I’m a bit over all this fretting about whether or not there is a Hell and who among is headed there, and how fast those folk are going.
First there was Rob Bell’s book about “Love Wins” which, surprisingly, wasn’t an ironic tome about Tennis. And now we have another book about the same topic, this one written by Francis Chan and called “Erasing Hell”.
As fun as it seems to be for some Christians to sit around and envision those who’ve mocked their faith in turns humiliated and writhing in torment, I do think we are focusing overmuch on things that don’t matter.
That’s right. I said it. Hell doesn’t matter.
OH, I see into your mind, those of you who read this and begin to stammer “but…but…” I see you saying that Hell most certainly does matter because that is what Jesus’ death is delivering us from and if we don’t get out there and convert the masses, their fiery ruin is on our heads. So Hell should damn well matter. Pun intended.
Here’s the thing. Hell is part of that larger infinity which is essentially beyond our comprehension. It exists in the same realms of thought as God, angels, demons, the fallen angel of light, death, resurrection and the rest of those mysteries. Concerning ourselves overmuch with the coming Hell and it’s theoretical population is not unlike a parlour game. It is something without an answer that we all contemplate to pass the time, to arrogantly peer into the mind of God and the mystery of eternity. To fantasize about the ruin of our enemies. To justify disbelieving in God. Hell is a coathook upon which intellectuals hang many things.
But Hell has no part in the conversation of Grace that I can tell.
Jesus himself talked about hell on several occasions. That is very true. I do not deny that Hell is out there.
What bothers me is our focus on Hell as both a conversion tool and a sort of stick Christians use to get back at everyone else. Maybe it’s because so much of the Christian culture eschews horror films and then has to focus on another outlet for transmuting their rage.
But we are given a clear set of marching orders:
1) Take up your cross daily.
This is the effort of developing a life-long discipline of following Christ. Christianity isn’t a one-and-done proposition, with the prayer of salvation excusing a life of debauch.
2) Love your neighbour as yourself
Love is the most important instruction Christ gave us. A friend of mind points out that the vast majority of folks don’t seem to understand what this love really is. That it is wholly transforming and wholly sacrificial. It is NOT a “what’s in it for me” sort of bargain. It’s a verb that takes your whole self and leaves you changed for the better in its wake.
3) Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
This is where I think a lot of us get frantic. God tells us to get disciples so we use the ways of the Old man–fear and hatred–to bully others into an acceptance of God. No matter how reluctant they are. No matter how hollow a conversion can be when based on a reaction. But picture instead Jesus as he calls the disciples. There are no “follow me or go to hell” conversations. Instead there is the certainty of Christ and the promise of a new life. Positive motivators.
I believe Hell exists because Christ spoke of it. Yet I also believe the demons flew into the pigs and then over the cliff. I don’t base my entire faith and worldview on suicidal demonic pigs and I don’t threaten non-believers with demonic possession as a conversion tool.
We’d do better to put less energy into the the attempt to answer the unanswerable and instead worry about those among us who are in a hell of their own; starving, sick, withered and broken. God can worry about all of our collective tomorrows. It’s time we spent today on Grace.