“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 sensitive 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.
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.