Hell has been on my mind lately.
What brought it up this time is that I was listening to the Albet Mohler Program and he was talking about how upset he was that the majority of American Christians don't believe that non-believers are going to burn in Hell. For Mr. Mohler, this sounds like a serious problem. He's afraid that believers aren't willing to tell people that their non-Christian loved ones are burnig in Hell right now. Yes, he said that.
I understand that his beliefs are not unusual. I wish he understood that they were never, historically, universal, but oh well. What bothers me is that this bothers people. It bothers people that there aren't a billion souls burning and screaming in Hell for eternity.
Here's an example of one of the many ways this makes no sense. Here's a story from a couple days ago in the Marin Independent Journal: it is about a "horrific" tale of a teenager being held captive for more than a year and tortured in someone's basement. He finally escaped, showing up with nothing but boxer shorts and a padlock around his ankle. The horrorific nature of the crimes against him inspired a girl at the local high school to start fundraising to help him. Many Marin families have offered to adopt the boy (he was in the foster system).
Now, people rightly identify this story as horrific, and I think the outpouring of compassion for this kid was, in its own way, beautiful. But compared to what some people believe about God, this whole story is pretty tame. The kid was only held captive and tortured for a year, not for eternity. He was able to escape - but no one escapes Hell, right? Once you're in, that's it.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I believe that God has to be, at minimum, more merciful and loving than whoever it is that tortured this teenage boy in their basement for over a year - because what happened to this kid is horrifying and disgusting and disgraceful.
But imagine if the kid could never escape. Imagine if there was no hope the torture would ever end. Imagine if we told that kid's family that he deserved to be tortured in that way because he never had the right kind of faith in the right kind of Jesus.
That would be pretty cold-hearted, right?
So how can we say that about God?
What I'm not saying is that Hell has no meaning, or that we should toss out the few scriptural verses that talk about Hell. What I'm saying is that under no circumstances will I worship a monster. That is a preconception that I bring to theology - that God is not a horrific monster who is willing to commit moral crimes beyond human imagination. Call me crazy, but I'm just not willing to go there.
Ok, open fire.