doctrines of any denomination aside from Roman Catholicism and Methodism, I picked up a little book called Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt – a Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents, and other Confused Presbyterians written by two Presbyterian ministers;  Ted V. Foote Jr. and P. Alex Thornburg.  The book is published by Geneva Press, an arm of the Presbyterian Publishing Company so I figure that it’s pretty orthodox.

I’ve found the book to be very refreshing and the theology is right in line with my own evolving beliefs.  Their use of the phrase “Bible Belt” doesn’t refer to a geographical place but a theological  and spiritual state of mind, one that I am very familiar with. In particular, I appreciated their discussion of heaven and hell, a topic which has been a  bone of contention when talking to Hyper-Reformed Calvinists.

The question of heaven and hell are of primary importance for the neo-evangelical in the Bible Belt. In many ways, the concern about the destiny of one’s soul in the afterlife is the motivating force for accepting Jesus into your heart. As we noted earlier, many neo-evangelicals consider the future salvation of your soul to be dependant on your conversion, your acceptance of Jesus into your heart. “If you don’t, God won’t save you.” Therefore, the ultimate reason for accepting Jesus is to ensure your place in heaven. The life of faith is really just a kind of ‘heaven insurance” so that you can be certain of being fitted with wings and a halo. You “take out the policy” by believing and doing the right things, and then it’s paid off when you die and you get your reward.  Heaven is the place for people who paid the right dividends on their hell insurance. (we never thought of ministers as insurance salespersons, but it fits the metaphor.)

Obviously, there are a number of problems with this view of the world, or the afterworld. Not the least is the prevailing attitude that it’s always “our people” who get into heaven and the bad guys, usually anyone who doesn’t quite believe and act the way we think they should, who end up being cast into hell. Heaven becomes an exclusive country club for the beautiful people who can look down at those sinners in the ghetto of hell and feel sorry for them.

Well said, though I am embarassed to say that not too long ago the idea of my faith as  ‘heaven insurance’ would have had a nice ring to it. If I get nothing else out of this  little book I’ve learned a new word that will be seeing some regular use: neo-evangelist.  I love it.

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