A few weeks ago I started a blog series about Hell, and the main point I hope you take away from this is that for most of us the Christian doctrine of Hell probably isn’t what you thought it was.
Hell is the stuff of Hope, of fairy tales of dreams.
Not because all the people you don’t like are going to go there, but because the Christian doctrine of Hell means that God hasn’t given up on His good world and all the things that are broken in Creation, God is going to set right.
I don’t know anyone who is a fan of sex-trafficking or genocide or unchecked greed. And the good news of Hell is that God is going to rid the world of all these cancers.
But the rub comes in the realization that God takes it much more seriously than I do. It’s one thing to say that I’m against sex-trafficking and quite another to look through my internet history in the ways that I’ve been complicit with the very system I protest.
It’s one thing to denounce Bernie Madoff for his greed, and an entirely different thing to look at the tag on my shirt and ask where it was made and the conditions that it was created under. It’s much more difficult to start asking “Why did the shirt cost so little?” Because the truth is someone, somewhere else is bearing that cost.
Now it’s easy to turn this into another kind of moralism…(as in God is going to send me to Hell for shopping at the GAP). But the truth I’m getting at here is that we hate lots of things that we are actually involved in perpetuating.
We ask for God to get rid of the evil in the world, but often without realizing that would involve God getting rid of us.
Every beauty queen talks about world peace, but we are not beauty queens. In the words of Joshua Ryan Butler, “Even our beauty queens are not beauty queens.”
Remember last year when Mrs. Israel tried to take a selfie with Mrs. Lebanon and they started the most passive aggressive Instagram war? Which actually might lead to a real war!
This is the point of Hell, we are the very ones who’ve set God’s world on fire.
Tongues Of Fire
Let me give a real practical example on how the Bible talks about Hell that is something everyone can relate to.
It’s interesting to me that the Bible often talks about gossips being in Hell. Because we live in a time where other sins are over-emphasized, this one strikes us as odd.
Unless you’ve ever been burned by gossip, and if you have than you totally understand.
One of the greatest desires of the human heart is to know and be known, to be in close community with other people and to live together in peace.
But a person who gossips destroys that, maybe out of their insecurities, or envy or ambition, but they destroy it all the same. And because of their destructive nature, that kind of behavior, that kind of spirit is excluded from God’s new and good world.
But notice how the Scriptures talk about it:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. –James 3
The tongue can start a fire that destroys human community. In just a few words, I could absolutely destroy someone’s reputation, I could ruin another person’s life, question their integrity, make false allegations and cast a shadow on their entire career.
I can do all that with words. And so can you. And if you do, be sure that it will spread. That’s what fire does.
But pay attention to what the Bible says, “that fire comes from Hell.”
James seems to think that Hell’s destructive power is released through us, not God.
James seems to think that when I’m gossiping in the office about a co-worker, I’m not just innocently making chit-chat or even just being a jerk. I’m actually breathing hell into the office.
I love the way Joshua Ryan Butler says this:
Hell gains entrance into God’s good world through us. God is not the architect of hell, the creator of its soul-destroying power; we are. We unleash its wildfire flame into God’s good world.
Some of us get this because we’re a burn victim. Maybe you lost your job because of that rumor, or your marriage because of a spouse’s constant criticism. And it’s easy to just write that off as human behavior, but the Bible calls it sin, and a not just a sin that leads to death and hell, but one that comes from Hell.
You know the great irony of gossip? It’s that the punishment is in the crime. The judgment is in the sin.
When I was in college, I had a friend who had a handicap, and it was a certain kind of handicap that lended itself to being mocked. And several of my other friends would make fun of him. When he was out of the room, they would start cracking jokes about him.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that I’m not one to brag (I’m proud to say.) But probably the most Christian thing I did while I was in college was not let people make fun of my friend,
I’m telling you this because I noticed the strangest thing started to happen. I realized something that the low self-esteem I had struggled with for years started to go away.
I realized that some of the guys who had made fun of my friend, the ones that I had stood up to and asked to stop, later started coming to me to talk about some of their deeper struggles.
Looking back on it, I realized that they figured out in that moment that if I wouldn’t gossip about my handicapped friend, I wouldn’t gossip about them either.
The great irony about gossip, is that it does the exact opposite of what we think it’s doing. We think it’s tearing others down, and building us up, but what really happens is that the Hell you create eventually consumes you too.
If you gossip, you begin to assume that others are doing the exact same thing about you.
Just like God, we create worlds with our words we just create the wrong kind of world.
So we bully that effeminate kid in the youth group. Or we talk about the person who doesn’t have enough money to buy the clothes that make her look normal. We gossip about that woman who had an affair, or we talk about other races like they don’t belong.
We create an invisible barrier that keeps some people inside and some people out, and we do it with our words. We create worlds with our words that are too small for certain people, and most of the time we discover that they are the kinds of people that were the most drawn to the grace of Jesus.
But what we sow we will always reap, and for the person who gossips, after all those years of creating that world, when he or she is the one who sins, than they immediately know where they stand.
We know the labels and words that “they” are saying about us now, because we used to say those words about other people. We know that the kind of worlds that we used to be a part of, and that we don’t belong to now, because we helped create it.
And we’re miserable, we’re alone and isolated, because we live in a graceless world that we made ourselves, we’ve released the destructive force of Hell into God’s good world and now it’s fire is burning our lives to the ground.
We are consumed by Hell.
That’s not just some theological idea. That’s a reality for so many people.
That’s the Hell you say.