Why are Jesus and our traditional notion of Hell so intertwined? Why is it that if we lose Hell, Jesus becomes terribly pointless and ceases to matter? I mean after all, without Hell, what is the point of Jesus coming? What is the point of his life and teachings? What is the point of the cross and the resurrection? What is the point of Jesus, without Hell?
I seem to be reading these questions and statements a lot lately. And they are important questions because I think they help shed light onto something pretty substantial. Namely, that Jesus’ value and worth seems to be dependent on Hell. (I’ll pause to let you reread that last statement). I hear very often something like this, “Without hell you make a mockery of Jesus and the cross…why even have Jesus?”
It’s not just that the two (hell and Jesus) are inseparable, but that one is dependent on the other. And who is the dependent? Jesus. Because in traditional theology you can remove Jesus and Hell remains just fine, it still has all its power. But if you remove Hell, Jesus suddenly becomes limp, pointless, and powerless. His life on Earth ceases to matter. Which sheds light onto something: This makes hell more important and more powerful than Jesus. Now no one would say this, but this is exactly what the theology says because Jesus’ main purpose was to save people from spending their eternal afterlife in Hell. His life/work is dependent on it. Remove hell, and you might as well remove Jesus.
This is the key, I think, to this reaction we are seeing nationwide against losing Hell. Lose Hell and you lose Jesus. See the connection? It’s not losing hell, for some, that’s the big deal, it is the fact that in doing so you also lose Jesus (according to their theology).
So for us who feel that Jesus did NOT come to save souls from an eternal hell, to lose Hell just means we lose Hell. Period. Jesus’ work on the cross, his life, his purpose, his power, his resurrection are still alive and well.
To be honest, though, when I first began revisiting the notion of Hell and realized that Jesus’ words were not pointing to a literal place but that he was using the Israelite’s hellish words (that they used as a club against other “sinners”) against THEM to make a shock-and-awe point, it shook me up because now I had to revisit why Jesus came. Because for me back then, Jesus and Hell were like intertwined vines. It took time to mentally separate the two vines. As I did, the Bible, Jesus, God, love and justice took on a whole new level of gloriousness (a new word). It honestly caused me to celebrate, thinking, as my good friend Dave put it, “I always knew this God existed but never believed it.”
I celebrated the loss of Hell because it opened up a far more powerful, loving, gracious, just, righteous, and awe-provoking God.
If we were all honest, I don’t think the traditional notion of an eternal, conscious, tormenting hell sits well with most of us. Perhaps because it is one of Satan lies to cause us to be terrified of God or reject God for God’s evil heart that would do that to God’s creation. And what a great strategy to intertwine Jesus’ purpose with Hell, right? … You can’t lose Hell without losing Jesus. So yes, I said it, I believe that the traditional notion of Hell does not originate from God, but from God’s enemy.
Jesus’ death and resurrection has far great cosmic ripples in scope and purpose than we can even begin to grasp or imagine. That it simply did not make a way for potential restoration and forgiveness for some who happen to find it, but indeed declared love, restoration and forgiveness for all. Karl Barth said that the cross was God’s NO! to sin and death and His YES! to all of creation. That is something to ponder for a lifetime…with or without Hell.