Summary: This sermon looks at the question: How can a loving God send people to hell?
Long before I knew about God’s grace I knew about Gods’ wrath. Long before I had encountered a loving God I knew about the fires of hell.
Some of those images came from culture and some came from art. All in all I think I prefer Larson to Michelangelo, but I’m that kind of guy.
Some of the images that I had of hell were from Jack Chick tracts, anybody remember the chick tracks with their images of hell fire and demons laughing at those sentenced to an eternity of torment.
It just dawned on me the other day, who was leaving those tracks at our place? They weren’t something that my parents would have been bringing home, so my only conclusion was that well intentioned relatives were leaving them behind in the hopes of scaring the hell out of the Guptill kids.
The year I graduated from High School there were a couple of different things that happened that had a profound influence on me and my eventual decision to become a Christ follower. The first of course was my best friend’s decision to follow Christ and his commitment to sharing that decision with me. But I often tell people the other two things were watching live performances of Jesus Christ Super Star and Godspell. Whatever your feelings might be about the Rock Opera and Musical they presented the story of Jesus a way that a nineteen-year-old could relate. And it was in a live production of Godspell that I first heard the story of Lazarus and the rich man. (Show clip from Godspell). And it made sense to me, the good guy went to the good place and the bad guy went to the bad place.
By the way, it was the love that my best friend had for me that brought me to the decision to accept the forgiveness and grace of God and not the fear of hell. I was loved into heaven, not scared out of hell.
But how many of us have every been asked, or have ever asked: What kind of God could or would send people to hell.
And some, because they can’t accept the concept of eternal punishment simply reject it. If in their minds a loving god would be incapable of sending people to hell, then he doesn’t. And this belief that everyone will be saved is called Universalism, and it was first promoted about 200 years after the death of Christ by an early church leader by the name of Origen, whose beliefs and teachings were later declared as heretical. And for the next 1600 years very few major theologians argued that everyone would be saved, but that began to change in the 1800’s with the New Thought movement, which eventually spawned the Universalist Church and movement.
And we have seen it in the past number of years with preachers like Rob Bell, who wrote “Love Wins”, who have stayed clear of the term universalism but lean very strongly toward the belief that eventually everybody, either in this life or the next will come to a saving knowledge of Christ.
So their belief is that there is a hell, and it is a place of torment but it’s not forever, you only stay there until you accept the grace of God that continues to be extended to you. Almost spiritual waterboarding. They are almost suggesting that eventually God will be able to either nag or torture you into heaven. But how do we reconcile that with our belief in free will?
Preacher A.W. Tozer wrote “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.”
But the reality is, very few people who believe in the hereafter actually believe that everybody should go to heaven and nobody should go to hell, but they want to be the one who picks.
And not many folks would try to argue Hitler or Stalin or litterbugs out of hell, but what about the really nice family down the street that do a lot of volunteer work and keep their lawn up and recycle their trash but just don’t have time for God or church? Or the nice Jewish or Hindu teacher that was so special to you in grade 7, or the billions of people through the years who never had a chance to hear the gospel?
How could God send people like that to hell, especially if hell is everything that we understand it to be?
And so we end up being like Mark Twain who said “I don't like to commit myself about heaven and hell - you see, I have friends in both places.”
This is week 4 of our “Skeletons in God’s Closet” series.