Why are we so obsessed with hell anyway?
I believe our sin obsession is tied to our hell obsession. If we believe sinning puts us in hell, then we need to stop sinning or find some way to have our sins covered so we don’t go to hell. We need to make others afraid so they will stop sinning or find some forgiveness of their sin so they don’t go to hell. We make all kinds of rules and doctrine and dogma and rituals and religion to keep us out of hell. We find and make contracts and deals and negotiations and promises so we stay out of hell. We make dedications and surrender our lives to moral absolutes and impeccable behavior to stay out of hell. Why are we so obsessed with hell?
What if sin doesn’t send us to hell? What if hell is something of a human concept and not a God concept? What if hell is a product of a fallen nature and not a divine creation?
Jesus is our lens to see the Father. He is the exact representation of the Father. Jesus said we should not murder or even curse one another. He said we should not hate our enemy but love our enemy. He said we should turn the other cheek and forgive an infinite number of times. He also said stuff like this:
John 5:22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, (ESV)
John 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (ESV)
John 12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (ESV)
How many times to do suppose the word “hell” is mentioned in the Gospels? In the ESV version, the word “hell” appears 12 times in the Gospels. 11 times it is the word “Gehenna”, which was a real place outside the gates of Jerusalem. It was where they burned the trash and burned dead bodies when they were “put out of the Temple.” There was a tradition that if these unclean “sinners” spent a year in the fires of Gehenna then they would be redeemed. So, Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point referencing a real place with real consequences and a history and tradition. The other reference is this one:
Matt 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (ESV)
I talked about that one in a few posts like “Has anybody seen my keys?” We live in a fallen world whose ruler is the devil. He is called the prince of the air. We are in “hell” now if you think of “hell” as the kingdom of darkness (Hades). Still the gates of hell can’t hold us in nor keep the kingdom out! That is really good news. Oh yeah, the King of our Kingdom is JESUS!
Statistics don’t prove anything really, but as a comparison, how many times does Jesus make a reference to the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels? Ready for the answer? In the ESV, the Kingdom is mentioned 120 times in the Gospels. Yep 120!
I can make a solid argument that Jesus never threatens anyone with eternal torment or torture. However, you know whatever I try to prove, others can make a solid argument against mine. I don’t want to debate. I want you to use your mind of Christ and ask the question.
Does Jesus torture people forever and ever with water boards and cattle prods and branding irons and fingernail pulling and bone crushing and flame throwers? OK, maybe a little overboard, but you see where I am going. Does Jesus who told us to love our enemies hold Himself to a lower standard? Does LOVE torture people? It is a simple question and Jesus will give you the answer. Does the Jesus who would call the “sinners” His best friends and said He didn’t come to judge or condemn, put people in the pit of eternal torture with His own hands? Does the Jesus who told us not to judge, forever and ever torment someone who never heard of Him in this life? These are simple questions. What does Jesus tell you?
I don’t believe He does any of that. I believe most of what Jesus is talking about applies to our lives today. How many of us haven’t experienced some kind of “hell on Earth.” I was afraid of dying to the point of panic attacks for a number of years because I was sure God hated me. Here is the kicker. I was a “Christian” who believed in Jesus. I also struggled with alcohol for a number of years and woke up many days in “hell”, saying to myself “that was the last drink.” Want another kicker? I thought God gave me the drinking problem to teach me a lesson?!?!? Condemnation on top of condemnation, on top of guilt, on top of shame…hell on earth. Reaping and sowing. Today I know that none of that was from God. Once I discovered His love for me all of that junk left. Today no more hell on earth but the Kingdom of Heaven.
I believe our future, after death, hell and heaven are the same location, the place of God, absent the distractions of this world. In that place, there will be some that don’t want to be in the presence of God. It will be very “uncomfortable” for them. There is also the “refiners fire” that we will all pass through. The stuff that is inconsistent with the nature and character of God will be “burned away.” For those who want nothing to do with God, well… this fire is the same “fire” that Jesus baptizes us with . It is the intense love of God absent any distractions. It is “pure God love” that gets rid of the stubble and hay but leaves the jewels. That fiery love of God, His intense presence, works in our lives today to begin the refining process. It is a good thing.
That is my opinion. You need to find your own.
Could it be that our obsession with hell is because of our fallen human desire for justice? Could it be that our anger and “wrath against offenses” is what drives our doctrine? Could it be that we are so hurt and broken that we insist on a justice that punishes the other guy? Is it possible that our refusal to accept a loving God, who continues to love people with such an intense love that we call it “fire”, is because we can’t let the other guy off the hook? Maybe we rationalize with images of villains like Hitler or ISIS or Barney (OK not a villain but pretty annoying). Maybe, just maybe, Jesus came to set us free from all that stuff that wants the other guy tortured for forever and ever and then some more because they really need a good beating with some roasted flesh as a good measure…whew, I did it again.
Are you getting the picture? Listen, hell is a concept, a doctrine. It is not theology. Theology is the study of God. It is not a tool to “fear” someone into a decision. Jesus doesn’t want to torture anyone. How can Love torture? It doesn’t make sense, right. Still there will be some, and maybe many, that refuse His love. In “the end”, they will be burned up, completely consumed by the love of God (since He is love). It shouldn’t make anyone afraid. Perfect love casts out fear.
“But what about all the sin and bad behavior?”
You know that is exactly what Jesus came to set us free from. He came to save us from sin, death, the devil and our stupid fallen nature way of thinking. He came to reveal the Father to a human race that was afraid of Him. He came to show us a loving God that religion rejected. He was killed because He was not the God they expected. When we reject God we are choosing “hell.” When we fail to receive the loving God that Jesus shows us, we are not being saved from all our junk. When we refuse to surrender to the love of God, we stiff arm the creative and restorative power of the universe. When we judge others and put the fear of a Dante’s hell in their lives, we are misrepresenting our loving Father. Maybe when we are misrepresenting our loving Father, then we are in hell ourselves…
Matt 7:22 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (ESV)
Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; (ESV)
As you saw above, Jesus doesn’t judge or condemn. So where is it coming from? Maybe our obsession with hell actually brings hell into our lives. Just maybe. Maybe we should be obsessed with the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was. That seems like the right obsession.