Since my mother passed away a little more than a month ago, I have been doing a lot of soul searching regarding life, death and everything. This has been a time of putting everything on the table and taking nothing for granted, but questioning all of my previously held dogmatic beliefs. The biblical concept of hell was the first to come under the microscope.
(WARNING: WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SAY MAY SHOCK SOME OF MY CHRISTIAN FRIENDS. PLEASE RESERVE JUDGMENT UNTIL YOU GET TO THE END)
Some may think I’m questioning hell because my mother died as an unbeliever. Such is not the case. My mother had confessed Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, so according to Christian dogma, she is with the Lord as we speak. No it’s not my mother’s death in particular that got me thinking, but death in general. Come with me as I do a little thought experiment.
There are just under 7 billion people in the world today. Of that number, 2.2 billion are considered to be Christian (roughly 31%). That means 4.8 billion (or 69%) are summarily doomed to hell because they’re not Christian. Of the number of Christians in the world today, 1.2 billion are Roman Catholic, 670 million are Protestant, 230 million are Eastern Orthodox, and the rest are various other denominations. Now since this is my thought experiment and I’m a Protestant, let’s just say that the Protestants have the monopoly on correct theology. That means only 30% of the Christians (and only about 9% of the world’s population) are really going to heaven; the rest are going to hell. Now as Christians we know that there are true Christians and those who are nominally Christian. Let’s be generous and say that half the Protestants are true Christians and the rest are nominal. So now we only have about 335 million people alive today (4.7% of the population) who would go to heaven when they died. The rest of the 95.3% of the population would be destined to hell.
Even in the best possible scenario, all 2.2 billion Christians are going to heaven regardless of their irreconcilable theological differences, that still leaves the vast majority of the world’s population going to hell. Humanly speaking, this is a dismal situation. Now the serious bible student would say that we shouldn’t look at this situation humanly speaking. The creation exists to glorify God, not man. God is glorified by the display of all his attributes, including his wrath and judgment. The wicked suffering eternal punishment in hell bring glory to God just as the salvation of the righteous.
Having said that does it make sense or does it seem reasonable that God is glorified in the eternal punishment of at best 70% of the world’s population and at worst 95.3% of the world’s population? Yes, God is God and we are not. God is perfectly free to do with his creation as he wishes. Yet I ask again, is it reasonable to assert that God is glorified by the eternal punishment of the vast majority of people who have lived, are living and will ever live? A month ago, I would have answered “yes.” Now I’m not so sure.
Some may tell me that as a Christian, I am obligated to submit my feelings and speculations to the inerrant and infallible word of God. True! Romans 12:2 says that we must not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and that is done by the world of God. I believed, and still believe, that the bible clearly teaches that the wicked will be eternally judged in hell for their sin and rebellion against God. I have debated this point, I have defended this point, and I have written on this point. I believe it to be true. Despite all of this, I keep going back to those numbers.
Now I know most of the classic responses to the problem of hell and eternal judgment. Critics will say that hell is incompatible with God’s love and mercy, and I know how to respond to those critiques from the bible. However, while those responses are completely reasonable given the premise that the bible is the infallible word of God, they are not really satisfying emotionally speaking. The last thing you want to present to a person who is wondering about the eternal state of a dead loved one is that God is completely justified in judging unrepentant sinners in hell for all eternity. Yet biblically, speaking, anything else would be a lie! The last thing I would want to do is try to twist the clear words of the bible to say something I believe it doesn’t say. But these emotions I’m feeling and those staggering numbers won’t go away. How can God be glorified by the condemnation of the majority of people made in his image?
My feelings of what is just, moral and good are in conflict with the word of God. Where does that leave me? Again, I know what some of my Christian friends would tell me (or at least what I would tell me). Me feeling this way is just a residual of my sin nature and that I need to exercise my faith in God and Christ and the word he has infallibly inspired. These things are the truth and I must renew my mind. On the other hand, what if my conflict is the result of a faulty premise in my thinking — namely, the bible being the infallible word of God? What if, just what if, the bible is not the infallible word of God? I recognize that it’s approaching blasphemy to even consider that thought, but everything is open to question now; including my belief in the bible being the infallible word of God. Trust me, I don’t say these things lightly!
If the basis for the concept of hell is the bible and the bible is not the infallible word of God, but merely just the word of men, then the biblical concept of hell is just the word of men. Does this mean I just embrace universalism and we all live happily ever after? No, not quite. What it does mean is I am left to discover what does make sense to me regarding life, death and the afterlife. Furthermore, it means we just really don’t know what happens to us after we die.
Believe me, I know the implications of what it means to call the bible’s infallibility into question. I will deal with this topic in a future post when I’m ready. I know what I just said will shock many people. Some of you may decide to no longer associate with me. Others of you may think I’m being overcome with my emotions and just need to have faith. Some others may dismiss me as being apostate because I called the authority of the bible into question. Finally, the rest of you may sympathize or empathize with me and what I’m going through. Understand this: I’m just a guy trying to make sense of the world and my experiences, and right now, an infallible bible that teaches all of the things it teaches (including eternal hell) doesn’t make as much sense as it once did. I still believe that the glory of God is the purpose behind creation and that we should live to the glory of God, but I just don’t think that 70% or 95.3% of the world’s population suffering in hell serves either of those purposes.
Libertas Aut Mors!