Questioning Hell - Blog 1

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“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”  - Arthur Schopenhauer

When someone has strongly believed something for a significant period of time, when they have confidently declared it to others as truth, or when they have made major life decisions because of a belief, abandoning it can prove difficult, even when evidence surfaces suggesting it to be false. To concede it might not be true forces them to question everything. Were they wrong about what they preached to their co-worker, or what they taught to their children? If they were wrong about this, what else could they be wrong about?

Cognitive Dissonance

This internal dilemma is called cognitive dissonance. Psychiatrist Frantz Fanon described it like this…

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

This internal struggle can be even more apparent when the beliefs that come into question revolve around God. If we entertain that what we have believed might not be true, it can be difficult to not make the jump from, “what I believed was wrong,” to “I am wrong.” And then, “how could God have let me be misled all this time?”

Consequently, when we are confronted with evidence suggesting an error in our beliefs, we tend at first to respond with ridicule and thoughts or statements like, “how could anyone believe that? This is what has always been believed!” This is then followed by our opposition, sometimes even violently. 

Think about what people like Martin Luther experienced and the reformers in the 1500’s who confronted the beliefs of their time by standing on their conviction that salvation was by faith and not works? Many were killed! In fact, people were even martyred when they rocked the boat to suggest that baptism should involve immersion and not just sprinkling!

Today it's commonly understood that we are saved by grace as Martin Luther suggested. But acceptance of new (to us) ideas doesn't usually come right away. It isn’t until far after the dust settles and enough people have started believing the new evidence that it's popularity grows and it can be more easily swallowed.

My Journey

I am no stranger to these three stages myself. When I was first confronted with the idea that our modern beliefs about hell might not be true, I was resistant. I was even initially hesitant to read books from other perspectives out of a fear I might be misled. Thankfully, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I had experienced significant core beliefs challenged in my past and come out on the other side with a conviction that I had previously been wrong. So, I knew that it would not be fair of me to dogmatically declare what I believed was true without being willing to hear out the other side. If I was wrong before, I could be wrong again.

This began for me a 5-year study of the subject. It included periods when I was studying hours a day for months at a time like it was my job. I have read books and articles on all the different major perspectives, beliefs throughout history and how they originated, the etymology of words, as well as people’s experiences including near-death ones. I never imagined that this would become a subject of such passion and importance for me, but it has, and here is why…

I was aware cognitive dissonance was at work in me more than a year into my study. I had come to a point where I could confidently say that I no longer believed there was anything in the Bible to justify my belief in hell, yet for some reason, I hadn’t yet let it go. Until sitting in my bedroom one day while talking to God I had a realization and said, “Wow, I no longer believe in hell.” Immediately it felt like a dark, heavy blanket that I had been under all of my life, lifted off of me, and my vision changed from black and white to color. It was as if my perspective, everywhere I looked, became saturated with a greater peace and joy and I could see the love of our Father as I never had so richly before. My love for people, animals, and all things skyrocketed as I began to see His life and beauty everywhere. This changed everything.

Freedom To Question

I know if you haven’t started this journey yet, even reading this blog series might feel scary. But I want to challenge you to consider that fear is not from God. He can handle all of our questions and wants us to believe because we truly do, not because we are intimidated into doing so.

I have determined that I would rather have questions I can’t answer than answers I can’t question.

The foundation of all truth is love. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Fear is a cruel master that imprisons us from being able to ask questions or entertain their evidence, but we don’t need to be afraid. Our Father’s love for us is bigger than anything we might misunderstand. Our lives are in His hands and we can trust Him more than we should trust ourselves to get all the answers right. His hands are big enough to hold us up and His love deep enough to not let us go.

In this series, we’re going to be covering a lot of ground, including troubling verses that might cause us to think hell, in fact, is a reality. If at any point you have questions or Bible verses that conflict you, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or send an email to me. I’d love to answer all those I can or include your questions in future blogs.

I hope you’ll get out of the box and join me on this adventure. You might just discover that God is better than you thought and life more beautiful than you imagined!

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