Friday, June 24, 2011

What the Hell . . .

(This may be a repeat.)I know that got your attention.  Why is she of all people using that expression?  Well, for one thing, it reminds me of the first time my son, at three years old, cussed.  I laughed, but told him we didn’t talk that way (he had heard it on, of all things, Back to the Future). 

The topic of this blog is “what the hell is…”  or more correctly, what is hell?  Or Is hell?

Nobody wants to talk about hell until someone famous denies there is one. 

And recently it seems that Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church and a great, but intense, communicator, is denying eternal punishment.  Actually, it seems that his publisher is trying to drum up business for his next book by implying he is a universalist, a person who believes everyone will eventually go to heaven no matter what his/her beliefs are.

At the risk of being defamed, I will go on record.  I believe in Hell. 

The first argument against that position is, “Why would a loving God send someone to eternal punishment.”  Here is my response:

We cannot, nor do we want to, imagine God to be perfectly loving, perfectly wise, perfectly just, perfectly holy, all at the same time.  So his attributes must be in conflict for us, or in abeyance at certain times, in flux.  God is love, John says.  But God is also holy, holy, holy, Isaiah is told by the angels.  He didn’t get less holy in the New Testament when Jesus died.  He didn’t grow more loving either.  And his intelligence, wisdom, and omniscience don’t fluctuate. Since none of this is true of any human beings, who are constantly changing persons, we just don’t get that God can be loving and just and wise and righteous and gracious all at the same time, absolutely, and that there is no hierarchy or priority to these attributes.

Secondly, how could God be just without a place of punishment for those who hate his guts, hate his people, destroy his creation, and especially if they do so willingly?  And how could God be just if the same fate awaited a humble servant who tried to bring goodness to the world and a tyrant, a villain?  In other words, how could God be just if Hitler gets the same eternity as Mother Teresa (to speak in absolutes here) or Kim Jong Il gets the same reward as Dr. Martin Luther King? 

I am writing this in broad terms.  I am not addressing what hell is like, how long it is, where it is, and who actually goes there. I am only arguing against the concept that it doesn’t exist.  The other questions are up to much debate, and although a lot of Chrisians would like to act like the matter is settled doctrinally, it just isn’t.  I am speaking especially on the subject of annihilationism, whether after a period of suffering one’s soul is just destroyed, and thus consciousness.  Another argument over two millennia is whether hell is fire, torment, darkness, smoke or just separation from God.  I personally “prefer” the latter, except that it lends itself to too much metaphorical interpretation (as in “hell on earth” kind of talk).  And as to who goes there, that’s really none of my business, although if you’re too open-minded about it you have probably denied any reason for missions.

If someone is going to deny the existence of Hell, though, they might as well deny the deity of Christ, the cross, and the resurrection.  The Bible is what it is; take it or leave it, reject it or believe it, but don’t edit it for your own purposes.

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