In my recent blogs on the subject of Hell, some people may suspect that I am going soft on the doctrine and that I am trying to import some liberal ideals into the Christian faith. But I want to say that I do think Hell is important. However, it is alarming to me to talk to some people who I would describe as conservatives but not necessarily Christians, who would also want to insist on the doctrine of Hell. This is because we assume the Hell is reserved for "those bad people" and not for people like us. Nevertheless, I do concur with the sentiment that The concept of Hell is important for this reason: we want to believe that ultimately, wickedness will be punished and doing what is right will be exalted. This is why a conservative who wants to insist on the rule of law will also be sympathetic to the concept of Hell because it is a kind of cosmic capital punishment, a way to keep order and to bring wickedness to justice. The problem is that we are very good at seeing the wickedness of others while failing to recognize our own faults and injustices. Many children who have grown up in conservative Christian homes have rejected, what they perceive to be the gospel, because the doctrine and punishment of Hell became simply an extension of the overbearing and/or hypocritical arm of the parent(s). God then becomes to this person a bullying and vindictive authority in the sky and they shake their fist at Him. They resent being bullied with the fear of Hell and they reject the whole bit.
Now these are just some theories and thoughts that I have about how Hell is perceived by some people. But at the end of the day, what I believe about Hell and what you believe about Hell is mostly irrelevant if we are talking about understanding the gospel of Jesus. What IS important is understanding what the original gospel writers want to say as they articulate the gospel. And I want to say that the role that Hell plays in the gospels is a very, very, minor role. It is nowhere near the central focus of the gospels. When I was a kid I once heard a pastor say that Jesus talked about Hell much more than He talked about Heaven. But I have read the gospels many, many, times now and I can't say that Jesus talked about either much. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven and He talked about a coming judgment. But unless we start with the assumption that every time Jesus says "judgment" He means "Hell", we cannot say that Jesus said much at all about Hell. But He did talk about judgment. I think the question that we should be asking is: what kind of judgment was Jesus talking about and are we under threat of any kind of judgment ourselves? If there is any real value in meditating on the concept of Hell, it should be based around questions like these.