Hell…

I’m sad and very angry today.  I sit before the computer screen conflicted and unable to calm the incensed vortex encamped in my mind.  A commitment to honesty both to me and my daughter has brought about maddening confusion.

My youngest daughter who was gifted with an incredibly caring and sensitive heart decided she wanted to join FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at her school.  Having been a part of this organization while in college, immediately I encouraged her to participate.  Giving her a chance to be exposed to the gospel of peace in another venue could only be of benefit, right?

Turns out this ministry effort is all about Heaven and Hell, focusing it’s efforts on scaring the shit out of these little kids to force them to accept Jesus on these horrifying terms.  I’m certainly aware this type of thinking is pervasive in many churches but had seriously hoped FCA would stay true to its mission and use the platform of sports to bring about better community and cooperation among its participants, not become a judgment house for jocks.

As my precious little girl and I were sitting together on the couch, each reading quietly to ourselves, suddenly she put down her book and asked me a disturbing question.  “Daddy, am I going to Hell?”  My first response was to reply “of course not sweetness, what made you ask such a question?”  She told me the speaker at FCA had spent the entire session talking about how everyone is going to Hell unless the accept Jesus.  At that moment I was grateful for the meditative breathing exercises that I  learned so that my anger didn’t rush out uncontrollably.

My daughter and I have had a longstanding agreement that we would always tell each other the truth even when the answer is difficult or unpleasant.  I dug deep into my theological education for an answer to the question.  I found in there, many definitive answers to the query but not the right one for her and this moment.  I next searched my inward self, deep within my soul, seeking means to make this a teachable moment beyond just a rote answer.

She then came with another roundhouse of a question that took me down for the count.  “Daddy, do you believe in Hell?’’  I sat there in utter silence, flustered and mute, I just looked into her trusting eyes.  My promise to her was to be truthful even if it was uncomfortable was now being put to the test.  Personally, the reality of Hell, was something I had placed further and further away from my daily thought process to the point where I hadn’t even considered it for some time.  How do I answer this?

Before I could muster a sound she said, “Daddy, you don’t believe in Hell do you?”  Stammering and stuttering my effort at communication failed me.  How can I give her a definitive answer to something I so struggle with?  I never want to make her spiritual journey any more challenging than it has to be but I needed to honor our promise of honesty.  After another extended moment of silence I calmly replied, no, I don’t believe in Hell.  “But Daddy, the speaker said it was where all bad people go.”  I could then feel the frustration growing in my spirit for all the lazy, unconcerned theology I’d witnessed in my life thrust on unsuspecting children in the name of God.

I steeled myself and looked her square in the eyes and told her that many people do believe in Hell like you describe but many others believe in God differently.  I said it’s OK that people understand God differently and we have no need to try and change the way they think and in the same way others shouldn’t try to change the way you think.  The reality is, nobody really knows, there’s no way to prove or disprove  another’s belief.

“But the speaker made it sound so scary” she said.  It is scary and for some people it really helps them care more for God to believe that way, i replied.

Think of it this way if you want to understand my viewpoint.  Imagine a wife whose husband is very mean and unkind to her.  When she tries to leave him each time he is more mean and unkind.  Does the woman really love the husband or just fear him?  Does the husband really love the wife?  Is the husband using something bad to keep the wife loving him really how people should love each other?  Is fear the only thing that keeps the family together?  Is that love?

She took a moment to ponder the story and then responded…”That story is just like God and Hell”  “We should love God because we want to not just so we don’t have to worry bad things will happen to us.”  I told her she was thinking on important things and to keep searching her heart for the answer and soon enough she will have more clarity on the issue.

Then I held her hand and told her, Living for God is about what you do for others not just what repeated phrase you say for yourself.  You keep letting your heart be kind and generous, continue to be friends with those who are alone, always stand up for the one being picked on, give to those in need, keep making other people feel special.  If at the end of the day that behavior gets you sent to Hell, I’ll be right next to you and we can go together.

Maybe we’ll pass on FCA for right now.

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