I fear that my conception of God may be too small.
I fear more for those who think theirs is sufficient.
“Are you dancing in the outskirts of universalism?” I asked Tony in the chicken shop.
“Not at all, I’m dancing in the overwhelming love of God.”
We Christians tend to be a people who love labels. We are Calvinists or Arminians. We are charismatic or un-charismatic. We are Baptist or Anglican.
As helpful as these labels can be, don’t they make us afraid? Because by labeling ourselves, we are essentially picking sides. And when we pick sides, there is an
And if we are not them then I think we often fear the other side. Is this what Jesus came to do though? Did He come so that we could pick sides and fear our opponents? No.
So in this conversation on heaven and hell, why do there have to only be two options? Two sides?
There is a hell where people are eternally tortured.
There is no hell and everybody rocks!
Tony (who, by the way, probably just reshaped my entire conception of the afterlife this afternoon) explained that yes, there is a hell. And no, there is not. Our conversation went something like this:
It’s a sister who got into a fight with her brother and went to her grave thinking she had ‘won’ because she never talked to him again. Was there literally a barrier between her and her brother? Or was it her own perception causing her to live in this hell of a relationship which really only existed in her mind?
It’s the hurting teenager who enters the party already thinking everyone hates him and no one wants him there. He’s suffering alone in a room full of friends. Is he going through a sort of hell? Yes. Is it real? Depends on if you ask him or everyone else at the party.
It’s a daughter who thinks she knows what’s best when her boyfriend tells her to leave her family and friends and move to Arizona with him. Her mother sees the warning signs of abuse and refuses to let her go. Is the mother loving her daughter or punishing her? What seems like hell to the daughter is the most loving thing her mom can do.
Heaven and hell are relational.
And in this same way we too are swallowed up in the swirling tidal wave of God’s love. Some embrace it, just as the daughter would find the most joy in heeding her mother’s wisdom. But some will experience this rushing flood of love as the most painful (and ironic) sting of agony.
Many picture heaven and hell as separated like distant planets. I’m beginning to sense that they may not be as far as we previously thought. Perhaps they occupy the same planet. The same city. The same room.
Perhaps the love of God is so stingingly sweet that some will from it pull the richest pleasures, while others experience their own self-wrought torture from this very same fountain of love. C.S. Lewis wrote,
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
If, at His core, God is truly loving, then He cannot pick and choose the pieces of His creation that He loves. But if, at His core, He is distant and high-nosed, then yes, not everyone would make it into heaven. In fact, no one would.
But our God is a God who draws near when we attempt to retreat.
He moves toward us.
He is the One who embraces the other when no one else will.
And when all hope seemed absent, it was He who sacrificed Himself because we could not bear the weight of ultimate separation from Him.
You see, hell is relational. If you hate being loved by God, you will have an unbearable eternity. And I don’t say that to be coy, I really mean it will be painful and torturous. Like unrequited lovers forced to attend the same party. Except times infinity.
Heaven is relational. If we acknowledge God’s love and delight in His Word, then eternity will be nothing shy of infinite bliss. Knowledge of peace and joy. Wholeness.
So what language do we use now to talk about heaven and hell? What vocabulary encapsulates eternity? I feel like today is day one and I’m learning to speak.
Please don’t misread this post: I believe in a heaven and I believe in a hell.
But I believe they may be much closer than we realize, because I believe in a God whose mighty love covers all of His creation, whether they like it or not.