for release January 5, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Will Good People Suffer in Hell?
The concept of hell is a tough issue for many people, a stumbling block to faith for millions. People say, "I just can't believe in God if God allows innocent and good people to suffer forever in hell, whatever it is." Some persons of faith skirt the issue feeling that they'd rather not think about it since it is problematic. Even though this is a risky topic I intend to show that sometimes firm positions, believing in some moral absolutes, can bring immense comfort. Before you dismiss this as just the ranting of a religious nut, in the end I'll offer some comfort for those who have trouble believing in eternal fire and brimstone.
All major religions have some concept of hell or punishment: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism. Even older religions had some kind of concept where there was a three-tiered cosmos-the heavens, the earth and then the region below earth-commonly thought of as hell. Hell doesn't make any logical kind of sense when you start trying to decide if good decent Hindu grandmothers are there along with Hitler, wrote one correspondent on an e-mail discussion list recently. "But without the concept of hell or some eternal punishment, we wouldn't have much of a religion." He surprised me because I knew of his years spent wandering far from any faith and usually offering viewpoints that are sometimes labeled "liberal."
But if you think about it very long, if we believe God created us with free choice, we must have consequences of choice. Without consequences (and I wrote about that recently in regard to strong willed toddlers!), the world becomes really random. A very logical thinker at our church put it this way: If you stop to think about it, there has to be some predictability to the universe, or else our actions become meaningless.
Mark Roth, in response to Christian people saying they couldn't believe in hell wrote: "Is hell the default and eternal choice of those whose 'brass,' temporal values, and lack of long-range vision led them to disregard Jesus during so short a period as time? Isn't it foolish to be selfish and disobedient during this finite speck of time when the consequences are so infinite and eternal? How dare anyone in this speck of space and time dare disregard the eternal almighty one?"
I put great trust in this eternal almighty one. I believe that a God who could dream up the universe and all of its marvelous workings, no matter how we believe it came to be, can work out logical and fair consequences for wrong or evil choices that we humans make. I don't think we find the Bible speaking to the same kind of punishment for all. Rather we will all be judged according to our decisions and actions on earth.
Students at a college were once pushing a conservative biblical professor on whether God would condemn to eternal punishment those who had never even heard of God or Jesus. He quoted a line from Genesis, in which the patriarch Abraham is dialoguing with God about punishment for the corrupt city of Sodom. Finally Abraham says somewhat rhetorically, "Will not the Lord of all the earth do right?"
I do believe that God will do right by us all, and that we don't have to have it all figured out. (For those with Internet access, a very thorough and helpful study-from 1855!-analyzes the words used for hell, at www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/tbhell.html <http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/tbhell.html> . Or I can send you a copy of the printed pages.)
If we don't believe in some eternal consequences, then we are just going through the motions of religious faith. I personally don't have time or interest in just going through the motions or rituals of faith. Faith that is just going through the motions is empty, ultimately devoid of comfort. In contrast, faith that makes you take a stand, even if unpopular or uncomfortable, is faith to stake your life on.
I invite your feedback. Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 685 words; end material = 105 words
We would appreciate it if you would include the "Globe Syndicate" bug at the end of the column.
©2001 by Globe Syndicate, all rights reserved.
Return to Another Way