Sometimes as Christians, we tend to focus on a lot of things that have nothing to to with Jesus and his amazing grace. This can be especially true when we're talking to someone who is a non-believer. For those of you who do this often, do talks of fire and brimstone ever seem to scare the person into believing in Jesus and trusting in Him? In this week's post, Toby discusses a topic that had him scared as hell (literally) as a child - Hell.
That’s a Hell of a Thing to Say!
Some of my earliest memories are of my papa preaching and yelling about hell, fire, and the terrible eternity that we were all destined for if we didn’t change from our evil ways dominate my earliest memories. It was really scary at the time, but at least he taught me how to scream for our band, Emery.
We were a part of the Church of God of Prophecy. Okay, so that is a mouth full. It’s an extremely conservative denomination that adhered to as many details as they could in order to set themselves apart from a fallen world. They have changed now; a bit more relaxed on certain issues, like people not wearing jewelry, women not wearing jeans, or going to the movies is wrong.
Most of the sermons I remember from my papa, or the traveling evangelists that would come through monthly, concluded that people are terrible and they’re going to Hell if they didn’t stop what they are doing and repent. It felt like every piece of scripture had something to do with Hell. Now, I love my papa and I know that, in his heart, he wanted to help others know Jesus. But, all this caused me so much anxiety. I remember as a young boy praying a prayer of forgiveness literally over and over and over again for days and sometimes weeks at a time because I thought I had let God down and was going to go to Hell. For example, if I lied to my parents about sneaking a cookie after dinner, or saying that I had done my homework when I hadn’t, I would say this:
“God, please forgive me. Please forgive me, God. I am so sorry. I will never do it again. Please forgive me. I don’t want to go to hell. God, I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”No joke. It was like having obsessive compulsive disorder and I could not stop repeating the mantra.I now see this as absurd and extremely detrimental to actually knowing Jesus. When I was younger, I thought God hated me. The worst part was that I couldn’t tell anybody about my struggles and sins. I thought nobody else was sinning. Nobody said a word. They might say they needed prayer or loosely ask for help in a “tough” situation, but I never heard about anyone in my family actually sinning. I actually thought that since every message was about going to Hell, that if people knew I had sinned, they would be extremely disappointed and might not love me either.
So now that you know a little of my background, I’m going to say something that will piss everybody off, or at least make you agree with my papa about where I’m going after I die.
People are going to Hell. And it’s okay. No worries. No anxiety. No fear.
Did that hit you a little weird? Feeling a little uncomfortable? Yeah, it does for me too, but let’s dive in shall we?
We’ve made Hell a scare tactic. Scare tactics are just that. They are tactics that people employ to scare someone into doing what you want them to do. Does that sound at all like what Jesus did? Jesus talked about Gehenna, we call it Hell. I’ll let you study those terms and see what you think, but I’d like to look at a few verses.
Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
What do these tell you about whose going to Hell? How many of you reading this right now are liars or have had some form of sex outside of marriage? If you’ve lied, or hooked up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or even looked at pornography at some point then these verses apply to you. How many of you Christians have lusted? A good amount of you are probably going to lust, whether it’s pornography or just ‘taking a second look’ this week. If you don’t cut out your eye, you are massively and eternally screwed. But you’ll say that Jesus wasn’t being literal.
You are certain Jesus was being literal about what Hell is, but that cut out your eye part was just Him being dramatic? Cool.
What does ‘destroy’ mean? What does ‘Gehenna’ mean?
Even if you have your seminary answers prepared, did Jesus lead with Hell? When a woman was about to be stoned for adultery did He say, “Say you believe in me now or else stoning is the least of your worries!” Nope. He said I won’t condemn you, go and sin no more. (I would wager she did sin again, but that she accepted Jesus in that moment and knew she needed a savior for the rest of her life.)
I want to clarify that I believe in the spiritual realm and that Heaven and Hell exist, but that’s about as far as anyone on Earth can go. What’s Heaven like? Do we really want golden streets? That’s a little too TBN/purple hair for me. I might like an old dirt road.
My point is, I don’t know and neither do you. But we can’t just keep claiming we do to our friends who don’t believe the same as us. We’re causing anxiety for them and ourselves over something we can’t control. I cannot believe we are here only to say the same things over and over, and prove that non-Christians are wrong and Christians are right.
That’s not true.
The reason we were made is to live in God’s creation and to be loved. We get to experience Him and His love for us. Now, at the same time, we also have to figure out why there are times we don’t want to submit to God and instead do things our way. But we were not created to fear His wrath. He has wrath to be sure, but that can’t be our motivation to get on His good side.
We just were not made for Hell.With that said, people will go to Hell and there is nothing you can do to stop it. So stop it! Stop scaring the children! Stop scaring yourself! It’s not your responsibility. God decides. You don’t get a say. Your mom might go to Hell. Your best friend might be there for eternity. Maybe even Brad and Angelina. Although such a ridiculously good looking couple in Hell just doesn’t seem right! I mean a shirtless Brad Pitt seems really angelic.
I might be going to Hell.
Right now your screaming, “Toby, shut your damn mouth! You are a Christ follower. No way you’re going to Hell so just stop being dramatic.” I am just trying to tell you what I believe to be true.
YOU DON’T KNOW SO DON’T TALK LIKE YOU DO.
Some folks here on Earth will never want God. They would like to do it (life, being, eternity) on their own terms, and they will figure things out for themselves. We don’t need to worry about it or feel sorry for them. We most certainly don’t need to hate them or treat them as a lesser people because they don’t share our beliefs. What in the Hell (pun intended) are we doing?
By now most of you reading this have thought I’ve lost my brain, or that I’m a Universalist, or just stupid. I concede that you definitely have some data to back up the stupid part for sure. But I just want people to stop focusing on Hell and focus on Jesus. I want us to quit thinking about where God is not and start showing folks where our God is. Show how the knowledge of Him has affected us so deeply that we are no longer the same. You don’t know who is going to Heaven or Hell, so why waste one breath on it. That’s not your responsibility. You can’t get one person into Heaven, or save one person from Hell. Unless this is Jesus reading this blog, which He does by the way!
Release any fear, worry, or control that you know whose going to Heaven or Hell. You are only called to share the experiences you have had with Jesus and what it’s like to realize you need Him and love Him. We all need a savior. We don’t need anxiety or worry about eternal punishment. It’s just dumb to postulate and it’s not helping anybody.
The Bible begins with a story about a talking snake who liked conversing with naked people. That’s wild enough! We have to start slow. Are you really going to start a conversation with a non-believer by saying, “If you don’t say you believe in my God, you will burn…in fire…forever…with worms…because you are bad…forever.” I sure wouldn’t listen.