This weeks A.S.K question…
BIBLE READING: Isaiah 30:8-18
TEXT: Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!(Isaiah 30:18)
The teaching about Hell is so hard. It’s hard to take in, hard to grasp, hard to preach and hard to ignore. Th is is not a teaching that comes primarily from the Old Testament, or from Paul, Peter or John. The person who teaches most about Hell, is the loving, gentle and compassionate Jesus. The only reason I believe in Hell is because Jesus does – and I follow Jesus. CS Lewis summarises the position really well – ““There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, especially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom, and it has the support of reason.” (The Problem of Pain)
But as with all things we need to be really careful that we neither take away nor add to the Bible. There are different views that Christians have about Hell. Some think that there is no hell. Others that whilst it exists no one but the devil goes there. They believe that either everyone is saved or that those who don’t go to heaven – cease to exist. Others believe that people go to hell, but that whilst hell is eternal, the punishment is not. The traditional view in the Christian church is that hell is eternal and that the punishment is eternal.
So what does Jesus say? It is very difficult to claim to be a follower of the Jesus of the Bible and then turn round and say that either hell doesn’t exist, or that no one goes there. Jesus says “ They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42). He also tells us: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41). You cannot claim to follow Jesus and his teachings if you believe that Hell does not exist or that no one goes there. You can argue that the language is metaphorical if you wish – but it is still a horrible metaphor for something horrible.
Jesus teaches that Hell is a place of punishment and a place of outer darkness. But is the punishment eternal? It is in that its consequences are eternal. But some Christians argue that the Bible does not teach that man has an immortal soul and that at some point God will end the punishment. Others believe that human beings continue to sin in Hell, and hate God so that punishment is ongoing. I have often agonized about this. And I’m not sure I have easy answers.
I think I want to go as far as the Bible goes and no further. Hell exists. Some people do go there. God is just and any punishment he gives will be absolutely just. All the evil in the universe will be confined to Hell. That makes it a place that none of us should want to go to. One of the most sickening things I have ever seen is tens of thousands of people jumping up and down and singing along to ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’. They also sing that ‘Hell ain’t a bad place to be”. Of course it’s meant both as a joke and as bravado – but it ain’t funny and it ain’t brave. Hell is the most dreadful place to be, and none of us should rejoice at being on the Highway there.
But let’s come back to our text. It tells us that God is a God of justice (so you don’t need to worry about unjust punishment in Hell) and that he is a God of compassion who longs to be gracious to us. At the end of the day – those who go to Hell are those who deserve to be there and who have chosen to be there. As CS Lewis argues in The Great Divorce “ “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
CONSIDER: There is really one thing for you to consider here. Which road are you on? Have you accepted Jesus’ great offer of salvation and eternal life, or are you on the Highway to Hell? Do you choose to live eternally with God or without him? Come to me…says Jesus. Will you?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING:
God, That’s Not Fair – Understanding Eternal Punishment and the Christian’s Urgent Mission – Dick Dowsett
Crucial Questions about Hell – Ajith Fernando
PRAYER: O Lord, this is a hard teaching. Who can bear it? We do not know the depth and horror of our sin, so we cannot grasp the necessity and justice of Hell. But we know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, as well as being a God of justice. So we simply pray – deliver us from evil. Deliver us from Hell and enable us to be with You forever. Amen.
How Do You Achieve Forgiveness? – A.S.K 17
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