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If there is no hell…


Question & Answer

Q: By Oskar
I’m agnostic and if it’s true there is no hell it would be a relief, but this has raised some questions: What about those who have sinned? What happens to those who have broken some of God’s rules or do you not believe in sin either? Or, if you are a guy like me, who couldn’t make up his mind that God does or does not exist? Or what about the very bad men in human history like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc? How will God deal with those mad men who have taken the lives of billions of peoples? Why doesn’t God help our world, why does he let there be so much pain and suffering?
A: By Rev. Aurelia Dávila  Pratt
Dear Oskar,

I feel the angst in each of your questions. They are so profound that piles of writings throughout history have attempted to chip away at them. First, I’d like to thank you for your vulnerability in voicing them. Second, I’d like to apologize. While I do intend to provide you with a response, I won’t be offering an answer.

When it comes to matters of God, I simply despise black and white answers. Even more, I hate how often people assume they have them. While I resonate with these questions and continue to ask them myself, moving away from dualistic thinking has ultimately revived my faith. It’s not that I stopped having questions. I simply stopped needing answers to navigate my spirituality.

I take comfort in Jesus, who very rarely gave hard and fast answers, and more often offered nuanced responses. Those who followed him were the ones willing to accept a faith paradigm where love and action in the present moment were more important than doctrine, prescriptions and future kin-doms. Jesus was about bringing heaven to earth now, and I believe this is the urgent work we have before us as well. As a result, I am less concerned with hypothetical what-ifs and more concerned with building the world I want to see right now.

When I was taking my final course of seminary, I was asked to write an essay presenting a theological take on hell. I was filled with such angst over this assignment, not only did I skip writing it altogether, but I also didn’t show up to class on the day it was due. This resulted in the only “B” grade I received in my otherwise “perfect” seminary education.

I know it sounds ridiculous, irresponsible, and even immature of me. But you see, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pretend to have concrete answers where I don’t believe they exist. And ten years later, I continue to believe it is unhelpful to provide answers to some of these theoretical questions. Instead, I choose to lean into embodied responses, which most often look like solidarity.

And I do offer you my deepest solidarity. I have asked all your same questions at one time or another. Often, I find myself revisiting them. Wrestling and feeling lost; feeling peace and knowing fullness – these are cycles I’ve learned to receive with joy. They remind me I am human. They remind me I am normal (sort of, ha!). They remind me that this mystical Christ-space is right where I want to be.

I am not a typical pastor. I have no interest in filling in the blanks for people. I am sorry I don’t have the best answers for you, but I do hope my response can be helpful as you piece together the puzzle of your own faith journey. If it helps, I have faith you are exactly where you need to be.

~ Rev. Aurelia Dávila  Pratt

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Aurelia Dávila Pratt is a pastor, writer, paradigm-shifter, and sacred spacemaker.  She is an imago-dei enthusiast who finds real joy in helping people live into the fullness of their God-given divine image. Find her on Instagram or Twitter @revaureliajoy where she shares pastoral care nuggets for deconstructing Christians and people of faith.

Aurelia is the Lead Pastor as well as a founder of Peace of Christ Church. She is the co-creator and co-host of the Nuance Tea Podcast, where she is redefining what it means to be a clergywoman of color. Aurelia is president of the Board for the Nevertheless She Preached conference and a regular contributor at Progressing Spirit. She is a licensed master of social work who currently serves on the Board of Advocates at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

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