July 2011

Why Would God Need Hell?

What makes Hell so appealing?  Why are so many people so attached to it?  It is a puzzle to me.  Hell (and the divine wrath that follows the rapture) has been getting a lot of attention of late.  I have tried to ignore it, but it keeps burning through my disregard. 

            The current debate appears to have been launched by the publication of a book entitled Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  The book was written by Rob Bell, a prominent evangelical and the pastor of a church with an average Sunday worship attendance of 7,000.  If it had been written by a more liberal pastor, I doubt very much whether the book would ever have been noticed.  Indeed, I believe there are many such books that never attracted any attention.  “Liberals” tend to be heretics who deny the existence of hell and other such basic tenets of Christianity; they can be discounted by those who consider themselves the keepers of the faith. 

            It is because a well-loved evangelical wrote this book, and said what no card-carrying evangelical should say, that a firestorm has developed.  The media has loved it.  Time magazine made it their cover story for the April 25th issue:  “WHAT IF THERE’S NO HELL?”  The article ran five pages of densely packed, triple columned, tiny type, complete with illustrations!  Is this what we look for from what was a respected news magazine?

            Hard on the heels of Rob Bell’s denial of hell, followed Harold Camping and his camp followers.  Many of them quit jobs, spent their assets, some even abandoning family, in preparation for being kidnapped from the earth by God.  They were being removed so that everyone else, the “left behind,” could suffer divine retribution unimpeded – hell on earth.  Mr. Camping made a thorough study of the scriptures and discovered that God had scheduled the rapture for May 21st.  He had made such a prediction before.  His previous study had revealed God’s judgment day would be September 7, 1994.  He has since explained that he was wrong then because he hadn’t taken into account certain information found only in the book of the prophet Jeremiah.

            In my mind, all of this gives religion in general, and Christianity in particular, a bad name.  I am almost convinced to become an atheist if this is what faith looks like.

            Just when I thought things were quieting down, I received my July 12th issue of Christian Century, a magazine to which I subscribe.  In the news section was a report on the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, our nation’s largest protestant denomination.  The agenda for June 15th was to respond to Bell’s book with a resolution affirming the reality of hell.  Here’s a quote from the SBC’s own website: “In adopting the resolution, messengers [church delegates to the assembly] affirmed ‘our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in Hell’."

            Why do so many believe in hell?  Why do some seem to need hell to exist?  It baffles me and disfigures God.  It reduces the gospel to “fire insurance.”  God is not gracious; God wants everyone to suffer unending torment in hell.  Some get a “pass” to heaven thanks to Jesus letting God send him to hell in their place.  Good of Jesus to step in for those few, but kind of harsh of God. 

            It seems that some need a threat, need to be afraid, in order to believe in God and live moral lives.  Religion as such builds and plays on fear.  That is not the God I find Jesus calling Abba.  That is not the God I have come to experience in my faith journey.  I do not fear God.  I do not fear a divine hell created by God in the next life.  I am more afraid of the human hells we create in this life.  I am not worried about what God will do with me after I die, am more concerned with what I will do with this present gift life before I die.  I want to have lived fully, gratefully, joyfully.  To quote Mary Oliver: “When death comes… I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement… I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”  [See the full text of this marvelous poem below.]

             God doesn’t need hell; God doesn’t want my fear.  In my book, Rob Bell is right: “Love Wins!”


When Death Comes

 

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

 

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

 

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

 

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

 

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

 

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

 

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

 

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

 

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

 

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

 

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

~ Mary Oliver ~

 

(New and Selected Poems)

Comments

Hell

I believe Rob Bell is correct in that eventually all will be restored to the bosum of God but man is the one who left God so we must come to the decision to return by having faith in Jesus etc. Unitl that time hell is a reality on earth and in the spiritual realm.  Jesus said what you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven (Spirit world) and what you loose on earth will be loosed in the afterlife.  If we live with hell within our hearts and die that way our reality in the next life will be hellish.  I don't believe it is a place God has prepared to put people He deems unworthy of His grace and love but a place created by the natural consequences of our actions on earth so if we bind ourselves to a hellish life that is what we will experience.  I think Hell is the place that makes God very unhappy and he does not need it at all.  In fact the only thing God needs is love and that is why he created us and that is why love will win in the end and hell will dissappear.  Lets live to hasten that day by offering absolute faith absolute love and absolute obedience to God's will.

On Hell.

I believe there is a hell for if there isn't there cannot be a heaven.  Though clearly there are hells enough here on earth, there is one waiting for the soul which is everlasting.  Hell gapes for the soul that is unrepentant, unregenerate, which carries its sins without remorse into the spiritual realm.  We may have until the last minute to repent, but the last minute is now.  Like a bad dream, the wounded soul that will not be healed here, will awake in a hell of its own creation.  As an alternate view, I offer Lord Byron who in fearing his club footed lame gait would leave him "sadly behind in the squeeze into Paradise," came to believe that there would be no afterlife, the nothingness being God's kind, "asylum for the weary."