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Having been raised in a good evangelical Church, of course I believe in the reality of hell. “Doesn’t everybody?”

My answer to my own question is largely determined by my response to three other questions.

1.       Do you believe in God?

2.      Do you believe in the devil or Satan?

3.      Do you believe in heaven?

If your answer to question (1) is “Yes”, then I think it is likely that your answer to question (2) will also be “Yes” but possibly with a lot of qualifications and disclaimers (eg. “I don’t believe in a creature with horns and a tail etc.). If the first two questions have a “Yes” answer, then it is almost certain you will also tick the “Yes” box for question 3.

Each of these questions pre-supposes that there is another realm inhabited by “spirit beings”. There are many passing references in Scripture to this realm that are easily overlooked. For example,

Pray like this: “Our Father in heaven…May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven Matthew 6:9-10). Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19When the angels had returned to heaven…….”, Luke 2/15.

Such simple comments but they assume so much.

It seems to me that, whether we are talking about heaven or hell, God or Satan, each concept would require the same degree of “faith” or “acceptance” i.e a leap that goes beyond reason.

Anyway, back to the original question about believing in hell.

“Do I believe in hell?” I know theologically what my answer should be but the corroborating evidence of how I should act if I really believed in hell just isn’t there! It should be. I want it to be. But it isn’t!

So, what constitutes ‘corroborating evidence’?

Like you, I have contact with people every day of the week. By far, most of them are what we would variously designate as “non-Christian” or “unbelievers” or “unsaved”. How can I spend day after day working alongside those people and yet make no real endeavour to communicate the gospel to my work colleagues or those in my social network? Surely, if I was convinced that there is a reality that we call hell, then that very conviction would motivate me to do all I could to alert them to their peril.

I couldn’t live carrying the responsibility of the salvation of all those people. It would crush me emotionally and in every other way so I am left with a disturbing conclusion: I don’t believe in hell. No, that can’t be right! Not really. But what other conclusion can I reach?

Here are some considerations that demand my attention. Maybe yours, too?

[1] Could it be that I have taken the biblical teaching of heaven and hell too literally? I don’t take literally the references to “pearly gates” or “streets of gold”; I believe these are graphic ways to try and convey the indescribable value and riches of heaven.

[2] What if my thinking has been compromised by the teaching of Jesus on the love of God? But it is His teaching that is the primary source of our understanding on this subject of hell. Maybe our struggle is our inability to reconcile love and rejection, reward and punishment, heaven and hell, God and Satan.

[3] How much of what I believe has been shaped by the negative impact of the “hell fire and brimstone” preachers of yesteryear who seemed to take a strange satisfaction in announcing an eternal future of unquenchable flames and indescribable agony? Preaching on the love of God brought welcome relief to those who had been manipulated by the fear of hell with preaching on themes like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

[4] My best shot at this stage of my journey is that I believe there is a condition that we usually describe as “separation forever from the presence of God” (or words to that effect). But even a flexible definition like that is questionable because I have used the word “forever” which suggest a length of time. What if there is no time in heaven?

I will have to come back to this subject because it just hangs in the air. I do not see Jesus teaching that God is just waiting for us to think, do or say something evil   so that He can consign us to the eternal flames. Rather He is revealed as having done everything possible (short of denying us our free will) to turn us back from the wide road that leads to destruction.

I’ll finish with an observation made by the Principal of the Bible College I attended.

“You must never preach on the subject of hell with dry eyes”, Now, why would he say that?

 

 

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