“Does hell exist? If so, who ends up there, and why?” Thus begins the promo for “Hellbound?”, a “provocative, feature-length documentary that will ensure you never look at hell the same way again!” The movie, which is opening in theaters this week, is the project of Kevin Miller, a Canadian writer and director who once played Superman villain Lex Luthor on television.
Miller explains his reason for making the movie: a fear of hell has bothered him since he became a Christian at the age of 9. He became a Mennonite and then an evangelical before turning to Anglicanism. He’s now a universalist, which means that he doesn’t believe anyone goes to hell.
His film interviews scholars and pastors who represent the three positions on hell: universalism, “annihilationism” (the saved go to heaven, the lost cease to exist at death), and the traditional view that the lost spend eternity in hell. Some are complaining that the film favors universalism. The movie also presents members of Westboro Baptist Church (the protesters who picket soldiers’ funerals) as representative of the traditional view.
Here’s my question: what does it say about our culture that our opinions are considered relevant to the existence of hell? What other dimension of reality depends on our beliefs for its existence? Atheists think their opinion that God doesn’t exist means he doesn’t exist. By that logic, a poster I saw is equally valid: “Since I don’t believe in atheists, atheists don’t exist.” Imagine this thinking in any other realm, such as: I don’t believe in Greenland, so it doesn’t exist. Those who claim to have been there or to live there now are mistaken. Because I haven’t experienced it myself, it therefore cannot be real.
Perhaps a better way to determine the reality of hell would be to consult those whose knowledge or experience is more credible than ours. Hell is described as a real place 23 times in the New Testament, 15 times by Jesus. The Bible describes it as “torment” (Luke 16:23), a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:50), and “darkness” (Matthew 22:13).
Some interpreters believe these descriptions are intended to be taken literally. Others, including John Calvin, Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, and Billy Graham, see them as symbols of an eternal reality. (For instance, physical fire only works on physical bodies, but Matthew 25:41 calls hell “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”) Whether you interpret these descriptions as literal or symbolic, there is no question that the Bible wants you to believe hell is a very real, eternal separation from God.
I’d be interested in your thoughts: why do so many people deny the existence of hell? What can we do to help someone avoid going there? Please submit a comment below. And ask the Father to use your life to draw others to himself today. For when Jesus is our Lord, “death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity” (Milton).