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In Hell

The downbound train …

Before getting into the meat of this post, check out this video. Okay, maybe this is just an excuse to post one of my favourite Chuck Berry tunes, but it does relate to my topic today, honest 🙂

Since I was drawing a blank about what to blog about, I had asked over at our Facebook page for suggestions. One idea that came up, in part due to the brewing controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins, was to write about hell.

Hell isn’t one of those topics people really enjoy studying or spending their time thinking about. RC Sproul wrote: “There is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking than the idea of hell. It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes from the teaching of Christ himself.”

But that last sentence is the key to why we feel this doctrine must not only be understood, but defended. Most of the teaching we have about hell came directly from Jesus during his earthly ministry; as Mark Driscoll points out: “13 percent of his sayings are about hell and judgment; more than half of his parables relate to the eternal judgment of sinners.”

Yet, even though this is something Jesus himself stressed, it is something many of us either shy away from, ignore or outright deny. Again, Sproul says: “It is this doctrine, perhaps more than any other, that strains even the Christian’s loyalty to the teaching of Christ. Modern Christians have pushed the limits of minimizing hell in an effort to sidestep or soften Jesus’ own teaching.”

But those who outright object to hell and promote unbiblical alternatives don’t have a corner on the market of bad teaching either. In fact, most of us have likely been influenced more by misconceptions in popular culture than by those teaching outright errors in the non-secular realm.

This brings us back to the Chuck Berry song above (I really did have a point in including it!). In the song, the idea of hell is treated as real, but a very common misconception is displayed.

As the train barrels on to its final destination, the man hears the devil say: “Ha ha … we are nearing home.” This illustrates a common misunderstanding about the nature of hell and Satan’s role – that he is the guy in charge.

Unfortunately, in the vacuum of real teaching on this subject, many have adopted this understanding. In reality, Satan’s “home” is not hell. Hell is not a kingdom he does or will one day reign over. Hell is as much a place of judgement and punishment for Satan and his demons as it is for fallen man; they will be fellow prisoners and God will rule over hell, not the devil (Matt 25:41, Rev 20:10).

So what is hell exactly? Wayne Grudem summarizes it simply this way: “Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked.” It is a suffering under God’s wrath that will last forever and there will be no reprieve for those who end up there.

What will it be like? Well, many pictures are used to describe hell including fire, darkness, restlessness and the weeping & gnashing of teeth. While these are all symbols, no solace can be found in this fact. Symbols are used to point to something larger than themselves, something bigger which cannot be explained without the aid of such metaphoric language. As Sproul points out: “It is probable that a sinner in hell would prefer a literal lake of fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire images.”

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface but the short of it is hell is real. People you and I know will go there. It will be worse than anything you can imagine and it will last forever. This should break your heart; it should be your motivation.

Ultimately this is why we do what we do.

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  • Listen to or read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Johnathan Edwards. That is the best description of hell I have heard.

  • Even if punishment is justified it’s hard to understand how a loving God would create a system that results in people being tormented forever. It’s like saying no amount of punishment can ever be deemed enough to pay for one’s sins.But an eternity of torment seems to outweigh the pain and damage wrought by sins in a finite temporal context. An eye for eye etc. type of justice at least seems balanced. Even if it can be reasoned as fair in some sense why would God create a system where he knows some people will wind up in the most horrible place ever conceived of.