NO ONE GOES TO HELL ANYMORE, AT LEAST NOT IN PUBLIC.
I am fairly loath to ever make pronouncements as to whether or not someone who has just died has gone to hell. That decision is “above my pay-grade” as we used to say in the military. It is also out of my knowledge base or capacity to know someone’s dying prayer, or dying hope and faith. This of course leaves room for hope for most of the people we have known.
As an American I am one of many who grieve over the death of our celebrities, to some degree. It is usually not personal, as I have either never met such people or only met them as a fan in a very brief moment, or see them from afar. This doesn’t mean that their life, or their talent and craft, has not affected me. We are a celebrity culture and the culture that significant people have helped to create is the culture in which I have lived, and often enjoyed. Even if I have sometimes morally objected to various behaviors, it doesn’t stop me from tapping my foot to a tune they wrote. I may have disagreed with their religious commitments, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thrilled at their skills and abilities.
This doesn’t mean that I am assuming these very great and talented people all went to heaven. Just because I liked them, or liked their product, or even have really positive feelings about them doesn’t assure me that they are in heaven in God’s presence. In fact, to tell the truth, I usually assume the opposite. An even harder thing for me to admit as a fact (of my beliefs) is that I assume most people go to hell.
It seems to me that it is even a bit scandalous to admit that I believe in such a thing as hell. I think it would be almost universally condemned to say out loud that any specific celebrity went to hell, especially when so many are declaring so-and-so is now welcoming so-and-so in glory and positing other sentimental scenarios.
Evidently America has a growing number of people who define themselves as Atheists, people who say there is no God. These are not people wondering if there is a God, admitting that God might possibility exist, no, they claim he does not and they are absolutely sure of it. Some of them mock those who still claim to believe in a living God. Yet, I am stuck with a commitment to the idea that there is a real God, who has revealed himself through a written word we know as the Bible, and I believe that word to be true. Therefore I accept that when the Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” That this does in fact describe Atheists, that they are fools indeed.
What does this have to do with heaven and hell? Well, quite a bit if the Bible is true. Atheists are not going to heaven in my understanding due to their lack of belief in God. It would be strange and a bit ironic for an Atheist to be angry at me for saying such things, since he or she couldn’t believe what I say to be correct or have any basis in reality. Hell for the Atheist is to be finally in the place where they cannot live any longer in the comfort of their denial, and that must be really hellish.
They might still feel insulted at my saying that they will go to hell, and it might make me look like a rather negative person and rather intolerant. The issue of how tolerant or intolerant I am by personality has nothing to do with my belief and adherence to my religious convictions, about which many modern people do not seem to have the perceptive ability to differentiate. I am, I hope, a very tolerant person who believes in an absolutely intolerant God.
In fact, according to the Bible, a whole lot of people are going to hell and not just Atheists. Everyone in fact, except those who have been specifically forgiven by the Holy Father for their sins, is going to face an eternal judgment that will be very unpleasant. But what about people who have done so many great and cool things, and entertained us, and seemed such nice people (at times)? Christians who do believe the Bible have to politely (and there is almost no way it will be accepted as such) remind folks that there is no one who does not sin, and that the payoff for our sinfulness and our sinning is death, and that everyone who dies faces a judgement, and that judgment not only implies further consequence (either heaven or hell) but the Bible pretty clearly spells it out as a nasty place called the Lake of Fire.
Again, what about people we like, or are popular, or who have done some really great things? Here is where our society has no clear grasp of goodness or holiness, nor does it have a clear understanding of not only how inadequate we are compared to the standard of absolute righteousness, but the actual and real depth of our common sinfulness and evil. Liberal social policies and humanistic empathy for common failings doesn’t lower the standard for a moral judgement from a completely non-compromised Divine being. Our society is moving as fast as can away from the concept of retributive justice, while we naturally and innately all still want it personally for our own revenge. Polite people don’t admit this until something happens to their child, women, or puppies.
But, someone might object about someone who has died that they had their own religion and surely they were sincere in it and so who are “we” (Bible believing Christians) to judge? I personally have no right to judge anyone, only to be faithful to the God I believe in, and to what He has revealed as truth. But it sounds like judgment to be sure when I say that if the Bible is true, which I believe it is, then only those who are forgiven in Jesus Christ get to go heaven. I get it, it sure does sound harsh, and exclusive, and intolerant. It is, but I accept that God himself has the right to make his own determinations about entrance or exclusion from heaven.
Somewhere along the way our religion became so personalized that it seemed it was correct for people to avoid the unpleasant things about which their religion professed. It was as if we could craft and shape our religions to fit in with polite society which people do when they say such things as, “my God would never do that.” Or, “I could not believe in that kind of God.” As if any of us really have a choice if there is in fact only one true and living God. He is what he is, and not what we want to make him, and you and I cannot escape the reality which he has created.
Well, where is the love and kindness stuff? It is certainly not in hedging the truth to fit in with the popular narrative. There once was a prominent professional narrative among medical doctors that they didn’t have to wash their hands or be sterile when delivering babies. So it was that lots of women and babies died because bacteria create infection and thus kills. Popular narratives don’t create or change truth, except the truth that people seem to hate facing reality.
We Christians don’t really show our society, neighbors, or friends any real compassion by continuing to be silent about an approaching looming precipice for them in falling into the hands of a Judge who knows all. People today don’t seem to deny the reality of dying, the fear of death seems to vary among individuals, but they seem less and less to fear God which is their great mistake.
Truth is not hateful, but truth is intolerant of non-truth, and may feel hateful to those who don’t want to hear it or deny it. The love and kindness stuff is that no matter the hard reality that there will be a payday coming for all of us in facing the judgement for our sins, God has paid the penalty for all of us in the gracious giving of his son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. This is what some describe as an obnoxious intolerant exclusivity of Christianity, which in actual fact is a universal offer of mercy to all who will believe.
God’s rigid adherence to his standards, thus his intolerance, is exhibited here as mercy when he declares that we, because of our faith, are now his children, forgiven, and inheritors of everlasting life and nothing can ever separate us from his love. Not only can I live with that idea, it is the only way any of us get to live, eternally, at all.