Hell What?

By Clarissa Worley Sproul

Photo by Dreamstime

I don’t think there’s anything within Christianity that has bugged me more than this incredible belief that people will burn forever. How on earth did we become comfortable with God acting in ways we ourselves would never? If Hitler had been spared the self-inflicted gun wound to the head, and been captured, would any court of law have sentenced him to thirty years of torture and deprivation? Are you kidding me?

And yet more than nine out of ten of us Christians tote this idea about God spanking us all forever without batting an eyeball. How on earth did we get to this point? No parent would retain custody of their kids if they spanked them for thirty minutes… but God is going to punish us physically for millennia? God who cares deeply for us? It’s enough to make me want to heave. What a crazy way to view the Being who calls Himself LOVE personified.

Not only does eternal burning hell not make any sense to the common human instinct, no matter how warped by evil. Us getting roasted forever does not jive with the basic teachings of the Bible. First and foremost, Jesus said he took the wages of our sin, which of course the Bible refers to as being eternal death by being crucified. Well then if Jesus took what I have coming and fully took my place, then why didn’t or I should probably say isn’t Jesus still burning in Hell right now?

If the cost of my sins is eternal hellfire, and Jesus took my place, well then you do the math… it’s not that complicated. Jesus has got to get what I had coming—all of it. Otherwise it’s like the guy who’s getting shot for betraying his country and his dad steps in to take his place and instead of shooting the dad, they just put him in prison for a few years. Make sense? No. Fair and just? No. Inconsistent? Yes.

If Jesus is going to take my place by dying one long afternoon, fine, but then don’t tell me that if I reject Jesus taking my place I get more than a slow painful death that takes a few hours. Anything more and Jesus hasn’t done what He says He did. He didn’t take all my sin and it’s consequences… not at all… and He can’t take credit for being my stand-in at all.

Then there’s that text I just quoted part of a few paragraphs back, you know, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Death is the wages of sin; life is the gift of God. This text parallels a hundred more in the Bible, and is very clear on two things on where death and life come from. God gives life as a gift. To burn forever, God is going to have to keep giving me the gift of life so He can hurt me over and over again. That is the human equivalent of you taking me to the ER so that I can be patched up before you return me to your basement to beat me up, again and again and again… forever.

I could go on all afternoon. We could talk about what death is… since that is what sin is said to cause—not eternal burning. Or how Jesus in Revelation says that those who reject life will be thrown into the same lake of fire that the Devil and his angels and then death itself are thrown into—so does God keep the Devil, his angels… and death itself alive forever? What?

Yes, and we could talk about how He calls himself love, and that He values our freedom so much He’s let this planet spin on, despite the misery and confusion we lavish on ourselves, and how this kind of “you’re free to choose your destiny and I’ll love you no matter what you choose” could possibly make anybody feel free if there’s that mammoth BUT I’LL PUNISH YOU FOREVER clause at the end. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t make any sense at all. Not even to me, a fallen, sinful, selfish person who rarely succeeds at pure love and has a load of personal issues. If I loved you and you decide to hate and reject me, what is the loving thing for me to do? Make you pay for your choice as long as you live? Hold a grudge and play out revenge for 80 years? Even I know the answer to that.

God didn’t create suffering, doesn’t like it and died in my place to release me from it. And this same Guy is going to keep people alive to punish them forever… and for no apparent reason—we all know that punishment as children was to get our behavior in line. So God is going to punish when it’s too late for us to choose any different or better?

If the billions of people on planet earth who want nothing to do with God are ever going to change their minds, and want to love Him, you can bet all the money in your bank account that it’s not going to be because they’re terrified of Him. Perfect love casts out fear is what the Bible teaches, and that it’s kindness that leads us all to turn to God.

I know that an eternal burning hell is not part of who God is, first it’s not kind, and second it’s not perfect love because is sure doesn’t cast out fear. Sounds a lot more to me like the Devil's dream for all of us.