“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.”
Some think of Hell as a literal place of punishment, awaiting sinners on the other side of death…
- an eternal destination for the damned…
- a deep abyss, beneath the earth….
- a burning lake of eternal fire and brimstone…
- a state of eternal torment and suffering, where there’s never-ending weeping and gnashing of teeth (what is teeth-gnashing, anyway?)…
- the underground lair of the Devil and legions of demons…
- unending, irreversible separation from God.
I’m increasingly doubtful of Hell as a post-life destination. I just don’t read much evidence in Scripture to support Hell being more than a metaphor for eternal separation from God, which I do believe in. I could be wrong. Maybe Hell is a literal place. I guess we’ll all find out, eventually.
To me, belief in an eternal Hell feels more like a threat, motivated by fear. God doesn’t need threats to attract us. God is good, and the offer of eternity with God is very good. God doesn’t need the fear or threat of an eternal hell to motivate us. That sounds a bit too mobster for me.
But, that being said, I do still believe in Hell. Perhaps there is an eternal state of Hell, for those who choose it (for more on this, read C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce). But, if Hell is separation from God, Hell isn’t necessarily a future destination. Hell, for some, is a PRESENT reality. Hell can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime.
Hell is anywhere a person feels cut off from God. I don’t really believe anyone or anyplace – including Hell – is cut off from God, entirely. Psalm 139:7 asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit?Where can I flee from your presence?” The answer? “Nowhere!” But, undeniably, there are times, places, situations, experiences in this life when a person might FEEL cut off from God…
- When a victim is abused or assaulted.
- When a person is trapped in addiction.
- When trust is betrayed.
- When a person is sliding deeper and deeper into depression.
- When someone has lost their way, and keeps wandering farther and farther and farther astray.
- When a person is belittled or dehumanized for their age, gender, ethnicity, skin color, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.
- When fear is greater than love.
- When a person is a victim of injustice.
- When lies speak more convincingly than Truth.
- When a person is caught in endless, grinding cycles of poverty.
- When EVERYTHING seems hopeless.
- When a person is haunted by the sins of their past.
- When it feels like there’s nowhere to go, and no one to turn to.
- When a deepening darkness blots out the fading, dimming, failing light.
- When pain – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – overwhelms.
- When a person cannot escape the consequences of their sins.
I recall a recent conversation about the success of so many conservative, mega-churches, and how many have transitioned from being historically “traditional” to something much more modern and contemporary. I wondered aloud if their success has anything to do with their belief in Hell? I wonder if believing “lost” people go to an eternal place of suffering motivates members to “save” people, no matter what it takes, before it’s too late. I don’t wonder. I’m sure that’s the case.
But, what if the Hell people need saving from, most, isn’t in their future? What if the “lost” are already in Hell, in this life? What if the “saving,” lost people need, isn’t just from a future Hell, but a current and present one?
What if Hell exists in…
- broken homes and families,
- poverty-stricken neighborhoods,
- brothels, strip-clubs, porn-studios, and red-light districts,
- the bottles or needles of every addict,
- loneliness – real or perceived,
- racist/discriminatory attitudes, practices, and policies,
- where the abuser’s hand touches the victim’s flesh,
- unsafe school yards,
- the bully’s threats and verbal assaults,
- corrupt, unjust governments and leaders,
- the hearts of many men and women, children and teens, young and old, friends and family, neighbors and coworkers,
- prisons, homeless shelters, mental hospitals,
- the minds of the mentally ill,
- the bodies of the sick and dying,
- the news of a tragic death or suicide,
- broken, betrayed hearts…
What if the person/people we live with, work with, ride the bus with, eat lunch with, do business with, is/are currently living in a Hellish state, and we don’t even realize it? What if they desperately need us to realize it?
What if the job of the Church, and Christians, is to rescue people from their current Hell; not to avoid their Hell, or to stand back and judge them for it? What if the job of the Church, and Christians, is to set people free from their current Hell, and to invite them into a new, better, godly reality? What if our job is to be Heaven on Earth, even in the midst of the Hell people are currently enduring? What if our job is to enter the Hell of others, while remaining deeply anchored in a higher spiritual reality? What if our job is to find them in Hell, and lead them out?
What if Hell isn’t an eternal state, but only lasts as long as a suffering person must wait for you or me to crash down the gates, keeping trapped inside.
What if our job, Christians, isn’t to avoid Hell, but to dive into the thick of it, shining our light into the inky darkness, releasing the prisoners and rescuing the captives, transcending Hell together, into God’s glorious light?
1a: to rise above or go beyond the limits of
b: to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of
c: to be prior to, beyond, and above (the universe or material existence)
2: to outstrip or outdo in some attribute, quality, or power
: to rise above or extend notably beyond ordinary limits
Who do you know currently residing in Hell? What are you going to do about it?
Another question to ponder, Church: based on my definition of Hell, have we (The Church) done more rescuing FROM Hell, threatening WITH Hell, or treating people LIKE Hell? Think about it.