FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A few days ago while vociferously condemning President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, John Kerry exchanged his political rhetoric for a bit of theology, as he has become accustomed to doing lately.
Kerry said Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who deserved a “special place in hell.” And the senator was absolutely right. Saddam Hussein does deserve a special place in hell.
But Kerry stopped short.
George W. Bush deserves a special place in hell, as does every Republican in Congress. In fact, every Republican in America deserves a special place in hell right alongside every pro-life activist, every member of the Christian Coalition and every churchgoing, pickup truck-driving good ol’ boy who would never vote for a Yankee who may or may not have inflated his war record.
What Kerry did not say is that every Democrat in America, every tree-hugger and secularist, every abortionist and even John Kerry also deserves a special place in hell.
In fact, the Bible says we all deserve a special place in hell, though it uses much more effective language. Romans 1:18-32 lays out the specific reason why everyone deserves a special place in hell: We have all suppressed the knowledge of our Creator and acted as if we ourselves are God. Atrocities against humanity may get all the press, but rebellion against God is the criterion for eternal damnation.
Kerry’s comments highlight two phenomena in American life which play a large role in the weak and compromising theology at work in America’s churches.
First, Americans tend to marginalize the biblical teaching of eternal punishment as a place so horrific that no Christian could ever possibly wish it on another human being. This is because no one talks about hell anymore, except as a mild expletive or an analogy for an overheated room. The Bible, however, is quite clear. Hell is real and we all deserve it.
Second, too many American Christians still visualize God as the Great Accountant, toiling over his ledger about where to send someone at the final judgment. The biblical picture of God’s judgment is much simpler. Hell is not reserved for the Saddam Husseins and Adolf Hitlers of this world. Eternal punishment is not the result of bad works in life. It is the result of the kind of person that stands before God.
There are only two classes of people in the final analysis. Many will try to convince God to allow them into his presence because of their good works. One hundred percent of those people will spend eternity in the fiery pit. The other class of people accepted God’s offer of redemption through Jesus Christ, which comes only “by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves -– it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
Only one man did not deserve a special place in hell –- and He died for the rest of us. Only through accepting His offer of eternal life can any of us hope to escape hell.
And just as none of us are good enough to avoid hell on our own merit, none of us are too bad to accept God’s offer of grace in Jesus Christ and spend eternity with God in heaven.
No matter what happens in the presidential election, it is my hope that the “worst” of us, Saddam Hussein included, makes the decision to follow Jesus Christ with whatever time he or she has left in this world and, by doing so, avoids hell.
If that in fact happens, I hope such a person lives next to John Kerry among God’s redeemed. I have a feeling that after Kerry meets Jesus face to face his attitude about Saddam Hussein and even himself will have changed.
Samuel Smith is a news writer at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.