Thursday, June 08, 2006

Building A Theology Of Hell

Last night we had planned on doing a Heaven and Hell night at youth. For those of you who aren't familiar with the game this is how it goes…

Everyone gathers in a room and one of the leaders stands in front of them holding a candle. The leader then recites a Bible Verse (probably something from Romans) and then walks down into the youth and begins to teach the verse to someone. Once that youth has memorized this verse their candle is lit, and now there are two people teaching the verse to the rest of the youth who are sitting there with their candles unlit. As people are going around memorizing the verse there is a story being read through the speakers, and all of a sudden, two or three of the youth will hear that they died in a car crash, or something like that. So they walk up the stairs and into the "throne room" where (if they have their candle's lit) God will read their name in the book of life, and then angels will escort them up to "heaven" where they get to eat awesome food play some vids, and have a good time. But if you don't have your candle lit, the demons come and take you down another set of stairs to "hell" where you sit in a hot smelly room with a scary devil that watches you. The end of the game comes when everyone has died and had a chance to experience either of the "eternal" consequence. So this was the plan for last night, and now (as Paul Harvey says) For the rest of the story....

On Tuesday Pastor Ben came over and raised some concerns about the game. These concerns were first raised by Jack Heppner (Former EMMC Conference Pastor) back on September 13th when he posted a article called "Camping in Hell" on his website Well the plan was still to go on with the event, but then on Wednesday morning I got another email from Pastor Gary raising the same concerns, so after a lot of talking with those older and wiser than me we decided to not do it... at least not yet. I am convinced that to give our youth some experiential event that allows them the opportunity to sit and think about the consequences of their actions is valuable, and that we need to do that more than we do. However, how we do it is important, so here are the concerns we had with the Heaven and Hell game:

1) It creates an atmosphere of Fear "Psychological Terrorism" is what Jack Heppner called it. For those kids who go to hell, suddenly they are afraid of the consequences and the come to Jesus out of fear. As a L.I.T director at Redberry Bible camp we always stressed to them that as Counselors they were responsible NOT to use their position to "spiritually abuse" a child. I think that attempting to create a hell like atmosphere that is scary "evil" is wrong. It misuses the authority that God has given us. Now we're not talking about doing something like Hell House (that is clearly over the line) but still from the beginning I had a concern about this. A few interesting things I heard as we were talking about doing this game.

- Jesus never talked about hell to the unsaved. The only people that Jesus preached "fire and brimstone" to were the people who were sure that they were going to heaven (The Pharisees). So there is a risk in doing this game in a setting where we might have non-Christian kids.

- It's hard to imagine Jesus setting up a heaven and hell game and then asking the little children to come and sit on his lap. The children were DRAWN to him by LOVE!! I have a real problem with using fear to make kids come to Jesus. It's all about LOVE, and meeting the PERSON Jesus and knowing HIM!

2) A Medieval view of Hell Now fear was a pretty simple reason, unfortunately this 2nd reason isn't quite so simple, but I'll do my best. For hundreds of years now we have built up this idea of what hell is and who goes there. We all have seen the image of overlord Satan ruling hell and making people's lives miserable, while the demons run around doing their master's bidding. But Revelations 20:10 seems to indicate that Hell is just as much a punishment and torment for him as it is for those who end up there.

Next who goes to heaven? For years we have been taught that it is a simple matter of whether or not you said a prayer. But I have been troubled by some of the things that Jesus says in the gospels. One of the most obvious things that I see is that the Kingdom of God is not fair, and that often those who are most sure they are going to heaven are in the greatest risk of not making it. What about a man who consistently pursues truth and right living, but fails to understand that it is God who gives him the ability and desire to live that way, is this person really going to hell? Does God actually stand there with a book of the damned in one hand, and the book of life in the other and anyone who doesn't have their name written in the book of life just goes to hell? OR, does God continue to give us the free will that we have had all along, and for some who have wanted nothing to do with God their whole life, who have had no interest in loving and serving others, does God just give them what they want? And send them away. What about the person who has tried to live for god, but hasn't known Jesus, does God accept the good they have done as if it was done to Him (read Last Battle by C.S. Lewis for more on this)?

I don't want to sound like some Universalist that just says "oh every one makes it onto heaven" because I do believe there is a hell (although what it looks like could be up for discussion) and that there will be eternal consequences to our actions. But I think we need to hesitate on being judge and jury for other people, and let God do His job.

So the heaven and hell game has at least two major problems here. First it ingrained in the youth's heads that Satan will have power and authority over the lost forever, and second it didn't allow for the Grace of God.

3) Messed up view of Heaven
Finally (for today) I think the game doesn't display heaven well. For those who get to go to "hell" it can be a good time of reflecting on what the consequences of the actions they are making will be, as well it stresses the importance of telling other people about Jesus, so they won’t have to go to hell (my wife had a good experience doing this a few years ago). But in heaven you just eat food, play games and have a party. I have been influenced by both Pastor Ben, and Rob Bell who promote the idea that Heaven is not just for later, it is for RIGHT NOW! The Kingdom of God is not something that is yet to come, it is active and moving now, and we are supposed to be creating heaven on earth by the way that we work and act and that if we as Christians are living for Christ we can get a taste of heaven. Besides heaven will be so much better than anything we could possibly think of now.

So there it is, my three main concerns with the Heaven and Hell game, and the reasons why we didn't play it last night. But I think that this has sparked a whole new discussion that we need to enter into as post-modern Christians. What is our theology of hell? What does the Bible say, and if it is different than the concept of hell that most of us carry, how do we begin to change people's thinking? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments about what hell is to you, and how we can create a game that will allow youth the think about their lives, but without giving them a false doctrine of Hell.


Nikki said...

Hey Nathan
check out my blog for my daily thoughts, also I also posted my thoughts on Heaven/Hell

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