Does Hell Exist?

I received a few great questions from Jan via email last week and wanted to share my responses with you as well.

The first question had to do with Christianity and other religions and I referred Jan to what I had previously posted:

The next question was one to which I had not responded before – Does hell exist?

To start, I think that people have many different conceptions of hell. An eternal place of punishment, a lake of fire, and separation from God are just a few of the ideas that someone may have when thinking about hell. I best understand hell as a place of separation from God. God’s free and unmerited love for us and the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to live in relationship with God.

I believe that we can choose to receive God’s freely given love and live our lives in response to this good news. Alternatively, we have the opportunity to choose (either actively or passively) not to be in relationship with God. I believe that God does not force us to be in relationship. If we refuse this relationship, the alternative is living in a way in which we are separated and moving away from God. Eternal separation from God would be hell.

I believe one may experience hell on earth, in the sense that we can live in isolation from God and other people. This may be a result of our actions and it may be a result of the actions of others. I think of circumstances of divorce, suicide, unexpected death, the death of a child and many other circumstances may elicit these feelings. Our way out is the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

Jan followed up this response with a clarifying question about specific mention of hell in the Bible.

There is a discrepancy about how exactly such passages should be interpreted. I do not know the word that is translated as hell in English to be able to speak to the nuances of the original language.

How would you respond to Jan’s question? What did I miss in my response? Where could it be improved? What do you think?

Christianity and Other Religions

I had a great breakfast at First Watch with Scott on Tuesday morning. He wanted to talk about an experience in which he felt that a church leader depreciated Christianity in relationship to other religions of the world. The relationship between Christianity and other religions is a topic that I find to be quite complex. Here is some of my response.

Christianity and world religions
Judaism has a distinct relationship with Christianity among all other world religions. The God to whom Jesus prays and speaks to as Father is the God of the Hebrew scriptures. God remains faithful to the covenant that was made with the people of Israel. Paul wrestles with this relationship in several chapters in the book of Romans.

Will persons of other faith traditions be saved? I am not sure. I do believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I believe that the Christian hope is that all things will be made new in the second coming of Christ. I do not think that anything will remain that is old. I believe that Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection is a part of God’s work for all of creation. What exactly this means for persons of other religions, I do not know.

As a pastor, it is part of my responsibility to be concerned with how it is with others’ souls. I believe that this is the responsibility of all Christians – to watch over one another in love (as Wesley would say). However, I believe that it is more important to first be concerned with the state of my own soul and my journey of discipleship. I believe that one should be more concerned for the state of one’s own soul than with making judgments on the state of others.

Thoughts about conversations with those of other religions

  • Do not ever belittle your own religion when confronted with another religion. There is no need to be bashful or reticent about your beliefs. However, at the same time be careful not to belittle another’s religion.
  • Focus on invitational conversations. In interfaith conversations there needs to be a readiness to both give and receive.
  • I believe that it is more important for Christians to focus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with non and nominally religious persons than with those who already have a faith.

I recognize that this is a broad topic and that this response does not even come close to touching all areas that would be needed. What would you add to this conversation? How do you understand the relationship between Christianity and other religions? What thoughts do you have about interfaith conversations?