Monday, February 06, 2006

Learning About God Through the Reality of Hell, Part One

If there is anything that can knock fluffy Christianity in the head it is the fact that there is a hell. Most Evangelical Christians believe that hell exists, but they have no concept of why it exists. What I mean is that most evangelicals hold a doctrine of hell that is self-contradictory. On the one hand, they recognize that sinners ought to go there, but on the other they act like it is a terrible thing when one finally does. There is some merit to this, and it brings up some strong emotions, but we need to get a handle on this so we can speak on the subject truthfully and unapologetically.

One of the misconceptions about hell is that Satan, the devil, owns it. Cartoons have popularized this view by putting the devil in hell with his pitchfork happily dunking cartoon characters in the fire. A particular Tom and Jerry episode comes to mind. Tom dies and goes to hell, and the devil is the local bulldog who gets tremendous pleasure out of torturing Tom in hell. This atrocious view of hell has invaded the evangelical psyche. Too many cartoons, not enough Bible study, I'm afraid.

First of all, Satan does not rule hell. Jesus Christ does. He holds the keys of Death and Hell (or Hades) (cf. Revelation 1:18). Furthermore, the existence of Hell is not a cosmic accident. It is a place specifically prepared by God Himself to punish wickedness forever. That in itself should cause us to learn to fear God. Our loving God crafted this place of torment with the intent of putting people and angels there forever. Some may argue that the original intent of God was not to put people in hell, only rebellious angels. I heartily disagree. If God had the foreknowledge to know that angels would be put there, He certainly foresaw that human beings would go there as well. Punishment for wicked humans is not a divine afterthought.

If God made hell, and if I am to remain His faithful servant, then I must somehow learn to reconcile this place to what I know of His nature and character. Are there aspects of hell that are, dare I say it, good? Further, will I ever come to a place where I can ,rejoice when people are punished there? And finally, what does all of this teach me about the nature of the God I serve?

To answer one question, I will state that I believe that hell is a good place. It is a good place because justice is dealt out there. For it to be just, then the punishment of enduring eternal flame and misery must fit the crime. The crime that sends angels and people to hell is the crime of hating God. Does hating God really merit eternal punishment?

In the here and now, we recognize that some crimes deserve harsher punishment than others. For example, speeding is against the law. If I am caught going 55 in a 35 zone, then I can expect to be fined. However, if I am caught going 90 in a school zone while passing a stopped school bus loaded with children while doing shots of tequila, I can expect to wind up in the local parish jail. One crime is simple speeding, the other is an example of wreckless driving. One incurs a fine, the other incurs a fine with jail time.

This means that persistent rebellion against God must be the ultimate crime, for it carries the maximum punishment with it. The reason that this is true is that all other crimes have their root in our rebellion against God. Why is speeding sin? It is a refusal to submit to God's command for us to submit to government authority. Why is murder sin? It is an assault against God's image-bearer. Why is theivery sin? It is rebellion against God's provision. All sin stems from our refusal to acknowledge God as King, and to love Him as such.

This is why hell is terrible and eternal. It highlights the depth of our hatred of all things good and our love for all things evil, if indeed we refuse to repent and believe. It is good that hell exists, and it is good that the unrepentant go there.

Tomorrow, I am going to continue exploring the doctrine of hell and some of the questions that it raises. I look forward to what I hope will be a healthy discussion of this topic.

1 comment:

brother terry said...

I hope you explore the question of whether or not people who have never heard of Jesus go to hell.

I think division over that questions still runs to the very core of Baptist Churches as well as Protestantism in general.

peace brother,