I came across this quote from Francis Xavier today, written in 1552,
“One of things that most of all pains and torments these Japanese is that we teach them that the prison of hell is irrevocably shut. For they grieve over the fate of their departed children, of their parents and relatives, and they often show their grief by their tears. So they ask us if there is any hope . . . and I am obliged to answer that there is absolutely none. The grief at this affects and torments them wonderfully; they almost pine away with sorrow. . . . They often ask if God cannot take their fathers out of hell, and why their punishment must never have an end. We gave them a satisfactory answer, but they did not cease to grieve over the misfortune of their relatives; and I can hardly restrain my tears sometimes at seeing men so dear to my heart suffer such intense pain about a thing which is already done with and can never be undone.”
So perhaps you believe in Hell. That is orthodox, surely. However, Xavier points out the horror of the way most of Christian America uses Hell as a weapon. To assert that Hell is real is one thing, to assert that there is no possibility of hope for friends and family members, children and parents, because they simply did not have the same opportunities, the same frames of mind, the same upbringing, the same education, the right church, or were simply born to early is cruel and mean. The love and faithfulness of God that we find in scripture is far more vast than any other descriptor. Is God all-powerful? Is God sovereign? Is God all-knowing? Is God Just? You may say yes to any of those, but if you take even a moment to compare those texts with the ones that speak of God’s lovingkindness, God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s faithfulness, it is clear that the attributes which would allow the Japanese of the 16th century to be hopeful about their loved ones far outweigh those which Xavier was taught in order to condemn them. Believe in Hell if you want. Believe that many people suffer infinite conscious torment for a limited amount of sinning. Believe that mental assent to 4 spiritual laws will keep you from it. But please, don’t be an ass and share the “good news” that someone they love is burning in Hell because you didn’t get there fast enough, or worse, because God (who is supposed to love them more than you) didn’t care enough about them to arrange the perfect set of circumstances that would enable them to accept him. “Gospel,” indeed.