Milson is twenty, and I meet with him every Sunday afternoon to talk about the Bible. I really enjoy the fact that Milson is always thinking and always asking questions…until he asks a question like the one he asked out of the blue last Sunday:
“Ryan, I have a question. My question is, is my family go to hell?”
I hesitantly started giving him an answer, wondering why he couldn’t just be content talking the other subjects that I had planned on talking about.
When I was giving my answer (in far FAR more round-about and stuttering way than his yes/no question required) I think my main goal was to help him not be sad about anything. I did not want thoughts about hell to wreck his day. I did not want him to have to wrestle with the issue or wrestle with God about it. I wanted him to have a true answer that would also let him sleep well at night, because…that’s what I do. Reflecting on it afterward, I realized that, no matter how good of an answer I gave him, Milson already had a better understanding of hell than me.
A proper understanding of hell is not mainly about whether one likes or dislikes the book Love Wins*. It has more to do with whether or not one can say what Paul did when contemplating the unbelief of his fellow Israelites:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. -Romans 9:1-3
Can I even come close to saying this with Paul? If my hell theology doesn’t cause me great sorrow, then I just don’t understand it. My conviction, though worded correctly, is simply wrong and cold-hearted if I can rationalize my emotions to the degree that I am just apathetic.
It seems that I took too many psychology classes in college and fell for the trap that turns Christianity into a mere healthy mentality, which helps rid the mind of tension, conflict, and anxiety. I think if the apostle Paul were around, people would tell him to go talk to someone who could help him with his feelings. “You don’t need to have ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish’ inside you. That’s not healthy Paul.”
I talked to Milson and answered his question about hell. But even before I answered it, I think his understanding of hell was better than mine. It was clear that his understanding of hell actually made him care.
*(for the record, I haven’t actually read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, but if I have heard correctly, his thought in the book is that hell is not something permanent. If there is a hell, love eventually “wins” and rescues everyone from it. I would fall into the camp that disagrees with Rob Bell)