I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.
I have never written about hell. I have never delivered a sermon about it. I have never taught a single lesson on it. There are two reasons for this. The first is the obvious fact that I have never been there and don’t know much about it. The second is that there is a sense in which I don’t think it is very important. This is not to say I do not believe in it. I do. But I do not believe it is a place of literal fire and physical suffering, in fact I believe that it is absurd to believe this. But I do believe in hell as a place of separation from God.
This separation is self-imposed. Every person in hell is there by choice. “Who would choose to go to hell?” you might ask. The answer is to simply look around at those who are choosing to live there now. We all know people who refuse to acknowledge and accept the truth about who they are — who will not face their stubbornness, their anger, their pride, their general meanness and lack of compassion, etc. It is too painful to see the truth about themselves, so they choose to cover it up, certainly from others, but mostly from themselves. This keeps them locked in a state of perpetual falsehood.
That is how those who end up in hell have chosen it. Since God is truth and therefore dwells in eternal light, to cut one’s self off from truth is to cut one’s self off from God. When Jesus speaks of God separating the sheep from the goats, God is not deciding which is which but simply acknowledging, and honoring, reality.
This is why I reject the idea that anyone ends up in hell accidentally. It is not a matter of choosing the correct beliefs from an infinite number of possibilities, or being “in” with God somehow, or doing some kind of Jesus name-dropping (Mt. 7:21-23). Rather, it requires a continual and conscious rejection of what one knows to be the truth. God is in the truth business, and human beings will have to work pretty hard to avoid the truth and end up separated from him.
Which is why I don’t believe hell is very important. If one wants to avoid hell, all one need do is acknowledge and live according to the truth in the present moment. If one remains always open to truth, always seeking it, and always determined to live according to it, God will certainly reveal himself and indeed is already doing so, since truth in all its forms can be nothing but God. Where there is truth, there is God — certainly not all of God, but a part of God — and where there is falsehood, there God is absent.