Posted by: Nancy Day-Achauer | July 13, 2009

Who Deserves Hell?

I watched the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas last night and found myself thinking about hell. I found myself thinking that I wanted the Nazis to burn in hell, not the kinder “separation from God” hell but the flames and pitchforks hell. Let’s say that the movie brought out my less “Jesus like” qualities. I don’t usually think about hell and I’m not one of those pastors who threaten people with it. I’m a grace oriented pastor, I preach about God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness and how it gives us new life in spite of our past. I preach about Jesus’ ministry of love and compassion and how we are to strive to have the heart of Christ. I believe that God is more interested in grace than punishment because God wants to be in a loving relationship with everyone. I believe this and yet there’s a side of me that doesn’t want God to be that forgiving. This is my struggle – I want God to extend grace to everyone but Nazis and their ilk.

I’m reminded of the story in scripture about the landowner who paid all the workers the same amount regardless of how many hours they worked. I guess I’m like the worker who complains about how unfair that is, wanting some people to receive less even though I’m receiving what was promised. The landowner set that worker straight; he had the right to be generous. Why should I object to generosity that doesn’t deprive me of anything? Yes, God has the right to extend grace to everyone God wants even if I don’t like them and don’t think they deserve it. It’s not my call. Heck, there’s probably a few people out there who think I don’t deserve God’s grace. I find myself easily falling into the trap of thinking I’m more deserving (superior?) because I haven’t done something as bad as “those other people”. Good self-reflection isn’t always pretty.

I roll all these thoughts around in my head and yet I’m still struggling. I believe God’s grace is available to all but I still don’t want certain people to get it. My list of undeserving people is short; it only includes people who committed crimes against humanity (e.g. Nazis, Idi Amin, etc.), but I shouldn’t have a list. If I truly had the heart of Christ I wouldn’t want to limit God’s mercy. If I am going to claim the name of Christian I will need to keep working on having a heart like Jesus and I will need to strive to develop more “Jesus like” qualities. Rather than thinking about how undeserving others are, I should be focusing on being a better me.  I suspect that I’m not alone.



  1. Nancy,
    You have lots of company, I am afraid. I had those same kinds of thoughts after my youngest brother died in the D-day invasion. I will share your reflection with my sisters. Blessings. Sr. Terese

  2. One of the great things about God is His grace towards us and our lists. We all have that short list of people who, if we were god, wouldn’t make it in. I thank God that I don’t have that choice to make. We are all called to forgiveness as Jesus forgave us. Sadly there are those who will spend eternity in hell, it was their choice, all we can do is pray and speak the word to those we can reach.
    God bless and I pray blessings for your ministry, Glenn

  3. I preached the message of forgiveness at our Recovery Service. It was titled The Other Side of the Coin. I showed a video of a family who lost a daughter to a 16 drunk driver, out partying with her friends. I wanted to demonstrate through video the damage to the young drunk driver’s life as a parallel. No, I do not condone drunk driving. I did not find one video from the perspective of the shame and guilt that one would possess and the damage a poor decision had made at a young time in life. I asked the question, why? Where is the forgiveness? Where is the consideration of the other side of the coin? There is evil in the world and we are prayer warriors to overcome our own bias’ and our human nature causes us to withhold forgiveness. We recognize it and we move towards it. We are not asked to forget as that would be unhealthy. we are commanded to forgive, but forgiveness is a process of self reflection and incremental action. The greater the evil, the harder the forgiveness but the greater the blessing. God help me get there!

  4. I sort of preached on this yesterday. I was speaking on grace, prevenient grace specifically and I brought up the dictionary definition of “grace period.” We expect more from financial institutions than we do of God. There is the very powerful train of thought that once we’re dead, we’re dead and if we didn’t accept God’s love and grace before we died, oh well or rather oh hell. But we almost demand that financial institutions (evil as they are) give us a little more time to work things out.

    Imagine if one of these people on your list had even the briefest of moments in the presence of the most overwhelming and all-consuming love ever known in the universe. In that moment, each of these people is given full awareness of what his or her actions did to other people in humanity; full awareness with all the guilt, shame and horror of the actions. Now, along with this full awareness, each of these people is allowed to feel the absolute and all-encompassing forgiveness of God. That is hell (or perhaps it’s purgatory… the opportunity to purge the evil from our souls). The outcome however is still up to the individual. He or she may wallow in the realization of the consequences of personal actions and remain outside of the relationship and outside of the healing or embrace the forgiveness and move fully in to the presence of God.

    Too bad we really have no idea what happens and how it all works but we do hope: hope for ourselves and all the world to choose the relationship.

  5. That movie was really powerful. I certainly didn’t sleep well that night. I am glad to know that I am not alone in those struggles

  6. I wrote an article on this subject for the paper a while back. As it relates to the parable of the workers getting paid, I wonder if the land owner paid people that didn’t come to work. Did everyone decide to go to work eventually or were there people who, when he went to get workers for the last time in the day, just said, “No thanks.” The sun went down and that was it.

    I don’t talk about hell much either, but I believe in it.

  7. Forgiveness is a choice.

    Its not a process.

    Choose to forgive and our Almighty, loving Father will do the rest.

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