“Hell is paved with the skulls of Priests.” -an old French saying
Two weeks ago, I was shocked with the rest of the world to see the NY Times special report on the theology that ISIS had built around rape. The report detailed how ISIS leaders had encouraged their men to pray to God before sexually assaulting their female slaves, and how they would even say things like “By forcing myself on her, I’m getting closer to God.”
It’s no secret that religion can make people worse people just as often as it makes them better. For every Dr. King or William Wilberforce there is also a KKK Grand Dragon or a Fred Phelps, people who are certain that God hates all the same people they do.
And that’s why I’m wanting to do this short blog series on Hell.
I believe much of the problems in the world, and almost all of the problems in the church could be solved if people took time to silently consider their lives before God. I’m talking now about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the idolatrous gods that we construct for ourselves, those gods who happen to like puppies and private jets and everything we do.
I believe that If we let the piercing gaze of God cut through all of our pretenses and defenses, if we stood still and let ourselves feel the grace and judgment of God our lives would change.
Love and Judgement
Now being judged by God might not sound fun, but I’m convinced it what every person in the world is hungry for.
Buried in the same report about ISIS raping women in the name of God there was a small YouTube clip recorded at one of the slave auctions, where ISIS fighters were buying women with their guns. Saying things like “Today is distribution day.” or “Where is my Yiziti girl?” They even candidly admit they’re buying female sex slaves as if that was a perfectly normal part of what it means to be a man.
I don’t care who you are or what you believe, I’ll bet that makes you angry. I’ll bet that if you thought about it long enough you might find yourself longing for a way to make the ISIS men be punished for their evil in some way that corresponded to the evil they were inflicting on others.
You might even find yourself praying for God to give them a new kind of Distribution Day.
Because we all have a sense that the world is off kilter, has gone off track and needs to be set right.
But it’s not just the evil in ISIS or political institutions for large corporations. All of us have a sense that something is off inside of us too, and while our culture has abandoned the ancient categories of sin and salvation we’re searching for the same thing we always have. The Love of God.
And that’s the thing about God’s judgment, it’s never divorced from God’s great love.
Think about it, when we accept grace we are also accepting judgment of the wrongdoing. Grace before it’s anything is an indictment, it’s saying that I’ve fallen short and need mercy.
The problem is that Christians reflect the judgment of God often without reflecting the love that the judgment is based in. We draw lines of who’s in and who’s out without regard to the many passages in the Bible that talk about God’s judgment in surprising ways.
Think about the most famous time Jesus talks about the judgment and specifically who God will sentence to Hell.
It’s in Matthew 25, in the parable of the Sheep and Goats, God judges humanity, and he separates them into two groups, the Sheep and the Goats. This parable is one of the most famous stories that Jesus ever told. I can make an argument that this parable has been the very basis for things like human rights, for our idea that there should be human equality. It’s been the impulse behind creating justice and mercy ministries, prison ministry and caring for the sick and homeless.
But the point of this story isn’t just that we should be doing certain things, it is that the things that we have done with our lives will one day be fully revealed.
When the Curtain Comes Up
Joshua Ryan Butler points out that Jesus isn’t performing a magic trick here. He’s not turning people into sheep or goats, he’s only revealing to themselves, often to their surprise, what kind of people they already are.
In the eyes of the community, the preacher may be a fine upstanding citizen (and maybe they see themselves as such) but in the Day of Judgment God will reveal all, and some will be surprised by how they stand before God.
There will be a day when people will have to ask the surprising question “LORD when did I rape you?” “LORD when did I lynch you?” or “LORD when did I picket your funeral?”
There will be a day when the lies we willingly tell ourselves won’t work anymore, one day the curtain comes up.
I know Christians often come across as judgmental toward the world, but that’s often only because they haven’t spent time allowing God to search their own hearts. It’s interesting to me how often we refer to God’s judgment as something toward outsiders, when the overwhelming majority of the time in Scripture it is toward the people of God.
Think about that famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” you’ve probably heard of this sermon before. It’s an awful sermon. I hate it. I’ve never read it…but I hate it, because I already think I know what it means.
But…would it make you think twice if you realized that this famous sermon is not a sermon preached from a street corner, but from a pulpit? It’s not written to wayward sinners, it’s written to church people. It’s written to those who consider themselves fine, upstanding citizens and the preacher is asking them to consider their lives under the gaze of a God who sees all and knows all, a God who isn’t fooled by what we say we believe or how we behave only on a Sunday morning.
Think back to that Matthew 25 passage again, the criteria for how Jesus judges us isn’t on what we think about God, it’s how we treated people who were made in God’s image. Here’s how Butler says it:
Jesus identifies with the vulnerable. How we treat them is how we treat him. But this has a flip side. When a deadbeat dad walks away from his child, he walks away from Jesus. When the cheerleader overlooks the girl sitting alone at lunch, she overlooks the Savior of the world. When the rich man ignores Lazarus, he ignores the presence of God.
And in light of this kind of judgment by this kind of God, people are given a new ethic by which to live and view their lives.
Once more here’s Butler:
Jesus doctrine of hell levels the playing field. This is one of the things I have come to love about it. It does not elevate me above the world; rather, it humbles me before the world. As a man, I need to come to grips with the fact that lust is not allowed in the city where all God’s daughters are to be treated honorably, with respect, and lifted high. As an American, I need to understand that nationalist superiority will not be allowed in God’s Kingdom, where the nations are healed, where Iraqis and Afghans are at the center of the celebration, where we rejoice together in God’s presence. As a pastor, I need to accept that self-righteousness and hypocrisy will not be allowed in Jesus’ city, where religious folks seem to have a harder time getting in than most.
God is not cruel, no matter what our caricatures about him might say, but God’s judgment will reveal all the ways we’ve been cruel to each other, and condemn all the ways we’ve used his name to justify it.
God will one day reveal all, and He isn’t fooled by the masks we wear, no matter how stained glassed they might be.