What’s the Hell?

These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 22, 2017. The discussion was based upon a reading from John 1:29-34 and Isaiah 53:5-9 and the “Agnus Dei.”
     I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group.  You can download it here.

 

If God is love? Then why is there a Hell?  If God so loved the world, then why does God send some people to live in a fiery place—where “there will be weeping and grinding their teeth,” says Jesus (Matthew 13:42b, Common English Bible)?

These questions have haunted me this week as I’ve thought about the Agnus Dei:

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

This prayer was first introduced, it was contemporary/modern worship, in the Western Church, in the seventh century (1400 years ago!).  Its typically said or sung at the breaking of the bread during the Eucharist (communion).  It has taken many forms and morphed many times over the years, but gist of the prayer remains the same: Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

If Jesus takes away the sins of the world, then why do we have to seek mercy?  If our sins are already forgiven, why do we need to ask for forgiveness?  I think, asking for forgiveness, receiving mercy, is the only way we can get out of the hells we create.

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What is hell like?

 

Who goes to hell?

 

If God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), then why does God condemn some persons to hell?  Is that really loving?  Jesus, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. If that statement is true, why is there a hell?

Traditionally, this question has been answered in two ways: Christ’s work—the atonement of sins—is limited; or, the atonement is unlimited.  Both can be supported by Scripture.

Limited Atonement

  • Matthew 26:28  “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven.
  • John 17:9          “I’m praying for them.  I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours.”
  • Matthew 25:32-33         “All the nations will be gathered in front of him.  He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
  • John 10:11, 15  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  …just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  I give up my life for the sheep.

Unlimited Atonement

  • John 1:29          “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
  • John 3:16          “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 “We work and struggle for this: “Our hope is set on the living God, who is the savior of all people, especially those who believe.”
  • 1 John 2:2         He [Jesus Christ] is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.”
  • 1 John 4:14       We have seen and testified that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world.

This is far from an exhaustive list of texts used to support these two viewpoints, but they provide good examples of the way scripture is used to defend these two understandings.

What do you make of these texts?

 

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Here’s what I make of it all.  Here’s where I’m at.

I believe there is a hell, but I don’t think that Christ’s work is limited to just the selected few.  I don’t believe God sends people to hell.  I don’t believe God created hell.  I do believe, that we create hell for ourselves when we deny God’s love which has been freely given to all.  I believe we ostracize ourselves when we fail to repent and ask God’s mercy for the times we’ve pushed Love aside.  I simply do not believe that the God who created all things good (see Genesis 1), and is known as Love (see 1 John 4:8, 16), could condemn certain people to hell.  God’s desire is that every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (see Philippians 2:5-11) and in so doing all can have eternal life (see John 3:16).

Hell is the place we create when we willfully fail to receive Love.  I don’t believe God created hell—a special place for those I disagree with, or for those unlucky souls that God didn’t choose.

God is love.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Nevertheless, hell is a real; and, to be liberated from it, we need only turn (not just once, but always) to receive the gift of God’s love found in Jesus Christ.  This is what it means to repent—to turn toward love and walk in its ways.  And, in so doing—as we turn perpetually toward love and walk in its ways—we’ll be lifted from death and despair to a place of peace, love, life, and joy.

 


Other thoughts and questions:

 

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