Hell on Earth

Hell on Earth

I think the best description of hell comes from C. S. Lewis’s image in The Great Divorce. He imagines hell as a flat gray plain where people are forever moving away from one another. All the behaviors that find their final resting place in hell are those that separate humans.

Sometimes in the church, among the people of God, we perfect the art of hell.  When we develop our camps, we move people from a larger, messy group into tighter, agreeing groups: Hymn-loving singers here; new song lovers over there. Liberals who like Obama and his healthcare plan over here; conservatives who hate the same over there. Southerners who prefer to see the rebel flag here; everybody else over there. Tithers here; cheapskates over there. Rainbow folk here; nice but not-budging-on-marriage folk over there.

Once we get people into camps we can start sub-dividing the camps. Next come divisions based on personality quirks and preference options. And before you know it, we find ourselves forever moving away from each other into smaller and smaller units of life. We champion “leaving” rather than choosing to do the hard work of staying, belonging, and loving.

I’m reading N. T. Wright’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. He suggests that when the unity of the church is not what it ought to be, we distract ourselves from dealing directly with the lack of unity by focusing on things such as the organist who ran off with the church secretary or the treasurer who pilfered some money. We post our opinions about them and relieve ourselves of a nagging reminder of the prayer of Jesus, “Let them be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me.” Not that these behaviors are okay, but focusing on them usually distracts us from addressing larger issues.

So I’m hoping for the kind of church that has radically different people in it—some that are like me and a lot that aren’t. And I’m hoping for a church that knows that the church rule book will never make us one and realizes that the resurrection of Jesus is our best chance at unity. And I’m hoping for a church where the stuff that usually makes people leave could become the raw material for why we might stay … together.

Because, if Jesus really died and went to hell, maybe he can redeem even that stuff.

Here’s hoping,


  1. My first visit to the Church of the Nazarene was when I was three weeks old. People of the church are very different from what I was taught growing up. Nazarene’s are very different
    than they use to be.
    My husband has been a minister in COTN over 52 years.

  2. Pam McGraner says

    Well said, Dr. Boone. As usual.

  3. Teresa Hodge says

    Just before reading this blog, I had just read I Timothy 6:6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” I’m learning daily that, to be content with my life circumstances, I must allow others to be content with theirs. I spent too many years trying to change others so that I could be at peace with their decisions. It is wonderfully liberating to allow others to determine what God expects of them! Kudos for your thoughts today!

  4. Gloria Coffin says

    I like it a lot, Dr. Boone!

  5. So relevant! I see this happening more in the church today than ever…..we have our traditional service, contemporary , liturgical and many more….we send our children to nursery when they are born ” don’t want to disturb anybody” then to toddler, p-k, Children’s Church, and then to teens church…no wonder they don’t like church, they haven’t been!!! There is more ” hell” happening among the church than what we would like to talk about or acknowledge But just as you stated, Jesus went to hell and gave of resurrection, so there’s hope for us all! Thanks for your article!

  6. Hans Deventer says

    Thank you so much, Dr. Boone. Never thought I’d see a high profile Nazarene write stuff like this: “And I’m hoping for a church that knows that the church rule book will never make us one and realizes that the resurrection of Jesus is our best chance at unity. ”

    Amen and amen.

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