“Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames” was a low-budget dramatic film my grandparents borrowed from their church when I was a kid. I don’t think they made us watch it with the intent of scaring us so badly. As a kid, not only was I scared of mostly everything, but I felt it like I would any other drama. I knew as Christians, we were supposed to understand the idea of heaven and hell. Well let’s just say, being raised Southern Baptist, the product of fear was never rationed.
The drama presented “unsaved” mothers being violently ripped away from their children by the youth group drama team dressed in black cloaks and lurching away with hunchbacks. It was scary. Of course I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to be pulled so violently away from my family like that. Needless to say, this drama gave way to my fear-based spirituality.
Every decision was based on my ability to perceive being dragged into the deepest dungeons of hell like a scene out of Dante’s “Inferno”. It is true that I “walked the aisle” of my church with a sense of urgency to escape the fiery licks of hell. I still remember the times I sat in my room with my face in my hands rededicating my life to Jesus over and over because maybe I said something to my sister or friend that wasn’t too nice. Of course, I also thought I could pray for God to turn off my bedroom light as a kid, and that never worked.
Sometimes when we grow older, we grow a little softer. The idea of hell was slipping away, along with the fear of millions of people thrown into a lake of fire and glass. It broke my heart. Hell was losing its sting. I was no longer threatened by spitting preachers and doomsday evangelists. I was free to love another without also judging them to hell.
As I’ve stumbled through my own spiritual journey, I’ve found much healing. Any time you travel around the world and spend intimate moments with friends of other faiths and creeds, you realize that the more you see, the less you know. Before this gets too “Rob Bell” for you, I want to remind folks that, at this point, I’m not living my story only within a biblical context. I realize your knowledge of scripture is important. It has been to me, too. (And in many ways still is.) But back then it was all black and white. Hell gave me a reason to judge.
Six years ago I would have called myself out as a blasphemer. I feel like, considering one’s possible conviction, you may call me one too. Unfortunately, that word has also lost its sting…replaced with this great new one: peace.