Food for Thought-ISIS, Christianity, and Hell


ISIS are a barbaric bunch of folks. From beheadings to burnings they’ve reminded the world just how brutal committed religious people can be. Where did they come up with this stuff? Burning your religious opponents and throwing heretics from nearby tall buildings? Why Medieval and Reformation era Christianity, of course! Christians wrote the book on religious torture, brutality, and violence. John Calvin once had a theological enemy burned alive for disagreeing with his theology. Mennonites and Amish were burned alive in their barns throughout Europe. In Ireland, to this day, Christians regularly execute other Christians for the sheer hell of it. In fact, it’s only recently that some American Protestants has gotten out of the religiously sanctioned torture business. The last lynchings in this country were a little less than 80 years ago. Islam has no monopoly on thuggish brutality and Christianity is tainted by the same evil past.

There is no place for such brutality in either faith. People of all traditions find the inhumane and brutal execution of other human beings as morally repulsive. Executions like those performed by ISIS are offensive to every sensibility and human decency. No one deserves to be beheaded or burned alive. As Christians, we pray for the victims of the heinous crimes; that their suffering will end and that God would intervene on behalf of the victims. It’s not an intellectual or theological stretch to say that many Christians pray that ISIS (the perpetrators) would themselves be brutally eliminated from the face of the earth.

Here’s where the irony makes things a little sticky: we are morally incensed when ISIS burns someone alive but we have no trouble praying to a God asking that God to do the same thing to them. There’s something wrong with that equation.

The most traditional Christian doctrine of hell, people consciously aware of their burning for all eternity, we have no problems, nor moral issues believing in a God who will do this to people but are morally repulsed by ISIS doing the exact same thing. In some ways, where ISIS kills people by burning them once, in the traditional version of Hell, God burns them over and over again for eternity. Tell me what’s worse? Tell me what’s righteous?

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Whenever I see someone in an orange jumpsuit, I see Jesus Christ. I feel the pinned up anger and frustration at watching an innocent man being forced to carry a cross for crimes he did not commit. I see a person willingly going to die. I feel fear and despair torturous Good Friday moments being replayed before me. I realize that I can no longer say or believe that burning people to torture them is barbaric when ISIS does it, but it’s virtuous when God demands it.  Because these people I’m watching, like Jesus on the cross, are God. This God, told us once, he desires “mercy, not sacrifice”. I believe him.  Maybe the people dying are dying for their enemies in an act of sacrificial love.  You’ll tell me that’s too much to believe, and I’m too naive.  But you’re cool with people being burned alive in hell forever?