The theology of hell — a poem

Rev. David Taylor on horseback with toddler in front.

Rev. David Taylor on horseback with toddler Jill, in the Chatham Islands, c. 1938.

I was worried. I was seven
and Daddy (as we called him then)
was tucking me into bed.
I was worried about hell.
I was worried I would go to hell.

I had done something pretty bad
maybe told a lie or nicked a coin
from the Craven A tin in his study
so I asked him, “Will I go to hell
or will I go to heaven?”
Not a chatterbox, he always thought
before he spoke.
You could see him thinking
with his eyeballs and his mouth.
He said, “I’m not sure there is a hell
because God is love and God is kind
He doesn’t want to hurt us
but if by chance there is a hell, I’m sure
that only a few, a very, very, very few
would be sent to hell, and only after
doing something very bad indeed.”
“Like what?” I asked, still worried.
Was I one of the very few? Quite likely.
Again he pondered. Then he said, “I think
that they would have to kill another person,
on purpose, and not feel sorry afterwards.”
He was a vicar, and he knew.
He gave me a goodnight kiss
and left me wild with joy: I wouldn’t go to hell!
I knew for sure and certain
I would never kill a person
at least not on purpose and even if I did
I would certainly be sorry—
so I wouldn’t go to hell.

Audio file (mp3)

Thank goodness my father recognised my distress. How easily a parent can miss the gravity of a child’s question, when they can easily seem so absurd! Has that happened to you, I wonder, either as a parent or a child? We felt safe with our gentle Daddy on the case.

Alternative audio file (m4a) in case you can’t access the first one

Photo from the Taylor family archives, poem and recording by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. That means please do share and reblog, but always name me as writer.


23 thoughts on “The theology of hell — a poem

  1. A blessing indeed to have a kind and wise Dad. I did too and have always cherished that fact. Thanks for another beautiful poem.

    1. We were both very lucky.

  2. Dan Antion says:

    The comfort of a father’s reassurance – I remember it well.

  3. What a lovely human being, father, who was probably as kind to anyone as he was to his daughter.

    1. He certainly was.

  4. Laurie says:

    What a wonderful way for a father to reassure a scared daughter. Thank you for telling the story!

    1. He was very erudite but never used big words.

  5. What a wise daddy! I never really understood the concept of heaven and hell and who went where. What your dad said would have made sense to me as a child.

    1. It set me free of guilt at the time and to a large extent forever.

  6. srbottch says:

    I Love the story. I just hope that for my children at young ages, I was just good a dad at answering their ‘crisis’ questions as your dad was. This was beautiful!

    1. Being so aware means that most probably you were.

  7. lifecameos says:

    Lovely to hear you. Hearing the writer brings the poem so alive.

  8. delphini510 says:

    A wonderful poem Rachel and so deeply touching. Painting a warm picture of a worried
    child and her father’s re-assurance so vividly.
    I used to think similar thoughts as a child and not being able to think of anything wrong
    started examining my thoughts. I did the mistake of not asking my wise and loving parents,😊

    1. Very small people can have very big worries and they don’t come any bigger than that.

  9. This is wonderful. It didn’t take me long to realize I had to listen to my kids in a different way. Otherwise, I might have missed this. So glad this dad didn’t.

    1. I hope it’s not a burden. But I am delighted that’s how the poem affected you.

  10. Osyth says:

    A good father, a wise father, a kind father, a father who thought before he replied. All wonderful qualities wrapped up in the man who nurtured you. Fortune comes in such gentle packages.

    1. My sisters and I have just been reminiscing about his special qualities, as it’s exactly 23 years ago that he died.

  11. A lovely way to reassure a tender little girl, who obviously was not going to hell even if there were one.

    1. He certainly convinced me!

  12. Sumana Roy says:

    And this is a most beautiful tribute to a loving father. Aah..he’s wise indeed.

  13. Robyn Haynes says:

    I remember being afraid of going to hell. We had a fire and brimstone preacher who was not nearly so considered as your dad. He taught ‘religious instruction’ at our school and I remember him turning the teacher’s desk/table upside down and pretending to row down the Nile using the black board ruler as a paddle. We all thought he was out of his tree.

    1. And you were surely right. Not a person we would entrust our own children to.

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