I often have a face in mind when I write out words in this space. To be honest, it’s usually my own. When most of me is stuck in boredom, doubt, or depression some small part of me still sees the truth. I write to remind myself how beautiful life is. How good God is. And how near he is.
Today I have a face in mind, but it isn’t my own. Technically, it’s not a face at all but a voice – the voice I heard on NPR yesterday morning. A young man spoke of how he found Christianity but eventually gave it up because he couldn’t bring himself to believe that those who reject Christ will be tortured for all eternity.
And my heart broke.
I wished I could put both hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes and say, “You’re giving up Jesus because of a theological position not even all Christians accept? Oh, honey, don’t do that. Trust me. You don’t want to do that.”
I can still remember my shock as a young woman, sitting down to lunch at the Benedictine monastery where I worked, when I overheard the conversation of two visitors sitting a few seats away. “Won’t people be surprised when they get to heaven and see Hitler there, too,” one woman said.
Personally, I will be very surprised if it turns out she’s right, but, today, I am less shocked at the image of Hitler in heaven than I am awed by this woman’s embrace of God’s very big love.
I also remember my shock, that same year, when a fellow church-goer admitted he didn’t think babies who die automatically go to heaven.
Clearly, we Jesus-followers don’t always see eye to eye.
Usually, I’m okay with this. I tend to agree with Augustine that if the Bible leads its reader to be more loving then the Bible has done its job. Augustine isn’t saying that accurate interpretation doesn’t matter, only that it’s okay if we get a little lost on our journeys as long as we arrive at our destination.
As someone who feels at least a little lost, most of the time, I like this idea.
At least, I did, until my daughter stood at the bus stop surrounded by our neighbors and said this Out Loud: “I wonder if Dr. Seuss is in heaven or hell?”
It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, the kids were geared up for a celebration, but they also knew that Dr. Seuss was no longer among the living. I suppose one thought led to another, and suddenly my own daughter was broadcasting a question that didn’t reflect my own spiritual preoccupations at all.
I was mortified. Here I had imagined myself a Christian unconcerned with guarding the borders of who’s in and who’s out, but my own unconcern left a theological hole that my daughter filled in for herself.
So now, as hard as it is, and as comfortable as I remain with theological diversity, I know I owe my daughter a little more. I owe that young man on NPR a little more.
I want them both to know that whether you are blinded by God’s love or by his justice you are welcome in God’s family. I want them both to know that I’ve wandered to a spot somewhere in the middle. I think when Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 God would destroy both body and soul in hell that destroy means what it sounds like it means. Not eternal torment but destruction. An end. Justice.
In other words, I believe in this good news about hell: there is a place where evil will be confined and where it will be destroyed.
And the really good news? God’s love is big. Very, very big. I may doubt we’ll meet Hitler in heaven, but I’m sure we’ll be surprised at the size of the gathering. Because God’s love? Well, it chases us down. It pursues us. And frankly, where most of us are concerned, my money’s on God.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
Ephesians 3: 17,18