Since you will come
And throw kisses
At my tombstone later
Why not give them to me now
This is me
That same person
Forget for a moment that Christians are only supposed to be in the business of judging people inside the church, as per 1 Corinthians 5: 12,13. Many people feel perfectly fine blowing right past that holy guardrail and all the many parables, admonitions and prayers that should give us pause in judging other people (or ourselves) as worthy of going to heaven or hell. So as an experiment, let us just suppose we did have the power to tell if someone is absolutely, unquestionably, no-doubt-about-it going to hell. How, then, should we treat them?
I ask the question because it recently occurred to me that I see an awful lot of people who, having decided this or that person is going to hell, then feel perfectly entitled to make sure hell comes early for that person. They take it as their personal mission to ensure the phrase “living hell” is not merely a metaphor but a reality for anyone they have judged as wanting.
LGBTQ people? Forget compassion and skip straight to persecution as an early warning of things to come. The poor, the homeless, the prison bound? They have already gotten the first taste of their just desserts. Why should we be in the business of making what remains of their lazy earthbound existences more pleasant or redemptive? The atheist or non-Christian? In the absence of a faith in Christ, hell is their destination as well, so why not curse them early and often. To hell with them, and let us start now so that we can revel in some small flicker of the flames go come.
This seems to be something of the reasoning that drives some people to believe that “being mean to the right people” is justified. That, and the feeling that if we could just get rid all the people who are definitely going to hell, life in this America and elsewhere would be so much more like heaven. Why wouldn’t it be would be if the only ones remaining were indeed heaven-bound? That makes perfectly logical sense, doesn’t it?
Some people believe and act that way. Perhaps even you? But have you ever stopped for a moment and asked if that is the way we, as Christians, are supposed to act? Just because we think someone is going to hell, are we also supposed to step in and help make their lives hell?
Or are we suppose to offer a cup of water, an uplifting word, or a warm coat for the first mile that we walk with them? How about joining them for dinner, feeding them a loaf of bread, or forgiving them seven times seventy? What about imagining that they are, perhaps, better than we are, given that God says the last shall be among the first in his Kingdom. If that’s true, now might be a good time to make friends with them if for no other reason than out of future self-interests. Oh, and also because Christ says, “Whatsoever you have done to the least of these, you’ve also done to me.”
Remember, a lot of very “good people” actually helped send Christ to hell as well — both while he lived and also on that first day after his death . . . Something for us all to keep in mind the next time we are sure someone is deserving of hell and that, perhaps, its O.K. if we help them get a feel for what is to come.
Read More from Love: The Foundation
In 2002, I visited Maine to see Gregg, my college roommate, and his young family. At the Naval Academy, Gregg and I made strange bedfellows: