“Practically speaking, if everyone goes to heaven, why bother with Jesus at all? Why attend church? Why serve? Why tithe? Why share our faith with others? None of this makes any sense. Why would we do anything beyond that which makes us feel good? If there is no hell, then giving less than our best to our faith makes perfect sense. But if hell is real, it changes everything. I’m convinced that if we were to truly believe in hell, there would be no cost too high, no sacrifice too great, no pain to unbearable to keep us from doing everything in our power to convince people of this reality and show them the way out. To live any other way would be unthinkable. I would be beyond immoral. I would be heinious.”
– Brian Jones, Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It)
When I saw Brian Jones’ latest tome Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It), I just had to pick it up. Dipping into the book, I like him. His argument is gracious and yet pointblank. Any pastor who confesses to frequently wanting to sucker punch people and who even fantasizes about it like J.D. in Scrubs, can’t be all bad.
And perhaps it would be good to fess up up front that the coming judgment is foundational to a biblical theology and worldview. Witness the Hebrew author’s statement, “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teaching of Christ and go on to maturity, not again laying a foundation of repentance from dead works, of faith towards God, of the instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”
Those are the kinds of terms I would use to describe the concept of a coming judgment. It’s not an isolated concept, biblically. It is pervasive and undeniable.
What is debatable is the exact nature of that coming judgment and of “hell” and who will find themselves there. Another consistent biblical theme is that of the “great reversal.” In this upside down kingdom where many who are first who will be last and who are last that will be first. Many who hang their heads in guilt and shame and who, cowering under feelings of deep unworthiness, fully expect to end up in hell will find themselves lifted up and sitting by the King. And many of those who are convinced they have this all figured out and are certain as to who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to judgment and the “day of the Lord” (and who have, of course, defined those terms so as to include themselves and their group and exclude all others…as the Church Lady would say, “How conveeeeeenient!”) will find themselves wondering what happened.
But what strikes me here is this quote above from page 35 of Hell is Real. Jones’ comment is the most pointblank yet in my recent reading about hell in emphasizing a frequent theme in evangelical thought about hell (assumed almost exclusively to be “eternal conscious torment”). It would seem that hell is the ultimate motivator – for believers to get busy or for anyone to seriously contemplate following Jesus. While Paul affirms that “if there is no resurrection we are of all people most miserable,” Jones as the evangelical mouthpiece would seem to slice it just a bit differently: “If there is no hell, we are of all people most miserable – or perhaps better, of all people most foolish and lacking any solid reason for doing good or living our faith or ever talking about Jesus.”
Is hell really our ultimate motivator in life? Really?
to be continued…