Skip to content

How to Think & Speak About Hell.

07/03/2020

How to Think and Speak About Hell?

Read Psalm 73:13-22

Christians are a Peculiar People, says Peter!  And when it comes to their views on the end times, and on what happens after death, they sometimes have very peculiar ideas!   We have seen the Catholic Church has a belief in Purgatory, and we have learned why Purgatory is NOT a biblical doctrine. But the views of many Protestants, even many evangelicals on the eternal fate of the lost can be just as unbiblical as the Catholic belief in Purgatory.   On the subject of hell, many people, even Christians, have extremely peculiar views indeed.

sculpture-430648_1920

Thinking and Speaking

So:- 

1 Why Are We So Uncomfortable About Mentioning Hell? 

People don’t talk about hell.  It’s uncomfortable, and that’s just with reference to Christians.  After all, nice, positive, encouraging friendly people don’t do hell.  Actually, I have to confess, that as a preacher, I really don’t like preaching on hell! (Although I get the impression that some preachers seem to like it a lot! – One local evangelist used to lift his glass of water and pour little droplets of water out onto the ground in front of the congregation, telling them that when they are dead and in hell, they will remember these drops, and they will long for their night, for that wasted water, just as they rich man longed for Lazarus to bring him a little water to quench his great thirst.  He did this with such enthusiasm and frequency that I seriously think it became just a part of an act.  I really don’t think that preaching on the eternal lostness of souls is something to gloat about, or to theatricalise.    But to be fair, preachers like that are rare these days.  It is much more common for hell to be seldom mentioned at all in modern preaching.  After all:- 

a Hell is Just Not Nice They Say. It’s just not nice to think that your neighbours are going out of this world, to be enduring endless punishment by separation from the comforting presence of God.  Let me illustrate this. 

  • A few years ago I invited a guest speaker to special services at a church where I was the pastor.  The morning service was so good.  He delivered a lovely wee children’s talk, and a very encouraging message for the believers.  Everyone thought he was great.  In the evening service he preached on the Rich Farmer who built up his barns, and didn’t prepare for eternity.  In the course of that address he spoke on the Rich Farmer’s eternal destiny, and pulled no punches as to where the lost will be after this life, and after judgement.  The reaction was totally different from the morning service.  I encountered two men talking after the service.  “I can’t disagree, doctrinally with what he was saying, but he should have toned it down a bit…”. Next day one of the women came to me, to complain that the ladies didn’t like the preacher, for ‘we don’t want to think about those things…’
  • A woman who belonged to an evangelical church in Bangor told me that she didn’t think people went to hell.  “I think everyone goes somewhere nice after they die.  Don’t you? 

B Hell is Irrational They Say.  There are what at first sight appear to be rational objections that are raised regarding the doctrine of hell: 

  • But God is Love.  Why would a loving God send sinners to hell?  Surely his love would prevent that?  But why would one of God’s attributes override or negate the others? Theologian Clark Pinnock who, despite having regarded himself as an evangelical, dismissed hell with a rhetorical question: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?” *   God is Love, but his love for sinners was demonstrated for us on the Cross.  The Voice Paraphrase renders the familiar words of Romans 5:8 But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us. (I don’t like paraphrases, but there is some force to that) I If we reject the cross we also reject his love, and we will experience his wrath.   
  • But God is Omnipotent.  A woman in Coleraine told me that because of His omnipotence, God can do anything! And if he can do anything, why would he not say to the people who are destined for hell, ‘Look, I know that you have sinned against me, but I can do anything, and I’m going to release you from hell, and let you enter heaven!’ The woman was an ‘evangelical…‘. But there are things God can’t and won’t do.  he will NEVER contradict his word, or go against his will…  He always keeps his word.     
  • But God Created Me This Way.  This is perhaps the most frequently used excuse.  How many times will you find persistent sinners, who enjoy their sin.   And want to continue in it, saying, “It’s just the way I am…  It’s just the way God made me, so why would he judge me for it, and why punish me, when he made me like this.”    But that’s not how you were made.  Adam was created without sin, yet he still sinned.  You sin willingly and voluntarily.  God did not create you to sin, he created you to glorify him, to have fellowship with him, – your sin is your own doing, and blaming it on God the Creator is to compound your guilt.   
  • But Jesus Was All About Love and Peace, not about Hell.  In fact Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven, and some of the language he used to describe hell, would make the nice ladies at that nice middle-class church have apoplexy.  Jesus said,   And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 46 where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:45-46 

None of these ‘rational objections’ hold up to any scrutiny in the light of Scripture. 

 

2 Hell Deniers and God Defiers.   

And of course there are religions that will deny the reality of hell too:- 

  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Seventh Day Adventists.  Who are very different in terms of belief systems, but who both deny that there is a place called hell.  The Seventh Day Adventists believe in ‘annihilation’ and claim that their idea of hell is hotter than ours, for it destroys the souls of sinners!   
  • Some Oneness Pentecostals.  It’s more than anecdotal that the Church of God – a Oneness Pentecostal Church in NI believes in the annihilation of the lost, although you’d hardly know that now from their new websites where their ‘vision’ is more prominent than any actual beliefs.  
  • Liberal Protestants.  Whose confessions of faith certainly teach the doctrines of hell and eternal punishment, but who reject that with as little thought as they reject other important doctrines, like the Virgin Birth, the literal resurrection and return of the Lord Jesus, the miracles of Christ etc etc.  They will try to ‘explain away’ these important doctrines by giving them vague ‘spiritual meanings’ or regarding them as hypothetical.    
  • The Unitarians.  Unlike other liberal Protestants, the NSP’s and Unitarians have no doctrinal stance whatsoever.  In typical post-modern fashion, a member of those church can believe whatever they want, or even believe nothing at all, and still be member!  So disregarding the doctrine of hell is not a problem.  In Ballymacashon we are close enough to Moneyreagh, where there is a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church to be familiar with the local rhyme, “Moneyreagh, good and civil, one God and no devil…”. And certainly no hell!  Again, another well rehearsed Unitarian quip, “Where the tree falls it lies. 

And some evangelicals who believe in the eternal punishment of the lost will never mention it in a church service or meeting, even in an evangelistic context.  They will claim that it is better to proclaim the love of God for sinners rather than to scare people into ‘making a decision.  And while we would doubt if such ‘decision-making’ actually saves, we can look to the guidance of Jude, who wrote, And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.  Jude 22 

 

3 A Biblical Doctrine. 

We will look at the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked at a later date, when we are looking at general eschatology.  A simple reading of the Heidelberg Catechism will suffice to state our biblical position:- 

Learn: Heidelberg  Q10.  Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?  Certainly not. He is terribly angry with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore he will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally,  as he has declared:  Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.  Galatians 3:5  

Q11. But is God not also merciful?  God is indeed merciful, but he is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.  

So, how should Christians think and speak about hell, why and when? 

  • Be aware of its reality, and its horrors.  Psalm 73:12-19. Then I understood their end. 18 Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. 19  Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment. They are utterly consumed with terrors.  We should be aware that there is such a place, and when we look upon our unregenerate neighbours be sorrowful that they are rushing to that place. 
  • Recognise that a broken law will always demand a just punishment.  Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.  Galatians 3:5.  Strangely, no-one has a problem with the thoughts of Hitler or Mussolini being punished for their sins, they would claim that there is no justice, of such men were set free with no eternal consequences.  yet we all have sinned against God. 
  • Have no personal fear of it.  The Christian has no fear of the consequences of the broken law!  John Piper: And what hope is there when you have tried to bribe God with your pitiful virtues? When you have insulted the all-sufficient Creator by exalting yourself to barter with him: your morality in exchange for his mercy? No hope at all, unless God, in his remarkable love, is willing to transfer your sentence of death to another. The heart of the gospel is that Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God). Jesus was not guilty of one moment of legalism. He trusted his Father perfectly and lived in the power of the Spirit. He fulfilled the law perfectly because he knew that at the root the law taught faith which worked through love.** For the believer there is no fear of eternal punishment, for our punishment has already been paid by Another! 
  • Speak of Hell with compassion and love.  We do not preach hell with any enthusiasm, we preach hell with sorrow, with love for sinners, whom we want to pluck from the jaws of destruction.   
  • When necessary use it to persuade sinners.  Tom Ascol, on Ligonier writes, Believing the truth about hell also motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation? *  So there are times when we must warn others about it.  We are taught in the Bible that we are to flee from the wrath to come, but how shall we know to flee if we have not received a clear warning?

So, hell is real, and our neighbours and friends are going there if they have not repented and trusted in Christ.  We MUST be responsible in our approach to them, firm and loving, pleading with them to come to Christ, for ‘every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?  Hebrews 2:2-3

Think About 

  1. Is it possible to be a Christian and NOT believe in Hell? 
  2. In your/our church, do you/we place too much emphasis on Hell, or too little? 
  3. When people say that a place like Hell is inconsistent with the loving nature of God, they are omitting something really important.  Have you any idea what it is? 

 

Links:-

https://www.ligonier.org/blog/4-truths-about-hell/ Accessed 7/3/2020 

**https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/christ-redeemed-us-from-the-curse-of-the-law. Accessed 7/3/2020

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: