A few nights ago I had a terrible toothache. It was the kind of pain that took my breath away. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t lie down. I could only pace back-and-forth focusing on minor things…like breathing. My legs were sweating and my palms were cold. It was a rough few hours, and then it was over. On the other side of a dentist appointment, I won’t have to experience that pain again.
But what about hell?
I don’t have to deal with very much suffering in my life. Even the things I call hardships are actually pretty minor is the scope of things. Maybe that’s why I acknowledge the theological teachings about damnation, but rarely identify with the reality of hell. It’s not the world’s most sexy topic. And yet…it's something that Jesus took very seriously.
We Believe in Love. We Believe in Grace. We Believe in Agony.
We can't afford to be casual in our belief in hell. We have to decide immediately whether or not we believe the Bible's teaching. If we choose to believe in hell, we can never ignore it. It has to be a conscious part of our day, everyday. If we believe in hell but do nothing to oppose it, we are inhumane. Hell is a delicate topic, a controversial topic, and it should be an emotional topic. A few months ago I saw a woman laying dead in the road in Africa. I wrote about that experience and how difficult it was to see. It should never be comfortable to consider someone else's pain. In the book of Luke, Jesus teaches a parable that includes a graphic scene of a man suffering in hell. Read it like it's a movie. It's disturbing.
I realize there are multiple views on hell. I encourage the discussion. No matter where you land on your specific theology, we have to deal with the fact that the Bible's teaching on hell states that people who perish apart from salvation will suffer excruciating agony.
Do something right now. Re-read the passage of scripture in Luke 16. This time, instead of reading the words "rich man," insert the name of someone you know. How would it affect you to see them writhing in pain? What would it be like to see someone you care about being tortured? What if that pain would never stop? I know I'm being sensational. However, so is Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is actively trying to shock His audience. He wanted to graphically illustrate that if people died in their sins, there would be hell to pay. Jesus also knew that in a short period of time, he would pay hell's price for everyone who believes.
IF HELL ISN'T REAL...
- I can make it all about me.
My life is more about finding happiness and discovering my purpose. If I'm involved in ministry, I do it to find a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Every sermon I hear needs to be meaningful to me. Every small group needs to be engaging for me. These aren't terrible pursuits. However, if hell is real, it raises the stakes of every moment of every day.
- I can forget about the people that I disagree with.
I like to be right. If hell isn't real, I can stick to the people that I align with so that their opinions reinforce my own. I can shake my head at all the people I disagree with. I can disengage from the fact that people without Christ are actively headed, many times unknowingly, toward a fate worse than death.
- I can be competitive.
I can start ministries and plant churches so that people know I'm good at starting ministries and planting churches. I can flinch when other churches and other ministries do well. I can forget the real enemy and actively work against those who are seeking the rescue of eternal souls. I can be passive-aggressive toward those who have different methods than I have.
- I can be casual about eternity.
I can joke about hell. I can live my life as if there are no eternal ramifications for my decisions. I can fight about politics, fight about church, fight about theology, and ignore the greater stakes. I can forget about the kingdom of God and the glorious promise of Jesus and his salvation. I can work really hard to make this a really nice life. I can skip most opportunities that point toward eternity. As long as I keep up with a few...I'm good.
- I can worry about what others think.
Nobody wants to talk about hell, including me. But what if hell is real...and I knew it? What if hell is real and it can be avoided? To keep quiet would be to keep the world's ugliest secret. It would make me worse than a holocaust denier, a tobacco salesman, or a white supremacist. If hell is real, keeping it a secret would be an aggressive act of hate.
There is nothing neutral about remaining neutral regarding hell.
If I believe that hell is real…
- I never have to wonder about my purpose ever again.
My purpose is to join the rescue mission of God. I can relish in the fact that I've been set free from eternity's greatest threat. I can give thanks for that sweet relief every single day. I can get serious about joining the fight to defeat the universe's greatest foe. I can use every talent, every advantage, and every opportunity in this pursuit. I'm liberated from a purpose-free life. Every moment I'm living for the eternity of others, I'm walking in tremendous significance.
- I am free to love everyone.
Opinions are important, but they pale in comparison with the eternal reality of hell. I can be deeply concerned about every person that I meet. I can consider every person's deeper story. I can allow myself to realize their significance. I can find myself caring deeply about their soul and their place in the afterlife. I can pray like I've never prayed. I can sacrifice everything so that they might see a glimpse of goodness and truth in me.
- I can share in the victories of every other child of God.
I never have to be competitive with any Gospel-preaching ministry. I can love and appreciate every church with a different culture, ministry model, worship style, and assimilation plan. I can root for them to get the Gospel to more people in every single context. I can cheer for every new disciple in their midst. I can hope for their best and pray for their betterment. I never have to resent someone else's ministry success ever again. If hell is real, it is big enough for all of my resentment.
- I can live with reckless abandon.
The small things in my life wouldn't matter anymore. If hell is real, it means that this world is so embarrassingly temporary. I would hear the clock constantly ticking like Captain Hook's crocodile. It would be a never ending reminder that eternity is the only thing worth living for. I would be so free to compromise my earthly comfort for other people's eternal rescue. I wouldn't even care about it. If I really believe in hell, I would understand the world in such a clear way. I would stop getting caught up in mindless battles.
- I am free to lay down my life for others.
If hell is real, I would never forget how I've been spared. I would weigh every insult against the glory of knowing Jesus and the promise of His rest. I could lay down my preferences, my comfort, and my free-time. I could live with ultimate freedom.
MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT HELL
I want to start thinking about hell more often. I never want to be morbid. I just want to be consistent. If I truly hold to a biblical view of hell, my life should look like it. My favorite thing about hell is that it has been defeated. At the cross, Jesus paid the punishment that every hell-bound sinner should pay. Jesus absorbed the wrath of God, once and for all. He has set us free - everyone who repents and believes. It's the mystery of the cross. The power of the blood. The beauty of His love.