In the film Hellbound?, writer/director Kevin Miller asks why it is so important for some people to believe that God will consign evil-doers to an eternal, conscious hell and for others to believe that God will eventually welcome everyone into heaven.
Peter Laarman writes in Religion Dispatches:
If the pro-ECT (eternal conscious torment) figures in the film (Mars Hill’s Mark Driscoll in particular) end up seeming harsher and less attractive than the universalist squad, it’s not that Miller hasn’t tried to give them a fair hearing. He appreciates that, for the ECT crowd, the existence of Hell ratifies the idea of free choice. He lets the International House of Prayer’s Mike Bickle rant on about how outrageous it is that anyone should imagine that God’s grace would be available in Hell.
Still, there’s no doubt that Miller’s theological heroes are the “love wins” cohort: Rob Bell, naturally, but also Frank Schaeffer, Brian McLaren, Sharon Baker, Brad Jersak, Gregory Boyd, Michael Hardin, The Shack author William Young, and a compellingly watchable British “evangelical universalist” named Robin Parry. McLaren in particular, filmed in warm close-up, comes across in the film as a gentle but very serious thinker who patiently explains how scriptural references to the unimaginable catastrophe of BCE 70 (the Roman destruction of Jerusalem) have been construed as references to eternal perdition. Yes, the Jesus of the “Little Apocalypse” is saying that there will be “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” but it will be right here in Jerusalem for people who don’t straighten out their act.
Several of Miller’s talking heads speculate on why it’s so important for ECT people to hold the line. They have constructed their lives, their identities, around the old verities. Plus there is obvious power in appointing oneself to be a gatekeeper, guardian, and defender of the ECT tradition. Schaeffer helpfully points out that to take a Jesus-like approach, to focus more on the content of one’s character than on one’s final destination, puts gatekeepers out of a job.
Miller says that what we believe about hell and eternal punishment says more about us than about God.
The big question under all of this, as Miller well understands, is not so much about God’s nature or God’s will as it is about our own. Why do so many people demand Eternal Conscious Torment for evildoers (mere annihilation isn’t enough for them)? Why, for that matter, do so many insist on the retention of capital punishment?
This question calls for serious reflection, maybe even serious prayer. If, as Michael Hardin seems to be saying, we humans have a built-in need for sacralized violence, we’re in big, big trouble.