A good friend of mine who also happens to be a great thinker raised an interesting question to me today in a conversation we were having on Facebook. We've been discussing hell and sort of bouncing ideas off of one another and he raised the point that if everyone were going to heaven and no one was going to experience an eternal Hell then it would make kingdom work here and now quite pointless. He said, "It's difficult to see the purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God if we're all going to be in it in the end anyways." In other words, why should we do anything if we're all going to heaven anyway?
Well, keeping in mind that the kingdom of God is an eternity that starts now and that we shouldn't put all our eggs in the "afterlife" basket, I think that it's possible that the belief that ALL will be saved could actually empower our kingdom work here and now (not that I wish to advocate a universalist or even an inclusivist perspective just yet). Isn't it, after all, the hope that we're all going to be there or could be there that drives us to further God's kingdom? If I didn't have hope that in the end you would enter the Kingdom of God, why would I waste my time with you? It's because I think you can that I do take the time to work towards that hope. If I know that the reality of God's kingdom, which was made a reality through Jesus Christ, is the only true reality there is, then I am going to do whatever I can to implement that reality wherever it has been hidden. When I see people suffering from poverty, I know that the reality they live in is not the reality that Christ brought to bear upon the world through his resurrection, so my work of freeing them from that poverty or giving them hope in that poverty is the work of furthering God's kingdom. It's a work worth doing because I believe that the Kingdom is theirs. If, on the other hand, I didn't believe in my bones that all could be saved, I might be inclined to give up on some or to make judgments about to whom I should or shouldn't extend grace.
On the other hand, I'm not so sure that the doctrine of Hell is incompatible with the hope of the Kingdom. It may be, in fact, that hell provides the sense of urgency we should have. But then again, if people dying of starvation, for example, does not provide a sense of urgency I don't know what would. Wherever we end up, we must conclude that the practical work of furthering the kingdom will be important until all are saved. I think this is true whether or not we believe in eternal damnation.
I appreciate your openness.
But if I may suggest, there really is no way that Hell could be in any way compatible with the type of God Jesus believed in.
Contrary to a lot of what is said, especially by Evangelicals, there is really ample evidence in the gospels to show that Jesus was diametrically opposed to the idea that God could impose suffering on anyone, for any length of time, much less for an eternity! The God of Jesus was all about bringing RELIEF to the suffering, not being the CAUSE of it.
I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website: www.ricklannoye.com), but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make.
For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.
So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!
True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus' lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.
Thanks Rick, I'll have to check out your book. It sounds intriguing. I've been studying the doctrine of hell for quite some time now, and I've never been fully comfortable with any conclusions. I am sure that God is not the "cause" of hell or of any kind of suffering but I don't think that necessarily does away with the whole idea. There may be some other options which, allowing for some ambiguity, leave room for hell without God being the one doing the sending or the "punishing."
Hell is a very real place. I work in the medical field. One night while on duty I was on the night shift. That was probably the worst night of my life. The pain and suffering the patients were going through, the crying, screaming and gritting their teeth was aweful. I was on this floor only one night and it hurt to see these people in this condition. There were no pain meds they could give them that were strong enough to take away the pain and suffering they were going through. One woman had been on this floor for over three months. Was it sin that brought her here? Yes! She was dying from the AIDS virus because she was in a lesbian relationship and her partner gave her the HIV virus.
When you look at hell in the Bible, look at sin. When a person is in a sinful place, and they have never accepted the love Jesus Christ has for them, they are rejected by God. He loves them and wants them to come and know him, but when people reject Him and His teachings they are walking away from TRUTH and turning to lies. Do I believe in heaven and hell? Yes I do!!! Heaven can have no sin enter into it. It is a place of purity and holiness. For those people who have accepted Christ-who is the ONLY way to heaven- (I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.)He is the one that changes their life, brings purity and holiness, and delivers them from sin, death, and hell. Only those that BELIEVE will enter heaven-for those that do not believe, they will go to hell because they do not have forgiveness in their life. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever BELIEVES in me shall not perish but have everlasting life. Without believing and trusting in Jesus Christ you are destined for hell!
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