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May 17, 2008

Raising Hell

It is interesting to me that our religious dogma has devoted so much time to horrific descriptions of Hell. Have you ever noticed how often they bring the subject up and how detailed of a description they give each time? From childhood onward, I have heard how terrible and torturous and hot this place is. I've read stories about the millions of spiders and snakes that chew on your skin while you're screaming and begging for mercy. I've heard about the lake of fire that burns and burns and burns your skin for all eternity and I've listened to the preachers warn me about demons with big teeth and pitchforks whose job it is to stab and bite people forever and ever and ever. If that isn't bad enough, there's also the "re-growth of skin" factor that makes it even worse. Evidently, every morning in Hell, you awaken to discover that all the skin that the spiders chewed and the fire burned, has now returned, only to be chewed, stabbed and burned all over again. I think that would royally suck.

I remember being a little freaked out by a story my teacher read to my third grade class about an old woman who died in a car accident and her ghost showed up every now and then to visit the people who bought her home. When I told my parents how scared that story made me, they comforted me by explaining that there was no such thing as ghosts who visit people, and if the homeowners really did see an old woman, it was a demon from hell, posing as the woman and not really a ghost. Boy, was I relieved to find that out! I'm not sure what was more comforting about their explanation: the fact that ghosts didn't exist or the fact that because of their explanation, I ended up sleeping in their bed for the next 12 years. To this day, I can't look at a little old woman without wondering.

Growing up in church, I think I actually learned more about hell than I did heaven. We also spent a lot of time studying and talking about who was going to hell. By the third grade, I could walk into a room and point out the people who were most likely going there. Sometimes it made me sad thinking about it, but I kept reminding myself that Nazarenes go to heaven and that usually made me feel a little better. We didn't hang out with people that we suspected were going to hell. Sometimes, if the subject came up in conversation, we might tell them how to avoid going to hell, but for the most part, we just watched them from a distance while they were on their way to hell and then we'd talk about it later when they were not there.

I remember when someone told me how to get out of going to hell. It was my Sunday school teacher, when I was about seven years old. He explained about the chewing spiders, and the stabbing and burning and all. He even told us about the "skin re-growth" factor. He basically scared the hell out of us. Then he told us that Jesus died for us and if we ask Him into our hearts, we don't have to go to hell. I wasn't sure who Jesus was, but it wasn't hard to arrive at that decision. Who wouldn't choose to do that if it was gonna save them from the spiders and demons? As far as I was concerned, Jesus could have been Charles Manson or the grinch who stole Christmas. I didn't care. If He could keep me out of hell, I was going to believe in Him with all my heart.

I was about 12 when I really found out for the first time how important believing in hell was to the church. I had heard them talk about it every Sunday, but this was the first time I heard them defend it. There was a man who said he was a Christian. He told some people that he didn't believe there was a hell. All the adults were really upset and I remember hearing one of them warning the guy that his unbelief in hell was "very dangerous." I never saw that guy again. I later heard that he was asked to leave because he didn't believe. Someone explained to me that he wasn't really a Christian because he didn't believe in hell. I made sure to believe in hell from that day on.

Our preacher explained one Sunday that if we sin and then die right after, before getting a chance to ask God's forgiveness, we would go to hell. He also told us that if we didn't forgive EVERYONE, we'd be going to hell. There were a bunch of other things that would send us to hell as well, like not putting money in the offering, skipping church, not obeying the pastor and stuff like that. Pretty soon everything became about whether or not we would go to hell or heaven when we died.

I have found in life, that when you believe something about something, you'll translate everything in accordance with that something you believe. I have come to the conclusion that Christianity today has become a religion about nothing more than escaping hell. The reason why I think this, is because someone somewhere, a very long time ago, decided to spend a lot of time building up the terribleness and awfulness of hell for the purpose of manipulating and controlling the people so they would do what they were told. Unfortunately, because of this certain someone who did this, today we live in a Christian world where every Bible verse, every parable, every word from the mouth of Jesus, Paul, John, Peter or anyone else is read and translated through our morbid fear of hell. Because the subject is so looming we subconsciously see the threat of hell behind every rock and bushel scripture.

The farmer-scattering-seed parable suddenly takes on an entirely different meaning when you read it with hell on the brain. That parable can even make you think that you could receive salvation and then lose it again. In fact, some denominations actually cite that parable as Biblical proof that we can lose our salvation. Then there's the parable of the talents. When you approach that story with hell on the brain, it's proof-positive that salvation is by works and not faith. Perception is EVERYTHING. Every verse throughout the New Testament has been re-translated by our generation's hellish perspective of Christianity. As a former Pastor, I was astonished at how often people would ask, "Can I do this or that and still go to heaven?" It's as though their reason for being a Christian is nothing more than fire insurance. I can't say I blame them. it's just sad. 

Truthfully, I am staggered by how persistently people will argue for their possible inclusion in hell. The moment subjects like Eternal Security are brought up, they machine-gun off 20 or 30 sick, sinful scenarios in which they could die and still end up in hell. I find this line of reasoning to be twisted and perverse. It's as though people want to know that even though they're a Christian; they could still end up in hell. Assurance that hell will never be in their future is downright scary to them. It makes them uncomfortable. They've been born into hell-fearing captivity, and they've not only gotten used to it, but they've learned to rely on it.

If not for the fear of hell, I think most Christians would fall off the deep end and go out and ‘paint the town red.' I've found that having the stench of hell breathing down the backs of Christians has become an addiction of sorts. Many have even learned to thrive under those circumstances. I've watched hundreds of Christians tremble in fear at the thought of losing the threat of hell. They've come to a point where they actually need it in order to live a pure life. In a perverted and foul way, it comforts and soothes them. Their fear of it is what keeps them walking a straight line. If the threat of hell were ever stripped from their theology, there's no telling what they might do. They're like the abused housewife whose husband has told her that if she ever attempts to leave him, he'll hunt her down and kill her. Oddly, these Christians find comfort and security in not having a choice.

The concept of freedom and security gets turned upside down in their minds and they begin to view these beautiful gifts from God as unsafe and spiritually hazardous. Many of us were sold Christianity through the fear of hell. The "Turn or Burn" bumper stickers presented us with an offer we couldn't refuse. If the very thing that closed the deal to our becoming a Christian were taken away, what would we do? Could we even trust ourselves? The problem with using fear as a fuel source for Christians is that it wears out over time and a bigger dose is needed for it to be effective. Eventually it won't even get our spiritual engines started.

I honestly think that waving hell in front of Christians is an idea that people conceived by those who don't believe God is real. I'm astounded at how often Christians look for sources of motivation for themselves and others, but they never stop to think that they could actually know God personally and be fueled by a mutual relationship with Him. This is also why we start "discipleship ministries" where we try to "disciple" people in their Christian walk. We simply don't believe that there is a Jesus Christ who could do it Himself. It's why we preach to people about how they need a "covering" in ministry. When someone responds to that by saying, "God is my covering," they're almost always rebuffed with a list of spiritually puffed-up clichés that have nothing to do with the truth. All of these things come about in our teachings because we honestly don't believe relationship with God is possible.

If your religion had no hell
Would you have a religion to sell?

A friend of mine told me about a woman who walked through a town holding a bucket of water and a torch. When people asked her why, she said, "The water is to put out the fires of hell and the torch is to burn up heaven so that people will not love God from either their fear of hell or their lust for heaven." This is the primary problem with our modern- day glorification of hell. We've made it SO BAD that people run to God for the sole purpose of saving their own flesh. It's like me asking a girl to dance with my buddy and whispering in her ear that if she refuses him; I'll pour gasoline on her and light her on fire out in the parking lot. She may dance with him, but he will never have her heart.

What if we were to find out that there was no hell for people to go to? Would our religion survive? How would we convince people to come to God? What would be the selling point? Would evangelists still be "fired up" to win souls for God if there were no hell? Sadly, when I ask Christians why they're a Christian, I almost always get the same answer: They were escaping hell. In fact, we even refer to ourselves as "saved." 

I believe that many Christians would leave their faith if they found out hell didn't exist. After all, hell and demons and strongholds have provided so much excitement for Christianity over the years. What good would "spiritual warfare" be if there were no demons to rebuke and fight off all the time? What would "prayer warriors" do to find stimulation? The battle between good and evil has been finished over 2000 years, yet we purposefully keep it alive because it's a ticket-seller. The same is true for the Devil. If Christians were to actually believe that Satan was defeated by the Cross, they might actually be let down. Their Christian walk might not be as adventurous as it was with the Devil chasing them around.

I can recall several years ago hearing about a book called "A Revelation of Hell." It was one of the most popular books being read BY PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH!!!! Consider the irony of that. The truth is, some Churches can't afford to not have a hell in their teachings. Christianity would be boring as hell without it. Church attendance would drop off about 80%. Giving would decrease by 90%. Deliverance ministries would have to stop and listen to what's on the hearts of people and walk side-by-side with them as they change their pattern of living. I personally know hundreds of Christians who are more excited about their "authority" over demons than they are about the Holy Spirit giving them self control. When a Christian today says he saw a demon, everyone gets excited and interested, and wants to hear the story. When a Christian claims to have seen an Angel, he is accused of being "New Age" and his friends usually don't believe him. When a Christian is delivering a power prayer in front of the congregation and he confronts Satan and his demons, you can hear the excitement of the crowd explode. If that same Pastor talks about Jesus and his angels you're lucky if you get a few soothing amens in response. 

I think, for the most part, we keep hell at the forefront of our teachings because it's a nice place to have when you don't love. It's just nice to know that some people are going there. It wouldn't be fair if certain people got to go to heaven. Years ago, I was preaching to a group of Pastors and I posed the question, "What if every one of us died right now and went to heaven, only to find Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, homosexuals, drug addicts and criminals there?" Almost every pastor in the (packed-out) room agreed that they would be angry. It's one thing when we have information that leads us to believe that certain people might not make it to heaven, but it's quite another when we WANT them to go to hell. This is precisely the problem with modern-day Christianity. We WANT a hell. We want people to go there.

As a Christian, you have nothing to do with hell. You don't need to study it, talk about it, meditate on it, or read books about it. It's a place you will never even visit. You will never go to hell!!! You belong to God forever. You are His sons and daughters. Even if you sin a thousand times in a row and then die in a car accident, you're going to your Father in heaven. Don't ever worry about whether or not you're going to heaven. You have ownership in heaven. It's partly yours already.

It is essential that we wipe our present-day view of hell from our minds. Relationship is impossible when hell is the first thing on our mind. God wants you to know that you're safe forever. He wants you to love Him for Him, not because it's what you have to do in order to save yourself from burning in hell. I believe that until we understand that hell is never an option for us, we will never open our hearts to really knowing the heart of

 


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Comments

  1. Gravatar
    amy

    Darin, thank you very much for this blog and addressing the "spritual warfare" issues.
    1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us to "self controlled and alert, because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him and stand firm in the faith..."

    An entire "spiritual warfare" fanatacism has swept the evangelical IC apparently based on these verses. What you say here makes sense in my heart - we spend an awful lot of time fighting the devil since Christ already defeated him.

    But, how then are we to apply the 1 Peter verses?

    Thanks!
    Amy

  2. Gravatar
    Michelle Backus

    I can definitely relate with this blog. Glad someone decided to communicate the things that a lot of believers have had to endure in their lives by the "heaven/hell" mentality. It is a form of control and keeps us from experiencing the true freedom of what God has for us.

  3. Gravatar
    Paul

    What did Jesus talk about, was it Hell or was it Gehenna and Hades? Are they one in the same? No. And so why do some translations substitute the same word for both places? The penalty for sin is Death, not eternal torture. And Jesus defeats Death once and for all according to the bible. The bible tells us that God's will overrides man's, that He works all things for His plans, even the wicked in Proverbs 16. Take a step back and see God's will being done in everything in this world and His plan is not to destroy but to make us alive and righteous through Jesus, according to scripture. Jesus does it all, we have always been doing God's will, so sit back and relax.

  4. Gravatar
    Mike Ege

    Wow! You write well, and you actually had something to say. Well done. I agree, and then a little more. I actually have gone one step further and begun to question the whold doctrine of hell - how real it is to the original text and how much is a creation of the church to control people with fear. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Gravatar
    Karen (So Cal)

    Thanks for bringing up the subject Darin. Hell has always been a biggie for me. I've recently concluded after a long journey of searhing and seeking, that The Father will restore all people to Himself at some point. There are just too many hints,inferences and direct texts that speak to this. I also concur with what Paul mentions about the translation of the word hell...that's a big problem.

  6. Gravatar
    Mark

    This is an issue the church has so confused it is scary. Great analysis.

  7. Gravatar
    Gary

    Thank you for having the courage to address this issue. The "accept Jesus or else" presentation is not really a "choice" at all. Who would or who CAN "choose" Jesus if eternal suffering is the only other option? Is that really a "choice?" I am reminded of the reporters who were kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Iraq several years ago being forced to "convert" to Islam with a knife to their throats. Just replace that knife with "eternal Hell" and you have the typical "gospel invitation" presented by modern evangelicals & fundamentalists.

  8. Gravatar
    cheryl

    i do not think that you can discount spiritual warfare. there are many references in scripture to it. why else would we be told to put on the full armor of God? That does include the sword which is not just an ornament. it has to be used. I am not making an argument so much as speaking from recent personal experience.

  9. Gravatar
    Brent

    "What if every one of us died right now and went to heaven, only to find Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, homosexuals, drug addicts and criminals there?"

    That would be awesome! That Jesus has the power to save all those people! Why are we unhappy when sinners are saved? Because we're the prodigal son's bitter older brother. Sad but true.

  10. Gravatar
    Teri

    Great!!! My brother lost his church because he began to teach hell differently like maybe God was going to bring all men and women to Himself (good news) rather than put them in eternal hell because Christ's work wasn't enough!!!(bad news) I think that the church just accepts everything down through the ages and doesn't really study it out for themselves. We think that if we don't use fear that people won't come to Christ. Here is a good way to witness: Guess what? Your sins have been forgiven!!! Now that is good news....

  11. Gravatar
    jenny

    I fully understand what you are saying. Can you then put the times Jesus talked about hell into another context? (eg rich man and Lazarus, Matt 5:22 Mark 9:43-48)Do you believe everyone is saved? I do believe we cannot point to a given person and say where they stand with God - we are not God and we are not in their shoes. But not everyone chooses relationship with Him (eg maybe pharasees in Jesus' day)?

  12. Gravatar
    Debbie

    You can sin a thousand times in a row and still go to heaven? Really? Somebody ought to tell John that.

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