It never occurred to me that I should evaluate the existence of my Great Grandfather by whether or not I had seen or experienced him. I “see” him in my Grandfather, my Dad, and my son. No pictures were ever taken of him; however, I have heard about him. My mind readily accepts his existence because of obvious reasons which validate that truth.
When the call came that my Dad passed into eternity back in 2007, it set in motion a flurry of emotions, additional phone calls to family members, travel plans, and a flood of anxious questions. My Dad was not a man of faith. He rejected the existence of God until his last year on earth. Even then, all he could muster up was the idea that God may indeed exist, but he certainly had no compulsion that there should be any personal response on his part to an elusive, unseen Being. That lame acknowledgement was the closest thing to comfort I was to hang my hope on after thirty years of fervently praying for his salvation, thirty years practicing gracious segues in conversation toward his spiritual need followed by an equal number of angry responses. “Shoving religion” or “emotional crutch” were his usual angry retorts to every conversation of that nature. I took hope by praying silently in order to keep peace and the relationship with him alive. The Word assured me that God would hear and answer. Random phone calls came throughout those 30 years from friends telling me of their burden to pray for my Dad. My assurance grew, though no evidence of any answer ever surfaced.
Sitting through his memorial service was disheartening. Accolades of his contributions to the military and space industry were recited. Hobbies, skills, and talents were duly listed. But nowhere during the eulogy was the one thing stated that I had so desperately longed for in his life. The sting of death is beyond description when you’re pretty certain that the claims of the Bible concerning the realm and penalty of death are now true for one you love. I sat there heart broken. All those years of praying had not produced a single shred of evidence they had been answered.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12
My desire had not come, and over the next six months, my heart indeed was sick. False hopes and strange scenarios all played out in my mind. Reasoning away the stated terms of the gospel momentarily eased the raw pain of Hell’s certainty. Imagining my Dad there was more than I could wrap my mind around. Utter disappointment in God choked and soured my relationship with Him. I knew I was becoming cynical and cried out, asking Him to settle my thoughts with His indisputable truth. But the truth only reminded me of the inevitable consequences of sin and rejecting God’s merciful Savior. Those were the very reasons I had been motivated to escape the wrath of God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation. After believing for so long, I was slipping deeper and deeper into….not UNbelief, but DISbelief.
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” -Romans 10:17
For decades, I had delighted in God’s Word as my daily guidance and a place of sweet fellowship where I joyfully bowed before Him. Growing disbelief was making those times more like bowing my face over blown out matches, and the scent was repulsive. Thinking about my Dad at all was like approaching a terrifying, deep black hole that was rapidly growing in size. As the hole grew, my faith shrank and recoiled. It genuinely troubled me that I could accept all of God’s truths that blessed and pleased me, while secretly denying the reality of Hell.
It has always amazed me that God hears thoughts we cannot or choose not to articulate. Realizing the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of my deeply felt and unformed thoughts was always very comforting to me. I knew He presented my thoughts and prayers to God in perfect form and expression. However, that same realization turned on me and left me feeling guilty. The Holy Spirit does not allow us to hide our motives from God. He will comfort us and give us peace of mind, yet He will not leave us to our own secret devices. As the six month wrestling match went on in my mind, I slowly came to terms with the selectivity of our minds to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we favor and how, those we don't like, we either ignore or deny. My faith has a huge hole in it. Though I still have not resolved the leanings of doubt in my mind concerning the reality of Hell, I have found comfort in agreeing with Romans 3:3-4:
“For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar….”
Yes, my mind willingly embraces truth when it suits me, then becomes the liar when it does not. I cannot wrestle my finite mind into submission. Human reasoning is what put us out of fellowship with God from the beginning of time, so it is understandable it will continue to lead us astray if we trust it. However, I can bow my faulty intellect and will to the Word of God, trusting the God of all truth to help me through things I cannot understand or that are too painful to accept. It is Him that I trust, and I choose not to lean on my own understanding.
“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” -I John 3:20
If you have questions regarding what the Bible says about Hell, below are some helpful resource recommendations on the subject: