This is a question I’ve been contemplating for years, and it was easy to say ‘yes’ at first. After all, the Bible said it, I believed it, that settled, at least for a while. But then, along the way, something happened: I began to wrestle with doubt; I let a few questions seep in; and, oddly, over time, my certainty was replaced by an assurance in the unknown.
I began to walk by faith rather than by text.
Scripture is wonderful for knowledge, for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But I don’t put my faith in just text. My faith is in God, and in the whispers and movement of the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe that faith, nor God, can be placed in boxes. They aren’t that small. They’re vast and limitless. They are oceans: deep and wide, wild and restless.
So, here I am today, re-examining the question once again: Do I believe in a literal hell?
Well…yes, yes I do.
But here’s the rub: what exactly do we mean when we say, “hell”?
Do I believe in “hell” as some fire and brimstone, eternal torture chamber?
No, not really.
Not anymore. Let me explain…
Could there be fire?
Could there be suffering?
And, might it be eternal?
Yes, but would God by necessity need to create any of this? For us? For humanity? I’m not sure, and I lean toward ‘no’.
You see, I don’t think we actually need God for that. Even more so, let’s take the spiritual aspect out of the equation for a second and just talk about us: I believe we’ve become very good at creating our own Hell, or Hells for that matter. Right here on Earth. Right now. We already have.
I know, I’ve been there…
Have you ever dealt with addiction?
Have you ever been the victim of abuse? Mental or physical?
Have you ever been the cause of abuse?
Have you ever suffered from repeated or on-going depression, or self-loathing?
And these are just examples from my own past.
Again, setting aside the spiritual aspect of any of this, what kind of environment, what kind of life, do we create for ourselves within any of these experiences? What kind of environment do we create for others?
Do words come to mind like safe? Calm? Or, peace?
How about words like toxic? Dangerous? Anger? Or, fear?
How about weeping? Or, gnashing of teeth?
This is right here, right now.
We don’t need to have a future spiritual realm created as a place of suffering or punishment: We don’t need to have a Hell created for us. We seem perfectly capable of creating our own Hell, or a Hell for others.
I know this is just a 30,000-foot flyover of just a few examples, but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m trying to say: We seem perfectly capable of creating Hell and then placing ourselves or the ones we love square in the midst of it. I’ve been there. Sometimes, again and again. I have an addiction to pornography. My Hell, and the one I create for my wife and family, happens to come in the form of a 5’7”, 120 lb., brunette named Malena. She’s beautiful, seductive, willing, and she’ll do anything I want, right there on my computer screen, any time I want.
But, she’s a lie.
Malena isn’t even her real name. That, too, is a lie.
She’s a lie. And she’s still Hell.
Whatever momentary pleasures I seek with this beauty will still wind me up in a world of shame, guilt, and self-loathing. Not to mention the shame, embarrassment, impossible standards and unrealistic expectations placed on my wife, and the (horrible) examples set for my kids.
A prison of my own making.
My own Hell–for me, and for them.
We don’t need to live in fear of a Hell waiting for us if we don’t live the right way, believe the right way, do this, don’t do that. Hell is right here, right now, and I can find myself right in the midst of it, and then place those I love right there with me.
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong…Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” –Romans 7:21,24-25, NLT
Believe it or not, Paul’s exclamation here is one of profound faith, and of hope.
Let’s bring the spiritual aspect back into the conversation and ask this: What happens once this “hope” is removed? What if the answer to Paul’s question of “who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” is…no one? What if there comes a time when there IS no escape from the Hell of our own creation?
Again, could there be fire?
Could there be suffering?
Might it be eternal?
And, if so, was any of it God created?
This is my understanding: We are not born sinners. God has not set us up to face an eternal torture chamber. God loves us too much for that. We have been created “very good” (Genesis 1:31) and we still are. We are not cursed, and we never have been. (Go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait…it’s not there.)
We live in a broken world, yes, but that does not mean that we are inherently broken. We can be, but we are not, through some curse, born that way. We can create our own Hells, yes, and we can create Hell for other people (which is what Jesus alludes to in Matthew 25:31-46), but there is something promised to us that is better, that is different, if only we would choose to think of it that way:
Jesus came saying “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
“Repent”–in the Greek the word is metanoia, which means “to turn or change your mind, to think differently.” Jesus asks us to think differently about our sins, about our self-created Hells. He asks us to think differently about ourselves, because the Kingdom of God has come. It’s not “out there”, someplace we will fly to “some glad day, when this life is o’er.” It is here, right here, right now. It is among us if only we would think differently about who we are, and who we were created to be.
You are not your addiction.
You are not your abuse.
You are not useless, a failure, a mistake, a piece of shit.
You are a beloved child of God!
You were created “very good”, and you still are!
Hear me on this: If you suffer from addiction, any addiction, please, seek help, seek accountability, seek to overcome. If you live in a toxic relationship, tell someone, get out, get away.
You are not alone.
You are not a mistake.
You are not worthless.
Think differently. Metanoia. Repent.
You are loved. You have value.
God created only one of you, and he did so for a reason. The reason is not addiction, it is not abuse, it is not Hell.
It is so much more: and that is Good News.