What Do You Believe About Hell?
Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. Matthew 18:9
There is something about believing in hell which is repugnant to the modern mind. Heaven? Sure! That’s consistent with the picture of a loving God, one who cares far too much about us to turn anyone away from His door. Yes, we can abide the thought that God may punish His errant children as we human parents have to do–at least for a bit; but the idea of fire and brimstone, smoke, and torment reminds us more of the graphic imagery of Dante’s The Divine Comedy than of John 3:16.
Even some of Christianity’s most outspoken advocates have signed in on the page of disbelief in a literal hell. Clark Pinnock, the late theology professor at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, asks, “How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness” as to inflict “everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been?”
Even heavyweights such as John R.W. Stott and the Anglican Philip Hughes add their voices to the “love-us-too-much-to-do-that” group. If there is one thing for sure, it is that there is no real consensus among people today as to what hell really is. Views about hell fall into four major categories. Listen carefully and see where you find yourself. It’s quite probable you have never given much thought to the whole issue.
Group #1 view hell as a present state of difficulty–not in the hereafter, but in the present. In other words, we inflict hell upon ourselves. For the hundreds of thousands of men and women who were victims of the nuclear destruction that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hell was rained upon them when those first nuclear bombs exploded at 617 yards above them, causing a yellow mushroom cloud that rose to an altitude of 10,000 feet, blocking out the sun to the death and dying below.
And of course, the 14 million who died in the concentration camps of the Holocaust didn’t think about hell as being later. For them, it was the present. And those who suffer unbearably, whether it is physical, emotional, or whatever, know something of the anguish of being separated from health and wholeness.
Group #2 view hell as being total annihilation. They think that when you die, you just die, and that’s it. You cease to exist. John Woodbridge describes this, saying, “Some hold that God is far too gracious to condemn the souls of men to a place of everlasting punishment. Instead, He blots them out forever. Man ceases to exist in any form, material or spiritual. He is utterly annihilated.” And that would take care of the issue. Period.
Group #3 believe that hell means you will spend eternity separated from God with no chance of being in His presence. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church signs in on this page, saying that “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.” And there’s one more view.
Group #4 believe that hell is a literal place of torment and anguish, which also means you are separated from God where there is no second chance, no hope of heaven–something which Jesus Christ came to save us from. Knowing that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, they contend, is a moral barrier which gives men and women a reason to turn their backs on sin and wrong-doing and live with the hope of heaven at the end of life’s road.
So, where do you find yourself? But more important, why do you believe what you do? Haven’t thought much about it? It’s time to do some straight thinking and know what you believe and why you believe it. Instead of taking my word for it, why not take your Bible and find out very clearly what it says. Then, decide. That’s the only sure way to know.
Resource reading: Matthew 18:1-9