Hell is the new Nintendo.
At least it is amongst blogging Christendom as of late. Nothing can quite get public dialogue heated (?!) quicker than some good ole’ fire and brimstone-esque debate. In this day many, even those who call themselves Christian, want to say, “To hell with hell!”…at least as the Bible plainly teaches it.
Hell is an immensely important doctrinal matter, because if eternal destinies of individuals are at stake then what we believe about hell cannot be taken too seriously or studied too carefully.
It is no matter whether it offends our modern sensibilities and we feel the notion of a literal place called “hell” is arcane and puritanical. What we “feel” about it has no bearing on the issue. The most pressing concern at hand is this: Is it biblical to posit hell as a place of constant physical torment and eternal spiritual separation from God? Or is hell just self wrought consequences of bad choices which we reap only in the here and now?
Let’s begin the discourse in Revelation 20:10. Admittedly, one can’t deny the heavily symbolic nature of Revelation and the difficulties that flow out of such language, but all symbols symbolize something. Symbols are used to illustrate a greater truth that can’t be wrapped in literal language, not a lesser truth. While symbolic descriptions of hell sound bad enough, we can be assured the reality is even worse than can be imagined (thankfully this works on the flip side with heaven too!).
The fundamental nature of hell is spiritual separation from God, but this view does not account for all the particulars of hell. Revelation 20:10 verse to help illustrate this point: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet also were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” There are several key inferences to make here: the lake of fire consumes the person, just as waters consume any person thrown into a physical lake; it is a place from which they cannot escape; the imagery of fire and sulphur is intended to show extreme pain and suffering that extends to all the senses. Furthermore, the punishment is obviously eternal, continual, total and conscious (“tormented day and night for ever and ever”) and human beings will be there, for the beast and the false prophet are humans.
It’s clear: “Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:10)
Many proponents of a non literal temporal hell claim if we had a more thorough understanding of Jewish historical context we could not hold to the traditional view of hell. This is not corroborated by careful study though. The ancient Jewish belief of humanity includes an immortality of the human soul and human body, which is in direct contrast to the gentile view of a separated body and soul. Daniel 12:1-2 is a confirmation: “ . . but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” If we hold tightly to the view of heaven as conscious eternal bliss, how can we not hold to the view of hell as conscious and eternal torment? Jesus confirms this when he says the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The biblical text is plain and does not change the grammatical meaning of “eternity” when referencing heaven or hell.
I find it hypocritical (and an indictment on human nature) that no one is propagating a “temporal” heaven with the same logic they claim a “temporal” hell. Could it be because we are making our interpretations of Scripture based on our subjective inclinations (eisegesis) and not the objective ordinary meaning of the text (exegesis)?
What can we make of Jesus’ NT exhortation to “Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28)? Hell is the place the body and soul will be eternally destroyed by a Holy loving God. Hell is not just the suicidal and self-inflicted internal propensities of misguided men (though it is that in part), Hell is the external judgment of God being poured out on sinful men (Romans 1:18-21).
Why else would we be charged to “Fear Him”? If all religions end up in the same relativistic celestial melting pot whom is there to fear?
The most heart wrenching display of the nature of hell is Christ’s separation from His Father on the cross. In this tangible portrayal of hell we do see physical suffering, which is only a minute part of this hell, but we see even greater the spiritual suffering of the Son who cried, “Why have you forsaken Me?” In hell, all the goodness and grace of the Father is suspended from the person and they are completely isolated from anything of redeeming value. Self is the wretched cruel king in hell. This Spiritual suffering is the most severe aspect of hell, but this in no way denies the physical suffering of the individual.
Hell has an immensely devastating affect on the whole person. Hell happens to you and in you for eternity.
When we reject the hell Christ took on the cross for us, we are accepting the hell we deserve for an eternity. God gives us what we truly desire. As CS Lewis once said, “Either people will say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ or God will say to them, ‘Thy will be done.'” The self willed, self absorbed and God-hating will continue in that trajectory into eternity. They wouldn’t want it any other way.
Remember who we are rebelling against when we sin. This is no mere Joe Blow off the street, it is the High King and perfect Son we are scorning. This is a high crime with high consequences. When blaspheming the infinitely worthy ONE there are necessarily infinitely dire implications. The punishment (hell) fits the crime (treason).
This is why the love of God and the wrath of God are inextricably linked. “This is love not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and given His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) In an ironic display of gospel ignorance many who claim “Love Wins” apart from God’s wrath (cough*Rob Bell*cough), are actually nullifying the love of God. God loves sinners because He poured out His just displeasure on His perfect Son who died as our substitute. Clearly, a denial of God’s wrath is a denial of Christ’s propitiation (wrath bearing sacrifice) which in turn is an outright denial of God’s love.
Universalism, in the end, destroys the very thing it is attempting to uphold.
There is no biblical reason to uphold purgatory or annihilationism as a more sensitive route to hell. Christ was the most loving and sensitive man who ever walked the earth yet He talked more about hell than all other biblical writers combined. It was probably because He was more qualified to speak of such a horrible reality considering He was the creator of it, just as all things were created through Him (Colossians 1:15-17). The domesticated demure Jesus we have constructed in our minds declares in the “Rich man and Lazarus” parable that hell is place of personal consciousness, eternal torment, and no second chances (Luke 16:19-31). Even if we reject the hellfire and brimstone hyper fundamentalist preaching of the traditionalist past, we would do well to give an ear to what Jesus has to say.
If there were no Jesus there would be no hell. Or to say it differently, the only way there could be no hell is if there were no Jesus.
Our distaste for hell will not make it go away. In reality, that taste is designed by God so that we may shun hell and desire the heavenly kingdom He purchased for us with His own Son’s life. We may very well wish the notion of hell would just go to hell. But we would be consigning the love of God, the blood of Jesus, and all the goodness on heaven and earth to the same fate.