No one likes the thought of hell. The pastors I know take no pleasure in the message of endless punishment, everlasting anguish and eternal misery in a Lake of Fire with unceasing weeping and gnashing of teeth. But what we like or don’t like is hardly the point. According to the Bible, the damnation of lost souls is a future reality. In John MacArthur’s words, hell is an “appalling truth.” C.S. Lewis wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But hell has the full support of Scripture and, specifically, of our Lord’s own words.”
Hell is bad news.
“But the good news (of the Gospel) is only as good as the bad news is bad,” writes Greg Koukl. So true! Shepherds in the church must “hold fast the faithful Word,” (Titus 1:9) in regards to hell, realizing the credibility of the Gospel itself is jeopardized when the doctrine of hell is whitewashed to be less than it is.
For generations, hell has been whitewashed, though. “Hell won’t be so bad as long as I’m with all my buddies!” The thought of hell likened to the sitcom, Cheers, where everyone knows your name and yuks it up, is not biblical. Some visualize hell as a divine “time out”- like an unruly child, you’re given time to think about the bad things you’ve done, and then all is forgotten. Or else, like the Jehovah Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists, they believe the wicked will be snuffed out, annihilated and will simply cease to exist. Or finally, the Catholic view of a purgatory comforts some with the hopes of enough prayers and lit candles, their departed loved ones will be allowed to pass through the pearly gates.
But Jesus was clear in His teaching.
Jesus depicts hell as a place of everlasting torment, made of “eternal fire” (Mt.18:8); “unquenchable fire” (Mk.9:43); a furnace of fire (Mt.13:42) where the maggot never dies and the grinding of teeth in agony will never cease. (Matthew 24-25). There’s no less warning from the prophets of old including John the Baptist. And finally, the Book of Revelation concludes the matter: “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire.” (Revelation 20:15)
God’s perfect love can be understood only in light of His perfect justice, and both are grounded in His goodness.
Is the biblical description of hell really just? The answer is in the revelation of loss that occurs daily due to our willful rejection of God’s goodness, and further, the unresponsiveness to the mercy displayed on the Cross. I don’t know if I fully understand it yet. But in spite of my ignorance, I trust in God’s mercy and justice.
Will you embrace God’s mercy through the Cross of Christ? It’s still not too late.