We need to rethink Hell.

A parable.

An experienced, organised old schoolteacher presides over a babbling bunch of seven year olds. They are going on a school trip to Water World and the bus is pulling up. Divided into their four groups, the teach bends to ask each individual child a question before allowing them to step onto the bus. To the first: ‘what is the capital of Portugal?’ to the second ‘what is the boiling point of water? To the third, Mrs Smith asks ‘did you eat all your breakfast this morning?’ and to the last group, the teacher asks them to open their lunchboxes to show only healthy food.

The first bunch all, bar one, were able to whisper ‘Lisbon’ in to the Mrs Smith’s ear. Lily, unfortunately, was off sick the day they covered this geography lesson so she didn’t know. She is told to take herself back into the school building and sit in the classroom. She would not be coming on the trip.

The second group all knew – of course they did – that the boiling point of water was 100 degrees. But as they queued to step on to the bus, little Tommy ran through the gates out of breath. He had been walking and running, jogging and then running again all from his house a mile away. He did not want to miss the bus! But he had missed the question. He knew the answer; he was just too late. Crestfallen, Tommy had to stay behind.

Only some of the third group, the breakfast group, get on to the bus. Alecia’s mum had run out of cornflakes so she had to rush to school without. Jack was disqualified from even answering as he had called Michael a bad word yesterday, so he wasn’t allowed his chance. He tried to explain to Mrs Smith that he was sorry, and that he knew he shouldn’t copy his big brother, but it was simply too late. Toby only ever ate one meal a day – his free school lunch – so he didn’t make the cut. ‘Rules are rules’ said Mrs Smith. The three of them walk back to school, devastated.

The story was much the same for the fourth group. Many of the children proudly displayed their salad sandwiches and fruit smoothies. Cassandra even had an avocado in her lunchbox. Sarah had never seen one of those in real life and thought it looked gross. She holds up her multipack of Tayto cheese and onion she’d got at the Eurospar on the walk to school. She was routinely told that this bus was only for healthy eaters. She returned to the school building, too.

After a final headcount, Mrs Smith tells the driver that the time is right to head on. They are Water World bound! The bus chugs out of school gates, leaving behind the outcasts, the poor attenders, the bad eater, the rough ones and the hungry ones. They open their books and begin copying out the school rules – their only task for the day. And they imagine their classmates having a wonderful time without them.

But Imogen, who made the cut, sits at the front of the bus alone – she had never had a school day without Alecia beside her. Johnny spends the entire journey complaining to Mrs Smith that the whole point of the trip to Water World was to see who could swim underwater the furthest, him or Toby. The whole trip was ruined. If he’d known Toby wasn’t going to be there, he couldn’t have handed in his consent form. Mrs Smith told him to be quiet. He should be happy he was going to Water World. Toby crossed his arms. He knew it wasn’t that simple.

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That little parable is, in a sense the gospel we have been handed. The one we are encouraged to believe. Getting your ticket to heaven is about knowing the right things / making a decision before a divine cut off / not doing bad things / keeping the religious codes / being demonstrably good.

By telling it like this, we can see how ludicrous this idea is. How callous and arbitrary would a teacher have to be to act in this way. It wouldn’t happen. You would question why such a teacher was in the profession! Why do we imagine a God who is less graceful than the average primary teacher?

Why do we like to tie ourselves in knots defending a version of God that permits the permanent exclusion of some of his creation? And if we were to make that little school parable even more of an allegory, we would have to say that not only are the kids who aren’t allowed to come on the trip excluded, they are also being hurt by the other staff member whose job it is to keep them in pain.

What the heck!? This is ludicrous.