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Looking for Hell

“How will you escape being condemned to hell?” – Jesus

I’m a bit taken back by all the cyber-energy that has exploded as a result of Rob Bell’s upcoming book about the nature of the afterlife. His choice of subject matter has certainly touched a sensitiveLove Wins book nerve in many people.

After writing my first piece about this hailstorm of reaction, I’ve learned that folks in my circle vary from (1) not caring, to (2) thinking that conclusions one has about the afterlife plays part in determining where you go when you get to it, to the more moderate response of (3) just wanting to dialogue, study, and contemplate it a bit to consider the nature of God a little more.

Where do I sit? I’m a huge fan of attitude #3, a convicted opponent of attitude #2, but strangely I find myself strangely tempted towards attitude #1, not caring too much, at least about this aspect of the subject.

But, of course, in a larger sense, I do care. For example, I have asked and answered the above question posed by Jesus for me personally, at first as a young man with urgency and fury, and at last a bit older with peaceful intensity and intense peace. And it is not entirely accurate to say that it the past tense, really. Maybe I should say that I am asking and answering it.

So why am I tempted to not care about the particular angle on this subject that has currently peaked the interest of so many, you might ask?

Because the answer I landed on does not require knowing for sure the exact nature of the afterlife in order to escape hell.

  • I don’t need to know whether heaven will have physical streets and gates (Rev 21:21) or is more of a state of being (Rom 14:17).
  • I don’t need to know if hell is eternal punishment (Mt 25:46) or eternal destruction (2 Pt 3:7).
  • I don’t need to know if my resurrection from the dead will be as a purely spiritual being (1 Cor 15:44) or in a more glorious physical body (1 Cor 15:42).
  • I don’t need to know if Jesus is coming soon (Rev 22:12), coming much later (2 Pt 3:8), or has already come (Mt 24:34).
  • I don’t need to know if people’s only chance to escape hell comes in this life (Mt 10:33) or if they will have a chance to repent in the next life (Rev 21:6).
  • I don’t need to know if there is one generic reward called heaven (Luke 12:33), 3 heavens (2 Cor 12:2), or degrees of reward in heaven (Mt 6:20).
  • I don’t need to know if few (Mt 7:13-14), most (Mt 12:31-32), or all (2 Pt 3:9) people are going to be there with me.
  • I don’t need to know whether God is going to be fair based on my judgment of fairness (Job 38-40:1).
  • I don’t need to decide whether Jesus spoke within the culturally accepted view of hell at the time he was here in order to make a point, or if he was confirming this view of hell as accurate by using it (Lk 16:19-31)
  • I don’t even need to know whether to spell heaven as “Heaven” or “heaven” or Hell as “Hell” or “hell”.

Now, I do have beliefs about these things. I do believe there is truth about them, and there is falsehood. And I have no problem with disagreement, lively debate, or firm and committed positions by convinced and convicted people on these or any subject. I myself enjoy dialoguing, studying, and contemplating them. I’ve learned much about God through them, and continue to do so.

But they are much more academic in nature than imperative. They are interesting, even useful, for some folks in their journey towards God, but in answering the above question of Christ, they are not necessary.

You don’t need to accurately know about the nature of hell in order to effectively escape it. And you don’t need others to agree with your conclusions about hell in order to consider them your allies in the fight against it.

I guess we all have a line somewhere. A line that dictates to us what you need to know and what you don’t. For me, it is quite liberating figuring out what you don’t need to know.

And the best way to figure that out is to go looking for what you do need to know. That’s why I don’t go looking for Hell.

I once was sitting with my wife at a time-share in Conroe, TX when a Canadian guy joined us. We struck up a conversation where I learned that he was a Mountie (a member of the Canadian national police force). He told me he was in the division that dealt with counterfeit money.

canadian MoneyHe asked me, “You know how you learn to identify a counterfeit bill?” 

I assumed you needed to know all the latest and greatest ways of printing fake money. That you needed to study the tricks of the trade, be familiar with the details of the various crafts, know all the mistakes and shortcomings found in each false process used to print fake money. And I told him so.

He smiled and said, “Nope. You don’t need to know anything about the counterfeits. You just need to focus on and become intimate with the real thing. That’s all you need to know.”

“Everything that does not measure up to the real thing,” he said, “isn’t the real thing.”

Seems to me that all I need to know about Hell is the answer to Christ’s question above. Whatever hell is, and however God uses it for His own glory, and whoever ends up going there…how will I escape it?

The disciple John says it well, and I have accepted this as my response to Christ’s question, and am spending the rest of my life learning it, practicing it, teaching it, living it, sharing it, and enjoying it.

He says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” – 1 John 5:11-12

Why go looking for hell? Go looking for life instead. Look for the fullest possible one available to human beings. You will find Christ. You will find the life he brings from God is eternal – meaning you will never stop learning it, practicing it, teaching it, living it, sharing it, and enjoying it.

And what’s more, you will escape being condemned to hell without needing to know a thing about it.

Compassion, Death and Tragedy, Discipleship

7 Comments to “Looking for Hell”

  1. What would you say (cheerfully posed) to this challenge?

    “One’s understanding of ‘eternal life/destiny’ and ‘salvation’ greatly influences the way, and the logical justification by which, one approaches one’s mission in the world. For example, if the earth is to be burned up at judgment, then environmental stewardship is a frivolous concern; contrariwise, if the earth is to be refilled with the glory of God, then environmental stewardship is an essential aspect of discipleship. Much like the forehand stroke in tennis, the practical follow-through is a direct result of the set-up and the footwork.”

    Curiously,

    qb

    • Hey qb:

      I think I would say that the understanding that THERE IS an ‘eternal life/desitiny’ and ‘salvation’ greatly influences the way one approaches one’s mission in the world (sort of like, in temporal terms, the difference in how I would live today if I knew I was going to die tomorrow vs. knowing I was going to die in 50 years).

      I think I can also say that the the understanding of HOW TO GET TO that destiny does, too (like the Jihadist that thinks that dying while suicidally taking out some infidels will guarantee their great spot in Heaven).

      It just seems to me that there are certain questions/disagreements about the afterlife that just do not provide enough of a difference to matter one way or the other (concerning how people would react, or in determining whether they “get there” or not).

      To use your example, if the earth is to be burned up at judgement, environmental stewardship can still be a valid concern for people based on other factors (appreciation for beauty, seeing/finding God in nature, etc). And if the earth is to be refilled with the glory of God, environmental stewardship would only be essential if you had the addtional belief that God was not planning on restoring all of man’s environmental damage when he does that refilling.

      You challenge me with your question, however, and it probably deserves some more thought out of me.

  2. This is very good. God is relentlessly good at all moments in all times. Although we don’t NEED to know the answer on this, here is my tiny excuse for a response at the hell or no hell debate:

    God is love. Love consumes the mind of Christ. How can God not destroy anything that goes against love? He is patient to offer His Love. His judgements are righteous. As far as hell goes, God will destroy that which goes against Love. How He will go about that is totally up to Him, but perfect Love casts out fear and perfect Love does not dwell in the presence of sin because sin is what opposes love. It has to get out. God is light. When you turn on a light switch the darkness has to leave. The darkness and light cannot hang out together. Where there is darkness the light does not dwell, but when light is shed on it the darkness gets out. That means, when God shows up, anything that isn’t of Him has to leave. However He handles that will be righteous, that part I’m sure of.

  3. Awesome!! Loved this– thanks, Brian, for sharing it!
    :) Mags

  4. Brian,
    I was once told by some one I really respect “I want to live life in such a way that if there is nothing after this life, if it was all just a big hoax, if I have been deceived, that it won’t matter. I want to live a life that brings peace, joy, and true happiness into the hearts and lives of people I come into contact with. There can’t possibly be a better life than that.” My experience has been if I am truly studying the life of Christ, getting to know Him for the sake of getting to know Him and then trying to live my life like Him, I get that life my friend talked about.

  5. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” – 1 John 5:11-12

    Brian, this is all that I need to know, all that matters to me in regards to hell. Jesus. Christ. Life. Thank you for making me think of this today, and everyday that I walk with my God.

  6. Love your “how to read the Bible” post, Brian. The analogy of the boat-building manual was great.
    I don’t have a much more articulate way to say it than, Bell just scares me a little bit. I think a lot of times he is just trying to get Christians to think, but his vagueness is troubling at the same time. Maybe that’s why I love Piper and Driscoll, etc. so much. They are so convinced in their love for Jesus. I do think Bell said it well in the trailer for his book that what we believe about Heaven or Hell has a huge impact on what we believe about God….so to your point, while it is difficult to get a concrete, clear picture of it, and what it’s exactly like “physically”, so to speak, knowing of it helps us understand better who God is. Maybe it’s better to know what it is for rather than what it is…when I know what it is for it helps me understand the greatness of God’s grace and the reality of the wrath that was poured out on Jesus instead of me.

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