The Joy of Hell

The Joy of Hell October 18, 2010

Taking the concept of hell out of Christianity is like taking the brandy out of eggnog. What remains is still deliciously substantive and satisfying—but it lacks that zingy, burning undertone, that certain dangerous something that tends to make people a little crazy.

It becomes less fun, basically.

Not that we Christians think of hell as “fun.” Certainly not in the afterlife, anyway. But here in this life, it’d be disingenuous of us not to admit the degree to which hell provides us with the justification for being just about as rude, self-righteous, and judgmental as we’re inclined to be. Which, let’s face it, is kind of a fun way to be.

Without rudeness, self-righteousness, and being judgmental, we’d have no gossip. There’d be no magazines, no soap operas, no talk shows. No reality shows!

Basically, our culture would crumble.

Our acceptance of the reality of hell means that we Christians get to—that we have to, really—tell everyone who is not a Christian how mind-bogglingly wrong they are about pretty much everything that’s most critical in life. (If a person is wrong about something as large as God, there’s just not a lot left for them to be right about, is there?) It fully empowers us to tell complete strangers how much better and righteous their lives would be, if only they’d wake up and start thinking and believing exactly what we think and believe. Hell gives us permission to tell people how, if they were just like us, they’d be saved.

Is that kind of invasive, sweeping presumption appallingly rude? Sure it is. Unless you’re a Christian. For Christians, telling people that they urgently need to become someone radically different than they are is the opposite of rude, see? When a Christian tells someone that, they’re being loving.

And for that we have hell to thank. Without hell, after all, there’d be nothing to save anyone from.

Without hell, the only thing we would have to recommend Christianity would be the love of Jesus. The story of God’s atoning sacrifice on the cross would have to suffice. We would be able to point upward to the love of Christ—but never downward, to his wrath.

Without hell, Christianity would be all about this life—how to live, how to love, how to more thoroughly integrate our mind and lives with God. Then caring for others would be virtually everything to the Christian. Concerning himself not a whit about the next life would free the Christian to concern himself solely with this one.

Without hell, the Christian question of universalism would also vaporize as a concern. The real traction of the idea of heaven being exclusively for Christians comes from the attending conviction that everyone who dies not Christian is immediately shuttled off to eternal damnation. Without hell, the Christian has no reason to believe that God couldn’t be just as pleased with a Muslim or Jew as he is with him.

Not forcing Christianity upon others, and no sense that God accepts only Christians into heaven. That is what we would have if we didn’t have hell.

Thank God the concept of hell can in no way be challenged or undermined by reconsidering our interpretations of its biblical references, or by wondering what possible vested interest anyone who’s ever had any power in Christianity might have in promulgating the ideas about it that we’ve come to accept as unquestionably true.

If we started down the road of questioning the validity of hell, who knows what kind of world we might end up with?

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  • Ah, John, you’ve done it again. I will pick the right opportunity, and share this with family members who worry greatly that I will end up there. Thanks for a clear perspective!

  • Don Whitt

    This piece made we rapturously happy, John. Thank you.

  • john, i love you more than my luggage.

  • John

    If more christians were like you I might not be so angry/afraid of them. I know not all groups are the same but I have to remind myself sometimes. Thank you for doing what you do.

  • Susan in NY

    Ah…. Another amazing post, John! Thank you!

  • Lee Walker

    Hello, John, are you there??? Or did Bishop Calvin Pearson abscond with you and sit down in your empty computer chair and hijack your blog? You’ve done another marvelously succinct job of encapsulating Pearson’s “revelation” that got him kicked out of “mainstream” Pentecostalism. Of course the idea’s not unique to him, but he’s the last one I heard discussing it.

    As usual, your very thought-provoking and irritatingly common-sensical musings are stirring the pot… in a good way. 🙂

  • Talia

    This is your best post ever. Excuse me while I go spam it around.

  • I really see a part two coming. I’m not wrong, am I?

  • So now all the anti-gay Christians who sent you emails promising hell (in love) are sitting at their computers with their jaws dropped open and thinking, “Well, no wonder [my argument of eternal damnation didn’t work on him]!”

  • I have always had this secret wonder. A wonder, or more clearly, a question whether the Christian concepts of hell were real or not. We are not, naturally the only faith where the concept of hell exists, but ours is one where it sure plays a major role in interaction with each other and others who don’t believe as we do.

    I wonder if what we think isn’t really what it is. I wonder if the focus of faith is not outward, looking at others, but inwards, looking at ourselves.

    I grew up in a religious group that taught that when you died, you simply slept, until the judgement day, then everyone would be judged, and the good (meaning those in the group I found myself in) would be enjoying eternity, everyone else would be turned into crispy tater tots, ceasing to exist.

    I found that concept somewhat lacking as I find mainstream Christian concept lacking as well. Mainly because it allows us to do the deciding who gets fried and who doesn’t whether we are qualified, or remotely capable of peering into the soul of another to determine their eternal faith. (We ain’t of course)

    That is why I tend to avoid discussions on the subject, will clap my hands over my ears and sing lalalalala, very loudly when someone suggests a study on the end times, and prefer to see what God can do today in our lives, and some really cool things can be learned from opportunities he places before us. That is better then trying to fathom of some uncertain future, and just who is going to be where.

  • Kara K

    Thank you Mr Shore, you are covering all of the issues that are on my mind lately. If God is so all powerful why couldn’t he come up with a better system? And if Jesus is all about game-changing grace, why the need for the new threat (hell) that wasn’t really there in Judaism? I choose to believe God finds a way to work based on the needs of the culture he’s working with at the time. The 10 commandments might be set in stone, but not much else is. Once the culture out grew the need for killing animals God responded with “About freakin’ time” and sent Jesus as a sacrifice for all. Our dumbasses need to feel special. Christians respond with: “But the description of hell comes from Jesus himself”. My response is “Jesus or as I like to call him Mr Hyperbole? He also said it was for goats. Why do we consider that part an analogy, but take the lake of fire as real?”

  • BIG hugs and kisses to you for this

  • Mary

    I love you more than my Birkenstocks, my Louis Vuitton overnight bag, my Jet Boil, and my Chanel Number 5.

  • Maybe one day, maybe in heaven, John, I’ll get to tell you all the ways your perfect process of writing so completely and specifically addresses EXACTLY the THING. Whatever you call that internal guide. 🙂 And it leaves me marveling over God’s goodness—

  • Kara

    Epic win, John. I love this beyond words.

  • Recovering Goth

    I’ve always had a gut feeling that C.S. Lewis was pretty accurate in his depiction of purgatory/hell/damnation in “The Great Divorce.” He imagined no lake of fire, no constant physical torment. Yet what he imagined might be far worse than that – the inability to feel joy, love, or happiness, no matter what one speaks into existence. And the choice of heaven or hell is not as judgemental as many misguided Christians make it out to be.

  • Gksafford

    I once read a Christian blogger say that liberals like me are the real homophobes because we refuse to tell gay folk they are going to hell for being all gay and everything. Seriously. He loves gays because he wants them to not be gay and not go to hell. Notice how I sneaked the whole gay thing in here?

    Thanks for writing this, John. You are one of those game-changing popular writers on Christianity that give me hope. Like Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz”, it’s refreshing to know there is actual thought out there. Blessings!

  • Anonymous

    The Muslim Jahannam, the Hebrew Sheol/Hades, the Aztec Mictlan, Africa’s Hetgwauge, the Celtic Uffern, the Slavic Peklo, the Greek Tartaurus, the Hindu Mahabharata, etc. It seems evident that Christianity has no monopoly on hell.Whether hell is a demon-run fiery lake that burns but doesn’t consume, or whether it is simply a dark place where God isn’t, the concept of just disposition isn’t absent from the culture of virtually all peoples. Also when I say just, I don’t mean that strictly from God’s point of reference. To me, hell is not a place of punishment for not accepting Jesus’ grace unto salvation. It is seemingly the only remaining option for those who don’t choose to abide with God…whether that choice is made in the here and now, or in the hereafter. God will not subvert free will and will let people chose for themselves what they will do. Seems that simple to me.

  • StraightGrandmoher

    I am very busy as the olive harvest is only a few days away. I am a farmer so this is my busy time. Don’t think I have left you John, I am jsut too tired at night to comment. In December things will get better. Hey there is a topic for you, “The harvest” to farmers it is very very real, not something symbolic. I love being in tune with the earth and nature and the seasons as only a farmer is.

  • Marie

    THANK YOU! Wow, if you only knew. Srsly. Thank you. Brilliant and timely once again!!

  • Mary

    Why did my post get deleted? Is it because I mentioned brand names? 🙂 I was showing my aging hippiness.

  • Cd

    I don’t think most people believe in hell because it gives them power in an argument. I think most people believe in hell because they want to be right with God and, like belief in the trinity, the virgin birth and innerancy of the bible, they want to live a life that conforms to the traditionally held tenants of Christianity.

  • Lee Walker

    I’m embarrassed at the mistake in names… I meant Bishop Carlton Pearson, not Calvin. Apologies.

  • Don Rappe

    Good questions, I think. Is the knowledge of good and evil really a fruit that grew once on a tree? If God won’t accept my soul, the center of my being, into his Eternal heart, is that really a big lake of fire? It isn’t a good thing for me, I know that. I tend to think of him as Mr. Parabola, or Mr. Logos.

  • Don Rappe

    Roast goat is fairly delicious, so I owe you for a new vision of hell. I’m pretty sure it’s the wrong interpretation tho. People would start wanting to go there.

  • Kara K

    Don – LMAO. In this parabola it’s either sheep or goats and sheep might find roast goat about as appetizing as we find roast chimpanzee. Yes I did just bring evolution into the debate.

  • Shane

    I am sad at your flippant attitude towards serious truths found in God’s word. Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven. He came to warn people about pending judgment and took the penalty our sinful natures deserved. He came to save the world – not necessarily condemn it (John 3: 16-17) – the condemnation is already on our heads – but through Christ alone we have hope (John 14:6). I fully appreciate if you don’t the see the Bible as God’s divine word, then you will probably disagree. I like CD’s thoughts – most people don’t talk about hell cos it gives them power. We should live life in the full appreciation of what God has done our own behalf (Eph 2:8-10) – it is by his gracious action towards us – something we did not deserve. I don’t like the reality of hell – but I hold Christ to be real and he spoke about it – many times – thus I have no choice but to believe it and seek his name…..

  • DR

    Shane, I’d reverse this. The Christians who are *so* quick to judge who is actually going to hell in such a decisive, simple manner based on what they believe the Bible says is flippant. Actually, the words I would use are “lazy” and at times, “abusive”.

    I was once told by a Christian counselor that I’d “blasphemed the Holy Spirit”. I knew enough about Scripture to know that was the one sin that cannot be forgiven. I just – I freaked. I almost had a nervous breakdown. Once he saw my reaction, he tried to back track, he realized how wrong he’d been to just toss that out there. But the damage was done. That one sentence took YEARS from which to recover – I was absolutely convinced that I could not get back to God, that the counselor (who I trusted more than anyone) was right. It took a literal miracle from the Holy Spirit to move me into a place again where I believed I had access to Jesus. Without that, I’d be like so many of the people Christians just casually point at and say “hell bound”. That was the most terrifying experience of my entire life to date. The years it took me to recover, both spiritually and emotionally, were long and hard.

    So be really, really careful Shane. Be willing to take an honest look in the mirror on this one. Please just stop and read with the intent to understand. To hear. There’s nothing here to protect. God is Sovereign. His Will will be done. Don’t be so quick to dismiss this post and my comment as something working against His Will. It could be you that is inadvertently working against it.

  • Actually Jesus only mentions hell about 12 times. The word itself is mentioned about 54 times throughout the entire bibleI used in my quick foray Then we must remember that the Old English translation from the latin, that became hell could have more then one meaning, such as the grave, or death, not an “alternative existence.”

    the numbers are fairly accurate or as best as I can count, and I was using the King James translation as it is the most well known. In contrast the word heaven is mentioned close to 700 times (691 to be exact). The word heaven appears 63 times in the book of Matthew alone.Jesus mentioned the word money 17 times. It gets a total mention in scripture (as the word money) 125 times. Things like coins, gold are also mentioned, but not counted in this little survey. Yep money a lot more then hell. Heaven a whole lot more then hell. I suspect that heaven was a more important topic then either, with hell having the least priority

  • Shane

    @ DR – hey mate, I completely agree with the wrongful way that some people slam others about being hell-bound. I was arguing about hell being a reality. And when I look at God’s divine word – I see that. Sooooo, in light of that – how do I live? Do I slam others? NO! As you said, the Holy Spirit changed you. It is always God that changes us – thus we need to be incredibly gracious towards others. Ephesians Ch1-3 blow me away about what God did thru Christ for me.

    Yet, if heaven and hell are realities – and I believe they are – well then people need to graciously know this – just as Jesus warned people when He came here as the GodMan. Now, I don’t get into the whole scene about slamming people about being hell-bound – I simply point them to God’s word – God saves people through his Word. BTW matey, thanks for your comments about mirror etc. I trust i didn’t come across as arrogant – though I am humbly passionate about people seeing the HOPE that God offers – he is a loving, merciful and holy God and following him brings a sense of purpose that overcomes the sin and busted world we live in……

  • Diana A.

    I don’t just like it. I love it!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Shane.
    I wouldn’t call John’s attitude flippant. Maybe irreverent—to some. He is a writer. A writer who likes to provoke. And I’m not so absolutely sure that he doubts judgment. He might…maybe I’m out to brunch. What I think he might doubt, is that the fear generated by the doctrines of hell (or at least some of our traditional interpretations of those verses) aren’t always effective in convincing the non-believer that God loves them so much that He’s willing to kill every last one who doesn’t receive His Son. While the truth about hell may be concurrent with the Scriptures as you understand them, I’ve always believed that Christ’s power in my life today is what attracted me to Him. Not so much His power over my death someday out on the horizon. I don’t forget that, but it only makes me crazy if that’s the sole impetus for praying and sharing the gospel.

    From the moment a newborn baby takes their first breath, they begin to die. That is a natural fact. But don’t we prefer to revel in the promises of abundant life today and tomorrow, than we do the promises beyond life’s end? If John doesn’t believe in the traditionally Scriptural depiction of hell, like you said, you can appreciate that. I tend to agree that we who have accepted the grace of God in Christ, are saved. I tend to believe that salvation is from eternal separation from God. What that actually pans out to being is sort of a moot point…at least as I see it at this juncture in my walk.

  • DR

    I was arguing about hell being a reality. >>>

    That doesn’t really change my point, Shane. I don’t care if we talk about the reality of a hell and if hell as a place exists. The problem I have is when you (and I’m speaking generally here) start doing the “hell math” and call it “evangelism”. When I say “hell math”, it’s this equasion:
    Combining a bunch of isolated Scriptures together + people who you believe are not aligning up with the right beliefs, attitudes or behaviors = “evangelizing” the Good News by actually telling them they are going to hell.

    You said Jesus talked about hell. He did. He also went on and on and on about those who will say we knew him – we called him by name – and he will tell us that we really don’t. That only the Father will separate the sheep from the goats. Yet as Christians, we’ve taken on both of these jobs on behalf of being “loving” Christians. On behalf of “obedience”. We actually believe that we know who is going to hell and who isn’t. It’s perhaps, the most dangerous delusion many of us are operating within and I believe we do so because we need to be in control at all times instead of trusting in the Wildness of God.

  • Anonymous

    This is about as minor a point as I could make right now, but—for the record and all (and I appreciate that you weren’t trying to in any way insult me, Siri)—I’m not, actually, someone who likes to provoke. Provoking for provocation’s sake … bores me to tears. What is true is that I’m extremely interested in the truth, and don’t care what I have to do to get to it. To my mind, Glenn Beck and … what’s that clown’s name … Limbaugh live to provoke; that’s how, in fact, they make their money. I hate what they do, and am loathe to even in the most passing sort of way be put in the same category as they. They and their countless imitators have no more interest in the truth than Kellog’s has in sound nutrition for children.

  • DR

    And one more thing, Shane. I’d challenge the idea that we can present hell as just a “place”. We’re not doing that. The majority of our conversations with non-believers is that hell is *their* inevitable reality. And frankly, we really don’t know that. And how dare we assume the role of the Most High God and imply that we know their State of Grace before the Father. How dare we be that arrogant. God truly have mercy on us for those we’ve damaged at their core for telling them they are going to hell. It’s the most irresponsible, reckless thing we do as christians in my opinion.

  • And you just nailed why I have issues with this concept of hell and who is going or not going, DR.

    You are right. How dare we be that arrogant. How dare we to assume to know just what God is doing, has done or is going to do in the life of another. How dare we categorize others as not worth God’s time or love, when we know good and well, that we ourselves are hardly in the perfect category.

  • My liberal friends don’t get your sarcasm.

  • DR

    The thing is, I get it. I don’t believe for a second that most who say “You are going to hell” are doing it out of hate. I think it’s done out of a love and concern for who is in front of them (which is where time and time again, I come back to the beautiful verse that says ‘love covers a multitude of sins’. And that’s what also makes this conversation so difficult. These people are deeply loyal to Jesus, their desire is to be obedient. They also believe that this is what love looks like. How do you oppose such powerful intent? That is the business of God dealing with the delicate interior within all of us, even imagining what a tricky business that is makes me realize how small and human I really am.

  • JohnB

    But serious religious scholars have been questioning it on ground of improper translation for more than 150 years. Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are the only references translated into “hell”, and all but four or so of them should be translated into place of rest, grave, or pit. If the topic were so important and had such dire consequences, why would Jesus only mention hell in a single sermon, and Paul and the rest of the apostles never mention it at all?

    See work done by Thomas B Thayer on the doctrine of eternal punishment…

  • Anonymous

    I apologize. I just find most of your blogs, well… provocative. They provoke thought. I didn’t mean to imply any Beckean or Limbaughstic similarities. Poor use of my words.

  • Anonymous

    I know you didn’t. Thanks. (Okay, what is UP with that new crapping dog avatar thing? Dude. You’re better than that.)

  • Mindy

    FWIW, I knew what you meant, Sirius. John’s posts are thought-provoking – reading them and not responding is, for me, nearly impossible! He makes me think, makes me consider what I might otherwise dismiss. I don’t always agree, but I contemplate, and that’s important.

    Those others mentioned – ick, I can’t even type their names – have no interest in provoking anything resembling thought. They live to provoke fear and rage, and pretend that they’ve done all the thinking for their sheep, so said sheep don’t need to.

  • Mindy

    Really? Then they’re not good liberals. We liberals love us some good sarcasm! ;->

  • Peet

    I am convinced that obsessing about the cosmic hell provides a lot of Christians with a great excuse to ignore the real living hells we have right here on earth. Bosnian rape camps? State-sanctioned torture? Child soldiers? Hah! Those are like CLUB MED compared to what’s waiting for you if you don’t believe exactly the same things I do.

  • Mindy

    DR, this is, I think, similar to the parent who says “this hurts me a lot more than it hurts you.” I remember hearing that as I was getting spanked as a child – I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. As a parent, I cannot think of one time that disciplining – TEACHING – my children anything has hurt me. Mind you, I’ve been frustrated by whining, angered by backtalk – but the discipline part is the good part. The discipline part is when I know I am helping them learn from their mistakes. The ONLY time disciplining has ever hurt is when I’ve done it wrong. When I lost my temper and spanked my kid, it hurt like hell – because I knew I was wrong.

    That is the God in whom Christians who spend far too much time on hell seem to believe. The God who punishes by demeaning and hurting. An omnipotently loving God just wouldn’t do that – or at least I don’t believe He would. He would teach. Even in death, he would teach the soul. Or He isn’t loving at all.

    So on top of an outrageous arrogance in assuming to know the relationship between any other person and God, Christians fail to really consider what a loving parent would truly do. Dooming a soul to hell seems to me to be the ultimate in giving up on your child.

  • I remember that “this hurts me…” as a child. I didn’t hear it much, but I didn’t believe a word of it either.

    I also totally agree that when discipline was painful for me as a parent was because I was doing it incorrectly; my methods were guided more by my frustration then for the purpose of trying to teach my children to stop doing something harmful, usually to each other. I was wrong, and would have to apologize to my kids for my lack of patience.

    Which is why I think you are right. Mindy. God’s patience for us far exceeds the capacity of the most patient person on the planet. His love for us far exceeds the capacity of the composite capacity of love for all of humanity. I think there is more to the story of what happens after we die then we can even imagine. We get bits and pieces, legends, vague interpretations, suppositions and outright guesses. Seeing how humanity has tried to send others to the bad version of the hear-after for generations, I suspect our not knowing the whole story is also, purposeful

  • Johnshore

    Okay, so this new comment system is extremely sweet, right? It seems to be working really well, yes?

  • John Shore

    (I’m at my wife’s job right now; hence the Mysterious Silouette [sp?] avatar….)

  • Mindakms

    just can’t stop chucking.

  • Mindakms

    Uh, that would be chuckling.

  • Murf

    You’ll have to take that up with Jesus, John, who talked about hell more than all of the rest of the writers of Scripture combined. Another one of those examples of Christ not being interested in either our feelings, our approbation of his words, or political correctness.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll have to take what up with Jesus? What are you talking about?

  • Mindy

    As another commenter noted, Murf, hell is mentioned 12 times. Heaven, 700. You do the math. And once you’ve researched the translations to see how ambiguous they are, perhaps you’ll rethink your position. I imagine Jesus was most definitely with concerned with human feelings. That, perhaps, above almost all else. He wanted us to FEEL. How else would we fully appreciate the lives we’ve been given, in all their messy glory?

    Personally, I don’t think Jesus would disagree with Mr. Shore one iota.

  • buzz

    Hmmm, don’t know if I follow you on this.

    There is w/God, there is w/o God. Anything other than w/God is de facto hell.

    Now, arguing as to what hell actual constitutes, where/when it’s located, how hot, etc., etc., and of course, etc., is — if not exactly pointless — certainly a trivial endeavor.

    There is w/God, there is w/o God. Anything other than that makes everything pointless. Which makes it stupid.

    Say what you like about God, pointless and/or stupid doesn’t seem to be His style.

  • Calvin

    Jesus actually talked more about hell then heaven… I’m thinking there’s some reason for that (what that reason might be is more up for debate, however). I find it interesting how you assume that the only reason people are Christians is just to avoid hell and get into heaven; those are extremely selfish motives. Unfortunately, those are the motives of many Christians (myself included for quite some time; trying to change that). The only motivation for doing anything should be out of love for God, a love that springs out of the realization that we would be lost in this life without Him. I had been having a very hard time with this lately: I mean, what’s willpower and what’s not? But then again, if I truly love Him, then I won’t need to worry about that. So instead of analyzing and questioning every last motive of my own, which leads to frustration and thus make no progress, I choose to act as though my motives are proper. If they are, then awesome. That’s what I want. But even if they’re not, way deep down and there’s no way I can change it, it seems like He would much rather have me step out in faith and trust that He will take care of the deep down underlying motives than just stop due to indecision. I know perfectly well that standing still will get me nowhere, so I’m at least going to try.

    All that to say: you’re making a very important assumption in this: that ALL Christians are in this just to get a ticket out of hell. While that may be true for many, it is NOT true for all of us. Please honor that. Thank you.

  • William

    I think it’s important to note the tone of this article. It’s quite true that while not all Christians hold this view, there are a good many that do. Is it selfish to write satirically about them? I don’t believe so. John is a fantastic writer in many senses, and one of them is to bluntly point out the largest flaws with the church. I feel this is absolutely necessary if we are to radically change the body of Christ into something He would feel proud taking home to His father.

    Would you agree?

  • Calvin

    I would, though I wish there were a better way. I read this in haste, and should have taken more time to sift through it. I think this brought to light a number of irritations I have found with non-Christians and Christians alike: non-Christians who assume that all Christians “thank God for hell” as described here (the reason being that it is an illegitimate assumption), and also with the Christians who give rise to this view. While I myself am still working through it, seeing those who are happily sitting by with it and not doing anything to shift their motivations to something much more in line with Biblical teaching is quite aggravating.

    So I agree, but am irritated that such views actually exist and that they can be an accurate description of people who label themselves as Christians. My apologies, John!

  • William

    Bwahaha I love you Calvin =p

    I feel your pains, I’m quite frustrated with many views, no matter the source, and this is a fine example of one of them

  • Mindy

    Calvin, I’m an unapologetic spiritual agnostic, altho’ I was raised a Christian and have evangelicals in my family. The single only time the religious differences have caused drama was back shortly after 9/11, when my sister asked the rest of us if we weren’t saddened and worried about what would happen to us and our families afterward, should the unthinkable happen? I assured her that she did not need to waste one second worrying about me, but she was in tears. I “knew” her concern was out of love, but I “felt” like she was shaming me. And my parents, spouse, our brother and SIL, etc. It didn’t “feel” like love at all.

    I was offended that she believed her God would doom me to hell for not believing in the holy trinity. I was saddened that this was how she perceived her all-loving God. I was offended that she would assume the same for my best friend, who happens to be Jewish. I just can’t wrap my brain around such a punitive God. Love is love. It can’t doom. If He loves all his creations, well, stands to reason He won’t go there. Our souls may still have much to learn after death – who knows? But fiery lakes of eternal pain seems like a lousy way to teach – – – Even the threat of such seems pretty lame. I’m thinkin’ we misunderstood something along the way . . . .

  • Don Whitt

    @Shane – What if your interpretation of Hell is wrong? Of everlasting life? What if most of scripture is an approximation and metaphor – the thoughts of those in a previous time, an old place, with far different experiences and understandings of the word?

    Is scripture so immutable that it can’t live and breath new life now? Where else in life have things not changed based on our experience?

  • DR

    Please honor that. Thank you.>>>

    Calvin, with all due respect, this isn’t about you or the myriad of other Christians who don’t use hell in their dialogue with others the way John is suggesting. That there are so many of you that focus on making sure those of us “good” Christians are “honored” is – and I apologize for this word but I just can’t think of anything else – narcissistic of us. And I’ve been there, I’ve been offended with being lumped in and as a result, voiced similar dissent and subsequently, demanded my differences be recognized. But we have to develop a *collective* sense of responsibility for all who are in our tent who are doing this kind of thing, causing this kind of damage. We may not be individually culpable, but if we claim to share the same Jesus tent? We are in fact, responsible, particularly if we know better.

  • DR

    Actually Murf, he talked about the poor at such length that it would drown out just about any other topic (his Father was first, the poor a very close second). Do the math.

  • DR

    yes yes, what a smart analogy.

  • Ace

    “will clap my hands over my ears and sing lalalalala, very loudly when someone suggests a study on the end times”

    I think some groups’ obsession with “end times” is very unhealthy myself. Revelation is an interesting read but it never should have been included in the canon texts. It’s a nice stela for God’s creation but it’s not really a day-to-day human concern, I don’t think (especially trying to pin it down to an exact date and time which is… ridiculous). If you truly have faith in God then you should have faith that He will take care of things without your needing to obsess over it.

  • Lee Walker

    …but LOVE the new words: Beckean and Limbaughstic (syn. ‘bombastic’) 😉

  • Agreed – but I think Limbaughstic is actually defined as “bombastic with a streak of mean.”

  • Gksafford

    So, Cd, you have no concept of grace? “Being right with God” is something we do or we end up a plaything for demons? As for “conform[ing] to the traditionally held tenants [sic] of Christianity”, all I can say is, which traditions are those? There are multiple traditions, some contradictory, some even leading to bloodshed. Are you going to pretend there is some “tradition” apart from the very real multiple traditions? Inerrancy, by the way, is a very, very recent notion, and hardly conforms to the notion of a “tradition”.

  • Freda

    …so are you going to start tackling the definition and concept of hell, now? It could be interesting!

  • CD

    I don’t believe the bible is reliable. That probably answers some of your questions. I was just saying that many of those who believe in hell do it simply because it is one of the commonly held beliefs of christianity and they are trying to be faithful. I think most Christians would love to dispense with the idea of hell but cannot because it is written in the Book.

    If you give credence to what the bible says about hell I have noticed that with the exception of the Lazarus passage and the mention in the book of Rev (where the demons are cast) hell is mentioned in contrast to “eternal life.” It is “eternal destruction.” “chaff being thrown on the fire,” and so to me it seems more logical to view it as annihilation. I have also heard

  • Patrice Wassmann

    I am heretic. I believe in universal salvation. No hell. Purgatory, maybe, but no hell!

  • Shadsie

    When an online friend of mine turned me onto some actual arguments from scripture in favor of Christian Universalism, I can’t tell you how relieved I was. It was like… permission to be kind… or something. It meant that maybe I was less of the “bad guy” for believing that there’s a God. (Oh, still the bad guy in many people’s eyes, but…)

    An athiest sort-of buddy of mine on a fan geek message board put it this way when the subject was brought up — “It’s punishment – for eternity. I wouldn’t even wish that on Hitler.” (not sure if that’s exactly what he said, but it’s the gist). Of course, I’m someone who often thinks I’d rather have Hell than *oblivion* because Hell is *something* rather than *nothing* and to me, existing even in pain is better than nothing at all (in many ways, I’m used to it)! One of my closer online friends is an ex-Catholic agnostic. I recall her saying that the biggest thing that drove her away from the church was the doctrine of Hell. And, oh, I hope she makes it to Heaven because she is a *really* good person. Does more for the world than I do.

    The idea that this is out there and that some Christians can defend it pretty well *from scripture* gives me a lot of hope, because, while I’d love to see justice, I’d love to see the true bad guys “get theirs’ (one of my ideas of Hell is people feeling the pain of all the people they’ve ever hurt, and sociopaths won’t get that in this lifetime), I don’t want it to be forever. I really don’t want it to be forever.

    I believed in Hell because I had to – I had to take God at his word – so finding out that “Hell” might be a mistranslation of words or concepts, well, I like the little bit of “doubting the existance of an eternal hell” that’s placed in my mind and heart – it’s a doubt that I enjoy having.

  • Shadsie

    Some people apparentlyfind roast chimp appetizing. Have you ever read anything about the bushmeat trade? It is a threat to the species.

  • Shadsie

    I was recently unpacking some books of mine that had been stored. I came across one in particular:

    “Left Behind.”

    Then I thought “Once upon a time, I bought this – with my own money!!!” *Cue horror-face.*

    I checked out the rest of the series that I’ve read (read about halfway through) from a library. It was actually pretty interesting, a lot of action – quite a bit of gore (which taught me, as a writer, it wasn’t Un-Christian to write bloody stuff, a lesson I needed at the time), and some courage on the part of some of the characters, so I wouldn’t call it all all bad… well, the treatment of female characters was all bad in my opinion, but…

    .. yeah. Is it okay to be a bit of ashamed of myself for having once been into those books?

  • As a parent, my philosophy is that punishment never really works as well as I’d like it to. Natural consequences are good teachers for children, but punishing them via spanking or confinement isn’t really a good way to elicit good behavior. It might be a way to get bad behavior to stop, at least temporarily, but in my experience my children don’t often association the punishment with their actions. They associate punishment with…punishment. I have found that when I impose a physical punishment, it harms the relationship between my child and I. (I much prefer to allow natural consequences to occur, but that’s tangential to this, I think).

    I also find that material rewards are not good way to elicit good behavior with my non-neurotypical children. They can’t wait a day or a week or even a few hours for the good thing that’s been promised, they want it RIGHT NOW and they want it so badly they forget about the behavior that was asked for to elicit the reward. The best reward I have found to give my children is affection and praise. Affection and praise are immediate and they feel good to a child. Frankly, they feel good to *anyone.* We all love to be loved, and being rewarded for doing the right thing feels much better than being punished for doing the wrong thing.

    If more Christians applied the same philosophy, I think they’d find a lot more people interested in knowing Christ. Love feels wonderful and it pulls us. The concept that a loving God would impose eternal physical suffering on His creation is simply repulsive.

  • Don Whitt


    Lost souls wandering through unimaginable emptiness with no hope of change or a cool whisper of relief.

    It’s like Scottsdale without all the pools.

  • Gksafford

    I guess I misunderstood the position you were taking. Actually, I like the whole “annihilation” thing, considering that is far more scriptural than the sado-masochistic fantasies that swirl around our usual understanding of Hell.

  • I read the books as well. They were recommended to me and made me consider such an end time scenario as it wasn’t something I was exactly familiar with. The later books dragged on and I never could bring myself to finish the last one.

    I still ultimately couldn’t buy into the scenario. I felt all the way through that there was something essential missing from the story portrayed, and of course realized that despite the beliefs of some in the evangelical world that the Left Behind series was a complete work of fiction. Yep, made up, every character, every scenario. Only the scripture passages seemed to be accurate.

    I then returned to my seat of skepticism when it comes to how the world will end stuff.

  • Mc2writer

    Exactly, Barnmaven!! That is it. I’ve not heard the expression “non-neurotypical,” but I love it – I have one of those as well. And what I’ve learned through parenting her has helped me in a vast number of ways. “Punishments” only undermine the trust and attachment, and do nothing to teach her how to handle those negative thoughts and emotions in a productive manner.

  • Shadsie

    Haha. I was just looking through Cracked dot com and found an article I thought I’d share.

    Things that everyone thinks are in the Bible but really arent:

    Common depiction of Hell is on the second page at Number 1.

    Already knew most of this stuff – particularly about the devil and angels from having been an art student/knowing art history!

    I also happen to like anime (Japanese animation) and a friend of mine and I who like it constantly joke about how the Japanese get angels more right than the rest (at least when it comes to a title called “Neon Genesis Evangelion” – which depicts angels that will make you crap bricks).

  • Bronwyn

    The Slacktivist has a long-running series of posts dissecting the problems of the Left Behind series, in terms of writing, morality, and theology. They’re wonderful reading.

  • jes

    Oh, good plan! I wonder if my bf’s folks would be more or less upset by the concept of no Hell than they are the thought that we’re going there though….

  • jes

    So true!

  • Karen

    What if hell is the absense of God? (I think the Bible actually says that somewhere for those who like to quote verses) and that God is Love and the absense of God is the absense of Love? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that without love we would naturally be gnashing our teeth and spitting and hissing (which I see people who are acting without love do) and wouldn’t it be logical that without love we would have a thirst for something more that cannot be quenched? What if heaven is the full measure of God’s love? And what if Jesus was teaching us how to attain that love. (Follow me – be like me, etc.) Think about it. When we’re In Love, doesn’t the world look brighter, people are nicer, the trees are greener, and everything is good. Can you imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by the ultimate, all encompassing, unconditional love of God? And when we fall short, which we will always do, its not the end. (Unlike relationships between people – if we screw up, we’re out of there!) We have already been forgiven. I don’t think all of these little persnickety issues we have with the Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots would even come into play.

  • I am somewhat skeptical of its existence period, at least in regards to humanity and where we may or may not end up after death. If the gift of being a follower of God
    is eternity, then why would those who don’t still get eternity?

    Of course I see your point on the absence of God=absence of love concept, and it has merit.

    But then all of this is simply ideas, and brings to mind the question, is it as important a topic as we seem to make it?

  • Diana A.

    Back when I was in the seventh grade, I made the mistake of reading a novel called “The Seven Last Years” based upon Hal Lindsey’s book “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” Talk about warping a person’s mind!

    But the good news was that when the “Left Behind” series came out, I could cheerfully say to myself “been there, done that, not doing that again!”

  • Karen

    I too am skeptical of its existence and find it hard to believe that the non-believers will never “get eternity” (And who’s to say who’s a non-believer) and so offer an alternative way of thinking about it. Maybe you’re right – maybe its not as important as we make it seem. Maybe, as a society, we should stop obsessing about heaven and hell and simply enjoy what life has to offer. 😀

  • well I just bookmarked that site. Thanks Bronwyn!

  • Jeannie

    John, I think this may be my new favorite from you.

  • Erika

    I’m excited to see someone else refer to their “non-neurotypical children!” I have 1 out of 3 who isn’t, and she reacts to “neurotypical” as if it’s a bit of an insult! You are so right that it’s all about affection and relationship. I think punishment is often more about the punisher asserting dominance over the punish-ee and getting some sort of satisfaction out of those feelings. Surely that’s not what God is after.

  • Jeannie

    I whole heartedly agree with everything you said. And yeah, I get you on the non-neurotypical children. One of my kiddos fits this bill.