When NPR Asks You to Talk About Hell

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I’m sitting in the Minnesota Public Radio building in downtown St. Paul in a glassed in studio.

The audio guy rattles off the name of the person who sits here normally – someone famous, I gather, by the way he says it. I pretend to be impressed and hope he doesn’t figure out that I have no idea who we’re talking about here. (I don’t really listen to NPR. I pretend it’s because I have kids, but really, it’s because I’m not cool enough.)

In front of three computer screens and all sorts of levers and microphones, I put on headphones. I listen to the disembodied voice of the producer from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) tell me what he’s looking for. The radio documentary is about “evangelical Christians who have struggled to redefine what it means to be an evangelical Christian,” and I’m one of three voices. The only female. The only American.

In front of me, there’s a list of questions that the Canadian producer sent ahead of time. There’s nothing too surprising here. Mostly, they’re questions I’ve been answering over and over, in some form or another, since my book came out.

The first hour of the interview, I cruise through the early days of my faith, the junior high years, Teen Mania and my Super-Christian boyfriend Chris. I talk about the Depression and the Church Search that almost broke us in two. I talk about the Other Guy. I talk about therapy and about the slow work I’ve done since to rebuild, rebuild, rebuild my faith.

With ten minutes left on the clock – just when I’m getting comfortable with my voice in the microphone and the bright lights around me – the Canadian producer hits me with the four core beliefs of the evangelical faith. “I’d like you to go through them one by one and tell us how what you believe about each one now.”

I consider saying that I have to go, actually, and don’t you think we have enough?

Instead, I wade in with Biblical inerrancy. Yes, I still believe the Bible to be inerrant, I say. And yet, that doesn’t mean we always interpret it correctly or apply it right. I believe it’s Truth; I also believe we’ve used it dismissively – putting Bible verses like Band-Aids on really deep hurts.

We talk about “the focus on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as an act of atonement,” and I agree and expound. I cruise through Core Belief #3 about the “conversion” or “born again” experience, and when we get to Core Belief #4 – Christians are called to actively spread the “good news” to others, I think I’m home free.

Yes, I say, I believe that. But I’ve learned that “spreading the good news” doesn’t really look like handing out tracts or standing on some street corner, yelling about hell. One of the most freeing things I’ve discovered is that it’s not my work to convince anyone to follow Christ.

I’ve pulled out one of my best lines from the blog and written it down for just this moment. My true work, I say, is to lean into the Love of God and be changed – so that when I meet the orphan or the widow or my neighbor or enemy, I have something to offer them besides platitudes.

I say it like the period at the end of the sentence and hope that we can call it a day.

“Wait,” he says. “Wait. I want to go further here. Like, what about hell?”

I inhale.

“Yeah,” he continues, his voice loud in my right ear. “A guy comes up to you on the street and says. ‘I don’t believe in Jesus. Am I going to hell?’ What do you say?”

In the studio, the clock ticks, ticks, ticks in front of me, and the audio guy yawns behind the glass, and the question feels like an unexpected blow to the side of the head.

“Am I going to hell?”

*

Once, in the second grade, I stood up in front of my entire class while my teacher was on the phone at her desk, and I told them that if they didn’t ask Jesus into their hearts, they were going to hell. I wasn’t trying to be cruel. It all seemed very logical to me then. They needed to know; I would tell them.

A red-headed girl named Michelle said, “I’m telling that you said hell!” And we both raced to Ms. McGuillicut’s desk – her to tell on me, me to explain that I wasn’t actually swearing, I was sharing the Good News!

At age six, the fear of hell felt very real to me. It was the impetus between my own “conversion” experience the year before. A dream about Satan and that infamous Lake of Fire is what sent me rocketing out of my bedroom and into my parents’ bed, where I “prayed the prayer” and asked Jesus into my heart.

Twenty-four years later, I’ve revisited most of my core beliefs. Something about idling in the Darkness of clinical depression for four years has changed how I understand my own need for God and his Light.

Finding myself – that Evangelical poster child – on the brink of an affair – changed the way I saw myself and the way that I understood grace. I thought I understood “being enslaved to sin” in high school. But I didn’t really. Not until I was driving back to the coffee shop to see the Man Who Was Not My Husband after I’d sworn not to. Again.

My core beliefs have been changed and shaped by this experience of my own inadequacy and God’s adequacy in spite of it.

Ask me, and I will tell you that I believe that Jesus came to restore our relationship with God because we were powerless to do it ourselves. I’ll tell you that this is what makes us enough for God, and that without it, we live in a state of terrible disconnect. I believed it then, all those years ago, in Sunday School. But now I feel like I know it to the bottom of my shattered soul.

But ask me about a Lake of Fire and Gnashing of Teeth and a curly-bearded Devil with a pitchfork? Ask me if you’re going to hell, and it turns out I’m speechless.

What do I know about hell, anyway?

Art from GospelGifs
Art from GospelGifs

In the studio, in the microphone, I am making absolutely no sense. I can tell.

I mutter something about that question being a struggle for me. “I believe the Bible to be true. I remember all the things I learned about hell as a child. I hold them in one hand,” I say – except less eloquently.

“And yet I also believe that God is Good and that God is Love and that God is All-Powerful. And that it’s not his will that anyone should perish. And I hold that in the other hand.”

I’m trying to say something about the tension and the mystery of it all, but I’m making a mess of it. It seems like it should be a straightforward question, and once I knew the Right Answer to say. I remember, vaguely, the Bible verses and the diagrams and the Gospel tracts.

But as I sit there, other questions are unspooling – ones I haven’t gone back to think about in years.

Is hell an actual fire-filled place – or is it simply being disconnected from God and from one another?

Is this life the only chance we have to find and except Jesus? Or does the Good Shepherd descend into the darkness of Death itself to find us?

What about those who have never heard? Hidden tribes, living unaware of the name of Jesus in the jungles somewhere?

How can anyone ever know what happens between God and a person at Death?

What the hell do I know about hell? I’m not a pastor or a scholar. I’m a writer. An English Major. I sat in the back row of my Christian Theology class senior year of college and slept through much of it.

It’s the one area of my faith that I haven’t revisited, and I can’t do it now, in the studio with the lights, the producer on the phone, prodding. “Yes, but what would you say.

“I’d say I don’t know,” I say finally. “Honestly, at this point in my life, I’d say I don’t know.”

*

I drive home in Wednesday afternoon traffic with the radio off thinking about all of it. God. Heaven. Hell.

I’m thinking about Jesus, who feels quiet, but also near to me as I merge slowly onto 94. I worry that in my unknowing, in my muttering, unclear answer, I have failed in some way. I have never been very good at this sort of thing.

I’m sorry. I breathe. I thought I knew, but I don’t.

It’s Ash Wednesday, and all around the city, people are going to church. Priests are smearing ashen crosses onto one forehead after another that we might be reminded of the fleetingness of life; the inevitability of death. From here, we turn to the season of Lent, in which we turn our eyes to the life and death, the suffering and sacrifice of Christ.

I remember those years spent trying to reach God through a cloud of clinical depression and of my own anger, and I’m still figuring out what we mean when we talk about Capital-H Hell. But I’m desperately grateful for the other hells from which I’ve been freed. The ones constructed by myself and by others. The places I’ve been powerless to escape on my own.

The city skyline disappears behind me, and the sun breaks through the clouds, and I don’t know what happens, exactly, when we die. Only that Jesus has made a way.

47 thoughts on “When NPR Asks You to Talk About Hell

  1. For what it is worth, “I don’t know” has always been my answer for people who ask me if they are going to hell or not. I don’t. I can’t predict the future. I can’t know if you are saying you don’t know the real Jesus or just a really bad Church representation of Him. I don’t know if rejecting that false image that so many churches presents counts as really rejecting Him. I don’t know if you will change your mind next week and accept Him. I don’t know if then a month later you will regret that and change your mind again. I don’t know if “once saved, always saved” is true or not. Even if I did know all of the right answers, there are still a million things that could change with you in five minutes let alone five days or five years that would change the whole equation before you die. Even the most fundamentalist view on Hell is based on your standing when you die… and I can’t tell you what will happen between now and then. And I can’t even tell you that the Bible is as clear as the fundamentalist interpretations of some like to make it seem. So I just don’t know.

  2. Oh I love this. I’m sure at the time it felt clunky and awkward (I know most anything I say publicly feels that way to me), but based on your description here I heard honesty and truth, and in the end I heard that you would engage with the person, and offer honesty and vulnerability, rather than speaking in speeches. “I don’t know” may not make for the most impressive radio, but I bet the guy in that hypothetical conversation would come away feeling ministered to. I say well done.

  3. There were three issues that really drove my break from fundamentalism and Hell was one of them. I remember being appalled at the callous, indifferent way people from my childhood church talked about it. It was like the emotional impact of what they were saying didn’t register with them. I read a quote once that said Christians shouldn’t be universalists, but they should be universalist sympathizers. I’m not sure that’s quite how I’d say it, but I get the sentiment behind what the person was saying And the fact that the people I grew up with didn’t get it at all is a huge part of what drove me away from fundamentalism.

    The thing that was most helpful to me in thinking through it was The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Briefly stated, Lewis’s idea is that heaven and hell are basically continuations of this life–if you live under the love of Christ, then that Christ-life continues into eternity. If you reject the source of love and life, then that decision continues to have consequences forever. The basic idea is that if human beings are eternal beings, and Christianity says they are, then we’ll see the full outworkings of a person’s life and affections in eternity. If you follow a pattern of unrepentant sin in this life… well, there’s only so much damage one can do in one lifetime. (You can do a lot of damage, of course, but there’s a limit to it created by the shortness of a human life.) But stretch that out into eternity and imagine the effect. On the other hand, imagine what happens to a human being who spends an eternity in the love of Christ. In the Weight of Glory, CSL said that we’ve never met a mere mortal–the people we see everyday will one day be beauties so magnificent we’d fall and worship them if we saw them today or creatures so wrecked by sin that we’d recoil at the sight of them.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you got put on the spot like that at the end of the interview. That’s never a fun place to be.

    ~jake

    1. Jake! The Great Divorce is my go-to, as well! God Bless C.S. Lewis. (to put it mildly)

    2. “I read a quote once that said Christians shouldn’t be universalists, but they should be universalist sympathizers.” LOVE this. I remember hearing someone quote Karl Barth to similar effect–something like “We cannot say that all will be saved, but wouldn’t it be great if God made it happen?” (Barth was undoubtedly more eloquent.) It strikes me that hoping we’ll all be saved is the essence of love.

  4. I stood face-to-face with my friend when she asked me with all sincerity to give me an honest answer to that question – “Do you believe I am going to hell?” Like you, the questions raised through my mind about what I really believed. In the end, I gave her the honest answer she was asking for, and it was “I don’t know.”

    At the same time, I knew if my church friends would have been there to witness it, they would have been appalled. They would have tried to help me out with all the right scripture verses to show that anyone living the way that she was living was going to hell.

    Today, I know, and my friend knows, that she is not going to hell. She has fallen in love with Jesus and will enjoy his presence forever. I guess where I’ve come to on the question is that it isn’t the right question. Christian faith isn’t about going to heaven or hell. John 3:16 doesn’t say that God sent his son into the world save them from hell and send them to heaven. It says Christ came to impart “eternal life.” John 17:3 defines eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

    I can’t relate to trying to save people from hell or for heaven. Those concepts are too unreal for me. I can relate to introducing you to Jesus. What you do with that is up to you.

    Thanks for bringing me back to this difficult question, Addie.

    1. I love your understanding. We do need to ask the right questions (and not get sidetracked with the wrong ones).

      And I love that your friend has fallen in love! 🙂

    2. ETERNAL life definitely means either heaven or hell. EITHER IS ETERNAL

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      1. Well, except (and if this isn’t the place for this, someone shut me up)…my admittedly lay reading of John’s gospel is that the author makes rich use of symbols and (for lack of a better term) “code words.” Hence I’m inclined to take the author’s use of “eternal life” as the author’s use throughout the gospel. In the same way that the use of “believe” in this gospel seems to imply a dynamic relationship, not assent to a set of truths.

        But hey, I could be all wet. When push comes to shove, as y’all have said so eloquently, I just don’t know.

  5. So – first, the whole “take us through the four evangelical beliefs” would have totally thrown me (because 4?? I didn’t know there were 4 Pillars of Evangelicalism???) and secondly (and mainly) because it sounded like it was an examination of some kind, some test of orthodoxy.

    I remember doing evangelism training with an evangelical (and wise) lady, who asked us to split off into pairs and practice explaining part of the gospel to a non-Christian. We duly did, relieved to have ticked off the relevant doctrine in under three minutes. Then she asked us to answer that same apologetic question, but this time do it assuming that they were askif because they had a personal pastoral issue in connection with that doctrine. We duly did. It was harder. We took longer. We felt stupider and more vulnerable. Then, at the end of the exercise she said, “Always, always answer it the second way. People are usually carrying all kinds of burdens and pain that lie behind spiritual questions. They deserve to have those questions handled with love and gentleness and great respect.”

    I think that you were answering the question the second way – out of respect and gentleness for others’ pain and difficulty and your own questions and hesitations. I think it is probably pastorally healthy to pause and find the doctrine of hell difficult, and sometimes I worry for those who can answer ithat question too easily, whatever it is they answer with.

  6. I don’t know, either. Thanks for sharing this, Addie – it can be so hard to answer questions about these complicated, layered beliefs.

  7. “I don’t know” is a good answer, really. You’re in a challenging position, answering everybody’s questions publicly, and especially about such slippery, potentially incendiary stuff. Sounds like you did okay, Addie. 🙂

  8. I’ve learned that the only time it’s “easy”- even for evangelicals-to make absolute statements about Hell is when discussing a belief not a person. A face and a name… it shakes you in a way that words can’t describe.

  9. I wish more people could be brave enough to say “I don’t know”. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of evangelicalism for me was needing to pretend I had all the answers. I think your answer on the radio show may have had some listeners letting out a breath they didn’t know they’d been holding. There’s mystery and there’s tension. And you communicate it beautifully even when the question takes you by surprise.

  10. This has nothing to do (that much) with the very wonderful thing you have written here. It’s…more of a reassurance that just because you write a book (that is a result of a personal, vulnerable journey), it gets published, people connect with it and it happens to be the story of your experience as a Christian, working out your faith, doesn’t make Theology 101 your point. Ever.

    Sounds like, my friend, you really honored who you are and the process of knowing truth and Truth, and the limits of that process, and gave yourself grace. And THAT is lovely.

  11. I am learning to be very comfortable with “I don’t know”, and leaning on the sufficiency of Christ. That’s about all I can depend on, and I’m learning to see that it’s enough. Peace be with you, sister.

  12. What a silly hypothetical. Since when does anyone walk up to someone on the street and say “Do you think I’m going to hell?” Thank you, Addie. I think your stories–of finding yourself radically in need of grace, of idling in the darkness of depression, and all the many stories you tell–have been a much greater witness to the love and salvation of God than a pat answer to a dumb hypothetical. Thankful for your willingness to live and write in the tension, in the mystery, in the questions.

  13. Thank you for sharing this, beautiful Addie. I’m glad you don’t have a pat answer to everything. I’m glad you’re human. Beautifully so. Thank you for your honesty.

  14. Wow that is difficult! It’s unfortunate that the conversation so often comes down to what happens when we die because I think the message of Jesus is about the kind of people we’re becoming while we’re alive. So “I don’t know” is the best answer because that’s not really what it’s about.

    It’s a shame that some think there has to be a “checklist” if you will like 4 core beliefs (as if to establish that as long as you agree with these things you’re in), when there’s so much nuance and room for discussion even there.

    Take Biblical inerrancy – a book full of poems and historical narrative and visions and songs and letters. When was the last time you read a beautiful poem and your response was, “Is that poem free of error?” Or received an encouraging letter from a friend and then had to answer someone asking, “So did your letter from Shane contain any errors?”

    Anyway, we could go on and on, but well done Addie, thank you for your honesty here.

  15. So good. I completely relate, Addie. It’s so much harder to stand firm with the traditional teaching of Hell when you open your heart to those “outside” our idea of Christianity. Once you face the discomfort of being with someone “different” you begin to see how beautiful they are. I don’t know the answer about Hell either, but I refuse to become some kind of scary spiritual head hunter for God. Regardless what the answer is, I believe my response remains the same: I am to love. Being a jerk doesn’t win over converts.

  16. No one knows how salvation works. Trying to figure it out is so much theological folly. But I know this – I’m skeptical of faith grounded in fear. That’s not my experience of God. Love casts out all fear.

    All I can do is my best to live into the Lord’s Prayer, and then trust God to be God.

    Thank you so much for writing this beautiful piece.

  17. There is a lot more truth in “I don’t know” than in a glib answer. The honesty and grace you answered with are never a “fail”. Have peace over this, Addie, it’s all good.

  18. I love telling people that Jesus only talked about judgement a few times, and it was always in relation to those who did not care for the poor, the sick and the broken. He never once spoke of judgement for the poor, the oppressed, the beaten-down and bruised. He came to set them free. But he sort-of insinuated that hell is for those who thought they knew all the right answers without actually living out any of that good news stuff.

  19. No failures, Addie. Believing in mystery is such a freedom. And until we have some certain faith, we can both say “I don’t know” with our whole hearts. xo.

  20. I think your honesty answered that question better than any learned Theologian. I too am grateful for surviving my own Hell and believe that God can use my experiences to His advantage far better than me standing on some street corner demanding that all sinners repent. Once again your brokenness and humanness has in all likelihood saved many people. Bless you.

  21. Thanks for the honesty. We’ve all been there and we’ve all said things we wish we could go back on or amend or clarify. That was a tough question and most people would have a hard time answering it — particularly in that setting. I like where you ended, though.
    Best,
    Paul

  22. Best answer I know, kiddo. Followed closely by, “It’s not up to me.” OR “The door between heaven and hell is never locked on God’s side. . . ” or some other trite gibberish. You did good, Addie.

  23. “I don’t know,” is a humble answer. It’s a grace-filled answer – grace for you in the things you don’t know and grace towards the other person whose heart you cannot possibly assume to know, and in this case, I think it is a “right” answer. What we know as Christians is that we are all going to hell. BUT Grace has intervened. Grace has shown us another way. And no one but God could possibly know the state of another person’s heart. Only God can know if, when, how another person will respond to Grace. To say, “I don’t know,” is simply to admit that you aren’t God.

  24. First of all, I hate that this guy maneuvered you into the corner on this one. Secondly, I brought this up with some friends last night, because my heart was still hurting for you. We came to the conclusion that we would say, “I don’t know”, as well… Mostly because, while we believe that there’s a hell, etc, we don’t believe that any human being should be spending time judging the eternal state of another’s soul. We can share the Gospel, share the truth, but God alone draws someone, woos someone, and knows all the ins and outs of their heart. This guy wanted you to say the words that could condemn another, and that’s not your place. Aw, Addie, you didn’t fail. God did make a way. And we don’t have it all figured out; even if we love Jesus with all our hearts!

  25. Matt, great response. You’ve turned the question around, the way Jesus could well have done. Changing it from “who are you to say I deserve Hell” to “I don’t know all that God can do and will do, and you can still respond to him.”

  26. So what can a good evangelical think about family members who have died without expressing faith in Christ? Here’s a snippet of a short story I wrote about this. Rather long for a blog post comment — here’s the abstract: God’s wrath and justice and compassion are all real. Somehow they all fit together, we don’t know how yet. But we can trust God that they do.

    The story:
    Marv lay awake, turned over yet again. Jenny lay quiet beside him. At home he’d get up and take his book into the living room, but in this motel? He could go down to the lobby, but that would require getting dressed. Or he could go to the bathroom. The toilet seat lid wouldn’t be really comfortable, but it would be all right, wouldn’t it? But he didn’t move.

    The family reunion had been a good time. Of course Dad would tear up telling the cousins how he’d met Mom, He was still mourning Mom, it had only been eight months. His cousin Dave the Catholic priest said he’d liked the funeral. He’d told Dave Mom’s story of how surprised she’d been that her parents hadn’t fussed over Eric wanting to marry a Catholic girl. “You can tell me if you don’t want to answer this, but I’m wondering,” Dave had said. “You’re an evangelical, but your Mom was not. Do you wonder if your Mom was really saved?”

    “Good question,” he’d said, hiding his panic. What to say? He stammered, then launched into his possibly heterodox thoughts of the last couple of years. He’d seen that Mom was not afraid of death, and how throughout her life she had really never been critical and self-righteous. “So God was giving her spiritual gifts,” he’d concluded. “So I’m trusting he was in her heart, even if she never prayed the sinners prayer.”

    Dave had approved, but now Marv thought again about what he’d said. Wasn’t it a fragile argument? God gave his gifts to the righteous and unrighteous alike. Maybe he’d just said that to please Dave.

    Maybe Mom was in hell. Writhing in torment. The picture frightened him. Wasn’t there a verse in Revelation about the smoke of their torment rising forever in the presence of God and the saints, as though God and the saints rejoiced in their suffering?

    God is merciful, and delights in mercy, he thought. If Mom was in hell, it was because God had done everything he could to have mercy, and Mom had refused it. Frightening as it was, he had to believe God had done right. For God had the right to condemn her to hell. God had the right to condemn him to hell. He had no doubts about his salvation, but he was saved by God’s mercy, not his justice.

    How did he picture God’s compassion? That morning at the office after Jenny’s mom had passed, when Melanie Kravitz had just looked at him, with compassion in her eyes. That’s what came to mind. God’s compassion must be greater still. Melanie’s compassion in that moment was a gift from God. So how did you combine God the compassionate with the doctrine of hell? Was God’s compassion only temporary while his wrath is eternal?

    Marv didn’t like that thought. It wasn’t just his pride; he wasn’t refusing to see himself as a sinner, was he? It was the image of God’s compassion being only temporary that he didn’t like. Didn’t God delight in mercy more than judgment? Jesus in the synagogue quoted that passage in Isaiah about the year of God’s favor and the day of wrath, implying favor lasted longer than wrath. “Slow to anger”, yet once angry, angry forever? It didn’t fit.

    On the other hand, the Scriptures did talk about hell. Jesus talked about hell. You couldn’t say Hell was a tradition of man added in later. How could a compassionate God condemn people to hell? Yes, the gulf between his mom’s character and the perfect character of Christ was huge, immense. But wasn’t the gulf between his mom’s character and the character of Satan equally immense? Or even the character of Hitler, or Stalin, or any serial killer?

    Or was it possible that God, even after the final judgment, looks with compassion upon the lost? “You didn’t have to go there. I gave you a way back to me, you didn’t take it,” he might say in his wordless glance. Was that consistent with believing in eternal torment? It was a new thought, but he didn’t see a contradiction in it. Was that the resolution between the fact of God’s compassion and the fact of Hell?

  27. Oh man, Addie. I would not want to be on the receiving end of that question.

    I firmly believe in hell… I feel like the Bible makes it clear that there is eternal life with God and “other…” but is that other torture in a fire-y pit? Um, I’d go with I don’t know on that one too, because, well, I’ve never been there.

    The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. God doesn’t want us to draw near to him because we fear the consequences of what happens if we don’t. God wants a relationship with us. And that’s the thing that I’ve come to be completely confident about. That God is holy, and he is just, and he is merciful… that he wants obedience but doesn’t expect perfection… that he is slow to anger, but he does anger… that he redeems. To me, God’s grace and mercy are not about giving me the rubber stamp that says anything-you-do-is-ok (which is what the world wants to hear, what the world thinks is “fair”), but his grace and mercy are about him wanting me to draw near, even though I wander, even though I fall. Instead of demanding mindless obedience, or forcing us all to do his will, he allows me to choose (he sends the manna, but I have to gather it, kwim?). And he gives all of us that choice.

    With that said… about the logistics? What EXACTLY happens? “I don’t know” is exactly the right response.

  28. I just found your blog last night after talking about this very issue with a close friend. We had just finished a book club meeting with some other friends during which one woman said that the idea that Jesus’ death was an atonement for some-but-not-all people was “better than the alternative”. As it turns out, she believed that the only alternative was that God was not sovereign and did not know who would choose him or how, but that’s a bit of a bunny trail. Regardless, it got me thinking about what I believe about hell and I have to answer with you that “I don’t know.” I’m becoming more comfortable with that, too.

  29. First, you need to post when the CBC is going to air this.
    Second, don’t worry about sleeping through theology class; just go read stanley hauerwas’ memoirs “hannah’s child”, and you’ll learn what it means for you to be a theologian.

  30. “I don’t know” – Implies that the answer to that question is way above our pay grade. Right up there with “It’s not up to me to decide or determine.” Judgment is not ours. See also John 3:17 … and no, that’s not a typo. It’s the verse immediately following the one so often quoted … the one we so often forget. Great job, Addie.

  31. Good for you Addie. I don’t know is a brave and awesome answer. And, I just have to ask, what CBC broadcasters was it? I will find it up here in the great white north!

  32. Thank you for sharing your honesty. I have struggled with this as well, obsessing about it for years, consumed with it even. It happens with OCD. I also was in a personal hell, like you, with depression and anxiety for years, of which I finally came out of 5 years ago, for good, at least for now. It is so hard, especially when the people you love don’t believe as you do. How do I reconcile that? Only by the grace of God go I!

  33. I agree with many of the commenters: “I don’t know” is the best answer when you don’t know. To think that accepting Christ means you’ll immediately know everything is ridiculous.

    I would add one thing though: we have to be careful that we don’t let “I don’t know” become an excuse not to pursue truth. I think some Christians do that. Through study and prayer God will reveal Himself to us as He sees fit (and as we become ready). Until then, we just don’t know.

    One book that really helped me understand some of the hard questions is “Who Made God” by various Christian apologists: Ravi Zacharias, Norman Geisler, etc.

  34. It’s something we don’t like to think about, and it’s a terrible place to start a loving discussion with a curious seeker…but Luke 16 is one concrete passage that drives this home for me. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus. About the chasm in between, about begging that someone could warn his five brothers that this place…hell…was a place of real separation, real torment. But Abraham says it’s futile (and that’s the part that I think is so telling): “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

    People don’t want to hear about hell, because it paints a picture of a God they can’t stomach. It’s a really hard thing, it’s not the news our itching ears want to hear…but that parables there for a reason. Jesus came for a reason.

  35. But: MAJOR PROPS to you…always, always better to be honest. I’m in PR, and we tell interviewees to always be frank and say EXACTLY what you did, whenever they’re unsure. It strips credibility when you tender a fake answer.

    One more thing, and I’ll shut-up, promise. 🙂 (You struck a nerve I’ve been thinking about, lots.) I’ve been trying, more and more–when I get the hostile questions (there are so many these days)–to challenge folks to dig into the Word itself.

    It’s also worth noting that Jesus didn’t always answer questions directly, but often, he focused more on unmasking motives (e.g., “he who hasn’t sinned should cast the first stone.”) Good things happen when people seek in earnest…and unfortunately, I think that people who ask the hell question sometimes want to just watch us squirm, want a reason to put us in the “judgemental Christian” box.

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