If you have been following Blogs by Christian writers, you won’t have missed the fact that that the subject of eternal punishment has been very much to the fore in the last few weeks. This is mainly because Rob Bell has published a book called “Love Wins”. He deals with the whole area of eternal punishment and what it may (or may not) mean. The book caused a great reaction, particularly in America, with many evangelical writers expressing concern at what has been written, sadly at times in a less than gracious manner.
I don’t want to get into the whole area of personalities and the criticism of Rob Bell. I agree with Dai Hankey, the Welsh Church planter when he asked how much have some of the most vocal critics actually prayed for him?
The important thing is to look at what the Bible says about hell. And there is no getting away from the fact that it is mentioned many times. In fact, it is Jesus himself who talks about it more than anyone else. The Apostle Paul hardly mentions it (although he does many times write about the reality of God as judge). It is ironic that many of the people who are telling us that we should go back to the teachings of Jesus rather than Paul are the same ones who have a problem with hell. Perhaps they are just selective in what they want to hear from Jesus.
So if we take the words of Jesus seriously, we can be in no doubt but that hell is a reality. Yes, Jesus does use picture language “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, “where the worm never dies” etc.As I say, Jesus talked about it a great deal, but I am going to only use one example. He uses a parable, as recorded in Luke 16: 19 – 31. In it he vividly describes the destinies of two different people – a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was in hell, not because he was rich, but because he had not put his trust in Jesus. Lazarus was in heaven, not because he was poor, but because he had trusted in Jesus. We are told that hell (or Hades as it is sometimes translated) is a place of torment – the rich man was in extreme agony. So much so that he wanted his family who were still alive to be warned not to join him there.
This is a parable, but Jesus clearly teaches a truth from it, that there is a great gulf fixed between the destinations of those who trust Christ, and those who do not. If Hell was not a permanent reality, then Jesus would have taught that the rich man needn’t worry, he would soon have the opportunity to come from there. No, the clear picture is that Hell IS a permanent reality.
It gives me no pleasure to write that, but that is what Jesus teaches. Indeed the Apostle Peter teaches us that God does not want anyone to perish. Sadly, though, some will. However, we do have to note a couple of things:
1. The reality of Hell may be a motivation to serve God, but it should not be the primary one. That has to be the honour and glory of God. We serve him in loving response to what he has done for us. But this reality, surely will give us an urgency to share the message.
2. We can never know for certain that anyone has gone to Hell. None of us knows what business is done between a person and God in the final moments of their lives. That is not an excuse for anyone to say they can leave it until the last minute to decide to follow Jesus. We are told in Hebrews that NOW is the day of Salvation.
Let’s pray that this renewed interest in this subject will cause many people to stop and think about eternal realities who would not otherwise have done so.