Monday, I told you that I’m an agnostic…
…when it comes to global warming. I just don’t know if it’s happening the way so many people say it is. I still try to do my part for the environment. I just don’t think I need the motivation of global warming to push me.
Hell, as a concept, is about as popular as global warming. There’s plenty of people who are adamant that it exists. There are a whole bunch of people who’d rather not believe it exists. Either way, if hell exists, it’s bad.
I’ve actually been talking to a lot of people about hell lately. Some of my Christian friends have serious doubts about the existence of an eternal place of torment. Others are sure of it’s existence, because they have seen visions of it.
I’m not going to debate the existence of hell, since it’s about as provable as global warming. It just got me thinking about what hell does for faith…
Point: There’s No Literal Place Called Hell
If you ask me, most anyone would like there to be no literal place of torment. If you are a fan of hell, I think you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
I’d much rather hell not exist. I’d rather go to heaven and find out that everyone got there. It wouldn’t bother me in the least that I had been a Christian my whole life and fought the urge every day to smoke cigarettes and juggle cats, just to get to heaven and found my slovenly neighbor standing next to me in his beer-stained T-shirt. I’d rather not worry about family and friends that don’t believe what I do.
The problem with hell is that there’s not nearly as many Bible verses that “prove” hell exists as you likely think. Many times Jesus mentions “hell,” he’s talking about the real, literal burning trash heap outside of Jerusalem. It was full of rubbish and dead things and toilet water. He’s saying, “See how you’re acting, Pharisee Frank? You’re religion stinks like that dump over there.” No one was confused by the illustration.
The people I talk to who prefer to not believe hell exists are all about the love of God. How can a loving God send people to hell, they ask. Why would God torment people who just believed the wrong things? They’d rather talk to people about a God who loves them enough to know them personally, without threats of torment. Sounds great to me!
Speaking of heaven and hell, a lot of Jews, by my understanding, are not entirely positive that heaven exists. Personally, I think it would do Christianity a lot of good to not be as sure as we are that heaven exists. Would you be a Christian without the sure promise of heaven? Would the “promise” of Jesus making you fabulously wealthy and blessed on Earth be enough without heaven?
Counter-Point: There is a Hell, and You’re Going There
Of course, just the day after my friend told me all about his hell-free utopia, I talked with another friend. I was still pondering what Christianity would be like without hell. Perhaps it would be a kinder, gentler Christianity, one with a soft, cuddly, loving God and a Messiah that truly died for everyone, even those blinded by sin to the truth. It sounded good, though I wasn’t ready to dive in. I asked my next friend if the love of God was enough motivation for him to share Jesus with his neighbor.
He was also giving me the stink eye that told me he thought I was going to hell, just for denying hell exists.
He said that only hell provided a strong enough motivation to justify asking a stranger, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would end up?” That was the classic line in my street evangelism class. Only by striking fear into the Christian that all his friends, family, and pets were going to be engulfed in flames could he summon the strength to ruin every family gathering by obnoxiously sharing his faith…again.
Conclusion: Some People Need Hell
Some people need hell, like some people need global warming to exist. Some people need a crisis, a threat, or a disaster hanging over their heads in order to function. Some of us need the imminent danger of humanity being obliterated by fire to share Jesus, or recycle a newspaper. I’d rather hell not exist, or global warming. But some of us need it. I’d rather believe the Earth will be fine, and heaven will be even better.
If hell exists, I picture hell as C.S. Lewis describes it in The Great Divorce – a bunch of cranky people who chose to be there. Other than that, I just don’t know. What about you? Do you need hell? Do you need heaven? Is Christianity good enough without either of those?