A Different Kind of Christmas Message

The summer of 2014, while I peddled my latest book at a Christian conference vendor table, Ron attended one of the many breakout sessions. (Each of us continued to make our own way through the process of Finding More.) Rarely, have I seen him with a deer-in-the-headlights look. Yet, that was the expression he wore as he made his way back to me. 

“I’ve just heard something I’ve never heard before. You’ve got to go hear this guy!” He rambled on for another minute or two. Without taking a breath, he sputtered “I don’t even know how to explain it!” Finally, I managed to squeeze in a question, “What are you talking about?”

Slowly, he unraveled what he remembered about Edward Fudge’s talk on “Rethinking Hell.” Since I couldn’t leave the book table, I ordered the CDs of his two talks. I’ve listened to them numerous times and kept his thoughts about hell simmering on the back burner in my mind as I journeyed through the Bible each year since. (Links to these talks are at the end.) 

I grew up believing, like many of you, that if we don’t follow Jesus we will go to hell and be continuously tormented forever and ever. I backed up my thinking with the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. I believed all souls were immortal, and the threat of hell motivated people to live godly lives. I never wanted to believe God would make us in His image only to torture us forever in the fires of hell. Yet, this was my understanding – until I learned more.

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we all get to choose between endless life with an amazing God or being eternally separated from Him and completely destroyed in hell’s eternal fire. God respects our decision, and His justice always prevails. 

Contrary to many traditional views, the Old Testament has lots to say about what happens to the wicked. In Psalm 37 alone, we find many of the words often used throughout Scripture to describe the fate of those choosing death. The wicked (according to the Christian Standard Bible translation):

  • are destroyed (v. 9, 22, 28 34 38),
  • will be no more (v.10),
  • perish (v. 20),
  • fade away like smoke (v. 20),
  • are gone (v. 36), and
  • are eliminated (v.38).

Psalm 68:2 says, “As smoke is blown away, so you blow them away. As wax melts before the fire, so the wicked are destroyed before God.”

Isaiah 26:14 says, “The dead do not live; departed spirits do not rise up. Indeed, you have punished and destroyed them; you have wiped out all memory of them.”

Malachi ends up the Old Testament by saying the wicked will become like stubble. They will be consumed, leaving no branches or root. They will become ashes underfoot.

In the New Testament, the word for hell (gehenna) is used only 12 times; once by James when he says the tongue is itself set on fire by hell. Jesus used it the other 11 times. Perhaps, the most revealing of all these is Matthew 10:28, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  

When speaking of immortality, the Bible always talks about the saved and never the lost; the immortal soul is always the whole person and never a floating spirit separate from the body; and immortality is bestowed by God in the resurrection and never inherently given to everyone. At the final judgment, the wicked will be consumed and destroyed forever by a fire that is eternal. 

The idea of an immortal soul for everyone was a pagan invention. As Greek philosophers were converted to Christianity, they brought into the church the doctrine of the immortal soul. Paul, however, told Timothy that God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16), but He has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

So, what about the rich man and Lazarus? Historians believe this parable is not unique to Jesus. He may have borrowed it from the rabbis which would have helped Him make His point to the Pharisees who were listening and scoffing at Him. In fact, at least seven versions of this parable have been found in literature of that time period. Looking at this story in context, Jesus is not teaching about heaven and hell. He is making a point about the importance of stewardship and taking care of the poor. At best, Lazarus and the rich man were in Hades (referred to as Sheol in the Old Testament). Hades is the unseen realm of the dead – a type of waiting room for either heaven or hell. Again, Jesus was not teaching about the final judgment.

If I could only choose two verses on this topic, they would be these:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life!” Romans 6:23

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” John 3:16

In an effort to motivate people to believe and obey, many preachers and teachers still believe it’s vital to preach hell, fire, and brimstone as it relates to perpetual torment. The apostles certainly didn’t think that! Fear is never an effective long-term motivator. Throughout the book of Acts, early Christians found something much better to inspire faith – the gospel of Jesus. The messages delivered by the apostles in the book of Acts were spontaneous descriptions of what the Spirit had done and continued to do. The fresh, new element conveyed by the apostles was the victory of life over death found in Jesus alone. They taught that the only way to have eternal life was by believing and trusting in the only One capable of granting immortality to the soul. The choice was, and still is, amazingly simple – life or death.

Now blink. You have that deer-in-the-headlights look. You may not agree with any of this. When it all soaks in, you may still believe in never-ending punishing rather than a permanent (eternal) punishment. However, no matter what, I can assure you that rethinking hell automatically forces you to rethink your life in Christ. In Edward Fudge’s book Hell: A Final Word, he concludes:

“The bottom line, which I remind myself every day, is that this whole enterprise is not about me anyway. It is about God and His character and glory and praise. When we remember that, and act accordingly, there are no limits on what he can accomplish.”

The main thing I’d like to encourage all of us to thoughtfully consider is whether or not our lives testify to the wonder, joy, peace, and thrill of God’s presence. Do we make our relationship with God so inviting that those who don’t yet have one want one? Since those without Jesus will most assuredly be forever separated from Him at the judgment, do they even know what they will be missing? Have we shown them how wonderful life in Christ really is in the here and now? Moreover, do we share our hope in the wonder of heaven? Do they know how desperately we want to maintain our friendship with God? Do we graciously join hands with all other Jesus followers as the unified church whose mission is to simply love God and love others?

If the Jesus whose birth we celebrate this week has placed a new song in your mouth, sing out! If the Jesus who came to earth to make you right with God showered you with grace, celebrate! If the Jesus who filled you with His Spirit turned your mourning into dancing, embrace Him! Let others see what they might miss without the love of God, the grace of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Let’s make this unusual 2020 Christmas one with an extra special reason for the season! 


Hear what Ron heard at the conference by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkFuumEFZRU and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEGMzZKB_7k&t=156s

Watch the full length movie depicting Edward Fudge’s journey toward rethinking hell by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W66HP-3HO_A

Posted in
PERFECTION ROAD

Leave a Comment





A Swirl of Thoughts and Emotions

By Donna Jackson | November 16, 2021 |

There’s Always Room for More

By Donna Jackson | November 9, 2021 |

Friends often fill the chambers of our hearts much like the Jews filled the Tabernacle. Those who don’t know much more than our names gather in our Outer Courts. A few others who show interest in our faith, family, work, and hobbies are granted access into our Holy Place. However, few times in our lives…

Church Lepers

By Donna Jackson | November 2, 2021 |

Desperation shoved her through the doors of the drug rehab facility. Counselors and teachers there helped her excavate her brokenness. Slowly and methodically, they helped her sift through the pain that had ignited her addiction until she found Jesus waiting. Waiting for her. She found the acceptance she longed for and the love that would…

Saving Nicodemus

By Donna Jackson | October 26, 2021 |

Whenever I feel the urge to splurge for dinner, my craving often shoves me toward a hefty hunk of pot roast. My only problem with that is that I can’t just whip it up in a jiffy. It takes some time and patience – even in the instant pot. I’m a bit persnickety about fat,…

I Was … But God … And Now …

By Donna Jackson | October 19, 2021 |

Yesterday, my doctor friend casually asked how old Ron and I were. I’m sure that number was on my chart somewhere, but I could tell by his tone that this was an introductory question; he had something else on his mind. Without hesitation, I told him I was about to turn 64 and that Ron…

A Letter to My Child

By Donna Jackson | October 12, 2021 |

Dear Child of Mine, In times like these, maybe you could use a reminder of all the love I have for you. Long before you were conceived, I loved you. Before the flutter of your unborn feet grew into kicks I knew you would be incredibly strong. Being born was stressful for you, but I…

Perpetual Peace

By Donna Jackson | October 5, 2021 |

Red flags whipped wildly in the leftover winds of Tropical Storm Ida. Orange Beach authorities posted warning signs: “No swimming! Rip Currents!” A few adventurous souls combed the beach with hands on their hats while shorts flapped and jackets snapped. But NO ONE dared dip a toe into the ocean’s fury. Her once-peaceful waters had…

Don’t Let the Golden Rule Rub You the Wrong Way

By Donna Jackson | September 21, 2021 |

My elementary school pencil boxes were made exactly like my granddaddy’s cigar boxes. But rather than the Dutch Masters gracing the lid, brightly colored ABC’s and 123’s stole the spotlight. Every year, Mama filled a new box with all sorts of useful supplies. There were fat pencils, pointed crayons (my favorite), not-so-sharp scissors, rubber cement,…

Regrets, I Have a Few …

By Donna Jackson | September 14, 2021 |

… but then again, too few to mention.” If you’re old enough to remember the song with that line, welcome to the party!  Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all done or said something we wished we hadn’t, or we may have NOT done or said something we wish we had. Some regrets dissolve…

Wishing and Hoping

By Donna Jackson | September 7, 2021 |

Star light, star brightFirst star I see tonightI wish I mayI wish I mightHave the wish I wish tonight I wasn’t much more than knee high when my grandmother Josephine taught me that poem. Like making a wish before blowing out birthday candles, I believed if I closed my eyes, thought of something I really…