CNN, I guess to find a new item to write about on bin Laden’s demise, took a poll and asked people if they thought bin Laden was in hell. Sixty percent said yes. Ten percent said no. Twenty five percent said they weren’t sure. I don’t know what the other five percent believes.
Whenever we are ready to pronounce judgment, we are in dangerous territory biblically. Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Countless other passages urge against judgment as well. But when they ask this question to many, the truth of the matter is that it isn’t about bin Laden at all but rather about the growing number of people in our society, and in the church, who simply don’t believe in hell at all. The concept of a loving God condemning someone forever and ever does not sit right with them. This is why in polls more people consistently profess a higher belief in heaven than in hell. On top of this, about fifteen percent of Americans (and seemingly a majority of folks who tend to post to message boards, but that is another topic) are atheists and believe in no afterlife at all.
While I have no problem with people wrestling with traditional concepts of hell (many of which are derived from extra-biblical writers such as Dante), I do have problems with us dismissing something that Jesus clearly taught about in his ministry (more than a few times). How can we say we are Christians and believe in Jesus and think he was just plain wrong about there being a hell.
My son asked me earlier today (before I saw the poll) where I thought bin Laden was. My answer was, “I honestly do not know, but I wouldn’t want to be facing my Maker with the decisions he made in life.”
Is God so great that he overcomes evil even after this life so as to save more? Maybe. There are some verses that seem to indicate this. Or does God judge us according to our actions and these have eternal ramifications? Many verses in the Bible seem to indicate so. Or is Jesus the only one who determines who gets in and gets out? This is pretty clearly laid idea out in the New Testament. And does it happen immediately or at the end of time? Again, there are passages which support both ideas. It is complicated to say the least.
I do know that some people can make life hellish on earth. I also believe that people in Jesus’ day believed hell to be a literal place.
C.S. Lewis believed that people who end up in hell are ones who choose to be there. (God gives us the freedom to choose to separate ourselves from God.)
What happens to bin Laden, or almost anyone else for that matter, after death? We do not know. God is the judge. But I think it is important for the Church not to throw out the concept of hell, even if it is a difficult concept.
What do you think?