A feature that often shows up in celebrity magazines like People is one that focuses on “where are they now?” in reference to some actor or cast of a movie or TV show. Readers love knowing what happened to the cast of shows such as Gilligan’s Island or Father Knows Best after the shows went off the air. Did the performers go on to continuing careers in film, did they end up on drugs or in jail, did they have famous children who followed in their footsteps?
And then there are musicians and home-spun humorists. Let’s try a “Where are they now?” quiz. Where are these famous performers now?
Will Rogers, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, Jimmie Rodgers
Well, if you believe the old Tex Ritter song from 1961, these deceased fellows are all in “Hillbilly Heaven,” making beautiful music and laughing together. Click here to hear Tex croon, “I dreamed I was there in Hillybilly Heaven. Oh, what a beautiful sight.”
Let’s try another similar “Where are they now?” quiz. Where are these four performing today—or tonight?
Bobby Darin, Jim Croce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin
Well, the Righteous Brothers speculated in 1974 that they were sharing the spotlight on stage in “Rock and Roll Heaven.” Click here to hear Bill and Bobby explain that… “If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand. If there’s a Rock and Roll Heaven, well you know they’ve got a helluva band.”
Obviously there is not a lot of heavy theology in these songs. Heaven just seems to be where the souls of people whom many folks admire for their talent end up after they die. Even people like Hendrix, who evidently in his private life was notoriously sexually promiscuous, a mean drunk, an abuser of a variety of illegal drugs… and abuser of women.
Fictional Hillbilly Heaven and Rock and Roll Heaven are a long way from the Heaven of the Bible. The Bible reveals a real Heaven—and a real Hell. If you believe that they really exist, and that they are destinations for the souls of humans, then let’s try another “Where are they now?” quiz. Where do you think each of the following are right now?
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Anne Frank
It certainly should only take a brief moment for most Christians to conclude what fate God decreed for Hitler, where his permanent destination was immediately after his death in 1945. Surely the soul of a vicious, hate-filled, maniacal man largely responsible for a devastating World War, and for the deaths of perhaps 6 million innocent Jews and millions of other innocent people, deserved a prime spot in an everburning Hell the moment after he died. Maybe he even had a whole legion of demons assigned to torture him forever and ever! Not only did he cause great suffering to vast numbers of people, but he blasphemed God. He once said, “We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany.”
It might take some a moment or two more to decide about Joseph Stalin. His legacy as vicious Soviet dictator isn’t quite as commonly known as Hitler’s reputation among people born in recent decades. But just a quick Google search would make it clear how many millions of people were caused great suffering by his regime—such as through deportations to the most inhospitable portions of Russia like Siberia—and killed outright in massive purges of his perceived enemies.
Stalin also blasphemed God. “Stalin followed the position adopted by Lenin that religion was an opiate that needed to be removed in order to construct the ideal communist society. To this end, his government promoted atheism through special atheistic education in schools, massive amounts of anti-religious propaganda, the antireligious work of public institutions (especially the Society of the Godless), discriminatory laws, and also a terror campaign against religious believers. By the late 1930s it had become dangerous to be publicly associated with religion.” (Wikipedia article: Joseph Stalin)
Thus most conservative Christians would soon have no hesitation in assuming God assigned his soul at his death in 1953 to a torture cell next to Hitler’s in the deep recesses of an everburning Hell.
Two down and one to go.
Where is Anne Frank, the young girl who died at age 15, and who chronicled the two years her family hid from the Nazis in a diary that is one of the world’s most widely read books? The diary ends when the family was betrayed in 1944 and all dispersed to concentration camps. Anne suffered terribly, and eventually ended up in the infamous Bergen-Belsen camp. She died there of typhus in March 1945, just a month or so before Hitler died—and barely a month before the camp was liberated by British troops.
Wait. How can this even be a question? Surely someone couldn’t suggest that the moment after this tortured young girl died her soul went to the same place where Hitler soon would arrive! Surely someone couldn’t suggest that after being tortured for just several years by the decrees of evil men she would end up in a place where she was destined to be tortured forever and ever with far more painful suffering … by the decree of God Himself?
Not only could “someone” suggest this—the theology promoted by most conservative Christian denominations actually requires belief that this is so. You see, most such theology insists that each human being has an “immortal” soul that is conscious from birth … on out into eternity. The moment a person dies, their conscious “soul” must immediately be assigned to one of two places—Heaven, where they will experience joy and bliss for eternity starting immediately, or Hell, where they will experience grief and suffering for eternity starting immediately.
The theology insists also that no “sinner” can go to Heaven. Yet at the same time, the Bible insists that every single person who has reached the age of conscious decisions IS a sinner and chooses over and over to sin. Those sins may be “small” ones such as stealing a cookie from the cookie jar, or “large” ones such as causing the death of six million people. But when all is said and done, ANY sin will keep the individual out of Heaven. Thus the only way to be assigned to Heaven is to have personally, deliberately, accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and come under the blood of His sacrifice. That makes the sinner righteous in God’s eyes, and he can be admitted to Heaven. Anyone who has not done so by the time of their death has no other option than to be assigned instead to Hell—where the punishment for sin is not just temporary, but never-ending throughout eternity. There IS no “door number three” that people can go through to some alternative destination other than these two.
What does this have to do with Anne Frank? Anne was not a Christian. She was Jewish. In fact, records indicate that her family were “liberal Jews,” who didn’t even follow many Jewish traditions. She may never have been introduced even casually to any of the claims of the New Testament. She likely knew nothing about Jesus Christ. If knowing Christ and accepting Him as Savior is the only way to avoid torture in an everburning Hell, then the honest conservative Christian who believes this brand of theology has NO choice but to believe that Anne Frank indeed is suffering in Hell right this moment, along with Hitler and Stalin. And will suffer for eternity. EVEN IF she never had a chance to consciously choose or reject Jesus Christ.
Is this REALLY what the Bible itself teaches? Must I believe that innocent, persecuted, lovable, talented little Anne Frank was consigned by a loving God to eternal torture because she was a sinner who didn’t know she could be saved by the blood of Jesus? Even though she wrote at one point, “And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!” In other words, she even had some sort of personal if nebulous concept of God, and a gratitude toward Him. But for the average conservative Christian, the theology of their denomination insists that this is not enough. No, there is no choice but to insist that Anne is in Hell suffering at this very moment.
Of course you seldom hear anyone in Christian circles discussing this aspect of the belief in Hell. It is, in some ways, a “dirty little secret” that is only mentioned when absolutely necessary. For it is SO abhorrent on the face of it that it is viewed as possibly shaking people’s faith in the Bible. Most modern sermons and articles on Hell just focus on mentioning the drunkards, the serial murderers, the rapists, the pathological liars, and the filthy, lecherous old men who will end up there.
Nationally-known Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church in Michigan has recently questioned this way of understanding what the Bible says about the afterlife. A firestorm of criticism by other Christian leaders has greeted his new book on this topic, Love Wins, which challenges some cherished theological notions. Bell seems to have found out the hard way that, in some circles, the quickest way to find yourself consigned to an everburning Hell by some Christians is to suggest maybe there isn’t an everburning Hell! “Heretics” who entertain such a notion are viewed by some as heading straight for the lowest reaches of Hell, perhaps even deeper than where Hitler and Stalin are confined.
This blog is the result of my own studies of over forty years about the topic of Hell. I long ago came to question some of the same things Rob Bell has begun questioning, although perhaps for different reasons. This blog will explore some of the fascinating answers I have found right in the pages of the Bible. And it will compare and contrast these answers with factors from the fields of history, psychology, sociology, and human systems of theology which I am convinced have led erroneously to the popular conception of Hell that has such a grip on the minds of the vast majority of mankind.
Where do YOU think Anne Frank is right now?