I leaned back on the couch and thought for a moment. Moreland had adroitly responded to the toughest objections to the issue of hell. I had to admit that when I took all of his answers together, they did seem to provide a reasonable rationale for the doctrine.
Yet that didn't remove my discomfort. And I was in good company. C. S. Lewis once said the doctrine of hell is "one of the chief grounds on which Christianity is attacked as barbarous and the goodness of God impugned."i6
As for Moreland, he had spoken as a philosopher and theologian, but I was curious about his personal reaction to this issue. "What about you, J.P?" I asked. "You've woven some convincing arguments in favor of the doctrine, but be honest-don't you have times when you feel terribly uncomfortable about the existence of hell?"
Moreland removed his silver-rimmed glasses and rubbed his eyes before speaking. "Absolutely," he said.
"No question. But, again, feeling uncomfortable about something is not the same thing as having a rational, considered judgment that it's wrong. I believe that hell is morally justifiable, but I don't feel comfortable about it because it's sad."
He paused, then continued. "Keep in mind that God doesn't feel comfortable about it, either. He doesn't like it. So what's the proper response to feeling uncomfortable? It's not to try to create a view of the afterlife that keeps me from feeling uncomfortable. That's a terrible way to approach truth. The proper thing to do is to admit that hell is real and to allow our feelings of discomfort to motivate us to action.
"For those who don't know Christ, it should motivate them to redouble their efforts to seek him and to find him. For those of us who know him, it should cause us to redouble our efforts to extend his message of mercy and grace to those who need it.
"And we need to keep the right perspective through it all. Remember that hell will forever be a monument to human dignity and the value of human choice. It is a quarantine where God says two important things: 'I respect freedom of choice enough to where I won't coerce people, and I value my image-bearers so much that I will not annihilate them."'
"Can you see how the doctrine of hell can be a stumbling block for spiritual seekers?"
"Yes, I do, and I'd like to say something about that. Whenever you're trying to start a friendship with any person, you don't understand everything about him and you don't necessarily agree or feel good about every view he holds. But you have to ask, on balance, do you trust this person enough to want to enter a friendship with him?
"The same is true with Jesus. Every single issue isn't going to be resolved before we enter into a relationship with him. But the question is, on balance, can you trust him?
"I'd encourage any seeker to read the gospel of John and then ask, 'Can I trust Jesus?' I think the answer is yes. And I believe that, over time, as we develop our relationship with him, we'll even come to trust him in those areas where right now we lack complete understanding."
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