Everyone seems interested in Hell at the moment. Having to watch Charlie Sheen endlessly this week has certainly put us all through a bit of it.
It's fascinating to watch as Christianity's most abhorred doctrine has lit up the social network and sparked veritable wars in the blogosphere. People are sparring over the strangest kind of theology so passionately that you'd think people actually still care about spiritual things in modern America.
The truth is that they do, and this debate is evidence of it. It makes plenty of sense that people would be interested in Hell. The stakes are, after all, pretty high for all of us.
This isn't a conversation about whether you like your religion cerebral or celebratory, or whether you think Jesus would have voted for Barack Obama (or not). This is a conversation about whether you're going to be incinerated by God. This isn't religion for the faint of heart - no Deepak Chopra here.
I happen to be one of those who think God will eventually incinerate some people, and I'm sure you'd expect that from someone from Liberty University, but before I fall prey to your prejudice, let me explain who I am and my position.
I'm a young, twenty-something Christian.
I pretty well fit the external mold of this mysterious new ilk of "young evangelicals." I wear skinny jeans when I preach in a service that seems to some like a rock show. I sometimes work very hard at making my messy hairdo look like I did absolutely nothing to it, and a lot of folks think I don't care about the "gospel" because I also care about fatherless children in our inner cities and poor babies with bloated bellies in Africa and the abuse of women through sex slavery around the world. Neither the right-wingers nor the left-wingers quite know what to do with evangelicals like me.
I don't look the part of a harbinger for truth with a capital "T."
I'm happy, not angry, when I talk about Jesus or "truth."
I'm totally, obsessively pro-life but I don't like to use the word "murder" to describe abortion because I'm concerned about how that makes the young women I've met feel after they realize their mistake.
I believe in absolute truth but I don't wield it like a sword, because I know that I have a hard time following truth sometimes and I'm, like you, always a hypocrite in transition.
I believe preachers ought to be prophets to culture, but I'm the type of prophet that's more apt to "whisper" truth in a tender way than scream it from the mountaintops lest my voice crowd out the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus is the only way to heaven, but I've had really wonderful, delightful conversations with Hindus and Buddhists in the Himalayan hometown of the Dalai Lama and in India's enshrined city of Varanasi. In fact, I prefer the generosity and hospitality of Muslims over many stuffy, reclusive evangelicals I've met, and I actually think that Jesus was a pretty nice guy who'd like us to follow Him and His example of loving others rather than erecting barrier after barrier of disagreement that divide us from Him. We sometimes call those barriers, religion. After all, as we were reminded in a recent popular book, those who follow Jesus "come from every system that exists."
I also believe that every person who doesn't trust in Jesus is going to Hell.
I'm not happy about that.
In fact, that realization is what motivates me everyday.
But it's my only option. I believe in Jesus. I trust what he said, and he spoke as much about the subject of hell as almost any other. Matthew, the former Roman IRS agent who converted to Jesus, recalled one particular moment when Jesus said, "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." (Matthew 10:28)
This is why I spend so much of my time writing, teaching, and travelling around the world making sure that people have the chance to know the grace of a God whose death and resurrection has built a bridge from death to life. It the Apostle Paul who jested to King Agrippa, "Why should any of you think it incredible that God raises the dead?"
For me, it would be intellectual, spiritual cruelty for me to believe otherwise.
If you don't believe in Hell please understand, as an orthodox, evangelical that I'm not angry with you. I'm concerned about you, and like C. S. Lewis, the brilliant scholar and apologist, I believe that the gate to hell is locked from the inside, not from the outside.
I would do almost anything to get you to believe. I don't speak about hell because I'm mean and angry. I speak about it because I'm concerned for people, deeply, deeply concerned.
And here's what's even stranger ... if I'm wrong, it's ok by me. At least I've poured my life out for the good of others and I'll either way enjoy God's grace. And isn't that what Pascal suggested we should wager?
It's belief or damnation. That's an awfully big gamble.