Friday, May 28, 2010
Truth Series - Hell
Another topic for the intolerant.
The concept of punishment and torment that never ends, that is eternal, does not fit into the fairness mindset of natural man. I am not speaking just of the world. I am including the elect as well. The world laughs off the concept of hell as a figment of the self-righteous imagination of the right-wing religious fanatic. I have heard comedians imply that they long for hell, that hell will be a place where those who know how to have fun will hang out. Gary Larson, author of cartoon series "The Far Side", made a lot of money depicting the funny side of hell:
But is there really a funny side to hell?
Once again, Satan has been working overtime. If he can discredit creation as an incredible feat of chance and then make man's eternal destination seem ridiculous rather than reality, what's he got left to do? His battle is nearly won.
Obviously the world doesn't want to believe in the biblical description of hell. Why would they? To believe in it would mean that not only were they choosing to go there, but that the God of the Bible is real and what is written in His book is truth. But if they reject the gospel message, as well as the Creator of the universe, then they would also reject the truth of their eternal destiny.
But what bothers me is the church's shying away from the truth that hell is an ETERNAL destination. I think today many in the church are leaning towards annihilationism - that when unbelievers die, they are judged and then done away with. The fact that they have no life after death is their punishment. Perhaps they suffer a bit in hell, but it ends with the erasing of that soul.
The other popular notion that is showing up in Christian discussions is the fact that after a period of suffering, the unrepentant repents and is eventually brought into eternal life. So hell is temporary and rather successful at convincing the lost to bow the knee.
Are either of these accurate? Are they truthful? Or are they a way to balance a loving, caring, sacrificial God with a just and angry God?
Well...what does the Bible say?
Christ makes several references to hell during His ministry on earth: (I'm paraphrasing)
Matthew 5:22 - if you call someone a fool, you are in danger of the fire of hell
Matthew 5:29 - get rid of anything that causes you to sin, because it's better to lose a body part than for your whole body to be thrown in hell
Matthew 23:33 - to the Pharisees, how will you escape being condemned to hell?
Luke 12:5 - fear Him who has the power to throw you into hell
Luke 16:23 - this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus - the rich man is in torment, in hell
So, Jesus referred to hell as a realistic destination.
In Revelation we are given the best description of hell and the length of its endurance:
Rev. 19:20 and 20:10 tells us that the beast, the false prophet and the devil are going to be thrown in the lake of fire, where they will be tormented day and night "forever and ever." (Doesn't sound temporary to me...)
Revelation 20:14 and 15 then tell us that death and Hades (waiting place unbelievers for the judgment seat of God) are thrown in the lake of fire and anyone whose name was "not found written in the book of life" was thrown in there as well.
Hebrews 6:2 mentions eternal judgment, also. Eternal. Long time. No end.
Now, I am not doing a great job of preaching the reality of hell here, but I am trying to show you that hell is a real place that Jesus warned of and that we are shown exists eternally. James MacDonald has given the best sermon I have ever heard on hell, called "What's Down with Hell?" and I would recommend everyone buying it and buying extra copies to give those whom you love. It is a straight forward sermon on the reality of hell and his soberness with the topic is chilling. Here is a clip of that sermon to whet your appetite - click here
So why is the concept of an eternal hell so distasteful to believers? I think it's because we place God's mercy and love on a higher platform than His righteousness and justness. "How could a loving God punish man eternally? Where is the love? That would be cruel and unjust. And God is love, therefore He loves all men. After all, Philippians 2 tells us that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Therefore, all men will repent one day and all will spend eternity with the Lord. Right?"
Wrong. Hell is not a place of repentance. Hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42, 50; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). This term "gnashing of teeth" is not a picture of repentance. It is a picture of hatred and rebellion. It is an act of anger. There is no repentance in hell because the Spirit of God is not convicting in hell. As James says in his clip above, life is the time for repentance, death is the time for judgment.
When we waffle on the eternal existence of hell, we are not loving our neighbors enough to warn them of the truth. Now, salvation is so much more than just rescue from physical pain - the salvation message is founded in the fact that you can have a personal relationship with God and be restored to your intended purpose in life. But don't be deceived - without salvation, you will still glorify God because even in hell, because God is glorified whenever His attributes are on display, including His wrath.
Bottom line, we need to be honest about hell. We need to be bold. When someone looks at you and says, "So, if I don't believe in Jesus, am I going to hell?", don't waffle.
Don't say, "I don't know."
Don't say, "I hope not, but maybe."
Tell them the truth.
So, to answer my original question, no, there is not a funny side to hell.