Well I’ve just posted my annual post to Facebook talking about the reality of hell.
Obviously it remains a reality all year round, and the “hell post” remains on my blog year round, but to me it is so awful that I can only bear to actively share it on Facebook once a year. But as I shared it today, I asked myself, for what feels like the millionth time – is this really good news?
The Christian Gospel is supposed to be good news. That is literally what the word translated as “Gospel” means – evangelion – ev: good; angelion: message, pronouncement, news etc. (Angelos in Ancient Greek: messenger.) But here I am, having to tell people that they are going to go to hell. That it is the worst possible fate, beyond anyone’s possible imagination. How can I, or anyone else honestly think of that as good news?
But then I thought about it a little, and here are a few ways I’ve thought about it that will hopefully transform the worst possible news – ever – into something genuinely amazing!
Firstly – and this is so important – you do not have to believe anything I say! Seriously! – Unless…
In my opinion this is seriously the biggest and most important accusation that could be brought against the Christian doctrine of hell – that it is a huge piece of manipulation, working on people’s fears: believe what I believe, subscribe to my faith – or else you will go to hell! I can’t help being aware of that, and every time I have thought of that, I have just cringed. But because that in itself would not change it from being true, I have always painfully persevered.
But then I thought of the way it was presented in the Bible. Jesus came, and also His disciples and apostles, and not only did they preach the Good News of His Kingdom, but they also demonstrated that Kingdom of God through miraculous signs and power. They demonstrated the love of God in the fact that God loves ordinary people so He would perform miracles for them. And Jesus and His disciples performed some breathtaking miracles for completely ordinary people. Many ordinary people were so excited by this that they ran to be involved with this, to be involved with this exciting new Kingdom.
This was Good News for them because it was shared so abundantly to ordinary people! It is something that might be so commonplace in our Western culture now but at the time of Christ it was breathtakingly radical: that God could not only love and care about the supposedly lowest of the low but even call them into a personal relationship with Him – desperately poor people, slaves, women. At the time, poverty could often be seen as an affliction from God, a moral judgement from God. So this was ridiculously good news, amazing, breathtaking, that God would care enough for you as a poor person, slave or woman to perform a powerful, undeniable miracle in your life. I believe that this is just how breathtakingly amazing the “Good News” should be to us just now, and if it is not coming across that way, frankly I am the one getting it wrong!
So please do not embrace what I am saying unless it truly strikes you as being phenomenally good! Unless it is something that you would literally run to embrace! In the Bible the Gospel was never presented as a doctrine to scare people but rather as something phenomenally empowering! I am being utterly sincere about this.
Secondly don’t accept anything I say unless it comes with the power of God! How do I know it is the power of God, Tosin?! Trust me, you will know! This is after all God we are talking about! His stupendous power cannot be feigned, or faked!! It comes with joy, with light, with peace, with all these things that are utterly characteristic of who He Himself is!
Furthermore, the Gospel was not about sending people to hell. It was never about this! (How could I have failed to understand this all these years?!) Rather it is about delivering people who already feel that they are going through hell! It is about saying “You don’t have to keep going through hell anymore! Here, have some of God’s supernatural power!”
In fact, where above I have phrased it “You don’t have to believe it without power” – that is actually putting it the wrong way around. In the Bible, deliverance came first, the power came first – and then the explanation came later!
And here is the thing – when you see God’s supernatural power deliver you from a painful or difficult situation, when you know that only an almighty God could have been responsible for that kind of deliverance, is it not far more plausible that you would eagerly embrace that God and His truth, when you truly understand that He truly, truly cares about your life and your pain?
So I can only apologise for so comprehensively failing to grasp this for all this time. If it is any consolation, I have thoroughly tortured myself with the doctrine of hell for so long – even to the point of affecting my mental health. No exaggeration.
But instead of listening to me talk about hell, why don’t you tell me what pain or difficulty you are going through? I think I now understand that God does not want me to tell you that He is sending you to hell. Rather He wants me to tell you that He wants to use His supernatural power to deliver you from any hell that you are going through. And here is the thing – God’s love is truly free! So you don’t have to embrace the truth of Christ before God will heal your body, for instance. Or at least that was the way in the Bible. And because God never changes, I believe that is the way it has be now.
God wants you to give your heart to Christ, to submit your life to the truth of Christ, because He wants to deliver you from hell of separation from Him, on an ongoing basis. But it is completely up to you! And it is supposed to be a choice that is made a lot easier when His supernatural power has unmistakably touched your life! Which is not to suggest that Christians do not go through hard things. Because we do. In fact, the Christian life can often be a different kind of “hell on earth”. However that is largely due to persecution from other people, ultimately sponsored by our arch-enemy, the devil. I guess it should also be stated that even where God’s power was clearly seen, even where Jesus Himself was working incredible miracles, many people, possibly most people still chose not to embrace the truth of Christ.
So if you are going through hell, Heaven can be something starts right here, right now! It is not just about “when you die”, or when your body dies physically .
But please do not believe this at all, until the truth and the power of God has touched your life, or come close enough to your life for you to see that wow, this thing is actually true! Unmistakably, unrefutably true. And utterly beautiful! In the meantime, you can ignore all my posts – I’m perfectly serious!!! 🙂