Hell and other theological gut-checks

He [God] created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable forever, for his glory? This is the doctrine of Christian theologians in general, ten to one. Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power created and preserves, for a time, innumerable millions to make them miserable forever, for his own glory?

–John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, quoted by Garry Wills in his review of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament

Adams, like many of the founders, was far from an orthodox churchman, but this statement seems to me fully congruent with the spirit of the gospel. As I’ve written before, though you can find passages in the New Testament that seem to support a doctrine of unending infernal torment, the inner logic of the gospel message seems to point toward some kind of universal salvation.

My views on this have changed somewhat since I’ve had kids. Before, I was probably in the Hans Urs Von Balthasar “hopeful almost-universalism” camp. But I’ve found that having children presents a series of theological “gut checks.” The prospect of passing them on to your children forces you–at least in my experience–to reexamine your beliefs. Could I, in all honesty, tell my kids that God loves them but he also might sentence them (or their friends) to an eternity of of unimaginable torment if they don’t believe the right things, or belong to right church, etc? I decided the answer was no.

As Jesus might have said, if you who are wicked, would never condemn your children to everlasting, conscious torment, how much less would your Father in heaven dream of doing such a thing?

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One thought on “Hell and other theological gut-checks

  1. Great article. This is something I really struggle with. There seems to be a contradiction between the Christian mantra of ‘God is good!’ and the idea that God will make people suffer for an eternity in hell, particularly because I believe that God is in control of our lives, so to punish us for actions we have taken under His sovereign control seems really strange.

    I wrestle with this every day of my life.

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