Every evangelical has to question hell eventually, unless they’ve had the humanity stripped from them. The idea of a loving God forever tormenting billions because they did not put their faith in Christ grates the teeth. Calvinism has a ready defense for hell: God is just, and when it looks like he isn’t just, it’s only because I am totally depraved and can’t see what real justice is. So even though it seems unjust to torment billions forever, it’s actually hunky-dory.
I used to do personal little theological studies. There was nothing better than opening up the Word, grabbing a pencil and notebook and working through some meaty theological problem. I picked up the study of hell a year or two after returning to Canada. To my surprise, though, I couldn’t find it.
The Bible presents the two roads of a life following God and a life rebelling against him as a life / death battle, not a life / torture battle. The wages of sin is death. Those who do not believe will perish. Many verses use fire as an image of judgment, but I realized that fire is mainly used to make an end of a thing, not to torture it. A few passages in Revelation seemed to hint at something that sounded like the traditional view of hell, but Revelation is all manner of crazy, and I was not comfortable building a doctrine of hell from it alone.
I realized that if I had come to the Bible without going through the church first, I never would have come up with this idea of hell. Especially considering that the Gospels paint a picture of a God so loving that He was willing to sacrifice Himself to save (some of) humanity. I wondered if I was becoming an annihilationist. I wondered what this would do to my Calvinism.
And then Rob Bell showed up and everything went nuts.
You should have seen it. The Internet blew up with anger over this geeky pastor who wrote an artsy book that suggested our ideas of hell were wrong. One of the most influential pastors in my own life excommunicated him on Twitter before the book even came out. It gave me a chill. Would that anger have been directed at me if I had shared some of the things Scripture was showing me? I had a realization:
My faith tradition had sacred cows–at least one of which I hadn’t noticed until now. How many more unjustifiable things did I believe?
I had to attempt a fresh look at the Scripture. And I had to do it no matter what the Internet said, because Truth was, and is, so much more important than the objections of friends.