About ten years ago, I suffered a crisis of faith. My life was simple compared to the lives of others around the world and throughout history. As a child, I grew up in a loving family and never went hungry. As an adult, I married a kind man who was willing to support me and our children both monetarily and spiritually. The very facility of my world caused my crisis of faith, I’m sorry to say, because to me life was a struggle.
I struggled mentally, I struggled for time, I struggled with health. Yet, I knew I didn’t deserve the luxury of unhappiness. So many people had suffered–were at that moment suffering–more than I could imagine. And because of their suffering, many people would reject God. At some point, I began wondering how a loving God could punish all nonbelievers with eternal torment, after those nonbelievers had lived difficult lives on earth. Why not simply put them out of their misery? Eternal torture is an appalling and incomprehensible idea, even to the basest human being. The most tortuous methods of capital punishment eventually end in death–thank God, a way out of misery, no matter what crime was committed!
These conflicting emotions I felt for God endured for a long time–years, perhaps. I don’t actually remember. I do remember accusing myself of being a heretic and blasphemer, while simultaneously acknowledging that I had no choice but to believe in God and to accept that he was just and righteous. My belief in God and the sacrifice of his son Jesus was rooted so deeply in my soul that I knew I could never pull it out. It was a done deal–I was a Christian, no matter the outcome.
Then one evening, while sitting in my parents’ kitchen, I began ranting about the injustice of eternal torment. I was angry, and at some point, the pressure was bound to cause an explosion. Much to my surprise, my husband unemotionally answered my rant by telling me that the doctrine of eternal torment wasn’t in the Bible. My dad, always the skeptic, claimed that the Bible said so little about hell that it was difficult to come to any hard and fast dogmas about it. At first, I didn’t believe them. Multiple pastors and teachers had taught me eternal torment from the time I was a small child. I wanted to believe my family members, though, because they gave me hope. In fact, the burden that had rested on my shoulders for so long lifted just at the prospect of hope.
In the years since that night, I’ve studied the scriptures without filtering them through the preconceived notion of eternal torment. I’ve read the Bible multiple times sans dogmatic glasses, and examined the specific passages Christians use to corroborate their stance on hell. I have to conclude that my husband is correct. God forgive me if I’m wrong, but the eternal torment doctrine doesn’t appear to exist in scripture. The wages of sin is death, the Bible says, NOT eternal life in hell.
Why am I bringing this up now? I’ve read one too many articles on Rob Bell and the controversy surrounding his book. I haven’t read his book and most likely won’t. I wouldn’t consider myself a universalist by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know that Rob Bell is, either. What I appreciate about Rob Bell is his willingness to question something that is clearly dogma, and not necessarily scripture.