Do you believe in Hell?

“If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”    “Is it hot enough for you?”  …

“It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” …

I’m guessing you may have heard one or more of these or other common “hot day” phrases recently.  Miho and I went to the Stampede grounds this past Tuesday for a couple of hours before attending to some other commitments.  I tend to be hot at the best of times (a biological curse I think) but it was one of those days when even standing still, not moving a muscle, one could feel the drips of sweat trickling down one’s back.  We had a blast (except for my unwise feat of courage in going on a “stomach-churning” ride with Miho – the one where you sit on a large ship which, in pendulum fashion, sweeps back and forth.  I can’t believe I couldn’t handle it but I couldn’t handle it!).   Later that day, on our way out of Calgary, the temperature gauge for outside temp read 34 degrees.   Brutal!

Yet, who’s complaining, right?  After a wet, cool, rainy spring, which followed a snowy late winter, many of us have now returned to worshipping the Sun – hiking with our shirts off (not me), sitting lazily on a Banff Avenue bench sucking back a frappucino, or maybe even just lying out on a chaise lounge in a bathing suit, sunscreen and spray bottle close by, working on that tan the health experts tell us we shouldn’t be working on.

All of this talk about heat is perhaps a rather lame way to launch into the topic of hell.   Bet you didn’t see that coming!  Not much of a segway though.  I raise the topic this week because it seems to me one which we, both the larger secular culture and church culture, have relegated to the category of ancient or primitive belief systems with no relevance for the modern person or person of faith.  We simply don’t talk about Hell anymore because no one believes it exists.

What do you think?  What do you believe?  Is there a heaven?  And its corollary – a hell.  If it could be argued that in centuries and even decades past the concept of eternal damnation to some degree compelled people to go to church on Sundays, that certainly is not the case today.  By and large, contemporary folk will not be frightened into church.  We as a culture will no longer be scared into church Sunday morning because we fear eternal punishment.  We will come because we like the people, enjoy the music, have found community there, or find the preaching meaningful, or for any other of many positive reasons.  But fear of hell?  We’ve come to far, perhaps?.  What then to make of the notion of hell?  To “hell” with it?

There may be another way to make sense of it all.  Is it possible to suggest that hell is real, but exists not so much as an afterlife possibility –  rather as a this-life reality?

In an outstanding sermon given many years ago by Hal Missourie Warheim on the call of Moses in Exodus 3ff, entitled “Go to Hell!”, he turns the concept around by suggesting we don’t really need to be concerned so much about the afterlife but rather, as Christians, give over our efforts to engaging with the hellish places and situations of our world today, as it is in the here and now.  Hell is here.  “Yet, mysteriously, it is in just such moments when our predicament is most perilous and our hearts are most panicked that a Word is spoken to us.  It is a strange Word.  An unwelcome Word.  An urgent Word. A demanding Word.  It is the very same Word from the very same Voice that spoke to Moses in Midian, to Jesus in Nazareth, to Calvin in Strasbourg, to Rauschenbush in New York City, to Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, and to countless other compassionate and courageous women and men through human history.  It is the Word of God, and God tells us to ‘go to hell!’…  This is the destiny to which we Christians have been called.  This is the mission for which we are preparing: to go to hell, to find and walk the paths that lead to the places and conditions where evil is the strongest and human need is greatest, and there to set people free to experience and serve the living God of righteousness who creates and loves them… ‘Go to hell’, says God, ‘and I will go with you.'”

So what do you think?  What do you really believe about heaven and hell?  Kind of an important question, don’t you think?   In the meantime, “is it hot enough for you?”


Rev. Dave Crawford is the minister at one of the Banff churches, Rundle Memorial United. Learn more about our current activities, our Thrift Shop, and how to get married in Banff.