Do you have questions about the meaning of some of the terms and teachings of The United Methodist Church? In this series, we ask clergy to share their understanding of topics. No preaching, just conversation. In this episode we discuss how we might understand hell with the Rev. Adam Hamilton, author and pastor of The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
View more at umc.org/videos
The Rev. Adam Hamilton: “So, people ask me, ‘Do you believe in hell?’ And the truth is, I don’t want to believe in hell. I don’t like the idea of it. But as I think about the idea of hell logically, it seems like it has to be there.
And here’s what I mean: Jesus said that we’re to pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ And when I think about that, I think that means that heaven is a place where God’s will is done; where we love perfectly, we love God and we love our neighbor, where justice is done, where we live selflessly, and we live as servants and we find the joy in that. I think, if that’s what heaven is, then it must be true that there has to be a place for people who don’t want to live that way.
God doesn’t force us to experience heaven. God doesn’t force us to do his will, he allows us. And, so everyone is invited. We still have a choice, ‘I’m not interested in doing God’s will.’ And so, to me, it seems that there is a natural and logical corollary that there must be a place for those who don’t want to do God’s will. And when I think about Dante’s inferno and these various levels of hell, you know in Dante’s painting, the idea of people gnawing on each other, eating each other, constantly trying to get something from somebody else and satisfy their own needs, a place of deep hunger and no fulfillment. And that’s what I think hell is.
I don’t think God intends anyone to go there. I think God’s intention is that everyone come to the party, but that he won’t force us to come to his party. And I love how C.S. Lewis described it, he says, ‘It’s where the doors are locked from the inside, where we could always escape if we chose to. But there are people who will never choose the life that God offers us in heaven but instead will choose a life still absorbed in self.”