I know, I know….I promised I wouldn’t be writing about hell again…but it just keeps coming up in conversations.
So what if Grandma gets run over by a reindeer before she repents and puts her faith in Jesus? Now what?
I ask the question because I have seen this very thing play out in my own family.
My wife’s Grandma was much-loved. She was short, feisty, and a genuinely fun person to be around. I loved her as well. She always seemed to have a soft spot for me and I loved the fact that her secret ingredient for every dish she concocted, was bacon.
Spiritually speaking, Grandma had been raised in a non-religious home. She converted to Catholicism when she met her husband and was faithful to raise her children in communion with Rome. The rub came when her son, my Father-in-law, had a conversion experience to Evangelicalism and rejected his Catholicism. As far as he and the church we both attended were concerned, the Roman Catholic Church preached a false gospel. Some of our Bible teachers even suggested that the Catholic church was represented in the book of Revelation, described as the Harlot who rode the Beast. That’s right, not just a church with some problems…it was a church that was directly in league with Satan and the Anti-Christ.
Over the years, my wife’s parents would consistently share the Gospel with Grandma, trying to convince her that she needed to leave the Catholic Church. Grandma once commented that “If I hear them share John3:16 with me one more time, I’m going to scream! What do I have to do to convince them (my in-laws) that I believe in Christ?” So she believed in God, but she had no intent of leaving the Catholic church. To my in-laws and myself, this meant she probably was not a real Christian. Since no real Christian would remain in a false church, then her salvation was in question. At least, this is how we thought at the time….
As the years went by, the same frustrating spiritual conversations ensued, but she refused to repent of her Catholicism. She also began to experience the pain of old age. Her husband died of a heart attack while vacationing at the beach. She was now a widow and had to move to a small apartment, to be close to family. She began having small cancer patches appear on her skin. It got to the point where part of her ear and nose had to be removed. She was in pain because of the cancer, but it also caused her personal embarrassment. She would have to attach skin bandages and a nose patch so she could go in public, without looking abnormal from the scars left by cancer.
Eventually the cancer did what it does best, it stole Grandma’s life away from her and she died…..
It’s at this point that the whole idea of Hell becomes excruciatingly personal. To be consistent, those of us who were Evangelicals would have to conclude that Grandma died in a false church and was never a true Christian. Our theology told us that Grandma is currently being tortured in hell, and that with every passing moment, she will continue to be tortured for evermore-for eternity.
Eternal hell for the woman who gave life to my Father-in-law. Eternal hell for the woman who always sent a little money to the grand-kids, even when she didn’t have much money to spare. Eternal suffering for a woman who had by all accounts, been a decent human being to family and strangers alike.
It has been my experience, that in times like this, Evangelicals begin to seek out some sort of escape clause. The thought of our loved ones suffering forever haunts us, and we begin to say things like:
“You never know, maybe God chose to reveal himself in those last moments…he is a Merciful God.”
“I know she heard the truth, only God knows, but I believe that she must have known the Lord.”
Besides hoping for some last second reckoning for our now departed loved ones, many begin to seek out some sort of sign. Some indication from God, that their loved one is now in heaven and not in that other place.
For my wife’s family, this came in the form of sunshine. It had been raining all day at the memorial service and during the burial. Just as the casket was being lowered in the grave, some sunshine peaked through the clouds for a few moments. To some in my wife’s family, they took this as a sign from God. A sign that Grandma was now resting with Him in heaven.
To be fair, I have no desire to pick a fight with anyone who has lost their mom. But it seems a stretch, to say that a little burst of sunlight exempts a loved one from the plain teaching of scripture. This tendency to find an “out” for our loved ones seems right to me…after all who REALLY wants to see Grandma burn? But it doesn’t change the stark picture painted in the Bible, of the Eternal suffering that awaits unbelievers after they have died.
It’s the question I now ask believers. Can you really imagine an Eternity in which your dear old Grandma will suffer in Hell? I know I can’t…