“Oh, Sorry You’re in Hell….”

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HellfireI don’t know when the modern Church in the West abandoned talking about hell, but I do know that nothing’s been right since.

If what we preach in the Protestant Church accurately reflects reality, people are damned from the second they draw their first breath. We talk about eternal life starting when a person comes to Christ, but eternal damnation starts a lot earlier.

Yet do any of us live with that truth in mind?

I remember a conversation I had with a Seventh Day Adventist about the reality of hell. Adventists ascribe to annihilationism, meaning the unsaved cease to exist at their deaths. In other words, hell isn’t real. One of my arguments against that viewpoint comes from the following:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”
—Luke 16:19-31 ESV

The Adventist immediately shot back that this was a parable and could not be taken literally. However, Jesus never uses illustrations in His parables that have no basis in reality. Every element in His parables is true to life.

Hell is a real place. So is the lake of fire. (I can quote you all the Scriptures, but you can find a good sampling here, here, here, and here .)

But even as I write this (or you read it), little of the reality of the place sinks in, does it? We’ve made hell a kind of mystical plane of existence where only the truly abominable wind up. It’s not for anyone in our family, or for our neighbor, or for the guy who empties our trash, or for the call center woman in Bangalore. It’s always for someone else.

Though “Denial isn’t a river in Egypt” is a mantra in the skewed world of pop-psychotherapy, too many of us Christians in America are in that same denial over the eternal futures of people around us. We go about our days as if no one will ever roast in a lake of fire for all eternity.

Too graphic. Too disturbing. Too in your face.

Leonard Ravenhill wrote in Why Revival Tarries (p.32):

Charlie Peace was a criminal. Laws of God or man curbed him not. Finally the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death. On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses. The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. “The Consolations of Religion,” was the replay. Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase with a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings”? All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he preached. Listen to his on-the-eve-of-hell sermon:

“Sir,” addressing the preacher, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!

How can it be that a condemned criminal who probably did not know Christ can be more concerned about people going into eternal torment than you or I? How many of us would scramble across the length of this country, torn to shreds by the shards of glass beneath us, to save one soul?

John Knox beseeched God: “Great God, give me Scotland, or I die!” Yet my own heart reveals little of that same concern to prefer my own death over the damnation of even one soul. And I know my heart is not the only one bereft of that evangelistic fire.

I don’t think we have a lot of time left. I’m no prophet or eschatology guru, but I can’t escape the Holy Spirit saying that we’ve got to start living like we really believe the Lord. That belief means we’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that no one ends up in hell. Maybe we better stop wasting time comparing iPod prices online.

Where is our zeal for evangelizing the lost? Why are we so dead to the reality that people we know are cruising toward an eternity filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Hell is a real place. Time for us to start living like we believe it.

17 thoughts on ““Oh, Sorry You’re in Hell….”

  1. OK, OK, here’s my two bits.

    It’s interesting how Christians want to change the behavior of unbelievers in order to conform to the our standards (consider Christians who won’t do business with homosexuals) but how much are we willing to do to keep people around us, even our relatives, from the fires of hell and an eternity apart from God? I would think we should derive more satisfaction from actually helping people enter the kingdom, but we seem more focused on getting people to behave right…But how a non-believer behaves is, quite literally, none of our business. Our business is to love: First God, then others. An awareness of just what it means to be seperated from God should be sufficient motivation to reach out in love to those lost around us, but we have perhaps lost the urgency. Maybe because we are so pre-occupied with life that we have forgotten? Jesus, knowing what was coming, begged that the cup would pass from him. I don’t believe it was the physical pain He knew He was about to experience: It was the seperation from God He knew was coming that gave Him such agonies. Would we even notice? Perhaps that is why our fellowship in Church is so dead: We have no fellowship with the Author of our Faith.

    • John,

      That’s a hoot! And from an Aussie, too!

      I got a kick out of your cartoon for the day. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in that “just pray something!” situation, but it comes up now and then.

  2. I’m not sure that I’m fully persuaded to the annihilationist point-of-view, I wonder if the parable Jesus told was rooted in fact at the time He told it – but that at a later time, at Judgment, Death and Hell were both consumed in the lake of fire. (Obviously, hell/hades and the lake of fire would have to be two separate things if you take this Revelation passage literally.)

    In other words, hell may have been a “holding tank” for those facing condemnation, but not yet condemned. I know I’m speaking of Judgment in the past tense, but that’s part of what I’m proposing: that Judgment has already come for many; that it’s an ongoing process for the rest of us. It helps me understand how Moses and Elijah could be transfigured with Jesus and yet that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. Paradox of causality, unless you picture eternity as having a more flexible dimension of time.

    Sorry I don’t have the language tenses to fully explain my thinking more fully or clearly here … but a fan of good science fiction like you, Dan, should understand that dilemma, at least!

    What persuades me in favor of the annihilation proposal is that it puts God in favor of what seems more just than punishing temporal sin with eternal punishment. Edward Fudge uses a loaded term when he says that a God who would do that is engaging in torture, but I find it difficult to refute. In annihilationism, people who live as if there is no afterlife get exactly what they’ve lived for: nothing. The end. People who live in anticipation of the afterlife get exactly what they have lived and longed for: eternity.

    I’m perfectly willing to be wrong about this … God’s imagination is a good deal more vast than mine!

    I just want to be with Him forever, and I believe scripture is abundantly clear about His intentions in that matter!

    • Keith,

      John Piper has an excellent defense of the view of eternal punishment at his Desiring God Web site. I’d post the link here if I could find it, but it seems to be eluding me right now….

  3. francisco

    Dan,
    I don’t know if this is the link you might be looking for
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2000/1153_Dorothy_Sayers_on_Why_Hell_Is_a_NonNegotiable/
    or perhaps is this
    http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper92/06-14-92.htm (Part 1)
    where he says that “Annihilationism reduces sin from high treason to a misdemeanor. Hell is meant to fill us with awe at the glory we have scorned.”
    and in the second part
    http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper92/06-21-92.htm (Part 2)
    Piper quotes Brainerd who realized the insufficience of hell and ends up his article with this exhortation:
    “Hell is powerless to produce this [joy in the glory of God]. The tears that hell can produce are the tears of remorse and fear that the sin we love will destroy us. The practical purpose of hell is to shock us out of our love affair with the world and send us running to the fountain of life. But only the taste of that fountain will give a passion for God and break our hearts that we have loved anything else.

    So I urge you: Don’t let the fear of hell be your only motive for wanting heaven. Instead, come to the living waters of God’s love and truth and goodness and wisdom and power and justice and grace and glory. Taste and see that the Lord is good. His steadfast love is better than life. Let the fearful insufficiency of hell drive you to the all-sufficiency of God.”

    ps. you can find more articles about hell here
    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/topic/hell.html

  4. jwise

    I love in The Great Divorce, which I now see on the right-hand column, the way CS Lewis poses the dilemma… Those who reject God look back over their life and see that they were ALWAYS in hell. Those who by grace bend their knee and receive eternal life look back and discover that their whole life was heaven. There’s no point where a switch is thrown and a person goes from hell to heaven. I’m not sure Lewis’ presentation is entirely biblical, but it certainly helps me understand some things.

    I also think we put WAY too much stress on a single moment of “being born again.” Christ’s use of the phrase (John 3) isn’t because being born again is an end in itself, but it’s what is necessary to have life at all! In America, it’s sufficient to get a person to pray a prayer and be “born again”, and we simply move on. God’s goal in all of this isn’t just to have a bunch of reborn babies, but He wishes to give us eternal life where we have no end of enjoying His life with Him.

    Our job isn’t to tally up a bunch of souls that we got to say a prayer… our job is to begin our eternal life TODAY, to tell others that they too can have life, and then to live in it for all eternity. I believe Hell is a real place, but God certainly doesn’t want anyone in it, and we shouldn’t rest until every person has seen our eternal life lived out and then turned to Christ himself.

  5. Good articles; persuasive – and thanks for the links to them, francisco!

    Still they do not address the assumptions that are made: that unquenchable fire and unending smoke and undying worm refers to ongoing torment of human souls who – having not seen God – chose to reject Him … as opposed to the place of torment for angels who were created to be eternal and who had seen Him, yet committed the same sin.

    Man was made to choose between eternal life and death … Adam and Eve chose poorly, but God prevented them from making the decision for all their heirs.

    I really don’t want to make assumptions either way, because I don’t want to quote Scripture as saying more than it says. What it says is enough to persuade me that choosing life is vastly preferable to choosing death – and recommending the same decision to everyone I meet, made possible through Christ!

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  9. Kathy

    I so totally agree with you on the point that many have slowed to a snail’s pace when it comes to evangelizing. I used to pass out tracts on cars in parking lots when I first got saved. I was excited to do it because of the joy I had from the Lord at that time. Now I’m not doing anything …. it’s been almost 3 yrs (come Feb. 4th, 2009).

    I’m going to make a point to stay in prayer and ask God to give me strength to do His will and to tell the world about what is so imminently coming, heaven to some and hell to others.

  10. Your article moves me deeply. I’m near tears. My son recently lead a girl to salvation in Christ. Basking in the moment of Spirit-induced glory, she asked, “Why doesn’t everyone talk like this . . . tell about this?

    I am leading people to Christ. I’m just getting into blogging. I want to check out your site. May you write more!

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