Is there such a place as an eternal hell, and would a loving God actually consign anyone to that place?
This is a very, very serious question. Those of us who are, well, more mature, will recall a style of preaching known as “hell, fire and brimstone.” Where did that brand of proclamation go? These days, preaching describes only a kind and loving God, and mention of eternal punishment is as unfashionable as a pair of bell-bottom pants.
Make no mistake, God is a God of love and mercy, yet we dare not take such a God for granted. There is a sense in which he is both loving and terrifying. “Note then the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22).
Some worry that this will undermine the grace of God; there is another, equal danger, however. Do not underestimate the depth of our sin. Mostly we seek to explain our sin away, falling victim to alibis and finger pointing.
Yet when I sin, I hurt my loved ones, my neighbors, my church, and those who depend on my spiritual leadership. Does God care about me? Why, of course he does! But he cares for those whom I have hurt, too.
No less a person than Jesus himself describes hell as an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). It is, he insists, an “unquenchable fire” and one where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44,48). It is a place where both “body and soul” will be “destroyed” (Matthew 10:28). It is a “lake that burns with fire and sulfur which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
These descriptions ought to scare us silly. Or, more to the point, scare us till we’re serious about our Christianity.
Does all of this talk about hell make you uncomfortable? Sufficiently uncomfortable to change? I imagine that is God’s intention. God is real, heaven is real, as is hell, its polar opposite. I plead with you, dear reader, to so live that you avoid this eternal destination.
Author Os Guinness puts it succinctly: “Hell is the truth, known too late.”