Many “Christian” blogger guys (mostly single with no girlfriends and few prospects) huddled in their mothers’ basements are all aflutter in a theological dust-up over a new book by Rob Bell, due out next week. (And yes, I’m aware of the irony of my opening sentence … but my mom lives in Ohio … and I’m in Tennessee. I’d gladly commute, but have you seen the price of gas???!!! Besides, I prefer the attic.) Anyway, back to the bloggers and Rob Bell. It seems they’ve gotten their overly sensitive theological feathers all ruffled up because they think Rob’s going to suggest that he doesn’t really believe in a literal hell in his new book (which they’ve yet to read … because again, it’s not out until next week)! This business got me to pondering … what if there really was no hell? I suppose the first thing that might happen is that the aforementioned bleary-eyed blogger boys might have to drag themselves out of mama’s cave and find some other way to frighten people into following Jesus … (not to mention intimidating them into doing so in exactly the manner they prescribe). Or worse yet, (for them … not us), they might find themselves confronted with the horrifying prospect of actually having to interact with the opposite sex; rather than engaging in their own incestuous version of making sweet cyber-love to one another by clamoring to out-intellectualize, out-argue, and out-proof-text one another with Bible verses into the wee hours of the morning.
Enough about these pocket-protector-laden cyber-soldiers of truth in their computer-screen-lighted chat rooms with too much time on their hands … on with the real substance of this rant. The question at hand is this: what if there really was no hell?
My purpose here is not to specifically answer that question, nor is it to defend Rob Bell. Neither is it to engage in an online debate with a bunch of Bible-head guys with whom I frankly would probably not enjoy having a beer at the ball game. The question here is really another question altogether. And that is, if you knew there was no literal hell, would that knowledge alter your life in any appreciable way? Or to put it another way, (assuming most people who read this piece are Christian), would your view of Jesus or your discipleship be any different if there were no such place as hell? Or even more simply … would you even follow him at all?
If your answer is that you might change some things, or that you might not follow him at all, you’re under no judgment here. But I would humbly suggest that if indeed that is the case, you might want to consider taking a closer look at Jesus, the person … the man. You may have missed him. I say this because even he himself did not seem to be overly concerned with the issue of heaven vs. hell. Yes, he did allude to “everlasting life” and the “kingdom of heaven,” etc. But much more so, he preferred to dwell upon issues that relate to the here and now. Even a cursory examination of his recorded teachings will clearly demonstrate that he was much more concerned with how we live in this life than he was with where we live in the next. Those issues seemed to constitute more of his thinking than did the idea of merely stamping our “get out of hell free” cards. And yes, he did ultimately perform his final acts on earth in the pursuit of offering himself as a sacrifice, and opening the door for us to be reconnected to God. But most of his teaching seemed to be aimed at shining light on how we can live and interact better while we’re here. He tended to dwell much more heavily upon ideas such as loving one another (which yields hope), forgiving one another (which yields peace), serving one another (which yields faith and hope), generosity to one another (which yields freedom from greed), purity of heart and motive (which yields integrity), and so on. When asked by his closest friends about how to pray, he instructed them to pray for God’s will to be done, and for his kingdom to come … on earth (just) as it is in heaven” (i.e. in the here and now … not in the by and by) … not a whole lot of talk about “get out of hell free” cards. Additionally, he made these pleadings and assertions in the context of inviting us to a more “abundant life” (Jn. 10:10); not merely as an escape hatch from the fires of hell.
So, would I still follow Jesus if there were no hell? I might have said “no” when I was a kid. My primary motivation back then was to escape punishment for my countless sins. As I sit here today, it seems abundantly clear to me that discipleship is about a man … one man … Jesus … not a place. I see this one man as the arbiter of the best possible way to live on this earth. Certainly not the easiest way, but the best way. And not just the best way, but the way that is actually most fulfilling when taken as a whole … afterlife or not. Among countless other extraordinary qualities, Jesus was a man of unquestionable integrity who walked his talk without fail. He was a man who knew in advance that he would be mercilessly mocked, stripped naked and publicly humiliated, brutally tortured, and executed by his detractors in Jerusalem during Passover. And yet, he led his family and friends straight into that city. And he didn’t exactly sneak in the back door. He stormed the front gate in what amounted to a first century version of a ticker-tape parade through Times Square with trumpets blaring and flags (in the form of palm branches) waving. Jesus is the most courageous, wise, radically free, kind, humble, loving, unselfish, patient, gentle, and strongest individual who ever walked on the planet … or ever will. There is not a close second. For just these reasons alone, he’s worthy of devotion … hell or not.
Hell, I love when you rant.
Thank you, Lynnea !!!
I love it when you rant, too!
well…my mom is in another country so I guess that helps me 🙂 And as far as the attic, what can I say? it is warmest place in the house so… can you blame me?
Joking aside, you bring up such a good point Randy. I wish more Christians would follow Jesus because of his teachings and the man that he was, rather than to stay out of hell. Great job on this article Randy!
It’s so great to hear from you! I’m so happy that you took the time to see my blog and share your kind thoughts. I hope you’re doing great.
Much love to you & yours!
Long time, my friend! Great article and thought provoking too. I know you from your core, not recently in your faded jeans and cool bike, but long ago when God was forming your heart and ministry. I saw then, and I can tell now, that the fire He placed in you is alive and burning – even with “Pass It On” coming the last night of the summer. Anyway, I’m proud to call you a friend, hell or no hell. I know He is grateful for your witness as well. I’m thankful for the chance to share life with you even if its through this invention of intergalactic communication (thanks Mr. Gore!).
Dan !!! How amazing to hear from you! Thank you for such kind and encouraging words.
I’m so glad you took few minutes to stop by and share your thoughts. I’ve seen your amazing
family (also thanks to Mr. Gore 🙂 ) via facebook, and I could not be more proud of the man and
the dad you’ve become. And yes, it was clear to me WAY back then that greatness awaited you.
Thank you for being my friend. I’m honored and blessed. Please come again soon!
Much love and gratitude to you and yours, my friend …
Thought provoking. Thanks.
It’s so great to hear from you! I hope you and Gene
are doing great out there on the left coast!
Thank you for the kind words, and come again soon!