I can’t imagine wanting hell to be real.
Because I believe in a God of compassion, self sacrifice, and forgiveness
Because I accept an omnibenevolent God as truth
For those reasons I find the concept of eternal suffering distasteful at best.
Maybe downright gruesome.
Of course I do believe in hell.
Without a doubt
Even though I don’t like the idea
I’ve come to realize that many things I find to be distasteful are none the less true.
I don’t pretend to know who goes to hell
I don’t have a whole lot to say about it in general
A few broad strokes
And to be honest, a silly movie I’ve loved since I was a teenager sums it up best:
“Do you know what hell is..? It’s not lakes of burning oil or chains of ice. It’s being removed from God’s sight”
I know Christians grapple with this all the time
What gets you a spot in heaven vs hell?
Do you earn it?
Earn God’s favor?
Earn God’s condemnation?
I’m a Protestant for sure, so that’s not what I think
But I’m a Baptist too
And as a more extreme one, I believe in total free will
So I guess you’d say I’m a weird mashup
I say God didn’t pre-condemn certain individuals to hell. God’s omnibenevolence pre-condemns to hell those that choose to hate, subjugate, & degrade
Those that walk the road of life and upon seeing someone robbed and ravaged, walk over to the other side of the road
These are the people that find themselves removed from God’s sight.
No one’s perfect of course
And God doesn’t expect perfect omnibenevolence from anyone but himself.
This is where we’d get into talk about justification and sanctification
But I don’t want to bore you to death.
You can investigate those technical arguments in the links if you want
For now, I’m just going to explain my take
I say it’s not about earning God’s favor. The message of Jesus is that our imperfections are already forgiven in him
And maybe they always have been
This is where our gift of free will intersects with God’s sacrifice for us:
We have to chose forgiveness
We have to chose the omnibenevolent God
Just as he has chosen us
We have to accept that redemption is real and let it work it’s way into the nooks of our person.
We have to love the God that is omnibenevolent
When we do, we have to also love our neighbors
For love of God and love of neighbor are entwined
They are part of one great commandment
The greatest commandment
Love of the omnibenevolent God will lead to love for our neighbors
I do understand that some Christians find it hard to believe that a God who loves us all could condemn us to hell
I think that to a degree those Christians are influenced by one of the many traditions that spurns the idea of true free will
But I also think more liberal thinking Christians have rejected the idea of hell because they couldn’t believe that there are people who truly reject the idea of loving their neighbors
Even if they believed that some actively reject the idea of an omnibenevolent God
They relied on this quite beautiful idea:
“Speaking of younger people today, some really are unbelieving: that is they have recognized that the God of Jesus, this God of tenderness actually exists – and they refuse Him.
Others are not really unbelievers as such since they have rejected only the picture of God they have seen portrayed through certain Christians now or in history.
If you are running away from a wrong picture of God, does that take you further away from Him or closer to Him?”
–Celtic Book of Prayer Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community
I do agree with this
On many levels
But I believe some focus so much on the second part of this sentiment that they ignore the first
The mistake some Christians have made is believing that all who reject God are doing it because they are running from the wrong picture of God
And forget that some see the right picture
The omnibenevolent God
And they choose to hate it
In light of some recent events, I think those liberal Christians may be changing their minds about what people are capable of choosing
In the public sphere many have been emboldened to say with pride:
I do not love the stranger bleeding on the side of the road
And I’m not just crossing to the other side. I’m also building a fence so they can’t crawl near to me
Even if they had one last breath to gather their strength and try
I don’t want to give them the opportunity
Now I don’t want you to misunderstand you who might read this
Just as I know that God has given us enormous power by creating us in his likeness
Creating us with the power to choose
As omnipotent as God may be, he is restrained by his omnibenevolence
God cannot do what is wrong
Because God is Love, he can only chose love
He can’t save those that choose to hate
Because they don’t let him
It seems weird I know
We like to think God can do anything
We’re told that all the time
But God cannot performa an evil act
To be clear,
God still loves those that choose hate
He loves them with all his being
He loves them without reservation
And by their hateful choice he weeps
As Jesus wept on the cross for those who choose hate
He knows that hate is always born of ignorance
Those who chose it can’t see past it, they can’t see what they are doing to others
And what it does to them
They are blind in their hate
They remove themselves from God’s sight
It’s cold, dark, and empty
And they stay there
So why give us a choice? If God is omnibenevolent, why not make us incapable?
The answer is one of the core attributes of love that we do often fail to define.
Love means sacrifice
Love means putting someone’s needs before your own
Love means choosing that self sacrifice
Just as God chose to sacrifice himself in Jesus
Sacrifice requires pain and hardship that is knowingly embraced
Parents do this for their children
Children do this for their parents
Spouse for spouse
Sister for sister
Friend for friend
Even stranger for stranger
That’s why evil comes into the world, because we selfishly reject our neighbors
Because we hate and abuse and abandon them for our own comfort
Our own decadence
Even in modern politics we see this in nationalism.
When someone loves only those that look like them
If I were to only love those that
Look like me
Dress like me
Talk like me
Then I’m not truly loving others, I’m loving myself. I’m worshipping the image of myself.
And as much as we hate the idea, some take the opportunity for self sacrifice and instead chose themselves
Hate for the “others”
For sacrifice to mean anything, then there must be forces that cause pain and suffering
They give us the reason to sacrifice
The impetus to put ourselves in danger
Recognizing self sacrifice can be difficult though
It’s not always clear to those outside the situation
To be clear I don’t think I get to judge who goes to hell
It’s like loving God
No one can ever truly know if you love God
Despite all external signs, love is internal and impossible to observe with certainty. Our motivations can never be discerned without ambiguity.
Same thing with love for your neighbors
It’s looks different for each person
Different for each context
Even our actions can be hard to discern
Sometimes the action itself is so small in our own eyes, yet enormous and unfathomable for those whose lives are touched by it
Only God knows
Although, if you look deeply at yourself
You may see both
Both the motive
And the action it should lead to
At least, you’ll see enough to know:
Am I choosing love?