Razing Hell (excerpt) – Sharon Baker
When I was twenty-six, I found out I was going to hell. Young, impressionable, and without a strong faith, I listened intently as the pastor of a church I was visiting described in graphic detail the torturous, unquenchable flames that would burn human bodies—including, I presumed, mine—forever and ever. He spoke of worms eating away at decaying flesh, total darkness without the presence of God, and worst of all, no release from those horrors for all eternity. I certainly didn’t want to be one of those unfortunate many to feel the flames licking at my feet soon after leaving life in this world. So I took out the proper fire insurance and asked Jesus to save me from my sins and, therefore, from eternal torment in hell. Whew!
That was twenty-five years ago, and hell is still a hot topic. Almost 60 percent of Americans believe in hell. So do 92 percent of those who attend church every week. After that first shocking revelation about hell, I believed the pastor and never questioned its reality, its justice, or its duration. How many of us have grown up hearing about and believing in the existence of hell, a fiery abyss that eternally burns without destroying, tortures without ceasing, punishes without respite, where the only thing that dies is the hope of release or reconciliation? If the number of students and friends who come to me with questions about it serve as an indicator, most of us have cut our teeth on this picture of hell. Lisa did. We’ve been good friends for twenty years. We raised our kids together and grew up as Christians side by side.
Lisa is one of those friends who often says what no one else dares to say or asks the questions no one else dares to ask. We talk on the phone often, usually about a controversial theological topic, and lately the topic has centered around—you guessed it—hell. An inquisitive and thoughtful student and friend, Brooke, asks troubling questions too. Hell bothers her, yet she lacks alternatives. She was raised in an intellectual and educated environment and thinks about things that normal teenage girls wouldn’t give a second thought. Eric, a senior ministry major in college and a very bright student, hates hell too; but he just cannot let go of the ideas he has always been taught. He wants to work as God’s servant, furthering the kingdom of God by winning souls to Jesus. And hell, as bothersome as it is to him, tends to make unbelievers listen. He wants to believe differently but fears the consequences.