The Religious Hell Hole
Tim ChalliesTim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
- 2009 Aug 05
Several months ago I received an email from a person who had happened by this blog. As you will see in the excerpt of that email, she had been searching for information about original sin and its application to babies who die in infancy (or who die because of abortion). Google led her here. This is what she wrote:
I volunteer at a pregnancy resource center here in Southern California. I teach a post abortion Bible study for women. Until yesterday, I believed that all aborted babies, including two of my own, were in heaven with their Father. Then I had a conversation with a family member who thinks otherwise, and after that conversation I went looking for additional information. I found your two columns on the doctrine of original sin. I’ve been on the verge of tears ever since last night. The idea staggers me. I’m not writing to argue the point. I understand it’s what you believe and, for all I know, you may be right. Meanwhile, all the years of peace that I enjoyed seem to have evaporated. You may be doctrinally accurate, but I am utterly miserable. I feel like I’m back at the edge of the religious hell hole I crawled out of some years ago. Not a good place to be. I will have to do some serious thinking and praying.
The articles she references state my position on children who die in infancy—that the Bible simply does not tell us beyond any shadow of doubt whether all children who die in infancy are saved. I understand the position of those who declare “instant heaven” for any child who dies in infancy and I do hope that this is the case. However, I do not find that the Bible tells us one way or another. Important to the discussion is my understanding of the doctrine of original sin. From this doctrine we know that no person is born innocent. Rather, in some mysterious way all of us fell in Adam and because of his sin are born as sinners. There is no one who is entirely innocent before God, even in the womb. It was this doctrine that so surprised and so upset this woman as she came to understand its implications. After all, a biblical understanding of original sin must have implications to everyone who ever lived or died.
While her story and her state is sad, I find it remarkable that a professed Christian who has had two abortions and ministers to others who have had abortions has never been faced with the doctrine of original sin. She has never come face-to-face with her own badness and with the overwhelming, inherent badness of others. She staggers under the weight of learning that all human beings are conceived as guilty sinners before God and the necessary implications of this. Yet this is hardly a new teaching and is not something that only a select few Christians believe. It is theology that is not far from the very core of the Christian faith. A person who does not understand original sin cannot truly understand anything else. How can we understand the cross, the atonement, without first properly understanding sin?
What’s even more sad is the fact that her hope has ultimately been placed in her babies being in heaven. For her to be thrown back into this “hell hole” means that she’d been finding peace in spite of her sin, not because of the finished work of Christ on her behalf. Her peace, such that it was, was built on the shaky foundation of God taking care of her babies. What we see is that she is still ultimately carrying the guilt of her sin. As my friend Julian said when I discussed this with him, “She needs a bigger cross, not just an assurance that her babies are in heaven.” And that is exactly what she needs! She needs a cross that can both forgive her and give her the assurance that God’s ways are best; she needs assurance of forgiveness that comes through Christ’s completed work there at Calvary.
It is interesting to think as well about how her pastors and counselors must have helped her think through this issue. The easy way is to give pat answers and quick lines about David’s baby being in heaven and about God being a God of grace. There may be arguments to make along those lines, but they can only provide so much comfort. The much harder—but cross-centered—way is to point her to the cross for the forgiveness of her sins (regardless of whether or not her babies are in heaven). As Julian said, “She needs to own that guilt and that possibility, then cast it on the cross of Jesus. Then, take her back and show her the cross again, and the grace and goodness and kindness and mercy of God and teach her to hope in that, not in some obscure verses that may imply some hope for the salvation of babies.” It is here, at the cross, that she can properly own her guilt and then cast it on the cross; it is here at the cross that she can receive forgiveness—true forgiveness; it is here at the cross that she can crawl out of that religious hell hole and know that she stands righteous before God, believing that his ways are always best.