A Short Post About Hell

I can’t really wade into a discussion about hell, because my theological hip boots don’t go high enough.

The Bible doesn’t say a lot about hell, and in it, Jesus says more than anybody else.

That’s kind of how I’d like to leave it. Hell isn’t for everybody, we can be sure, and it doesn’t seem to have been designed for any of us – but rather for the devil and his angels: An eternal place of punishment for eternally rebellious beings. That doesn’t describe us mortals whatever amount of rebellion we display; among us, one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess and rebellion will end.

To date, the most persuasive item I’ve read about hell is Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, and I understand that a more comprehensive edition is in the making. Even so, it was more about hell than I wanted to read – and somehow, in high school, I struggled through Dante’s Inferno! Edward has a soteriological scuba suit, compared to my little yellow galoshes, and that suits me just fine. Paraphrasing Karl Barth, I’ve often said that my theology rarely goes deeper than “Jesus loves me; this I know” … and it rarely needs to.

Which brings me to my point, since I said I’d try to be short.

I don’t like to think about hell. I don’t want it to ever become a motivator for my good behavior.

I want to go back to the childlike innocence that I had when (I can still remember) fighting back tears before the very first smack of a spanking or harsh word of reproval reached me because I knew I had disobeyed – and disappointed – someone I loved and respected.

I don’t want to even have to imagine looking up into the big eyes of the big God who loves and gives Himself for me – even to death on a cross – and knowing even for an instant that I’ve turned my back on that love and walked away; gone my own way instead of His; hurt people I love and whom He loves more.

I want that singular, hopefully hypothetical microsecond of unfathomable regret to be hell enough for me, and forever enough for anyone.

So I’ll keep talking about what Jesus talked about, far more than hell or sin or failure or remorse: a Father in heaven who loves without ceasing and gives without measure and forgives without a second thought or the slightest capacity to hold a grudge.

I’ll keep on describing the God who gives His Son, His Word, and His very own Spirit to help us understand how good He is … and how good it is to give until you are nearly emptied of self and filled with His nature and character.

I’ll go on talking about the God who runs to the returning prodigal, shoulders the cross, receives the nails and breathes His last surrender to supply what we desperately need the most.

There may indeed be people who are at least temporarily beyond the reach of love, and must first be drained empty of self by the evil that is sucking life out of the world around us.

There may be people who need to understand the ultimate consequence of evil and insist on having the reality of sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath rubbed in their own eyes and faces by their own hands until they have seen enough hell on earth to want no atom of it in eternity.

There may even be some who, to their dying breath, would echo Milton’s consummately selfish motto for Satan, the Accuser: “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

But I sure as hell don’t want to be one of them.

11 thoughts on “A Short Post About Hell

  1. Oh, for a faith that will not shrink — even in the face of our own shame. Thanks for reminding us of the way that God’s mercy softens our path as we seek to honor him.

  2. Very good post.

    I’ve come to regret the times I said in sermons that Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else in Scripture. What I didn’t understand was that he was talking about a dump outside the city and the judgment that was to come on Israel (Jerusalem in particular) in 70AD as a result of their sin and rejection of his way of peace.

    There is most definitely resurrection, judgment and New Heavens/New Earth. Many will have no part in God’s (re)new(ed) creation, by their own choice.

    And for now, that’s all I have to say about that.

  3. I resonate with this blog! I have heard Fudge’s lectures on this, read much of his book (having sat through the class, I didn’t read the book cover to cover), talked with him to some degree, and he makes sense to me. Then I sat down with a 91-year-old friend last week who has done extensive study, teaching, preaching, and missionary work and he told me he believes 100% in universalism. I was shocked! He gave me a book that I’ve not yet begun to read, but this man is the last I would have thought would embrace universalism. It has my curiosity up, to say the least, but I fear I cannot come to the study with as open a mind as I need. Before I read the book, I can’t see how they could possibly explain away some of the words of Jesus. Thanks for this post.

  4. My three main problems with universalism are these:

    1) Those who embrace universalism tend to end up preaching the doctrine itself as the Good News, rather than the real Good News.

    2) Every form of the doctrine I’ve seen that tried to reflect “Christianity” looked like rearranged western Christian thoughts about heaven and hell, rather that the result of fresh, deep Bible study.

    3) It ignores entirely the problem of human free will. If all will eventually be saved, having been worn down or brought by some other means to accept it, why the farce of making us go through life as though we ever really had a choice?

  5. Keith,

    Sure of our Lord Jesus taugh about Hell and many other things that we read in the New Testament Scriptures always confirming the teaching of our heavenly father.

    I have few question about your article:
    1.- Where does the scriptures say that doesn’t describe us mortals whatever amount of rebellion we display?

    Because, when we are commanded to preach the Gospel as mentioned Mark 16:16 says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” So mortals are going to be condemn because they did not obey the gospel of Christ. the Bible outline the possibility of condemnation in hell, but it further states that the majority of people will end up there!
    “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

    2.- Why you don’t like to think about hell? because The teaching of hell is a powerful motivating force that encourages us to obey God. It is not the most noble motivation, but it reaches the most selfish heart and makes it receptive to the high and transcendent motivations of love and gratitude. We should never deceive ourselves into believing the common notion that we are in no danger of “hell fire”. Hell is a real danger and an eternal punishment that awaits the disobedient.

    3.- So I’ll keep talking about what Jesus talked about… That means that we are going to talk about hell the way Jesus taugh with all truth. So that way the world can understand that God Love them as He Love us but also punish the disobedient.

    God certainly does not want anyone of his creation to be lost because of their sins: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9 Elsewhere, we are told that the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering is leading us to repentance (Romans 2:4 ) . Therefore, God is kind, loving, and does not want anyone to be perish. Consequently, He is diligently seeking the repentance of all of mankind over all time. Sadly, as we have already seen in the scriptures that many have and will reject His gracious opportunity to repent and be forgiven. (Mt. 7:13-14).

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