I think this. I don’t know this, but I think it. I’ve never liked the concept of hell, the place of eternal torment and separation from God. Never liked it. Do you like it? I wonder if God does. Even as a small child I would often think to myself, “How could there ever be such a place?” It may have played a part in my straying away from my Christian upbringing and faith as a teenager. Back then, I rejected a religion that sends people to hell for not only not believing correctly but also not behaving appropriately, as deemed correct and appropriate by the stalwarts of the faith. I wanted to behave unchristianly so off I went! I was on the road to hell.
I returned to faith as a young adult drawn back to God purely because of love, not because of any kind of fear of going to hell. Anyone who comes to God must first believe he exists. I believed then as I do now, he exists. I believe he is love. As a young adult I wanted meaning in my life which having faith in God provided. Even though teaching and preaching for many years as a pastor, I could never bring myself to teach or preach about hell. I’m not sure I ever mentioned hell much. If the love of God didn’t draw someone to God, then how meaningless is it the leverage of eternal torment as an alternative motivation to draw others to God? “God loves you but will send you to hell unless you… [fill in the blank].” Really?
And this all started because of “the woman”? OK..the man too I suppose. But again, really? This beautiful and wonderful human creature handcrafted by God Himself having had breathed into her the very spirit of life from God, she easily makes one bad decision out of genuine curiosity and bam! All humanity will be born with the seed of rebellious sin in their DNA demanding just punishment from God. I mean, really? Adam and Eve barely show up in the story, hardly had time to unpack their bags and voila!! That didn’t take long did it? All humanity is doomed with that long arm reach for a precious fruit that God made so very pleasing to the eye.
Makes you wonder about God…at least the God we must wonder about if we buy the whole Adam and Eve story as literal, which many of us do or did or do not. That story for me, even as a child, always begged the question, “What kind of God created something that didn’t last five minutes in the bliss of pure perfection?” Sure, I learned in seminary all the theological answers and biblical answers. In layman’s terms theologically we say God took the risk of giving us complete free will to choose or not to choose which had to be the case so that we could choose God…or not…of our own free will. We chose the fruit. In fairness to correct theology as far as any correctness is at play here, we might argue Eve chose the knowledge of good and evil guised in an attractive fruit. She wanted to be like God. Who wouldn’t be tempted, right? Perhaps if the fruit was a prickly pear on a cactus maybe we might have had a chance. Heck, I’m not sure Adam or Eve could even have known about “death” or “punishment” having been created in perfection. Why would they have needed to learn that?
According to the Christian teaching prevalent in Christendom, even after 2000 years, men, women and children are going to hell left and right by the thousands each day. Over 150,000 people die every single day. That’s 54,650,000 a year. Since I was born 19,710,000,000 people have died. I had to turn my phone calculator sideways to read the number! Today, heaven bound Christians make up about one-third of the world’s population. We get smacked by a meteor tomorrow sending humanity into oblivion…well, five billion are heading to eternal torment. If Christianity has always been roughly about a third of the world’s population since I’ve been alive then (this is very un-empirical, I realize) roughly thirteen billion are weeping and gnashing their teeth in the underworld of eternal torment.
My rationale and reasoning regarding the overwhelming number of people, who on the surface, appear to be going to hell BUT who may not be going to hell in the end has been, “Well, God is loving. God is fair and just. God works in mysterious ways. Who knows? Perhaps everyone gets a second chance in the next dimension. Maybe the concept of some kind of purgatory with an opportunity to make amends is possible.” Let’s face it. Many of us don’t get hell. Most of us don’t like hell, even if we believe in it. We don’t like the idea of our loving family members, friends or neighbors who “don’t walk with the Lord” going to hell. We don’t like the pressure of responsibility for their “eternal destiny” resting on our ability or willingness to “witness” or “present the gospel” to them.
I’ve been around a lot of death the past 25 years. I don’t like it. But I know it is real. I don’t like the concept of hell which none of us know is real for certain. Over the years, I’ve been asked to pray for the dead hundreds of times. Early on, I was perplexed how to pray when it seemed to me the deceased…even though seemingly a loving, caring, decent imperfect human being…didn’t “walk with the Lord” or “knew the Lord” or “accepted Christ” or was a “Christ follower” or was living a life indicative of someone indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Early on, I just thought to myself, “What do I know? God has this handled. It’s his problem now.” But slowly it began to eat at me that according to what I was taught in my evangelical Christianity, most of these people were not “saved” and were going to hell.
I remember praying to God, “God, I would never send these people to hell. I don’t care if they didn’t accept Jesus. Would you really send them into eternal torment? Really?” In my gut I felt like God would never do that. His love was too great. If Jesus died for all, then all is all. I’m just being honest here with what I think. What do I know, right? Some of you… even a few of my dear Christian friends might be thinking, “Uh-oh, Nick has become a universalist.” Let’s do away with the labeling and just hear what I’m thinking. I can’t help think it. Jesus is still the way. Jesus does offer us a way desiring that none would perish. A way of love. He came to show a world the true nature of God as best it could be revealed in a human. God is love. I know that.