The Ultimatum….

There has been a lot of controversy as of late concerning a particular pastor/writer and his view of hell and the fate of humanity. He has been vilified, and dismissed by many from the “big league” Evangelicals to the “wanna be” blogger types hoping their condemnations of Rob Bell will catapult them to the big time. Many of them had not even read the book.

Neither have I, so my comments here are not going to focus on “Love Wins” but on the questions and concerns raised by it.

I was given an ultimatum the other day via a Facebook conversation that I was having. It went something like this…

“Mark, do you believe in a literal hell where unbelievers are tormented forever and ever? If you don’t you deny Scripture.” (my paraphrase). I think that this Facebook “friend” was trying to trap me and thus solidifying his preconceived judgement of me that I am just a heretic. And if you take his comment about denying Scripture to its logical conclusion, he would assume that I am denying Christ as well.

You know, I am disturbed by all this hell talk. It appears to me that too many believers are almost giddy with excitement when it comes to someone burning alive forever in a lake of sulfur, just like they are excited about the Tim Lahaye’s Rapture leaving all the low life sinners here to suffer the wrath of God while believers lounge around on clouds partying it up.

Suppose for a moment, I didn’t believe in hell? Am I still a Christian? Suppose I said that I really don’t know what God truly has in store for the unbeliever at the end of their time or for eternity? Am I still a Christian?  Is escaping from hell a good reason the “accept Jesus” as Savior? What if there is so much more that we do not understand or even have knowledge of concerning this Creator we call God?

If we are honest as Christians we would have to say that we do not know much about the workings of God since “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” So maybe we missed something in the doctrine of hell?

I have so many questions about this but no answers….
What about people who are mentally challenged and do not have the cognitive wherewithal to understand and believe in Jesus, do they go to hell?
What about the person living in another culture who has never, ever heard the name of Jesus, do they go to hell?
What about babies and little children born to unbelieving parents? If they die in infancy or childhood do they go to Hell?(By the way, there is not “age of accountability” in the Scripture. It is made up of loosely interpreted texts…like the rapture!)
Why would a God who is Love condemn individuals for all eternity, to a place of horrors and pain for only 60-70 years of life?

What if Jesus did die for the whole world?
What if like Adam, who brought condemnation to the whole world, Jesus the second “Adam” brought salvation and life to the whole world for all time past, present, and future?

Finally…Why are Christians so afraid to ask questions and why are we afraid that we might be wrong and God’s love really does win?

My prayer is that we are wrong on hell…and that God plan far exceeds any expectation we can conjure up.

9 thoughts on “The Ultimatum….

  1. Mark,

    I haven’t read that book either but you just sold one for him. I am not a devotee of the doctrines surrounding hell-fire and brimstone. I came to a point in my walk with God that it really didn’t matter anymore. I realized that being both a gay man, (condemning me to hell–apparently) and a Christian (saving me from it) that I was in an impossible position. No matter how much I avoided physical sexual contact, I was still gay and had to admit it. No matter how much I tried to be generically spiritual, I still believed in Jesus and when in touch my my spiritual side, it was in communion with the Holy Spirit. At one point I decided to simply accept both. If I am going to burn in hell I’ll be the only one there, I suppose praising God and communing with the Holy Spirit. I’m sure folks will try to correct my doctrine here but the thing is, I’m transparent about my faults–even though I don’t really believe my seuxuality is among them. At least we don’t have to add hypocrisy to the list. I’ve also discovered that if we dig around a bit in the lives of the most vocally condemning of our siblings, we find dirty laundry shoved toward the back of everyone’s closet floor.

    Church is, in too many ways, simply a business and it’s customer hook is hell. Sit in on a board of directors meeting and you discover this truth. Hell is simply good business. It keeps the pews warm and the offering baskets full. The reason churches avoid controversy is that it causes people to leave and take their tithes with them. Even Paul in the book of Romans was attempting to smooth the ripples between two competing groups, the Jewish and the Gentile believers.

    I don’t believe the gospel is primarily concerned with the afterlife. In the ministry of Jesus, it seems rather obvious that he was speaking to an oppressed people and trying very hard to help them escape the mentality of the oppressed which keeps them as victims. He used the afterlife as a way of telling folks to tend to their own internal affairs and go about their lives and not focus entirely on how blessed their oppressors seemed to be. We can be free even if we don’t have a social or political revolution. Honestly, turning my back on the afterlife has allowed me to focus my attention on more immediate ministery like comforting the mourning, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. We have an opportunity here to learn to love one another. Live the gospel today and you shan’t be uncomfortable with it after you die.

  2. there’s nothing wrong with questions. Christians often get hooked into thinking that the solidity of our stance on biblical issues is what proves our closeness to God. we start to think we can judge our closeness by the lack of questions we have about Him.

    i’ve spent a lot of my Christian life trying to correct people’s thinking and behavior. i recently realized that it’s not my job to fix everyone’s ‘stuff’. it’s my job to encourage people to get closer to God. plenty Christians would look at my life and call me righteous, but if i look closely and honestly at my own life, i can find plenty of internal things that i’ve struggled with since i can remember… despite how diligently i studied, how rigid my philosophies were, and how well i could argue anybody’s point down. my knowledge and steadfastness in what i thought didn’t make me any more effective at fixing ANYONE… including myself.

    i do think it’s very important to know what scripture says… to read and study it, and not choose to accept bits and pieces based on who you would prefer God to be. i don’t think God hates questions either though… not sincere ones anyway. we’re not supposed to be able to know everything. if we could get to a point where we knew it all so surely that there was no need for further examination, then what good would He be? what good would there be in seeking Him?

    i partially get the mindsets of both sides. i won’t say what side i’m on because i don’t think it’s important. a good question to ask though, is what your stance doing to the heart. it’s worth some serious self-examination if defending the Bible leads to judging and an inability to forgive or show compassion. i know there’s plenty scripture about that.

    but i’m no expert…

  3. Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”.

    Let’s not throw away all that God has clearly revealed in scripture just because we can’t know all of the “secret things”. There is much revealed about hell and the vast majority of it was revealed by Jesus himself.

    A misunderstanding of “love” as being the equivalent of acceptance and tolerance inevitably leads to a denial of hell. The reason being that if love means acceptance the only way God could truly be loving would be if He did away with hell. In other words, the deceived person who thinks love=acceptance can only answer the question “how can a loving God send someone to hell?” by answering hell is not what the Bible clearly teaches it is.

    To switch gears a bit, why do you insist on attributing the worst of motives to those who want to warn people of hell (as Jesus did so often)? You think they’re “giddy with excitement when it comes to someone burning alive forever”?! Please show some grace to these folks who care for people enough to ask tough questions and challenge people to think deeply about what scripture clearly teaches. I would think they do it for exactly the opposite reason; if they were giddy about people burning, they wouldn’t warn them. Consider that if they’re right and God really is Holy, Holy, Holy and perfectly Just than hell really is a place of eternal torment and it is truly loving to tell people that God has a way where He maintains His perfect Holiness and Justice; that way being what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. He’s made a way through the death and resurrection of His son to allow us to be with Him forever and not suffer His wrath in hell which is what we justly deserve. God demonstrated His love by laying down His life for us not by discarding his Holiness or Justice. His kindness perfectly demonstrated in the cross will draw His people to repentance and belief.

    1. Thanks for your reply Mike….a couple of clarifications though, if i may.

      I am not throwing away anything that God has revealed, my question was and is…how do we know we got it right when it comes to hell?

      Secondly, I hope that I do not misunderstand God’s love,(although I think that there are many in the church that do), I realize that God is Holier than we can can ever imagine and that is why I thank God always for showing us the extent of His love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I truly do believe that the sacrifice of Christ is more than enough to atone for the sins of the world, past, present, and future. I also know that we are more sinful than some of us care to admit, but the fact of our utter “fallen-ness” makes what God has done through Jesus even more amazing.

      Thirdly, I do not deny the existence of hell, but I do pray that our interpretation of the doctrine is flawed.

      Finally, there are “SOME” Christians that are “giddy” when it comes to God sending unbeliever to hell. They pretend to love by stating that the most loving thing is to tell someone about hell, but their words and their approach and apparent revulsion for the individual denies that love. I was just stating the obvious.

    2. well put. we should never gloss over what scripture says for the sake of taking a more palatable view. the problem isn’t with believing in hell or warning people of it. it arises when we begin attacking people for having questions, rather than leading them to the truth and sharing it with an attitude of compassion and humility. may we all remember how to do that…

      if we’re presenting truth, it shouldn’t have to lead to bitter arguments or judgment… truth defends itself. our priority shouldn’t be to prove our own accuracy with scripture, but to magnify God’s grace and love with it.

  4. My issue with the whole discussion on Hell is……is this a doctrine we need to separate over? Is this a doctrine which stands in the way of our fellowship together? Whether Hell is eternal or the suffering ends when all is thrown into the lake of fire, does that define what a Christian is?
    None of the historic Creeds of the Church mentions Hell. It mentions God as Creator, Christ as the Redeemer, Christ coming again, Forgiveness and the Spirit bringing us to life, and resurrection of the Dead. But Hell has never been the defining doctrine for Christianity. Why now?

  5. i personally don’t believe in hell. i believe in an all loving all forgiving god that made us in our entirety, flaws and all. we are all works in progress at various stages of spiritual growth. i’ve already wasted too much of my life believing in absolutes. there are no absolutes. i had to fight my way down a difficult path to finally establish a personal relationship with god – a fight that probably not many “by the book” evangelicals would accept, but it is no less valid than any other path. god makes herself available to all who put themselves in a position to seek her. there is no more subjective journey. i believe in a god who loves us holistically – and sees us for who we really are. and she is waiting to welcome us with open arms for we are all her children. amen.

  6. So its late one night in Jim’s steakout, and the drunk crowd starts to filter in. among them are a few large women, who should not be wearing what they were wearing. I look up to see this woman wearing a skin tight white shirt that wraps underneath her stomach fat, a pair of black high heals with white tights, and a red loose fitting fish net shirt over it all.
    the first words out of mouth were “who the hell told her that she looked good when she walked outta the house with that on.” I spoke loudly and confidently as if I cared for no one. I continued on, “some one clear the nets we snaggged a whale.” my kitchen crew starts to laugh.
    one of my cooks looks up and replys “I think I just threw up a little in my mouth”
    to which I reply ” ant least we know what in the canned tuna”
    everyone laughs…
    I turn my attention back to my grill and let out a evil chuckle of which the words “I so am gonna burn in hell for this” flow out of my mouth.
    the cook next to me looks up and says, “yea you are” and we laugh.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that hell is a joke to most unbelievers. I mean look at the plain truth, HELL IS A JOKE TO MOST BELIEVERS AS WELL.
    if we can believe in a loving GOD and then why can’t we also believe in a just GOD. yes there is some concern in differing doctrines when it comes to hell, but the point is that no one fears it.
    so how do we over come the issue- we as christians should be more concerned with the spiritual condition of our own lives, so that the holy spirit can work through us and Christ can be revealed to the unbeliever. that is what paul was concerned with, that is what Christ was concerned with, and that my brothers and sisters is what we should be concerned with.
    it was only until I became aware of my own, horrible spiritual condition, that I realized GOD is faithful and just, I am not.
    I think that if we christians looked back over our lives we would find GOD present and faithful, in our most sinful times.

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