Below is an email (edited) that I received recently. How would you respond? Please speak directly to John Doe.

“Dear Michael,

Right now I am in a crisis of faith and am in great need of your advice.

[He then talks about the abusive and legalistic Christian environment he grew up in]

Right now, intellectually I believe in double predestination but emotionally I am a Universalist. If I allow my emotions to bleed into my intellect then I will become a heretic and if I allow my intellect to bleed into my emotions I will become suicidal. In other words, I can’t handle the truth, so I lie to myself.

In an attempt to become consistent I read some of Jonathan Edwards. His view seems to be that because God hates the damned, the saints in heaven will also hate the damned and will rejoice over their misery. I thought that maybe we as Christians should do likewise, so I watched a bunch of YouTube videos by Fred Phelps (the “God-hates-fags”, funeral picketing guy). He argues that God hates the reprobate more than Satan hates the elect and that therefore we should hate non-Christians. I grew up with a lot of abusive, unstable, racist, paranoid relatives so I have seen what hate looks like. It’s a very ugly thing, but what’s really scary is that there’s a part of me that enjoys watching Fred Phelps; that enjoys the adrenaline that comes with stomping on another human being with your mind. I watched Fred Phelps the other morning, and for the rest of the day I felt like I wanted to fight somebody, so I decided to not watch him anymore.

My question that I desperately need answering is: **How do you believe in hell without becoming a suicidal psychopath?** All my life I have struggled with mental illness and my main goal has been peace of mind. I have sought peace in religion but many a time it has been an aggravator and not a soother. I am in a part of my life where I’m going through religious change and am afraid that I may abandon orthodoxy for the sake of the emotional stability that I have so desperately sought all my life.

I realize that such is dangerous because even benign quirks in theology will lead to illogical patters in life. Right now I’m very close to deciding to never have children because they’ll probably go to hell (there’s a part of me that suspects that the vast majority humans do) and it is cruel and evil to bring souls into existence that are probably doomed to damnation. They’ll probably grow up in a world ruled by homosexuals and Muslims. I have become so bitter that I have come to often feel that God hates humanity; that He delights in our misery. I still love God, but I’m starting to love Him in a Stockholm-Syndrome, Battered-Woman, masochistic kind of way. There’s a part of me that feels like I should never get married because my wife will probably go to hell, in fact, it may just be better if I become super reclusive and not have any relationships because everybody’s going to go to hell. There have even been times when I felt like I would probably go to hell and that I should torture myself in order to prepare myself for the afterlife. Michael, I think I’m losing my mind.

People have told me that this should motivate me to evangelize but every time I have tried to I make myself look like an absolute nut and push people away from the faith. I think my mental health makes this very difficult and I have come to think that maybe I have no purpose in life. Maybe God just created me to suffer.”

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    63 replies to "How Do I Stay Sane and Believe in Hell?"

    • Btw, here’s a piece my friend and Western EO brother, Michael Frost wrote on my own blog…

      “It would be interesting to put together a list of all those “Christian” groups and theologians who, before say 1963 (Vatican II), rejected an eternal Hell. I suspect we’d have no trouble determining that they were outside historic Christendom and were heretical on more grounds than just Hell.

      The heresy rears its ugly head today along with all sorts of other fuzzy and weak teaching. Thus we have groups ordaining women, rejecting infant baptism, promoting homosexuality & accepting homosexual “marriage”, refusing to speak the Truth about abortion, suicide, or euthanasia, acceptance of pre- and post-marital sexuality, the prosperity gospel, a lack of understanding about the Trinity, Christology, Ecclesiology, etc.

      Just look at something like ECUSA, PCUSA, MCUSA, or the ELCA? They have moved so far away from historic Christendom, their own founders, and their foundational statements. Cranmer, Bullinger/Bucer/Calvin, Wesley, and Luther/Melanchthon wouldn’t recognize as “christians” so many in these groups.

      Try discussing the 16 century thinkers and statements with so many today. They either don’t know or don’t care. They are disconnected from their own roots. And end up following the culture and whatever hip theological trend(s) they like. Sin, suffering, repentance, redemption, sacrifice, etc. get short shrift indeed!”

    • Indeed our thoughts and prayers for CMP and family at this time!

    • Btw, I don’t have “Facebook” and so don’t move around there, but thanks to “Cherylu” for letting people like me know!

    • Irene

      Yes, I don’t do Facebook either, so thanks Cherylu, and I’ll say here,
      I’m sorry to hear this news, and my prayers are certainly with him and the family. +

    • Btw, this tread might be of some interest to our historical friends? D.G. Hart is a younger than me Calvinist historical writer! And something our Universalist friends should perhaps read?

    • Btw, I am not uncritical of our “Calvinist” church historian, D.G. Hart, but he is quite worth the read!

    • Btw, moving along! But thinking and again praying for CMP and family! Both of my dear parents are before the Throne, RIP…all!

    • Jason Pratt

      God’s grace to CMP (who has also had his own crushing physical illness over the past several months), and to his family, strengthening them in their loss. May his father be being welcomed home by others who love him — most of all God!

    • John Doe

      Thank you all for your comments. It has really meant a lot to me that Michael posted this. As much as I would like to, I don’t think I’m going to turn into a Universalist. I suspect that in my faith I have put emphasis on knowing things about God at the expense of loving God. Although they never did so explicitly, my legalistic upbringing would at times imply that knowledge of God (and not necessarily love) is what determines one’s salvation. This has caused me at times to obsessively pursue knowledge to the point that I believe I have trusted in my own knowledge more than Christ.

      Also, I am saddened by the passing of Michael’s father. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Pattons.

    • Geoff

      Hi John Doe,
      There is absolutely nothing about Universalism that is not Orthodox. In fact, it is the prevailing belief of the church for the first 500 years (see here: and here: I grew up Calvinist myself, and it is because of many of the same feelings you are expressing that I eventually left the church for a number of years. When I finally came back to a church, I felt I needed to resolve some questions, and this led me to Universalism. I have given my own defense of this position here:

      I would encourage you not to run from this idea, but to engage it and wrestle with the Lord as Jacob did – this led to his blessing! Feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss.
      In Christ our hen,

    • Randal Romero

      These hellish fire is unlike the fire on earth. It’s extremely hot, many times hotter than the fire we know. These fire can melt the flesh of the hell bound souls, but the flesh would grow back, and the process would repeat over and over.

    • Clark Coleman

      Randal Romero: Those are vivid details about the exact events in hell. Would you care to share your sources?

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