Undoubtedly, you’re a smart person. And so I think you can understand the six good reasons it seemed ridiculous to me that God would send anyone to hell.
Hell Is a Very Unpopular Idea
Hell has always been an unpopular concept, and for obvious reasons. According to a recent survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 59 percent of Americans believe in hell. That’s six out of ten people, a slight majority in any room. And in 25 years of being a pastor, I would add that maybe three out of every 10 Christians I’ve met truly believe people who die without becoming Christians go to hell.
The fact that so few people believe in hell made me wonder if it was about as factual as the lost city of Atlantis.
The Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime
To the Brian of years ago, sending someone to hell for all eternity seemed tantamount to sending someone to death row for stealing a postage stamp. Enduring physical, emotional, and spiritual torture not just for a year, or ten years, or billions of years on end, but for all eternity—it just didn’t seem fair. Atheist William C. Easttom put it this way,
God says, “Do what you wish, but make the wrong choice and you will be tortured for eternity in hell.” That … would be akin to a man telling his girlfriend, do what you wish, but if you choose to leave me, I will track you down and blow your brains out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath and cry out for his imprisonment/execution. When God says the same we call him “loving” and build churches in his honor.
When I looked at it from this vantage point, I understood why Tertullian, a well-known pastor in the early church, wrote, “We get ourselves laughed at for proclaiming that God will one day judge the world.” In 1,800 years that sentiment hasn’t really changed.
Life is Hell Enough
The more I thought about the concept of eternal punishment, the more I kept thinking to myself, Don’t most people go through enough hell in one lifetime? Think about all the suﬀering people go through in this life. Hell just didn’t make any sense to me.
Hell Seems Intolerant and Hateful
One of the biggest things that weighed on me was how cruel and arrogant the concept of hell sounded when I talked about it with good friends of mine who weren’t Christians.
A friend once asked me, “How can you believe my great-grandparents who brutally suﬀered and died in the Holocaust won’t go to heaven just because they didn’t believe in Jesus? They were loving, God-fearing people.” I didn’t have a good answer, and the lack of an answer that sounded loving and moral troubled me immensely. Victor Hugo wrote, “Hell is an outrage on humanity. When you tell me that your deity made you in his image, I reply that he must have been very ugly.” I had to agree. What kind of God would send anyone to hell? I thought.
Respected Evangelical Scholars Reject the Idea of Hell
What troubled me even more was that everywhere I turned, noted Christian scholars conﬁrmed my inner struggle. For instance, evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock wrote,
I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine.… How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inﬂicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God.
Statements like this made sense to me. Knowing that highly educated people like Pinnock and others thought this way gave me more conﬁdence that it might be okay to veer away from my traditional Christian beliefs if I chose to do so.
I Like Being Liked
Finally, truth be told, the need to be liked was a real factor in my personal struggle. I hated the fact that I could have friendships with people, but if I stayed true to my Christian beliefs, I felt like I had to spend all my time and energy trying to convert them. I wanted to embrace them, cherish their uniqueness, understand their beliefs, and celebrate our diverse cultural and religious upbringings. I didn’t want to be thought of as the nutty, intolerant guy who was always trying to get people to admit that they were sinners in need of a Savior. I wanted to be the cool, relevant, and intelligent pastor people liked and wanted their friends to know.
Do you resonate with any of those objections to hell?
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