Part 4 (maybe the last for a while) on the topic of Hell
So now you’ve seen how I was introduced to the wonders of hell and the havoc it wreaked on my 8 year old mind….I actually didn’t think much about hell after that summer. I guess when you feel it’s not your problem, then you don’t worry about it. But there are 2 other times from my former Christian life in which Hell does stick out.
My first memory is from college….I had just spent a week at Daytona Beach, FL for spring break. It was a total college freak out scene….lots of students on the beach partying, live MTV concerts, thousands of people just lining the streets. But I was there for spiritual reasons….meaning that I was there with Campus Crusade to hit the streets and share the 4 spiritual laws with anyone not drunk enough to listen. After returning from Daytona, I was on a bit of a spiritual high….I felt great kinship with the other folks I had traveled with and hit the streets with to share the gospel. I had also spent a week consuming the Crusade Kool Aid from none other than Josh McDowell….the Christian Apologetics rock star of that time.
So I was pumped, primed, and ready to whip out my 4 spiritual laws to the first person I encountered….
Which, unfortunately for him, was a fellow music student. He was one of your long haired, totally mellow types, who was too polite to not let me share the 4 Spiritual laws with him. He patiently listened as I presented my Amway inspired booklet of the good news….but when I was done he asked me question with a disgusted tone ,which was uncharacteristic for such a mellow dude. He looked, and sounded like he was choking or gasping as he said “You mean, if I don’t believe this stuff, God’s gonna send me to Hell!? ” His intensity surprised me, but being the faithful Christian I was, I sheepishly informed him that the Bible teaches exactly that-you will go to hell if you do not accept God’s gift of salvation. He was really put off by this response, and he quickly got up and left the couch where we had been chatting…I didn’t pity him or anything, I just didn’t understand why he was so offended by the thought of hell.
My second memory is from one of my children when they were 8 years old….
It was dinner time, the sun was bright and shining into our kitchen as we ate….and my 8 year old piped up that a friend of his had been talking about God and the Devil. He then went on to tell us that he believed in God (whew!) but that he was quite sure that there was no such thing as a devil (uh-oh…liberal Christian). So faced with major heretical doctrine within my own family, I gently disagreed and told him that no, the Bible tells us that the Devil and Hell were quite real.
He seemed genuinely surprised and began to question me about these new truths to his ears. He asked me what Hell was and what it was for? I wasn’t sure how to answer, so I decided to tell him about the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus that Jesus taught. You know, the one where a poor beggar named Lazarus begs at the gate of a rich man every day, but the rich man does nothing to assist Lazarus. Somehow, they both die around the same time and Lazarus goes to heaven and the Rich man goes straight to hell, because he did nothing to help those in need, even though he had the means. At some point, the rich man begs Father Abraham to send Lazarus over to him to put even a drop of water to relieve the fiery anguish he’s experiencing, but Abraham says he couldn’t do that-even if he wanted to….and so the story ends there.
At this point, my son was intent on listening, but didn’t seem too phased by this truth of hell. He replied by saying that ok, maybe hell is real, but God is going to let the rich man out eventually. I mean, in his mind, hell sounded like a bigger version of time out. But every kid knows a good loving parent doesn’t punish you forever. You commit your crime, you do your time, and then your back to the local culdesac to skateboard or whatever else the kids do these days to have fun. But “no” I said, “God will not ever let him out…that’s how hell works”.
It was right after my telling him that Hell is forever, and that God punishes people forever, that he burst into a huge uncontrolled sob…I mean, snot nosed crying. I wasn’t sure what to do, on the one hand, I was just trying to teach my son “sound doctrine”, but his reaction so shocked me and shook me, that I began to realize just how dreadful the thought of Hell really is.
I wish I could say, it was at this point that I really took the time to think critically and examine the contradictory claims of a Loving Father-God punishing people with Eternal Torture….I didn’t until after I lost my faith….but I did begin to realize that faith is not always a comfort to one’s soul. Sometimes, it’s a hell of a burden to carry.