Not long ago Christian Century had an interesting article about hell. Several authors offered their take on the matter, but some of the letters in the following issue interested me more. While I have my own thoughts on hell, I was a little surprised by the writers who were delighted with the article because hell was in important part of their theology, and they were happy to endorse an image of God that was loving but just, who took sin seriously, and who would not fail to punish those who rejected his love or were unrepentant in their sinfulness.
Maybe I was just reading between the lines in my overly suspicious way, but I got the idea that there was some relish in the thought of God sentencing a variety of miscreants to eternal punishment. From occasional reading of news reports and listening to popular Christian radio broadcasts, I suspect that these miscreants probably include most who are not properly Christian by virtue of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” as well as unrepentant sinners whose worst sins are that they read scripture and understand salvation in an unacceptable way.
I’m reminded of a story I read some time ago in a Pesach Haggadah. It was an excerpt from a rabbinic commentary on the parting of the Red Sea. It went something like this: an angel standing next to God and looking down on the drowning Egyptians cheered and suggested a celebration for this great victory, but God said, “Be silent, my children are dying.”
To what end will God go to keep any and every person from going where there is no life, no past, no future, no existence? To what end will God go to keep a person from becoming useless trash suitable only for the dump? If God will not force any person, to what end will a person go to avoid God’s gift and choose that which is not life? If someone does make that choice, are they ever aware of the consequences of what they have done, or do they just cease to be? Is there a place of in between when it is still not too late? That would be C.S. Lewis’ take on hell. Do you remember the fate of the devil in Dante’s hell? He kept himself prisoner there and could have left anytime he decided to quit being angry with God, but his anger was the only thing of his own that he still possessed, and he would not give that up to God.
I don’t have a good theology of hell, but I am fairly certain that ministers who relish preaching a Christianity based on the threat of hell have one hell of a religion. As for me and my household, we will follow Jesus.