There is a bit of debate around these days about hell and whether it exists, sparked most recently by Rob Bell's book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I haven't read the book so the following is not a direct comment on Bell's argument - incidentally I have been told that his book is so controversial here in NZ that in some Christian book shops the book is not displayed but is kept 'under the counter' :).
I follow a lot of sport, and some sports very closely. I am learning a lot as I go. Last week's hockey tournament in Invercargill (see post below) was a good learning about the vagaries of tournaments. In particular, every game counts, and certain 'knock out' games count absolutely: lose and there is no coming back. With those games, for players and fans, every minute counts, and time can slow down to an agonising torment. For me, with the Rugby World Cup looming, it was a sobering lesson that tournament sports competitions yield champions of tournaments and not champions of whole seasons. Our NZ rugby team All Blacks are nearly always champions of whole seasons of matches and, so far, hardly ever champions of world cup tournaments.
Last night the All Blacks lost to Australia, 20-25 - their second loss in two matches. Of course one can rejoice that this World Cup the All Blacks will not be complacent about their run to the finals. Only a fool, however, would not harbour doubts as to whether we can now win! Robbie Deans (Australian coach) was not the winning coach of the Crusaders (Christchurch-based local team) for nothing. Is he timing his team's run to glory to perfection?
The flip side of the agony of losing is the possibility of winning. Or, one might say, more accurately, the possibility of winning being a meaningful experience. Imagine if, just after all the teams have arrived in NZ in a week or so's time, an announcement was made by the International Rugby Board that this year's competition was going to be completely different: no results would be recorded, and at the end of the competition the name of every participating team would be engraved on the cup as equally sharing in the winning of the cup. So NZ would have its name on the cup again, and it would mean absolutely nothing to us.
So to the gospel and to the question of heaven and hell. Would heaven be meaningful if there were no hell? Would the question 'do you believe in Jesus Christ?' have any meaning if the answer had no bearing on our future with God?