I hope that this letter finds you well. I have sat down to write this letter today in order to try and clear up some awkwardness that has sprouted in our relationship due to my faith in Jesus Christ. It could be that this letter will only serve to deepen that discomfort. Nevertheless, I am committed to being your friend, and I hope that we will find that the differences we have will serve to help us grow as persons.
There are many sources of contention between us regarding my faith and yours. I say "your faith" because we all implicitly place our hope in something. I place my hope in Jesus Christ and his teachings as outlined in the Bible. I know that some of the things that are in the Bible, and that I therefore believe, make you uncomfortable. They may even seem monstrous. I want to confess to you that there are many things in the Scriptures that make me uncomfortable as well, even if I am conscience bound to believe them.
Let's cut to the most difficult Biblical teaching first: the doctrine of hell. Hell is no minor point in the Bible. Jesus himself describes it as a place where "there worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). It is alternately described as a place of oppressing darkness, of unending despair, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and an everlasting separation. It is an awful place.
More liberal theologians have attempted to soft-peddle this doctrine. They have alternately tried to deny that it exists, or that no one but "the truly terrible" will ever go there. This is an injustice to the Bible and to the historical teaching of Christ and Christians. If I were to eliminate this from my system of beliefs, it would undermine my faith. Though it sickens me, I believe that there is a hell. I believe that those who fail to love Jesus will ultimately spend their eternity there.
This is what moves me to write this letter. I want to explain how I can believe this and remain sane. I want to explain because I never want you to go there. My attempts to talk to you about Jesus are not rooted in arrogance on my part, though I confess to arrogance and pride in many, if not all, of our discussions. It is certainly not about one-upmanship. All of our disagreements, over what constitutes sexual immorality, how much one should drink, and even the 'personhood' of babies in the womb; they all flow from my understanding of Jesus and the judgment to come. Practically speaking, your sex life is infinitely less important to me than is your understanding of Jesus. If I could somehow communicate to you his grandeur, his 'realness', and his grace, then I am convinced that he could teach you all these things far better than I, and he could ultimately lead you into far more joy.
Regarding hell, you must wonder how I could believe that anyone could deserve such a fate. I believe that when any crime is committed, that the punishment must fit the crime. We probably share this core belief. So then, if hell is really that bad, the question is whether or not Jesus is that good. I believe that he is. I truly believe that. Here's why.
First, I believe that every good thing that we have is because of him. Have you loved? I know that you have. Our loves come from him. He made everything good. He gave us both the sweet fruit and the taste buds to enjoy them. He made skin and sex. He designed everything about our bodies: our eyes and eyes and nose. He gave us smell and sight and hearing. He made us in his image, and it is this image that gives birth to the impulse of music and art and joy and poems. We are little creators, copiers really. We are moved to created because we can see, unlike every other animal, the beauty of God's work, even if we do not realize that this is what moves us. This is why primitive men drew the deer running in the cave, and this is why Rembrandt painted. They saw something transcendent even in the mundane. They saw the hand of God.
Jesus is the incarnation of God. He is God with us. I believe that there is one God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God; Three Persons. I cannot fathom how this can be because God alone is like this. But I believe his very being is why we have community, love, and relationships. It is stamped on our persons. It is why I am your friend.
What does all of this have to do with hell? This still does not explain how I can believe that people will go there. First, I will start with myself. My friend, I should be in hell. I have been pridefully arrogant towards you in ways that would warrant my punishment. Think of this: if Jesus of Nazareth was really so good, so kind, and so gentle, why on earth did they kill him? This man healed lepers, reached out to prostitutes and thieves, and even dined with the religious. He shared his love and wisdom with all. So why kill a man like this?
Because it is precisely this goodness that makes us push him away. We do not, it turns out, love what is good. We like that Jesus healed lepers. We do not like that he commanded the adulteress and the sexually immoral to cease their sin or perish. It turns out that we are fired up about his gifts: sex, relationships, and freedom, but we are not fired up about him. So we, like thieves, steal that which belongs to him and flows from him, and use it in ways which he never intended, like a child who uses a screwdriver to punch holes in the wall instead of using it for its intended purpose.
The consequences of this behavior are that we wind up not really enjoying the gift as we should. We also harm others in the process. And ultimately, we run away from God with our precious sins. We run away into the dark, like Golem with his precious, and we stroke our sin and love it, even if it proves our undoing. This truth is ever present within myself. I have done this. I am guilty. But Jesus has come to save me, not just from the things that I have done and do, but he has come to save me from myself.
I believe, ultimately, that this is precisely what hell is. It is an eternal justice in this regard: it is the permanent giving over to conceit and selfishness, devoid of the current common graces we now enjoy. It is God coming into the room with the disobedient child and taking back his screwdriver. He is saying, "You will no longer harm others with my gifts." And when he takes back that which is his, it is natural to scream, and howl, and suffer. It is a horrible fate to ever love the gift, to be addicted to it, and to never learn to love the giver.
Take abortion for example. God says that every life is sacred. He says that children are good. Abortion says that children are a burden, inconvenient, and not worthy of life. Sexual immorality says, "I know how to make me happy with sex. I know what it is for." God says, "No you don't. I'm telling you what it is for and how it can add to your happiness." Yet, we refuse his counsel, we do whatever we wish, and when we are not satisfied we blame him or those who seem to speak for him.
I know that many Christians are a pain. I know that many are judgmental. I know that many who claim to be Christians really aren't, and they are truly as foul as you think that they are. I grieve at that. I find it difficult to share the truth about Jesus because of them. I find it hard to show you the love of God displayed for us in the death of Jesus.
This letter is already too long. I thank you if you have made it this far. Perhaps what I have said has further angered you. I beg of you, please let me know where and how. I am willing to listen. I would not be much of a friend if I didn't.
I want to close this letter with a few questions. Really, I want to ask you to think about something upon which everything else hinges. Who do you think Jesus of Nazareth is? You know what I think. What do you think?
Do you think he really rose from the dead? Think about that. If he didn't, it is the grandest conspiracy in the history of the world. It means that Peter, Paul, and hundreds of the early Christians were liars. It is historically undoubtable that they either lied or that they saw Jesus alive after he died and was buried. Could it be that he really did rise from the dead? I confess to you that if I were persuaded that he didn't, I would cease to be a Christian immediately. All my hope is fixed on the resurrection of Jesus. Could it be that he really did rise from the dead? If he did it changes everything. Could it be that he really was the Son of God? That he really did die to change us; to purge us of our sins? I urge you to give him a chance.
Again, I thank you for reading this.
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