It doesn't frustrate me that some people believe in Hell as a literal postmortem experience of suffering and/or punishment. No. What bothers me is when people make such a belief into a "non-negotiable" tenant of the Christian faith. I myself am a believer in the concept of Hell (although not necessarily quite as literally as some of my neighbors... and I would not equate it with the term "punishment" as though God sends people there) but it's not an essential doctrine of my faith. What is in fact essential is that the God who created the world is now redeeming it--all of it--through Christ because of His ridiculous love for the world and is now inviting us to experience and to be a part of this redemption. What's essential is that the Kingdom of God--indeed, the world as it should be--is here and is the truest reality all around us. The only real essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are "Good News" (the very meaning of the term "Gospel") and I am yet to discover how Hell, damnation, and eternal suffering have managed to overshadow those essentials.
It may be true that some people are subject to eternal suffering but that doesn't change the fact that we have a God who will never stop being obsessed and in love with those very people. We have a God who doesn't want any people to experience suffering, indeed we have a God who suffers with his people. Having a God like that makes Hell quite difficult to understand. Yet some people put Hell right smack in the center of their theology as if they're rooting for Hell, as if they actually would be disappointed to someday discover that no one at all went there to stay.
What's essential to my theology, and what I hope will always be a truth by which I live, is that God is rooting against Hell. Wherever suffering exists, God will not cease to seek reconciliation. Indeed, though Hell may exist, it is not real... for the only true reality is God's reality--the here and yet coming Kingdom of God.
Because our God is who He is, we will always have room to hope that all might be saved, that all death may be defeated, and that all suffering will end. We have the freedom, in Christ, to hope that the whole of reality will be totally redeemed as it truly is through Christ the Lord!
Hi Wes, my name is Simon Gregory and I'm from Sydney in Australia. I stumbled upon your blog while I was googling for info for some study I'm doing. Even though I haven't left a message for you before, I've been reading bits of your blog for the last 8 weeks or so.
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your take on things - what really drew me in first was your reading list - Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Dallas Willard - I knew you were my kind of guy. Since reading your blog, I'm convinced that your a brother from another mother!!!
Anyway, just wanted to encourage you and let you know that people are reading what you're writing - even if they're not commenting (I'll work at doing that every now and then).
Hope married life is treating you well!!!
Thanks for the comment and thanks for the encouragement. In moments of insecurity I sometimes wonder if anybody reads at all. Thanks for letting me know you're out there.
Hi Wes -
I stumbled on your blog when I was looking for an image of hell and clicking on the picture you used brought me to your post.
Good post. I agree with you that hell really should be a tangential issue -- I'm primarily posting on it because it seems to be such a stumbling block to so many and causes so much division.
Glad I stumbled onto your blog. Blessings.....
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