Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Why share the gospel if there's no hell? by Brad Jersak
Now as for the nature of hell, that's another matter. The idea of hell as 'eternal conscious torment' in an everlasting lake of fire is abhorrent to many who've experienced the fathomless depths of God's love, or have at least thought through the irrationality of its contradictions, or studied the competing images of divine judgment within Scripture. But that doesn't mean there is no hell. Have you been inside Burma's borders? Or experienced the front lines of a Middle East war zone? Or visited a sex-trafficking brothel? I know those who have and they assure me absolutely: hell exists.
I'm not a universalist, but I do believe in hopeful inclusivism. That is, we cannot presume that all will be saved, or that any would be lost, but love obligates us to hope and pray that the mercy of Christ would have the last word on the Day of Judgment. If so, what is the point of evangelism?
I think the difficulty in perceiving the point of evangelism if there is a hope that one day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess and glorify Christ as Lord exposes something awful about our perception of the Gospel and what Evangelism is.
These questions are the beginning of a renewed vision around all of that. First, let's start with this: If everything does finally "comes out in the wash," (i.e., that Christ does somehow accomplish "the restoration of all things," Acts 3:21), then sharing the Good News of God's love in Christ is the divinely appointed means whereby the restoration begins to happen in this age. That is, the Gospel is that Jesus is the Saviour of the World, the restorer of hope, the perfection of love, and the One who would embrace all and redeem everyone from our enslavement to Satan, sin and death. Telling the world this fabulous news and inviting them to it is integral to how Christ is restoring the cosmos. Moreover, now that Christ holds the keys of death and hades, apparently the power of death is broken and no longer creates a barrier or deadline before which Christ is powerless to continue his salvation project. I don't presume to know what that means exactly in the next life, but I'm not waiting until then to invite people to the benefits now.
Thus, the question, 'Why bother telling people" overlooks two critical facts:
1. People around the globe are already suffering spiritual, emotional and physical enslavement right now, and it's literally killing them. Anyone I ask can tell me exactly what the nature of their hell is today ... the condemnation that is already oppressing them. Jesus didn't need to come condemn the world--when he arrived he found it already in ruin and in need of his grace and life (John 3:16-18). Almost anyone can tell me about their deepest needs and most painful wounds. I don't need to tell them their problem. They consistently tell me. And unless they're attached to their self-pity, they tell me because they want some Good News.
2. But also, salvation is not just from something; it's for Someone. Why introduce people to the best thing that's ever happened to us? Why share the kindest Person we've ever met? Why offer deliverance from the fear of death and the offer of peace and well-being now? Perhaps Christians will be better able to answer this if they commit to knowing Christ for themselves before pushing their 'fire insurance' gospel on others. Even in an era when evangelists are perceived as ponzi scheme hucksters, I keep talking gospel because I've come to know Jesus is alive and he's wonderful and knowing him IS eternal life now. Sharing the gospel is not about trying to convince someone to give up their quality-of-life hedonism in exchange for a 'get out of jail free' card to a hypothetical eternal Auschwitz down the road. Rather, it's an invitation to a family of love feasting on the presence of Love Himself.
The fact that Love Incarnate will never stop loving--even following us into hell (Psalm 139:8 ... I know, it's actually sheol ... oh, now we suddenly got queasy about hell?)--is no reason for me to put off or leave off welcoming people to experience that Love.
Since seeing it this way, my Good News message is much better news, and significantly, it SOUNDS better to those who hear it, especially since it is no longer accompanied by the pressure and insecurity and manipulation that fear-based evangelism projects. I feel no need to shy away from saying, "Oh, life is hard? Yes. But I have good news. God loves you. He always has. And he wants you to know him as your very best friend. He wants to walk through the mud, the blood and the tears--through hell and back--with you, and he will never leave you or abandon you. Interested?" If not, I no longer ramp up the offer with threats of torture. On my better days, I keep loving the way Jesus does, enjoying the conviction that he always will, "to infinity and beyond."
When I put it that way, it doesn't seem like a chore anymore. And then the original question sounds nonsensical. At the end of the day, I share the gospel, because the gospel (Jesus) changes everything.