Culture At Large

How Internet Debates Teach Me About Hell

Paul Vander Klay

In Alan Jacob's the biography of CS Lewis "The Narnian" he tells how Lewis helped start a debating society called The Socratic Club in which the claims of Christianity were debated.

"Austin Farrer—a priest and theologian who, along with his wife, Katherine, was a close friend of Lewis's and Tolkien's wrote of how he feared situations when he, rather than Lewis, would be expected to stand up for the faith: "I went in fear and trembling, certain to be caught out in debate and to let down the side. But there Lewis would be, snuffing the imminent battle and saying 'Aha!' at the sound of the trumpet. My anxieties rolled away. Whatever ineptitude I might commit, he would maintain the cause; and nobody could put Lewis down." (pg. 228)

Something in me is deeply attracted to this. The Internet proves that I am not alone.

I like to debate on the Internet but it seldom looks this glorious. It usually looks more like this college humor piece. For this reason a lot of people avoid debates and find them pointless or even offensive. I disagree. Jesus debated regularly and it cost him his life. I think debate was part of His mission.

A lot of very kind and good people have real questions about hell. How can a loving God allow it? I think the nature of debates bears witness to the necessity of hell and the fact that it is in fact God's love that makes it necessary.

On the rare occasion a debate is very clean and very clear, the loser has a choice to make. If the loser is honest, humble and secure he or she may publicly concede. In most cases, however, the loser retreats to nurse their wounds and fantasizes about re-entering the ring to seek domination and vindication. Poor losers of debates are dangerous people. Their desire to get even and to do harm or violence to their adversary reveals a relationship between their core identity and the point they were trying to make. In this way the experience of losing a debate can very easily reveal a hidden idolatry. One's position on something or even just being seen by one's peers as being right for its own sake has become an essential aspect of their existence for which they must contend at all cost. (For a nice treatment of this notion of idolatry check out Tim Keller's "Counterfeit Gods".) There can be no middle ground or half-way situation. All becomes ultimate.

Many imagine that God is just so large and full of love that hell would be inconsistent with His character. The existence of hell does not reveal a deficit of love at God's core, quite the opposite. The existence of hell reveals the decibel level of that love against which no hold-out can remain. It is in fact God's beauty, love, kindness, power, and generosity that creates this holiness against which no debater idolatry can sustain. Hell is the only safe harbor from this God.

Before the face of this God we must either concede completely, giving ourselves over to perfect honesty, humility and security, or we would be crushed, unable to flee the forum His wisdom and beauty being the kind of weighty torment no being our size could bear. Hell is the final refuge. Why are pictures of Hell so grim? Imagine the community of the debating vanquished. Perhaps Internet debates gives us a window into what might look like.

Those who fled the debating Jesus relished his mockery upon a cross. The empty tomb, however, was the first sign that nobody would put him down and Hell would be the best one could do if you refused to worship Him.

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