Is Gandhi In Hell?
The next topic in this series on Hell is to discuss why people go to Hell. With this issue it is natural to draw inferences concerning “who” actually has gone, or will go to Hell. Thus, we enter into volatile territory. There are several factors here that make this a difficult discussion. I will flesh out these reasons over the next few posts.
In broaching this topic there will be accusation that the discussion is judgmental and condemns specific people to Hell. For instance, when we outline "why" people go to Hell there will naturally be people "who" we may not think comply (if they are living) or complied (if they are not living) to the criteria. Yet, without Biblical revelation, it is impossible for us to know specifically who is in Hell, therefore we should refrain from casting judgment or drawing conclusions that any specific person is in Hell. No matter what we say, we can be sure that we do not know who is specifically “where” until we see them physically “there.” The Bible gives us reasons to be hopeful and confident concerning the witness of those who lived an unapologetic witness for Christ that they are with Him in Heaven, as it also gives us confidence and warns us that those who live in open rebellion against God and fail to believe upon His Son, will end in eternal doom (1 Cor. 6:9-10). These are offered to us as assurances, yet the Bible never leaves it to us to offer the final word on any specific person concerning placement. If we do so we could make a grave mistake. I do not want to venerate the wicked, nor do I want to condemn the righteous (Prov. 17:15). We are flawed. We can be easily deceived and the Bible leaves the eternal fate of the soul to the authority of God alone. I have every right to warn. I have no right to condemn. All I can do is affirm what the Bible says, which gives me confidence, but the Bible does not allow me to cast condemning judgment on a specific person or a group of people as if I am certain. At this time, the only people I know who are in Hell are the people that the Bible says are there. This principle should help guide our discussion and keep us from error.
For example, in Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is suffering in the afterlife. Thus, we can say that there is a rich man who once had a beggar named Lazarus at his gate, who also had five brothers, who is in Hell. About him, I can say not only with confidence, but with certainty, he is there right now. Yet, some would object that Luke 16 is a parable, an illustrative example of spiritual truth and as such does not speak of specific people but rather fictitious characters. I would argue that if this is a parable, I find it odd that it is the only one in which Jesus gives us a specific name. Furthermore, why is it important to the story, if it is fictitious and illustrative, to specify that the rich man had five brothers? Why number them at all? Why not simply say "brothers”, which infers plurality but falls short of specifics? What does it matter if he has five, or three, or eight if the story is only a parable? In the story of the prodigal son it is vital to the story that we know there are two sons of the father, each of them play a vital role in the story, yet neither are named (Luke 15:11). This is not the case in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The tension of the rich man’s plea is that his brothers are ignorant of their impending doom, why then does it matter that there are five or forty or ten? I would argue that the story specifies five because it is speaking of a specific rich man that actually had five brothers. The way Jesus develops the characters would certainly imply that this is so. If this is the case, why does the Bible name Lazarus but not the rich man with five brothers? I don't know. Yet, although I do not have space to argue my case here (as it is not the purpose of this post), I would even argue that the story is not a parable. If it is, it does not fit the genre well when compared with the other parables Jesus told. Yet if it is a parable, we must say that it is unlike any other parable in that it draws from a specific named example. This parable not only gives us confidence, but concerning Lazarus and the rich man with five brothers, it allows us to speak with certainty.
So what are we saying in light of our topic, “Why do people go to Hell?” In discussing "why" people go to Hell, we naturally seek to draw connections with "who" goes to Hell. Although this seems to be the logical inference, it is not one that is safe, nor is it one that is possible to support outside of Biblical revelation. Thus it is very important that we discuss this matter at the point of "why" and try our best not to overemphasize the specifics of "who." This will keep us from not only making the mistake of stereotypically condemning people to Hell, but it will also help us not to be deceived in thinking that all dogs, Hollywood stars, athletes, and church members go to Heaven.
From the short video trailer I have seen, it seems that this is a point Rob Bell desires to make. Though I cannot take the train of thought to the conclusions he has drawn, I can agree with him that I do not have the freedom to say with certainty that Gandhi is in Hell and thus I should not put a sign on an art exhibit that condemns him. Doing so is not only poor taste, but poor theology and in the end it is not helpful to the furtherance of the gospel. Yet, I can say with certainty that if Gandhi, or any Baptist, or Catholic, or Mother Teresa, or Muslim did not know Jesus as his or her Savior that indeed he or she, like every other person in the same condition will suffer Hell. If you parse that statement out you will see that it is a statement of “why” and not a statement of “who.” Misunderstanding this distinction is what I am trying to help you the reader and me the writer to avoid. I did not know Gandhi. I do not know his relationship to Christ. I do not know how God worked in his soul, and I sure have not seen the man in Hell. If he is in Hell, I can tell you “why” he is there, but until I see him there, I cannot tell you that he is indeed there. The Bible gives me grounds to express “confidences” about “why” but it does not give me the liberty to say with “certainty” about specifically “who” is in Hell. If I do so, I may be in error and engaged in a totally fruitless discussion.
More to come. . .
More to come. . .