Today’s post is perhaps my short answer to the question of whether hell is real in a physical sense. For that, we go back to John Shore for a quote from his Kindle booklet Hell No! Extinguishing Christian Hellfire.
Shore is worth reading whether you consider yourself religious, or a none, or secular, or Christian, or outright atheist, because in his iconoclastic writing the bones of the discussion come clear. His work is deep, fun, and memorable. Not everyone, including me, will agree with everything he says (and you’ll see immediately why I say that), but still…
You remember my story last week about the spring at the oasis? John Shore is over there right now, throwing off rocks.
Is Hell Real? What Are We, Six?
So, to state something so obvious I should be embarrassed to type it: No one has any idea—none, zero, zilch, nada, void, total blank—what happens to anyone after they die. Could be heaven awaiting. Could be hell. Could be a Dairy Queen; could be a dentist’s waiting room; could be a six-room ranch-style igloo; could be interplanetary pinochle tournament. No. One. Knows. It’s. Not. Knowable.
Paul enjoins us to give up childish things, and you can’t get more childish than pretending the Bible is a magical window that lets you see beyond life. It isn’t. It doesn’t. You can’t. Trying to use the Bible as proof of what happens after we die is like trying to use a telescope to row a canoe. Wrong instrument. Wrong purpose. Certain failure. Still stuck floating haplessly about. The only thing we know for sure about what happens to us after we die is that in this life we don’t, can’t, and won’t have any idea what happens to us after we die.
I believe God made and sustains this world. So for me the All-Time Great Question is: Why can’t we know what happens to us after we die?
…I think keeping the afterlife a complete mystery is God’s way of telling us to pay maximum attention to the life we have on this side of the door. That the ever-fluid now of our life is where the action is. As clearly as he possibly can, I think he’s telling us to with full and focused consciousness be in our lives. To love our lives. To believe in our lives. To trust that within every single moment of our lives is virtually everything that we could ever want to know.
…The question of whether or not hell is real is properly subsumed by the truth that a moment spent worrying if you’ll be with God in the afterlife is an opportunity missed to be with God in this life. Or, as we have it in the teen version … If you’re worried too much about the afterlife, you’re not worried enough about this life. Living a life of love means not having to worry about hell.
You see why I wanted to make this introduction. He’ll make you think. Shore, John (2011-08-25). Hell No! Extinguishing Christian Hellfire. Kindle Edition.If you have access to Amazon, you can find his books/booklets there, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better conversation-starter for $4.99 than this. His blog is at johnshore.com (subtitled, “Trying God’s Patience Since 1958,” which says a lot right there).
This was originally intended to be the third post in a three-part series, but this is unlikely to be the last word. So many questions, comments, things to recommend, so much to say! Next time, how a no-longer-fundamentalist Evangelical Christian has changed her opinion.