There is a sign in front of a church not far from my house (the denomination will remain nameless) which last week, when referring (I think) to the weather, read, “If you think this is hot, wait until you get to Hell.” Now, numerous thoughts flood my mind as I attempt to process this: For example, who would deliver this message? What type of church delivers this message? What do unbelievers think about this message? What do unbelievers think about this church? What do unbelievers think about the Church in general because of this message? Likewise, what do unbelievers think about these Christians and/or Christians in general? More importantly, what do unbelievers think about God in this message?
The anti-hero of one of my favorite movie’s (Hellraiser, actually a series of movies) is Pinhead. The author, Clive Barker, presents Pinhead as a sort-of “moral entity” where, when one has an evil heart, is immoral and/or unethical Pinhead comes for you from the regions of Hell. He always has a catchy slogan – a million dollar one-liner – that sticks in your memory. In the third movie of the series, in a scene where our anti-hero has just defied a myth and walked defiantly into a “sacred” church building, the priest exclaims to Pinhead that he [Pinhead] would “burn in Hell!” Without missing a beat Pinhead retorts, “Oh, burn…Such a limited imagination.” This response to the naivety of the priest is what instantly comes to mind as I process the message of this church sign.
When I was still in trucking, there was a driver with the company who, as a self-proclaimed “prophet of God,” insisted (conveniently enough) that anyone who didn’t believe as he did would one day “wake up in the flame!” The interesting thing about this to me is the facial expression this guy would get; the change in the pitch of his voice when he said it; the sheer uncontrolled excitement reminded me (ironically) of the portrayals of the demon-possessed in the gospel accounts of Scripture.
The validity (or not) of a burning Hell notwithstanding, do we really see the exclamation of such as effective evangelism? Do we actually think that our uncontrolled enthusiasm concerning unbelievers going to Hell is somehow a derivative of the gospel? Can we hide our self-righteous pride in our own holiness for accepting this message that others are too evil to obtain? I’ll tell you what this message does, from personal experience: It raises-up (in the strong-minded), rebellion against you and your church. It calls forth (in the thinking person) defiance of your God (god?). You interpret this rebellion and defiance as necessary reactions of the ungodly, but you do not perceive that they are necessary reactions to your hypocrisy. What sort of theology do we have when we wear as a badge of honor the rejection of this message by unbelievers? The point is lost on me when the church prides itself in its fidelity to the lack of transformed lives in unbelievers. It is logically fatalistic if the church is present for the benefit of believers only (oh, the theological suicide)!
Pinhead (both in word and image) simply echoes the sentiment of sound reason if the gospel is not the Good News of the transformed lives of those who have escaped judgment by the resurrection life and living love of Jesus Christ expressed in the community of believers who bear His name. Love covers a multitude of sins, not Hell-fire.