Why risking the fire of Hell could be the most Christian thing you do*
*Ok first things first, this isn’t my theology of Hell, ask me if you are interested in what my thoughts on Hell actually are but eternal tourment for those who haven’t become Christians isn’t it. But it’s an eye catching title and serves as a handy way to look at it for this post.
So how can risking Hell (or perhaps, rather, risk not entering the Kingdom/Heaven) be the most Christian thing that we can do? Surely the point is to behave, do good things and be a good Christian who can be assured of their salvation. Preservation of the self. We’re saved and that feels good. We can exist in the safe, good, pure areas of life. But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t call us to self preservation, but to denial of the self. Christianity isn’t supposed to be about “me” and what I get out of it. It’s about service of the other, including denying the interests of the self in order to do this.
Let’s look at Jesus; God could have preserved Godself, where it is pure, holy and safe. But instead God gave up that right to enter to world in the person of Jesus, where it is dirty, dangerous and sin exists. He didn’t spare himself; from the 40 days of temptation to death on the cross. He didn’t preserve himself, he denied himself and was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for others. It wasn’t about what was in it for him but what he could give for humanity.
And so as Christians we aren’t called to the safe, clean, nice areas of life but to the dirty areas on the edges, not places that someone with self interest would tend to be. To places where we have to take risks – risks that are about serving others rather than ourselves.
So if we see that attaining, and being sure of, our own salvation is about self preservation and acknowledge that we are called to deny the self then the Christian expression is one that leads us, not to be sure of our own salvation but, to act in the interest of others. The first part of this Pete Rollins video shows an example of this.
Another example of this would be someone held to gun point, asked to deny Jesus otherwise they will be killed. Now people would perhaps recall Matthew 10:32-33 and think well, the only thing I can do is to acknowledge Jesus, I may die but Jesus will acknowledge me before the Father and I’ll be in heaven. But let’s add another dimension; what if this person is a mother of a young child? So the choice is between self preservation (well sort-of) in doing the thing that they are sure will help them get to heaven, or risking that in order to live and be there for their child, for service to their child. Now in either situation there is a certain amount of selfishness and a certain amount of giving of the self so I realise that I am looking at this in a simplistic way. But the traditional Christian way of looking at this would be to say that the right thing to do would be to acknowledge Jesus and not be ashamed of the faith; an act seen as securing them a place in heaven as opposed to risking that. Paradoxically the Christian thing may be to deny the self of a secure place in heaven in order to serve and help someone else. I know that this is entirely hypothetical and I think that it is important that we do not criticise anyone for the decision made either way – remembering that Peter was forgiven for denying Jesus 3 times and in realisation that it is an incredibly tough situation to be put in, one that I can only imagine God giving grace in no matter what the decision made is. But it does explore and highlight the paradoxical nature of trying to secure our own place in Heaven rather than serving others.