I admit it: after reading the provocative Time Magazine cover article ("What if There's No Hell?"), which is about Pastor Rob Bell's new book ("Love Wins"), I was all fired up to write a blog post with a very particular angle. And that angle was going to be: 1) how tempting it is to want to explain away eternal damnation, 2) of course it's going to make any evangelicals who protest look backwards and reactive, and 3) is this what modern-day Christianity has come to is that we have nothing to offer the world unless we gut the very basic tenets of our faith perspective.
But then I decided to pause. And, after I paused, I decided to go in a different direction. After all, I haven't read the book, I don't know anything more about Pastor Bell than what was in the magazine article, and I'm guessing his take on the issue of universal redemption is more nuanced. Besides, what do I have to add to the line of discussion concerning the secular world's desire for hell not to exist? We don't want to face the consequences of our choices, we'd rather believe we're inherently good, and it's never popular to condemn others' morals. Big whoop.
So, rather than pointing a finger at Pastor Bell or at a generation that would prefer that hell not exist, I point a finger at myself and my fellow believers. We claim to understand the human condition, so it shouldn't surprise us that people want to do whatever they want without consequences, because we were once like that and sometimes still act that way. And it shouldn't catch us off-guard when people write things to tickle the ears of the masses, since we know from our Bibles that that's been going on for a long time.
Here's what we can and should take away from this topic. What are our own thoughts about hell? What do we believe? What do we want to believe? What is true? How does it affect how we live our lives? And how comfortable are we letting others around us know that we believe the following:
1. Hell is in fact real.
2. It is actually much worse than you can even imagine.
3. It is part of, and not outside of, God's plans and purposes.
4. People do end up there.
5. We all deserve to end up there.
6. Jesus provides the only way out.
The average person today will find that combination of beliefs to be outdated, offensive, arrogant, backwards, off-putting, and mean. So forget about vilifying Pastor Bell or scorning this age for wanting to believe his line of thinking. How about looking at ourselves in the mirror and asking ourselves if we are willing to lay claim to those statements above, absorb any attendant eye-rolling or opposition, and hang in there long enough with people to earn the right to show them the good news in that?
Religion is a touchy subject, and we must be respectful of others' faith tradition and world perspectives. So we do well to tread lightly here; eternal damnation is not a topic to be trifled with. But, it is an important element to the believer's worldview, so would that we, despite its unpopular and complicated aspects, hold fast to what we believe, hell and all.