I tried to get a picture of genuine hellfire, but the photographers all protect their copyrights so fiercely that I had to settle for my poor little campfire. It’s still a little bit impressive, though, don’t you think?
All my life I’ve had a problem with hell. I think a lot of us do. I’ve wiggled around, trying to somehow define it to be less horrible than it sounds like it will be. It’s not literal flames; what it truly is looks more like the outer darkness Jesus sometimes warned against. The inmates of hell will be all alone, separated from every aspect of goodness (since all that is good comes from God). I read Randy Alcorn’s books about heaven and the attendant descriptions of hell, and those descriptions accorded with my thoughts, with my dodges, if you want the truth, but whether there are flames or not, there is still an eternity of, well, hell. It remains hard to take. Most of us have loved ones we’re at least a little concerned about. Some of us are concerned about ourselves. After all, we only get one shot, right?
Then I read The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. It’s an excellent book; you should read it. I even re-read it once in a while just because I enjoy it. CS Lewis’ version of hell (in the book anyway) was a horrible gray, never-ending city where the damned dwelt in perfect disharmony, always squabbling and moving away from one another. From time to time a bus would arrive in the city to take its inmates on a holiday to visit the outskirts of heaven. When those who choose to ride the bus arrive, celestial beings (glorified humans) do their best to persuade them to stay. A few even succeed. What? CS Lewis may not believe that hell is inescapable? That there might be, however unlikely, a second chance? I didn’t take this heresy seriously of course. I mean, I’d like to have believed him, but sadly I knew better.
Then a chance comment by a brother on a podcast: “For example, we in the simple church are no longer obligated to subscribe to a never-ending hell.” He indicated that he thought annihilation a more likely scenario and more consistent with God’s mercy. That comment stayed at the back of my mind for a year, more or less, and then I found an article on a friend’s blog that persuaded me to look into the possibility. And eventually, I became an annihilationist. I WANTED to believe this and I know enough scripture and I know God’s character, that He would not derive pleasure from endlessly torturing His creations, so it didn’t take a lot to persuade me. I was standing at the very tippy edge of the diving board already. I shan’t spend any time here defending annihilation. As it turns out, that was only a way station for me.
I frequently ask God to show me the things I’ve been wrong about. There have been so many, and honestly, I figured anything more would be a minor point. I couldn’t think of much else He could come up with to change my mind about. Boy was I wrong! I wonder what will be next? I should have, but I seriously never saw this coming . . .
To be continued: