Several weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me an article called, “Who’s in Hell? Pastor’s Book Sparks Eternal Debate.” I read it, groaned, and thought to myself, “I don’t have a ready answer to this…I’ll get to it later.” The article is in reference to a book by Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LIved, which I haven’t read.
You see, I do not believe in the literal biblical descriptions of hell, for example, as a place “where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.” I see such descriptions as symbols of a spiritual death. Nor do I think as I’ve heard (within the last five years) three “progressive” Methodist ministers state, in one form or another: “it doesn’t matter what you do because God is love.” In other words, universal forgiveness overrides any notion of a God of justice—so Hitler and Mother Teresa are now friends. (Talk about groaning!)
A recent New York Times article by Ross Douthat, A Case for Hell, suggests that:
Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human.
Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.
In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.
Or, as C. S. Lewis said,
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” (The Great Divorce)