Thursday, May 30 2024 - 11:59 AM
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God and Hell

So many of my friends have this idea that if we don’t choose to love God we will be punished forever. Like we will be spanked for years on end. I’ve tried to make sense out of this and just can’t seem to. If what they say is true, and Jesus loves me so much that if I don’t love Him back He’s going to torture me in hell for it, then Jesus is a sick, sick man.

No human husband would see the light of day after a jury had at him, not with a story like the one ascribed to Jesus. Think about it for a minute. If some guy took me on many dates and showered love all over me so that I would say yes to a life with him, but then when he asked and I said no he tied me up in his basement and left me there for the rest of my life, what would you think? Was his love for me really real? Was it worth a grain of salt? No. People like that aren’t unconditionally loving, they are mean and selfish and controlling.

Something Doesn’t Add Up

And if selfish little human minds and hearts can come to that conclusion and throw a guy like that into prison, then how could Jesus and Father God, the personification of love itself, get away with it? Something just doesn’t add up. I know the Bible says that there is this lake of fire and hell and it burns forever and ever, but what about that word we translate as “forever?” I checked out the story of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. They were really perverted and wicked to the point that children were no longer safe at all. Jesus came down to stop the degeneration that was irreversible and cut off the pain and the carnage.

It was a severe decision on Father God’s part, and it was also very merciful. It seems to me that when a whole culture reaches the point of such confusion and chaos that there is no longer any sense between what is good and loving and what is evil and hurtful, that only pain and suffering are left, God steps in. For the sake of whole generations that would grow up without the power or conscience to choose love, the civilization is leveled, and suffering is snuffed out.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Well that was the case for Sodom and Gomorrah. There was only confusion and carnage and a full-blown dysfunction like a cancer. So Jesus came close and stopped the whole thing. Fire was used to burn everything to ashes. And here’s where I find my answer to the “forever” word about hell. The Bible says that the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah burned upwards forever and ever.

I haven’t made it over to the Dead Sea where historically it’s agreed that Sodom and Gomorrah once stood. But I’m sure if there was a big blazing fire burning on and on, I’d probably have heard about it. The truth is there wasn’t a single shred of anything left after the fire came through. It’s like that verse could read today that the fire burned up the city forever. In other words that city will never ever be back. And so it will be for all of those who don’t want God, or love, or community. They lock Jesus out and want no contact and that’s what they will get. Read a concordance or lexicon, and you’ll see that the word forever has multiple meanings, and can mean completely—done forever.

So when does Jesus then bring out the torturing instruments? When does Father God have a meltdown and bag His personhood of love and respect? And who on earth wants to spend forever with this Guy? It seems that on the final Day of Judgment, decisions will simply be made final. The Bible says that those who don’t want anything to do with God will get their wish. It is described as a fire and it will be forever. As sad as it will be, God will let go of their lives and they will cease to exist.

What Is Hell?

This makes a lot of sense. This is what I would expect of a suitor who truly loved me. I’d expect that if I said no to the ring then he’d be sad and try to change my mind, but when he saw it was no use, he’d let me go and get off my front porch for good. And in this I would know that I had been truly loved because he wanted my happiness over His own. Love is not only about hanging on after all; it is also about letting go.

And how does Jesus decide who is let go forever? He judges each of our hearts and gives us what we really want. Do we want to be loving and humble and vulnerable and honest? Do we want to be close to people and close to Jesus? If we do, then we get Heaven. Which is, after all, a community pure and deep. We get to love and be loved and what could be better than that?

And if we don’t want to love, but want to do things autonomously and control every outcome of our little lives, then we get that, and it’s hell. We get the ultimate outcome of selfishness and hard-heartedness, separation from love and acceptance. On earth it looks like pride and arrogance and domination of others. But after the global Day of Judgment it will look like a fire that swallows up every life that wanted nothing to do with Heaven and God and Jesus. God will be still and they will get to walk away once and for all and meet their end.

Love Casts Out Fear

Sometimes I think this popular notion of hell must have been developed back when everything was about getting people to do what we wanted them to. What could be more intimidating than a picture of you or your kids roasting for centuries on end? What better way to motivate the masses and get them in straight lines than to act like you had a corner on their forever? It’s kind of maddening actually. It seems so very blatantly manipulative and haunting. Who would do this?

I know that Jesus is love. I’ve figured that out again and again. I also know that love doesn’t have anything to do with fear. In fact, perfect love is said to cast out all fear. That is the nature of love. So then how could somebody fall in love with Jesus because they were really, really scared? How could I open my heart up to a person who carried a knife in their back pocket? The whole hell thing makes Jesus seem emotionally unstable, kind of like a universal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

How very sad.

Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Claire Worley

Claire Worley

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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