Franklin Graham said it recently during an interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, “There IS a hell” Graham said as he tried to explain how he came to believe in Jesus in answer to O’Donnell’s question on whether or not Graham had given up everything to follow Jesus. In his round-about answer, Graham warned that people would go to a literal hell if they rejected God. The idea of hell and/or eternal punishment is a traditional doctrine of Christianity, one that has fallen out of favor in today’s culture. In fact, the very thought of it, is an obstacle to many in considering the Christian faith. For them, hell makes the whole story a bit too unreasonable. Is it?
I don’t think so, but I understand the questioning. Admittedly, sometimes Christians speak of it too casually, just as we often speak of the end of the world too casually. Now before you criticize me for going soft, hang on. I’ve got a very non-subtle point to make.
The fact is our hearts break in half when scenes of a tsunami in Japan or Indonesia appear on our television screens. We scramble to our churches and ask what we can do? Are we taking a mission trip? How can we help? We look urgently for ways to help those people whose lives have been destroyed by natural disaster. Franklin Graham himself works with Samaritan’s Purse, one of the first organizations on the scene in Japan, Haiti and elsewhere. Ironically, while Christian organizations and churches work harder than anyone in the poorest and/or hardest hit areas of the world, ever notice our reputation is nearly the opposite?
We are often portrayed as being afraid of people different than us, or being callous to the needs of the poor, or being cavalier to the suffering of so many across the globe. It’s laughable, but it’s there. Despite the fact I’ve worked to build an orphanage and homes in Mexico, or a school in Haiti, or worked in the soup kitchens in inner-city missions, or the many other projects and ministries that are normal part of being in a Church, here on the internet it is fairly common to be accused of racism, bigotry, or callousness. After all, I’m a Christian. I may have worked to help those with different colored skin, or who speak different languages, but our reputation is one of judgmental, narrowminded, bigotry.
Weird. And yet, not so much. Some of it is because American politics likes to label people and groups of people over political issues. Some of it is because there is a spiritual war going on. Oh, I know some of you think I’m crazy, but hey… obviously I believe there is a spiritual reality. Besides, it’s easier to get people to oppose something if you can demean it, and marginalize it.
But some of the reason we are looked upon so poorly is how easily we can speak of people being tormented forever and ever. How sometimes we see a tragedy, and say God was judging those people. (Remember New Orleans?) Pretty sure even the Joker, from the movie “The Dark Knight” would say: “Even for a guy like me, that’s cold.”
I miss Heath Ledger. And here’s the question, where do I think Heath is right now? See, it’s a sobering question isn’t it? Not a casual one.
I’m fighting back emotion watching the scenes in Japan or the pictures from Haiti a church group brought back with them, and yet if the book of Revelation literally comes true, those events are just a bitter taste of what is to come.
I mean, have you ever sat down and thought how many people who are dying every few minutes…. may not be saved? That’s a LOT of people going to hell isn’t it?
No wonder guys like Rob Bell are looking for ways around it. Do I agree with Rob? Not even close. But I understand the motivation. The heart breaks. And you know what, so should yours Mr. and Mrs. Christian. If you really believe in hell, it should be a burden to you. A constant sobering reminder that as a Christian, we can never do enough to tell the world about Jesus.
When that Church I mentioned was in Haiti, they were there WHEN the earthquake happened. One minute they were leaving an orphanage after delivering supplies and toys to the kids, and the next minute the world around them came crashing down. What did they do?
They worked all night, and all day and all night the next night. They worked non-stop until they had to leave. Pickup trucks became make-shift operating tables. Blankets became valuable commodities. Intense, heart-felt prayer became common place. And those white, Church people from rural America, (most of whom probably vote Republican) nearly killed themselves trying to do everything they could.
Then they came home and tried to get as many other churches as they could to help. They were such an example, that a young lady who had gone with them, but was not a Christian herself, became one while still in Haiti. And this was just over helping people in this temporary life.
Imagine how much more important it is to work tirelessly to save people for eternity? Shame on us for speaking about THAT so casually.
There’s more to say about what the Bible actually teaches on the subject, but that will have to wait for another post.