Today I want to take a break again from a specific look at the Scriptures to answer a question I’ve heard more than once. It is this:
What if you’re wrong?
It’s a good question, one I should consider and have considered. What are the ramifications if I’m wrong in my belief that ultimately God is going to redeem everyone?
First, I think we should consider the motivation for the question. Sometimes I think people who ask this question are in some way questioning my salvation, as though they think if I believe God is going to save everyone, that may mean I am not actually saved. In their minds clearly God is not going to save everyone, which means anyone that suggest He is going to save everyone may not actually be saved. Such a line of thinking is not true of everyone who asks this questions, but sometimes it comes across that way. There would be much to say response, but let me just leave it to say that I’m not worried about my perspective affecting my own personal salvation.
Secondly, then, the question wonders about the ramifications of the potential error of my perspective for today, for the proclamation of the gospel, for people’s standing before God. People’s primary concern seems to be that if I don’t preach eternal hell as the consequence for sin and I’m wrong, if I fail to warn people about hell when it’s a reality, then I have deceived people into thinking they’re okay when they’re not.
Fair enough. Worthy of consideration.
My first reaction, though, is to say THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY DONE! We have effectively removed hell and eternal damnation from the church already. When is the last time you heard a hell, fire, and damnation sermon? When is the last time you heard a preacher say that anyone who doesn’t respond in faith to Jesus in this life will spend eternity in a lake of fire? When’s the last time you heard a preacher even mention hell? I imagine it’s a rare occurrence if you can even remember a time at all. If I am guilty of failing to warn people, most churches today are just as guilty.
Secondly, people who ask this question either assume their own belief is accurate (they don’t seem to ask themselves the same question), or they think that if they’re wrong, then everyone will be saved and all will be okay; whereas, if they’re right, then at least they did everything they could to warn people about hell (notwithstanding the church no longer preaching it). It’s almost akin to Pascal’s Wager, which says you might as well believe in Jesus because if you’re right, and it’s all true, you gain eternity, whereas if you don’t believe, and it’s all true, you end up in hell. By believing you have everything to gain and very little to lose, but by not believing you have very little to gain and everything to lose.
Such thinking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Is this what God wants people to do? Just hedge their bets on His existence or on the possibility of His punishment? Put their faith in Jesus just because of the possibility that He may punish them for all eternity? And this is genuine faith? This is repenting from sin and following Jesus? Isn’t it rather hypocrisy?
If we’re going to follow that line of thinking, then we also ought to teach there is no assurance of salvation. We should warn people their salvation is not eternally secure, that they could lose it with one wrong turn. We should also worry that kids who die without faith in Jesus go to hell . . . and so do the mentally-ill, and those who have never heard the gospel. We should always believe the worst-case scenario because we have to warn people in case it’s true.
And where we end up is teaching people to live in constant fear and dread at the possibility, even the likelihood, that they will suffer forever in the literal fire of hell. Or we assure certain people that they’re in while most everyone else is out, which only results in unfounded and arrogant certainty.
It just doesn’t sound like the gospel message to me.
Fear is the antithesis of the gospel. Pride is the sinful human condition. Neither are good, and Jesus came to set us free from both. He came so that “by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Either we live in constant fear and anxiety, we live in unfounded certainty and arrogance, or we live in hope and peace.
I choose the third.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t be arrogant. Believe the good news.
The really good news, really.