“The notion of a divinely ordained place of punishment for the wicked after death is deeply embedded in the Christian imagination. How should we think and talk about hell?”
A common assumption of life and the universe is that after death every person will face this Y in the road. According to evangelical christianity, those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven and those who do not are destined for hell. This is the familiar unchallenged narrative of the afterlife among christians and even among many people outside of christianity.
There are many people have no interest in changing this traditional view. For those who do question the concept of hell and other aspects of the afterlife, there are many good articles and books about these topics. I am not going to attempt to address the academic arguments in this post.
Because hell is such a fundamental aspect of the narrative of life and the universe, it cannot be questioned without disrupting our entire theological framework. If this occurs, the pieces of the overall story must be put back together in a way that makes sense of a new view of the afterlife.
I had no intention of dropping hell from my theology, but my entire belief system has shifted to the point where there is no longer a place for the traditional notion of hell. The following three beliefs led to my abandonment of the traditional view of hell:
1. There is no “place” outside of God, no place where He is not.
2. The line between this life and the afterlife is much finer than we imagine.
3. The judgment and justice of God will result in the healing of all creation.
As a plausible alternative to the traditional narrative of the afterlife, consider that rather than a Y in the road, all of humanity will spend eternity in the presence of God.
This post is part of the May Synchroblog “What The Hell” – thoughts about the controversial subject of hell. I’ll add the links to all the other participants at the end of this post as soon as they are available.
Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
Wesley Rostoll – Hell, thoughts on annihilationism
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe – Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman – Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda – The “Y” in the Road
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering – The Time I Blogged About Hell
19 thoughts on “The “Y” in the Road”
Thank you for participating in this, sister. It is so good to have your measured voice in the conversation….
Thanks Peggy. I would like to have interacted with yours and other posts in this synchroblog, but I had to paint the exterior of my house and I have a daughter getting married this weekend.
It is not according to Christianity, it is according to the Bible. You must always base you belief on what the Bible says not what you think or what some false teacher says. Pr 16:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Ps 1:6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Now, that sure sounds like a “Y” in the road. The decision you must make is which way will you go. If you continue on the path you are you will not make it to heaven.
Hi Ken, sorry for the late response. I absolutely agree with each of the verses you have posted. We all have an interpretive lens that we apply to Scripture. We choose daily whether we will participate in life in the kingdom of God or in the emptiness of darkness.
Some things that make me pause when trying to dismiss the traditional notion of hell too quickly are much along the lines of what you mentioned:
1. There is no place outside of God, but there is an inner place of rejecting God – one that Jesus describes as the disconnectedness of “I never knew you”.
2. The line between this life and the afterlife is indeed so thin, that our present choices are not magically overridden once we expire from this life. Choices we make now really matter, so much indeed that according to Jesus it would be worth sacrificing a limb for it.
3. The judgment and justice of God, that will bring healing to the nations, explicitly mentions a world free from the pain caused by sin by keeping those outside who would continue to cause this pain to themselves and others.
I’m not saying the last point preculdes the possibility of an exclusion / judgment with an ultimate redemptive purpose but it still very much leaves the Y in the road until that point of personal repentance is reached – which according to Scripture could feel like an eternity since God never coerces. So the question is: are we ready to take the “hellishness” out of hell for the sake of trying to avoid a distorted image of God yet at the same time possibly contribute to people dismissing the seriousness of what Jesus talked about?
Hi Josh, good to see you again, great input. To be honest, I think the Y in the road contributes to people dismissing the seriousness of what Jesus talked about. By relegating these warnings to a one-time decision of afterlife heaven or hell, we miss the serious warnings about the kind of choices that we make now. These choices really do matter now, and they will affect our experience of the afterlife. I don’t presume to know what repentance and choice look like post-mortem and through the ages, but I do suggest that we consider that all of this will occur in the presence of our loving and merciful God. I’ve not eliminated ideas of choice, repentance, judgement, and purification, but in my opinion, all of those things are ultimately located in the presence of irresistible Grace and Love.
Thanks Linda, that’s a great answer. Just one follow-up question on the meaning of the phrase “in the presence of irresistable Grace”: Aren’t all of our choices made in that presence, even now? I’m not advocating that the road into the kingdom of God (which is as much a present reality as it is a future one) is based on a one time decision but how do we talk responsibly of hell now when the whole point of its cause seems to be the resistability of grace? I understand that the universalist argument is based on the perseverance and ultimate victory of the power of unending love but if Jesus had this bigger picture and larger time frame in mind, it sure didn’t prevent Him from talking about the “Y” in such a way that it at lear APPEARED to be fixed.
“Precludes” not preculdes
I would offer my opinion but you already know that I do not believe that humans are born with an immortal spirit but one is birthed inside of them (i.e. the new birth) after they are born.
Hi Bob, I went back and read through a few of the posts about this. We’ve had some great discussions, and you are an astute conversation partner. Thanks for the insight and regard that you bring to a conversation.
Appreciate your insight too Linda. Like you, my views about the afterlife have changed in the past few years. My inclination however, is not to swing to the other side of the proverbial pendulum but to embrace a grayer view of such things.
And congrats on the upcoming nuptials! Wish you a blessed day.
Hi Linda, it’s been quite some time since I last checked in at your blog…and it appears to have been 2 1/2 yrs since you posted anything ;o)
I want you to know that you and I tracked a very similar path around the “Y”. Reading your thoughts along with Bill Kinnon and Brant Hanson and others has been very helpful along the journey.
All the best to you in this new year! (And I hope you begin regularly blogging again.)