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Why the Hell Do You Need Hell?

This last weekend, I was thrilled to finally see Rob Bell in person to give his Introduction to Joy talk, and it was absolutely phenomenal. 10/10, would definitely see again.

What was less than phenomenal was skating around tell my Christian friends that I was going to see him.

If you’re not familiar with Rob Bell, he was a HUGE Christian icon in the mid- to late-00s, and all that shattered almost overnight with the publication of his book Love Wins. A highly misunderstood book, the general — and incorrect — takeaway from most people was that Rob Bell doesn’t believe in hell. And literally, I kid you not, Rob Bell went from the top of the most beloved Christian people list to the bottom in a heartbeat. I grew up with this guy in youth group, and ever since the release of that book in 2011, he’s been absolutely shunned. His name is as taboo as Adolph Hitler’s is in many evangelical churches. (I seriously wish I was joking about that.)

I’m not going to go into why Love Wins is misunderstood, but let’s say for argument’s sake that the premise is indeed that hell isn’t real. Why is that something we get upset about?? I mean, come on! We truly want people to go to hell? We are okay with conscious eternal torment??

Let’s do an experiment. Pull out a journal. I want you to think of the person you dislike most, and I want you to write out every single bad thing you wish would happen to that person. For reals, do it. I can wait…

…okay, done?

Now tell me, did that exercise make you feel better? Or did it only make you feel guilty?

I’m going to guess you feel dirty for writing those things down. True story, I know somebody very well who doesn’t get along with most people, especially those one woman who really screwed this person over several years back. This person thought it would make them feel better to write this woman a letter telling her how horrible of a person she was, and for as angry and vengeful as this person was, these were exact words after sending that letter:

“I thought it would make me feel better, but it didn’t.”

I’ve never known anybody to find true happiness in revenge, and I think it sort of makes sense at a cellular level. Revenge perpetuates the separation between us, and the whole cosmos is literally energy that moves together. Atoms make up molecules, molecules make up cells, and cells make up human beings. I’d say that while we don’t really understand it yet, we as human beings all make up a singular idea called “love.”

When we force a rift between this person and that person, we don’t feel at peace. We don’t feel at rest. Instead, we feel sad, lonely, empty, guilty, and dirty. And so this idea of hell is stating that not only are we okay with basic separation, but we’re okay with an eternal cosmic torment. Which… well, I used to really love Pokemon cards. (Did you see that coming?) That was when I was 10 years old, and I’m now 30. So in 20 short years, I’ve grown highly indifferent to Pokémon cards. Moreover, I used to really hate several people in high school just 12 years ago, and now I am totally indifferent to that and genuinely hope they are doing well. Why would I not want them to do well?

12 years. 30 years. What’s that compared to a century? A millennia? A billion years?

Even compared to eternity, a billion years is nothing. There’s an old anecdote that describes thinking about eternity this way: think about a single bird with a silk scarf in its mouth. Every 100 years, the bird flies by a mountain and brushes up against it with that scarf. For how long it takes the bird to wear away the mountain completely, that’s how long eternity is.

Put that way, eternity is a really freaking long time!

Even the Bible recognizes the fleeting nature of this life.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. — James 4:14

Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. — Psalm 144:4

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! — Psalm 39:4

He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again. — Psalm 78:39

For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. — 1 Chronicles 29:15

Need I go on? Because there were plenty more verses where those came from. Heck, go read the whole book of Ecclesiastes.

On an eternal timescale, hell definitely loses its satisfaction. And if you’re thinking this means I don’t value justice at all, that’s not at all the case. I’ve written about this at length in another post. But speaking simply of this theological idea that we need hell to support our religion… it’s sad to me.

And frankly, I’d question how you truly feel about your faith if you really need to cling to this mentality. We talk all the time about how we want to be like Jesus and how loving of a person Jesus is. Well… if you NEED hell, then how loving can you truly be? Moreover, how “unconditionally loving” could Jesus have been if he was cool with the idea of hell? I don’t know about you, but “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior” sounds like a pretty big condition to me, even if it’s not one that’s difficult to satisfy.

Even if hell is real, it’s just not a helpful concept for anybody. Scaring people into loving Jesus isn’t love. Believing hell keeps people living morally is also a total misnomer. (Believe me — I know plenty of non-Christian people who are more ethical than many Christian people.)

And it seriously bums me out that more people won’t have anything to do with Rob Bell anymore because of this.

So friends, I want you to seriously ask yourself this question: why the hell do you need hell? Is it bringing you fulfillment? Is it bringing you joy? Does it make you a more loving person?

Because you know in your heart of hearts that it isn’t.

Written by

Machine learning engineer by day, spiritual explorer by night.

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