When You Don’t Know What To Believe What You Hear About Hell

Harold Sala

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death
 Revelation 20:14.

It’s a fact:  There is little agreement among people, scholars, or religious groups as to what hell is like. Some think of it as literal place of torment. Others conceive it in terms of unpleasantness in the present.  Still others think of it as simply ceasing to exist, separated from goodness and certainly God.

Question: Do you believe in hell? If so, why? And if you say, “No,” may I ask, “Why not?” quickly reminding you that from the beginning of recorded history, regardless of their culture or religion, people have believed in a hell.  Even primitive societies–ones which have never heard of the God of the Bible–believed that for those who were good, there was a place of peace and rest after you die and a place of torment and darkness for the wicked.

They believed that life consisted of opposites that contrasted each other–life and death, light and darkness, heat and cold, good and evil, and ultimately heaven and hell.  No matter what you believe about hell, there is one thing for sure: The hell which is widely understood today is a far cry from the one the 18th century Puritan preacher by the name of Jonathan Edwards talked about.  In one of his sermons, he said, “The pit is prepared. The fire is made ready. The furnace is now hot, ready to receive them. The flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit has opened her mouth under them…. O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in.”

And why don’t we hear preaching or teaching like this today?  Well, frankly, it isn’t popular, and it doesn’t make people feel good, and when people don’t feel good, they don’t come to church, and when they don’t come, the offerings drop, and when that happens, pastors start selling insurance or real estate.  Strangely enough, when somebody misses a shot off the tee, there’s more mention of hell and damnation on the golf course than there is in churches or Bible study groups.  Hell has become a politically incorrect topic.

A survey of evangelical seminary students indicated that nearly half felt preaching about hell to unbelievers is poor taste.  Heaven’s OK, but hell is a different matter.  Church historian Martin Marty, who has been around long enough to see some history made, says, “Hell has disappeared and no one noticed.”  He’s right.  Douglas Groothuis, of Denver seminary, believes that more and more people view hell as “a blemish to be covered up by the cosmetic of divine love.”  It is also a fact that in the past fifty years, hell that has survived has lost its sizzle and become a lot more palatable to the modern mind.

Simply put, hell has been redefined in terms of society and the world.  “Who cares about hell if it means I don’t have to be around my scruffy wife and the friends she hangs out with at church?  I’d rather be with my beer drinking buddies,” think some.

Even the Catholic Church has redefined hell in contemporary terms.  An influential Jesuit magazine with close ties to the Vatican declared that hell is not “a ‘place’ but a ‘state,’ a person’s ‘state of being,’ in which a person suffers from the deprivation of God.”  Shortly after that John Paul II told a Vatican audience that “rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God.”  What the Bible says about hell, he explained, should be taken symbolically, not literally.  What do you think?  Ultimately, you must decide.

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