Who wants to talk about hell?
Forthright has published over 10,000 articles (10,240 at the time I’m writing this), and precious few of those have been about hell. Only nine articles have been tagged with “hell.” A search reveals a few more that touch upon it, but less than 1/2 of 1% of all articles discuss hell in much depth.
I have always viewed Forthright as a wonderful place for uplifting and challenging articles. Likely you would not be reading — nor would I be writing for — Forthright were the percentages considerably higher. (These articles on eternal punishment are worth reading.)
I don’t like to think about hell. It is unpalatable. Yet here I am writing about it. Why? Well, it is the theme of Forthright for this month, but more importantly it is a thoroughly biblical topic. In our preaching and teaching we should search for balance. We must journey beyond our favorite themes to proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Preachers must preach — and writers must write — on uncomfortable themes. Fellowship is beautiful, but the Bible also speaks of when fellowship is broken (see Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-8; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 1 Timothy 5:19, 20). Grace and mercy are soothing, but we also must be convicted (2 Timothy 4:2).
I’d much rather dwell on the beauties of heaven. I’d much rather contemplate the love of God. But ignoring the harshness of hell and the surety of God’s holy judgment does not alter the reality, it merely dulls us to the consequences of sin.
I want to be like Jesus, and the uncomfortable reality is that Jesus spoke about eternal punishment quite a bit. He described a place of horror. The Greek Gehenna (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 45; Luke 12:5), refers to the valley of Hinnom. This valley was a place of child sacrifice to Molech (2 Kings 23:10), and later a valley of slaughter (Jeremiah 7:32). In the days of Jesus, it was a place of burning refuse.
Hell is pictured as a place of outer darkness, gnashing teeth, unquenchable fire, undying worms, weeping, destruction, and eternal punishment (see Matthew 8:12; 13:50; 25:46; Mark 9:45, 46). Lest you object that fire and darkness are contradictory, remember that this is a place for the spirit and resurrected body, not flesh and blood.
Just as heaven is too wonderful for words to adequately express, so hell is too terrible for us to grasp.
The one characteristic that frightens me more than any other about hell is separation. Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), because a holy God can have no fellowship with sin. But in this life there is always hope for reconciliation. The blood of Jesus can forgive us and bring us near to God. But the separation in hell is permanent (Matthew 25:46). Those punished will be cast “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) for all eternity.
Everything that is good in this world is because of God. Jesus holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). The presence of God brings good into the world and into our lives. Now imagine a place completely devoid of God’s presence. What a horrendous and terrifying place that must be. A place fit for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Praise God that the death and resurrection of Jesus provides hope for sin and death! Praise God that the blood of Jesus can cleanse us (1 John 1:7, 9)! Praise God that the resurrection awaits (John 5:25-29)! Praise God that we can always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17)!
Surely nobody wants to talk about hell, but who wants to exist there? Friends, let’s talk a little about hell now, so that we do not experience it later. Avoid it at all costs (Matthew 18:9)!