If you are a Christian and you believe in hell as eternal (it lasts forever), conscious (people there continue to feel and experience it) torment (it is horrible), then I have a question:
If you stopped believing in that view of hell, would you continue to be a Christian?
This is a question I ponder quite often. I thought it in light of the Love Wins controversy last year. I asked it as I read Ken Daniels’ deconversion narrative. And it came to mind again as I wrote my recent post about Thomas Aquinas.
To make the question harder: if hell is removed and you say you would not be a Christian, then you are only following Jesus out of fear. Can such a fear-based faith be genuine? If I only love my wife out of constant fear she will divorce me, do we really have a loving relationship?
I am often challenged when I read the stories in Acts of how Peter, Paul and the early Christians would call on people to believe in Jesus. They rarely (dare I say, never) used fear of hell as a reason to believe. They pretty much simply said: it is true that Jesus rose from the dead so you should believe it.
It is true. So believe it.
If it really is true – if God really is the Creator and really did become human in the person of Jesus in order to restore relationship between us, the creation, and God, the creator – then should we not just believe it? I don’t believe in gravity out of fear I might float away if I stop believing, I believe in gravity because it is truly how the world works. Shouldn’t truth be enough of a reason to believe?
This is why I enjoy talking with atheists and agnostics and skeptics online. Many such people have a passion and desire to know the truth. They do not believe, or are not sure what they believe, because they do not yet think it is true. (I recognize not all atheists and agnostics are this noble, some are just as biased and mean as the worst of Christians. The fact is both groups have decent people and jerks as part of their communities.)
I believe Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life. When I meet someone who is not a Christian but through discussion I come to see is clearly seeking truth, then we can talk. I feel liberated of pressure to convince them as if I am a used-car salesman. We can discuss and debate as we pursue truth, even if we disagree on what that truth is.
Rather then trying to sell them something they do not really want, I can introduce them to my good friend, the most interesting person who every lived, and who just so happens to want a friendship with them too.
All I am saying is that:
if people are looking for truth…
and Jesus Christ is the truth…
and Jesus Christ wants to be found (i.e., he is not intentionally hiding)…
then what is there to worry about?
To come back to where I started, I want to believe, like Paul in the Bible, because it is true. I want to experience love of God that is not constantly fear-driven. I don’t want to feel like if I step out of line or have the wrong series of beliefs in my head that God might send me to hell. I want to experience the unconditional, life-changing love of Jesus Christ.
I’ll end where I started: Hell. What is there to worry about? Well, if Jesus really is truth and a person rejects Jesus, which in doing so is rejecting God, then separation from God, which is hell, is a real possibility. So please don’t read this post as me rejecting hell. What I am questioning is the place hell plays in our belief system. I am wondering if we doubt the truth of Jesus so we fall back on an easier to argue, fear-based sort of faith. I am not sure people go to hell for all eternity simply because…well, simply because their beliefs do not pass my own personal belief test.
Finally, I have confidence that God is sovereign and loves us enough to go through death and hell to save us, which must mean that all who truly want to find life and love and grace will find it one day.