Loving the Hell Out of People
Shane Claiborne on ministering to those trapped in hell on earth.

Last year Brian McLaren shared his views about hell in a series of three posts on Out or Ur. This year we welcome a new voice on the subject. Shane Claiborne is a founding member of The Simple Way, a new monastic community in Philadelphia, and the author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. In part one of his post, Shane discusses his childhood memories of preachers "scaring the hell out of him," and reflects on a more Christlike alternative.

I figure anytime you are about to talk about hell it's good to start with a joke, so here we go?.It was a busy day in heaven as folks waited in line at the pearly gates. Peter stood as gatekeeper checking each newcomer's name in the Lamb's Book of Life. But there was some confusion, as the numbers were not adding up. Heaven was a little overcrowded, and a bunch of folks were unaccounted for. So some of the angels were sent on a mission to investigate things. And it was not long before two of them returned, "We found the problem," they said. "Jesus is out back, lifting people up over the gate."

I remember as a child hearing all the hellfire and damnation sermons. We had a theater group perform a play called, "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" where actors presented scenes of folks being ripped away from loved ones only to be sent to the fiery pits of hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and we all went forward to repent of all the evil things we had done over our first decade of life, in paralyzing fear of being "left behind"? the preacher literally scared the "hell" out of us.

But have you ever noticed that Jesus didn't spend much time on hell.

In fact there are really only a couple of times he speaks of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of hell and God's judgment. And both of them have to do with the walls we create between ourselves and our suffering neighbors. One is Matthew 25 where the sheep and the goats are separated, and the goats who did not care for the poor, hungry, homeless, and imprisoned are sent off to endure an agony akin to that experienced by the ones that they neglected on this earth. And then there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, a parable Jesus tells about a rich man who neglected the poor beggar outside his gate.

In the parable we hear of a wealthy man who builds a gate between himself and the poor man, and that chasm becomes an unbridgeable gap not only with Lazarus but with God. He is no doubt a religious man (he calls out "Father" Abraham and knows the prophets), and undoubtedly he had made a name for himself on earth, but is now a nameless rich man begging the beggar for a drop of water. And Lazarus who lived a nameless life in the shadows of misery is seated next to God, and given a name. Lazarus is the only person named in Jesus' parables, and his name means "the one God rescues." God is in the business of rescuing people from the hells they experience on earth. And God is asking us to love people out of those hells.

January 16, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 28 comments


February 05, 2007  2:45pm

I agree with Shane, except I must add that some people need the Hell scared out of them and others need the Hell loved out of them. All things work for the good pleasure of his will.

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January 30, 2007  11:19am

My bet is, outside Baptist circles ( and this is a compliment to my SBC brothers) we preach about hell A LOT LESS than Jesus did. Most mainlines can't reconcile God's Justice with their seeker sensitive God who is so desperate for us, He wouldn't want to hurt our feelings.

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My Crazy Times

January 27, 2007  2:52am

One thing that I've come to realize throughout my journey is that salvation and the abundant life that Christ spoke about has less to do with where we spend eternity and more to do with how we interact with God and our fellow human beings while we are here on earth. Don't get me wrong eternity with our Savior after our life here certainly is a component of salvation but it's more of a fringe benefit rather than the end all. An earlier post by Truth Seeker claims that Jesus spent a lot of time on the topic of hell. I'd like to challange him to post for us all of these instances, because certainly it's easier to just make a claim like that but a little bit more difficult to back it up. So many evangelicals today think it is wimpy or watering down the Gospel to speak of love so much. However, in John 13:34 Jesus said, "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other." Christ's entire ministry centered around love. A prof. of mine in college shared a story with us about a time when he was trying to witness to a kid he had been coaching. While driving the kid home one day my prof. once again launched into witnessing mode, it was then that the kid looked at him and said, "You care more about my soul than you do about me". Let us love because He first loved us and when we are asked to give an account of that love, then we get to point to Jesus. -M.C.T. For better or worse, it's all a part of the journey. Come join in the discussion. www.mycrazytimes.com

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Alan Ward

January 24, 2007  1:53pm

The only definition of eternal life that Jesus gives that I am aware of is in John 17:3. "Eternal life is knowing God and the one he has sent." That sure implies to me that at least part of eternal life is entered into right now. But I do think there is another part we encounter later, but it's hard to know the exact details. The images of fire and brimstone we associate with HELL may well have been around when Jesus was alive, and he just used them to get his point across about the serious need to rethink one's life in light of the present availability of the Kingdom of God, which I think was what Jesus spent most of his time talking about and about which his life was a living illustration. To me, HELL is separation from God, and from the life we were created to live now and forever. Jesus came that we might be restored to God and set free to live life to the full. Whether there is a literal destination for those who choose to live their life separated from God and never come to faith in Christ, I'm not sure. It does seem clear that Jesus takes the subject seriously and suggests we ought to make knowing God our top priority in this life and that we risk serious consequences if we don't. If I've lived my whole life far away from God and then I suddenly die and go to the immediate presence of God–heaven–I might find that almost unbearable. That is what I think Dallas Willard gets at when he says, "the fires of heaven may be hotter than the fires of hell." Spending eternity somewhere where what is routinely done is completely foreign to me because I never practiced these activities before I arrived could be worse than being subjected to literal fire and brimstone.

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January 24, 2007  1:58am

interesting to me how everyone sits around with thier expertise in the bible and history and talks all this talk. People sure do seem to have the market cornered on God and have had a direct conversation with him. If you just look at this conversation everyone is interpreting the bible and history from their own lens and experiences in life. Which at some level has to be done but fact of the matter is, are you willing to admit that you might be wrong. I think we are going to be surprised at some of the faces we see in heaven and some of the face we see in hell and at what heaven and hell really is.

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eric wright

January 22, 2007  1:42pm

Someone said, "We should tell them truth in love..." Maybe the problem isn't that hell exists, but that very few people in the church are telling anyone anything IN LOVE. One need look no further than the tone of many commentors for an example.

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January 18, 2007  8:09pm

People dont like hearing about hell nowadays, they rather hear about it in a much milder way but nevertheless it is real. We should tell the truth in love....like the Bible said, if we dont warn the man of his sins and he dies in his sin, we would be held accountable for it. Yes, soimetimes the truth hurts, doesnt it?

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January 18, 2007  7:18pm

OK, so I do see the point John Hollandsworth made about switching from Hell as an eternal punishment to Hell-on-Earth, but I also think I get your point. And it's interesting that Jesus really only talked about Hell a couple times. Great article. This gets some link love at infinivert.com

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January 18, 2007  10:11am

I need to make a change to my comment, I ment to say " if we do NOT share the gospel we are doing them a misservice." Richard I agree with you, I never said He didn't.

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January 18, 2007  9:55am

Life on earth can be bad, evil, somewhat "hellish"–but it can never be hell. As best human vocabulary can describe it and as bad as human thought can make it–it must be infinitely worse, for the One Man who did experience it on earth cried, "My God, My God–why have your forsaken Me?" By the way, if there is no hell, why did He go through that? What's the point? And as to God being some cruel heavenly SS officer delighting in burning people–what about a Father who would send His Son to go through that agony–and not for good people, but scum like I can be at times (too often)? I think you can believe Scripture and act on it (including helping people out or eternal and earthly misery) or just be an atheist denying the reality of it all, but this middle of the road, panty-waist stuff is nauseating.

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