No Christian, We Don’t Deserve Hell (And We Probably Needn’t Worry About it)

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So there I was on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the local dog park, gingerly tiptoeing through an eclectic minefield of canine care packages and discussing the eternal destinations of our souls with a complete stranger—as one does.

And I was about to step in it.

I’d only a few moments earlier met this young woman and her husband, and after a  brief smattering of small talk I told her what I did for a living and we began chatting about our shared Christian faith.

Almost immediately into our conversation she smiled widely and said to me, “I’m just so grateful to God because He loved me when I deserved Hell.”

Hearing those words out loud like that caused a reply to launch immediately from my lips without giving me time to edit or soften it:

“You did? You deserved Hell… just for being born?”

“Yes, the Bible says that I was born sinful and separated from God.” she matter-of-factly responded.

I pressed her, “So God lovingly made you and gave you life… but despised you out of the chute?”

“No,” she tried to clarify. “God loved me so He sent Jesus to save me from my sin.”

“But, couldn’t He have just forgiven you (all of us), without needing Jesus and his death, and without you needing to believe this?” I asked. “And Isn’t He just saving you from Himself then anyway?”

Things got awkward. The kind of mess you can’t easily scrape from the bottom of your shoe with a stick.

There are moments when the faith of your past is deconstructed in real-time; when your own heart sends an alarm that something is not right and you realize you have reached a fork in the road and things will never be quite the same.

This was such a moment for me.

It wasn’t a total surprise as it had been a long time coming, and yet it still felt seismic in its scope, jarring loose the bedrock of my religion and bringing with it aftershocks of guilt that I’m still feeling today. (Turns out guilt is a crippling addiction as tough to shake as any ever concocted.)

I’ve been a Christian for most of my four-plus decades on this planet, a pastor for nearly half of those and largely during that time, quite sure that Hell was real and that many people were going there or presently roasting. It was simply something I accepted as part of my Christianity Starter Kit and incorporated into my religious worldview, my default theology, and my working spirituality. It shaped my understanding of me and it guided the agenda I approached others with, often turning me into an oxymoronic self-hating, yet overconfident jerk.

But with each passing day over the past decade or so, I started to feel it eroding little by little; the unwavering certainty of something that had once seemed so critical and non-negotiable to my belief, yet which had grown more and more paradoxical in my mind: eternal damnation at the hands of a supposed Loving God.

At this state of my spiritual journey and in my current understanding of the character of God, I simply no longer can reconcile these two things.

As hard as I have tried to (and believe me I have), I do not have peace with a Creator who would give us life and force us to spend much of that life looking for a spiritual needle in a haystack to avoid torture for eternity. This is not a conscious decision, so I can be argued or proof texted out of it, rather it’s more of a yielding to the involuntary response of my heart as I have walked in faith and lived life seeking Jesus.

I’ve certainly wrestled with these issues before, but meeting this young woman and hearing her confession of faith there in the park, framed it all in a way that finally called out in all caps, bold type what I’d had so much unrest about:

She believes she’s inherently dirty.

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

This is one of the central pillars of our faith story: Our depravity?

There’s something so very sad about that.

Imagine this was also the heart of your parents as they raised you. Imagine growing up with the first seeds sown into your young spirit; that you were afflicted with a vile moral birth defect, unfit to be in their presence and unworthy of intimacy with them unless you confessed your inborn filth.

I’m not sure we would find this anything but horribly abusive, and yet this woman walking her dog and speaking with me that afternoon had lived this very God story quite passionately—one centered around her own sickness. I had lived it too. Millions upon millions of Christians have and are living it right now. I just can no longer be one of them and be honest at the same time.

And yes gallant Christian Soldier, before you cavalierly launch the sacred grenades of favorite Scripture quotes into the comments section, know that I have already read them all, studied them, unpacked them, taught them, lived with them for twenty years—and literally bought the t-shirt.

That the concept of Hell is part of a great many Christian’s orthodoxy and a staple of  recent Church History isn’t revelatory—and it isn’t going to alter my conclusions either. I once heard it said, that there is a truth that you cannot argue us out of once we have experienced it. This is the spot from which I speak and believe now, even though there is unsteadiness.

In the quiet places where I seek and pray and encounter God, the deep that calls to deep says:

“There is no fear in Me. You are beloved. I delight in you.”

You can mount all the violent assaults of systematic theology and doctrine and dogma and they will not be louder than this voice.

All the finger-wagging and threat-throwing and pulpit pounding will likely fail to scare the Hell into me.

You can label me a false prophet and prodigal rebel, and I will rest in the reality that I am simply an honest disciple trying to find the truest truth and live it.

And if my heart is mistaken in all of this, I trust that the One whose voice I so strain to hear will know more than any, the depths to which I have been seeking and the earnestness of my desires, and will give me safe passage to Glory. If Perfect Love is real, this is what it looks like.

Yes friend, you and I are most certainly flawed and fractured and all sorts of jacked-up—but I do not believe we are inherently horrible.

We are not born wretched.

We are not enemies of God upon conception.

We are not filthy from the womb.

And we do not deserve Hell.

 

Read more about this subject on the blog here and here and here.

 

 

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525 thoughts on “No Christian, We Don’t Deserve Hell (And We Probably Needn’t Worry About it)

  1. John, this was beautiful. If there is a benign version of Christianity, one that is actually true to the idea of a loving and merciful god, I think you are stumbling your way toward it. Someone who believes this way will be far better-equipped to do all that boring “love your neighbor” stuff that fundagelicals find so many reasons to avoid nowadays. Neither group is likely to make a ton of converts, but only one of y’all is going to be doing what Jesus supposedly told y’all to do (and it’s not like the blustering, violence-glorifying, grandstanding fundagelicals are actually “soulwinning” many people anyway). I hope that the rest of your tribe catches up before the whole religion goes bye-bye. The time may finally have passed when Christians could cling to the very-likely-not-canonical “Great Commission” as a permission slip to beat non-believers over the head and commit egregious acts of overreach, rudeness, and dishonesty.

    I’m not that surprised to see you in this headspace, either. Christianity has sold itself on the basis of terror and greed for many centuries. Both are completely incompatible with a religion based around love and compassion toward others. We cannot love that which we are terrorized by, and we cannot think of others when we’re busy grabbing stuff for ourselves. The religion’s always had this bizarre two-step that it’s done between what it says it’s about and what its adherents demonstrate that it actually is about. It promises love, mercy, kindness, compassion, and cherishing…. but behind those sweet promises one sees the wolf licking his lips. Refuse for too long, and the threats come out. Did I ever mention how often I’ve been threatened with demonic rape? Some fundagelicals even know exactly how long the demons’ “members,” so to speak, will be and what they will look like. They’ve put a LOT of effort into these disturbing revenge fantasies.

    Really, who wouldn’t want to join a religion full of people like them, headed by a god who apparently fully condones and approves that sort of behavior? I’d really be happiest if they just left me alone. They, and their grotesque conceptualization of their god, horrify me. People who use threats are people who understand them, and it isn’t hard to wonder why. No thanks. I wonder what they’ll do when their leaders finally tell them to quit using threats to market the religion? Because that day is coming. You are only riding the very beginning of the crest of the wave, friend (if I may be so bold as to call you that). You will not be walking alone for very long, if you even are now. Best wishes to you.

    • John,
      As always I am grateful for your post which helps me peel away the layers of my confusion and fear. Raised a Baptist, I struggle to let go of the messages of fear I was raised on. Bless You and the others who post their deepest feelings.

  2. I greatly appreciate the post but have to ask: Was it really necessary to post a violent picture with it? Once seen, it can’t be ‘un-seen.’

  3. I’m not sure what I believe about hell. But whether or not it exists in no way should affect how I live. I don’t love God to avoid hell–at least, I shouldn’t–though at times in my life that seems to have been my motivation.

    What I do know is this: Many of those who believe in a physical, eternal hell behave as if a belief in this place is a requirement for salvation. And they very often seem to enjoy the idea that those who don’t share this belief in hell will end up there.

    Whether or not it exists, I wish it on no one, not even the most vile person in history.

  4. This blog is all opinion based, it is not the Gospel. It is easy to interpret our thoughts and share it and make it seem like Scripture. Please if it is not Scripture start with “In my opinion”.

    Sorry to break it to you America, if you want the Gospel, READ THE BIBLE & PRAY TO YOUR CREATOR (Joshua 1:8). Don’t expect someone else to read it and interpret it for you.

    Now IN MY OPINION this blog is made to make the reader feel “better.” Again, read the Bible yourselves so you can grow spiritually and have an intimate relationship with our Father.

    Blessings

  5. I love this post, I’ve read it numerous times. I have often struggled with the concept of Hell, as taught in more traditional Christian traditions – like the Evangelical church. It doesn’t make sense to me that a loving God would condemn people to Hell… and it also doesn’t make sense to use it as a threat to be in love with Jesus…

    When I bring up my questions… I’m often confronted with, “Well, why did Jesus die on a cross then?” “What did He save us from?” and I’m not sure how to reply to that. If Hell doesn’t exist, why did he die?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts…

  6. When Isaiah saw the Lord in Isaiah 6, why was he afraid?

    When Daniel saw the Lord, why was he afraid?

    When the Apostle John saw Jesus in Revelation, why was he afraid?

    Pavlovitz is denying the Gospel in this post and, by sharing it with such a personal writing and intimate writing style, he is inviting others who identify as Christian to join him in this denial.

    If our sin has not caused us to be separate from God, why do we need Jesus? What was His sacrifice all about? What were the Levitical sacrifices all about before that?

    A good pastor points people to Christ. I see nothing in this post that leads anyone to want to know Christ and what His ultimate act of love on the cross was all about. Rather, Pavlovitz does the opposite by denying the need for Christ in the first place.

    “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

  7. “You can mount all the violent assaults of systematic theology and doctrine and dogma and they will not be louder than this voice.”
    Translation: “I KNOW what God has very clearly stated in His Word. But I think He’s wrong. Or at least the men who wrote down His Word interpreted Him wrong. This voice inside of me; that’s what I trust.”
    Hey John, that voice you listen to. That’s your depravity… Just FYI.

  8. Thank you for this. As he died, didn’t Jesus say, “It is finished.” ? To me, what’s finished is the separation between us and God – all of us. Everyone.

  9. Thank you for this. I grew up thinking that God hated me and that everything that bad happened was punishment for being so sinful. My life and my relationship with God was very strained for years. I tried to go through the motions I did everything I was told. I just wanted to find some way to make God stop hating me until I realized none of that was true and that God has always loved me just the way I am. He created me to love not to hate and punish.

  10. John, some beautiful thoughts and writing!
    Yes we all deserve righteousness joy and peace in the holy spirit, that’s why we were born. Jesus paid the ultimate and greatest price, not because we deserved punishment but because of the incredible value of who we are, of who he created us to be. He came to remove selfishness of sin out of us for good, so we could be restored back to love, selfless love, like our Father.

  11. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave his Only begotten Son…that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have ever lasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world that the world should be condemned….but that the world through him might be saved.

  12. I was born and raised Catholic in a time (the 60’s) when parents rushed to baptize their newborns within a few days of birth. It was believed that this sacrament would save the evil newborn from eternal purgatory (a sort of limbo between heaven and hell). If, for some reason the parents couldn’t make baptism happen fast enough, it was accepted that this child held no chance of entering heaven. Even in my innocent childhood, I still remember thinking how messed up this seemed.

  13. Pingback: Please Stop Feeding the Wolves – From Sheree's Keyboard

  14. Thank you for sharing your epiphany. My experience has been very similar to yours. Much of what is preached from the pulpits and taught to us from our earliest remembered moments in our lives is nothing but man-made teaching and traditions. As you no doubt realize, you cannot convince those who are hopelessly brainwashed by their belief in Hell with sound argument, because these poor people are not rationale. During my search for truth, I stumbled across the website of a common man from Mobile, Alabama, a roofer in fact. This man had an intense experience caused by the death of his son which drove him to dive much deeper into scripture, spending thousands of hours searching and studying it, especially the Hebrew and Greek words and their true meaning. The website https://bible-truths.com/ is a culmination of his work. He has no pedigree and is dismissed by the theologians and apologists of the predominant Hell-focused church denominations because he doesn’t. He died in May 2012 of metastatic prostate cancer, but his work is still available. Having understood exactly what you have gone through, I can attest that it is worth your time to read at least one article to see for yourself.

  15. I disagree. You better hope you’re right. You’re not certain are you?
    You simply took a controversial topic just so you can sell a book.

    After you’ve witnessed mindless torture, at the hand of evil men, tell us then what they deserve, oh you, great judge of mankind.

    I smell a hypocrite.

  16. I came to exalted the same conclusion…may I recommend a great book on the subject which examines what Jesus meant when he used the world hell, and what his hearers heard, because they did not hear what we hear or assume….

    Jesus – is how God Sees You by Peter Wilks on Amazon.

  17. John or David, your words encourage the young in faith (“little ones”) to falter (“stumble”) in their walk with Christ. You may want to read Luke 17:2. There are many, many brilliant pastors and theologians who have written many, many books on that which you deny in a short, simple, inarticulate and non-documented (no scriptural foundation) article, but many believe you; not because they know scripture, but because it feels good to them. I am always amazed when someone says “my way” is the “best way” to get to Heaven. If we are saved because of love, great! If we are saved because of fear, great! The operative word here is not love or fear, but “saved”. If you deny a believer’s salvation because you disapprove of how he/she was saved, then you believe in yourself, and not God. In fact, you are your own god. So many foolish and ignorant comments here about Hell. Here is a short article from Billy Graham (2012). Don’t listen to me, or even Billy Graham. Listen to Jesus. He speaks of Hell many, many times. I hope you are blessed by salvation.

  18. I have been wondering about “DESERVING” hell the past few days.

    When a baby is born, does that baby “DESERVE” hell? No, the baby doesnt DESERVE it. However, based on scripture we know where we are going without Christ and I am thankful God is the judge of it all.

    Once we are brought to a point where Jesus is explained and the truth of it all we have that choice. We choose Christ for salvation from death, or we choose to deny it. If we deny it, then yes at this point we DESERVE hell.

    Jesus through the gospels speaks about not coming to judge the world. (John 12-47-50) “If anyone hears my wods and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world bu to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge, the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day”

    Rejecting the beautiful sacrifice of our Lord deserves the consequence.

    So, as I want to thank you for this post I want to encourage you to be faithful to whats true and thats not our thoughts but the words of our Lord.

    Our destination from the start is not reconciliation with God. Lord willing we all will see the truth of His love. The main issue is the mental stance that we start with.

    If we believe words like “DESERVING” hell that means we project that to people as well. I dont DESERVE hell, but guess what, i dont DESERVE Christ either. I am entitled to nothing. I get the consequence of my choices after I am fully aware of them. Jesus came here to save us from a destination… He is not condemning us. The accuser condemns (Revelation 12). He came down clothed in Grace and Mercy to save us. Thats more beautiful in my eyes. Makes me more mindful of His sacrifices and Grace and Mercy.

    This is what it is.

    From this moment on. You have a choice.

    I will decide to eat food and live.
    I will decide to not eat food and die.

    The consequence is just something that is because of original sin.

    Jesus came down with His Body and is saying

    Here is my body and my blood. You will hunger and thirst no more.

    Do you choose to eat and drink?
    YES
    NO

    I choose yes… Thank you Lord

    • Well said Anthony! That was a good way to unclutter the presuppositions and lie beneath this post. From time to time this article comes up on my feed and it always nauseates me. I’m not sure what Bible this “pastor” is reading, but it CLEARLY refutes multiple things that he says in a “matter of fact” way. I also notice that he’s elevated his human “wisdom” above God’s, because surely if HE wouldn’t come up with the principles of original sin and atonement then it must be false and wrong! This line of thinking is logically and morally flawed and people are lapping it up because it quiets the conviction and “fear of God” in their hearts with no need for repentance or change. (loud sigh)

  19. I think scripture ought to be the basis for what we believe about God. With that said, I find it nearly impossible to arrive at your conclusion based on scripture. No offense, but it shouldn’t really matter much to other Christians what you “think” or how you “feel”. What scripture can you give us to support your claim that “we don’t deserve Hell”? Genuinely asking.

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