I thought long and hard about a clever, lighthearted way to introduce this morning's message. I thought about praying for a really hot day and then turning off the air-conditioner, just to put you in the mood. Surely I could find a story, a movie clip, or a joke to lighten things up a bit. But after spending a couple of weeks reading and reflecting on the subject of hell, jokes no longer seemed funny anymore.
Peter Kreeft, a Catholic theologian from Boston College, puts it this way: "Of all the doctrines of Christianity, hell is the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to bear, and the first to be abandoned." Whether you are just exploring Christianity or are a long-time follower of Christ, we all struggle with the doctrine of hell. We struggle with the notion of fellow human beings suffering for all eternity. We struggle with believing that a God of love could create and sustain a place of eternal torment. We struggle with whether it's fair that people go there who don't seem to deserve itgood people, religious people.
Yet, despite how difficult and burdensome the notion of hell is, we don't abandon it. Surveys consistently tell us that between two-thirds and three-fourths of the American population believe in heaven and hell. According to AARP magazine, the statistics jumps to nearly 80 percent among folks over 50. Almost every religion in the world includes the threat of suffering and punishment in the life to come. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, along with Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and most primitive and tribal religions all propose some form of accountability and punishment after death. The notion of hell doesn't seem to be going away.
For this reason, we need to ask some pointed and penetrating ...
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