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Since the release of Rob Bell’s latest book, there has been a lot of talk about hell. Francis Chan is in on it. The Southern Baptist Convention is in on it. Some guy I don’t know is in on it.
Honestly, it’s not a topic I’ve spent a lot of time studying. I have no idea who is right in this case. I’m only on the very beginning of reading through some of these things. But even in my very brief study, I do have some questions that won’t go away. Not exactly questions about hell, but questions about hell speaks about the nature of God.
Whenever this discussion comes up it’s hard for me to understand how we talk about it without putting it in human terms. Most of us are appalled when we hear about stories of torture of any kind, particularly prolonged torture. It cuts at the very nature of us to think that someone is experiencing agony. Even if they are bad by every metric we have available, torture is almost universally met with disgust and loathing.
And yet when it comes to God, we seem to have no problem assuming that this is how he operates.
He condemns people that we work with, that we go to little league games with, who ring up our groceries, who may even attend our church to an eternal torture. And we are to believe that this is good and just. Despite nearly all of us agreeing that torture in this life is reprehensible, we are to believe that eternal torture is just.
And how do we know that it is just? We simply say that his ways are not like our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
Here is where it gets tricky for me. Why is it that when it comes to eternity, his ways are significantly shittier than our ways?
As a parent, I get that just does not always mean fun or happy. I get that we might not see the full picture. But I also know that my kids have a pretty good head on them and they know when a punishment is just and when it’s just me acting out in an angry, mean way. They may not always like justice, but they know what justice is.
I feel like part of being made in the image of God is that we have an ability to see that which is good. The Scripture tells us that even in our evil ways, we still know how to give our children good gifts. We have the capacity for creation, for generosity, for love. Folks frequently point to our inherent ability to know right from wrong as a proof of God. And yet we all too often simply abandon our gut instinct about the goodness or justice of Anne Frank sharing the same eternity of torture with Adolf Hitler.
Over at Rachel Held Evans’s blog last week, KatR commented, “I hope when I get to the end of my life I will find that God is not the a-hole that so many Christians insist that he is.”
I hope the same thing.
How do you reconcile the idea of justice with the idea of eternal torture for temporal wrong-doing? Do we have any way of understanding God’s ways?