So if you’ve been following this series you know that I’ve been reading a lot about Hell. Is Hell a thing or not? If it is, how do you get out of going there? I’ve read two books with vastly different takes on the matter: “Love Wins,” by Rob Bell and “Erasing Hell,” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. However, before I give you my particular verdict on eternal torment, I still have some questions that need to be answered, even after reading both of those extremely well thought out and researched books.
At what age are people in danger of going to Hell?
This refers to what is often called the “age of accountability” in Western Christianity. How old were you when you were first cognizant that what you were doing was a sin, but you decided to do it anyway? Most western denominations talk about some kind of an age where you are finally responsible for your own behavior, and thus in need of Salvation to avoid Hell. Many borrow the timing of the Jewish coming of age rituals and put it around 13. It is lower in others. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) puts the minimum age at 8.
This is part of the reason why many churches practice infant baptism. They have the belief that through baptism God’s grace will cover you until you reach the age of accountability. Churches that have descended from the Anabaptist perspective practice “believer’s baptism” where the person is not baptized until he or she has reached the age of accountability and can choose Salvation for themselves. Many of these denominations have mechanisms built into their theology to cover young children until they reach the age of accountability because, let’s face it, nobody is comfortable with the idea of a 10 year old who get’s hit by a drunk driver being sent to eternal torment. Of course some Calvinists would really just leave it up to God and hope that the ten year old was part of the “predestined elect.”
What about the mentally handicapped?
Modern psychology and medicine have taught us that there are people in this world who do not have the mental capacity to grasp what “choosing Salvation” even means let alone comprehend the consequences of making that choice or rejecting it. In times past some might look on the plight of these people and wonder what sin their parents committed to make them like that. Nowadays most serious people see these conditions for what they are.
So if they are unable to choose for themselves, what happens? Do they go to heaven or hell? From my reading I saw that again, most churches have built in a theological construct that says that people like this do not have the capacity to consciously sin, therefore they are not in peril of hell.
Unless you’re a hardcore Calvinist that believes that your entire nature at birth is corrupt, at which point hopefully the person is one of the “elect.”
What about those “untouched” tribes that live in a jungle somewhere?
This is one, that to his credit, Chan tackles in his book. He said he believes that God has other ways to reach these indigenous peoples with his grace. Some missionaries have arrived to talk to different tribes over the years only to find that someone in the tribe seems to have had some kind of vision of Jesus. This is not to be confused with the LDS belief that Jesus visited some tribal peoples in the Western Hemisphere after departing from his disciples. I’m not trying to be cantankerous, but I find no Biblical or archaeological evidence for that. Christ clearly states that “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The thing I liked about the way Chan dealt with it in his book is that he just kind of said, “I don’t know, so I trust them to the mercy of God.” He was uncomfortable with the question and didn’t have a good answer, and he was man enough to admit it. He did suggest that we should redouble our efforts to reach these people and depending on how you feel about overt evangelism, you may agree with that or not, but that’s for another day.
Can an all-loving God really send people to Hell for eternal torment?
The short answer to this question is yes. God is God and can do anything he pleases. I don’t generally like that answer, but I think it’s true and it’s something we should all wrestle with. I agree with Chan when he asserts that sometimes we in our “enlightened” western culture try to domesticate God. We want to try to fit him into our own moral system and when we do that we are basically recasting God in OUR image. That is idolatry.
God is God, and we are not. Sometimes I think we would do well to remember that.
So, as Chan and Sprinkle state, the question is not really “Can you believe in an all loving God that sends people to Hell,” but “Do you WANT TO BELIEVE in a God that is all loving yet still sends people to Hell?” Many of us don’t want to believe in that God. We don’t want to have to defend our faith in that God. We want to hide him in the back like a crazy, foul mouthed relative.
I feel like that sometimes. I feel like that a lot, but is that any way to treat the King of the Universe?
Now I’m not saying God sends people to Hell or for what reasons he might send people to Hell. I don’t get to sit in that judgment seat, but I recognize that he does. I have a hard time reconciling my firm belief that God is Love, but that Love could banish people to eternal torment.
But for this, for the other questions I listed above, and for a million other questions I could ask, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t anticipate being provided with the answers either, yet I know that there is value in wrestling with these questions, in studying these scriptures and these issues, and using them to be a springboard into deepening my relationship with my creator.
Maybe you wrestle with some of these, and others. I’d advise you to pray and be open to the leading of the Spirit, whichever way it takes you. Being honest with God is one of the first steps in building our relationship with him, and it’s my firm belief that he doesn’t mind being asked about these questions.