Why the hell are we not disturbed?

thWe’ve all encountered them at some point: the evangelists who preach that “unsaved” people will be cast into a lake of fire after death, without so much as a blink. I’m not sure which disturbs me more: the lake of fire part, or the people who accept this teaching without any churning in their stomachs at all.

I’m not saying the hell doctrine is wrong or incompatible with the character of a loving, merciful God, much as I would like to. The reality, I don’t know, and anyone who thinks they know is making that statement out of faith, not fact. But whether hell is real or “loving” is not what I want to talk about, so much as the kinds of people who accept it without a second thought. I think we’re supposed to be disturbed by this. I think we are supposed to be disturbed enough to make a call to action.

For some people, that call to action is to evangelize more. For me, that call to action is to study. I’ve collected so many books about the afterlife lately: Christian and Jewish books alike, and I wish I could say I am closer to reaching some kind of verdict, but I’m not. I have theories, and while I can support these theories with Scripture (hopefully without any misuse of context) I can’t prove them. No one can prove that which can’t be seen in this realm of existence.

Until then, I wish more Christians would let themselves feel disturbed. I wish more Christians were brave and willing enough to admit that this idea of eternal conscious torment does not sit well with what they have been taught about justice. I would love to be part of a group that openly shares these doubts and concerns without fear of judgment or condemnation. Sometimes I think Scripture is purposefully vague for that reason: to motivate fellowship and community. There’s nothing quite like a bond of friendship that starts when one person says to another, “Me too!” or “I thought I was the only one.”

In that sense, I’m less concerned about finding answers than I am about being part of a community where questions and concerns are embraced like this. The ones that condemn doubt as heresy choke my growth and push me away. I’m slightly terrified of that level of certainty.

So what can I be certain about? For the sake of my sanity, I have to be certain that the God I serve is one of grace, mercy, and compassion. I’m quite certain that godly grace, mercy, and compassion look nothing like my own sense of those virtues, because my innate self-centeredness and judgment occasionally blinds me to moments when those virtues are needed. And if I accept by virtue of faith that God is good, then I have to believe that his final judgment proclamations are in fact the right ones. That thought still unsettles me, but if I don’t try to believe it, there’s not enough Lexapro in the world to ease that anxiety.

But then, we run into the issue of what, specifically, hell is. Again, I take it on faith after a period of study that hell may not be a place of literal, conscious torment. But that’s a topic for another post.

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7 thoughts on “Why the hell are we not disturbed?

  1. Tree Hugging Humanist says:

    I think the threat of hell is abusive that has been perpetuated for generations. I can’t blame each individual because they were at the receiving end at some point and they don’t know any better. But the fear is so real that getting them to let go of the concept is difficult, because they are afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hannah out loud says:

    Hi

    From Jewish view, Olam Ha-Ba is rarely mentioned in our scriptures. This is because the Torah was given to live and not for death, to contrast with the obsession the Egyptians had on the afterlife with their mummies and book of the dead. From my own understanding , Gehinnom is a place of spiritual healing and then after 12 months the soul passes to Gan Eden. As per the Rambam, the righteous of all nations have a place in Gan Eden. The most evil of people are destroyed . As Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said”our way is to honour every religion and every nation according to their paths, as it is written in the book of prophets: ‘because every nation will go in the name of the L-rd.'”

    It is also written in the prayer of Solomon : “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Travis Bille says:

    Perhaps this is only a theory, but I think Christians would be well-served to stop talking about God “casting people into hell.” The clearest understanding I’ve read of hell is that it is what the world would be if God took his hands off. In that sense, it’s not God casting people into hell, but rather people choosing life without God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I’ve heard something similar to that before. It’s just frustrating when so many scholars and theologians have different theories that are all supposedly based on Scripture. In one book alone, Across the Spectrum, Gregory Boyd covers a wide span of beliefs about heaven and hell, and those are just within evangelicalism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Travis Bille says:

        Romans 3:19
        “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

        I think this is the most difficult verse for many theories in which to coincide. “Every mouth may be silenced” implies that when we’re judged, no one will be able to say their judgment is unfair.

        The main reason I came to the conclusion I did is because it’s the only judgment I can imagine that would leave everyone accepting and understanding of it.

        I think I also see it as a more elegant solution…one where God doesn’t have to be a wizard. Believe in God and spend eternity with him; deny him, and he lets you go.

        That said, I’m also perfectly comfortable with the idea that I could be 100% wrong. the cloud of sin makes objective truth impossibly evasive. I just hope it’s not literal hellfire, because I don’t know if I could worship a God that spends an eternity actively and torturously punishing non-believers.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Beth Caplin says:

          Perhaps I ought to reread CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” for some additional perspective. It’s been a while.

          Maybe I’ll write a post soon about the idea of “belief.” Christians tend to speak of belief as if it’s a choice: “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.” But how many of our beliefs are choices? Typically, we “believe” what makes sense, what we see with our own eyes, or experience personally. You cannot just choose that which does not make sense to you, even if you try.

          That is my dilemma: obviously the afterlife matters to Christianity. It’s an essential part of tradition and textual history. So if it doesn’t make sense to a person, and in fact strikes them as abhorrent, there is no option but to try and understand it. That’s the position I find myself in. I don’t want to be a cherry-picker or “Cafeteria Christian” but I can’t not admit that I don’t like this part.

          I hope God can understand that I am trying to approach this with as much of an open mind as I can muster, but it’s difficult. It’s very, very difficult. And it outrages me to see other Christians act so CALM about it, as if I’m nuts for being so disturbed by it. But I like your point that you could be wrong, as can I. Even the people who try to assure me that hell isn’t real don’t help. They can’t prove their position either.

          Liked by 1 person

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