Saturday, February 15, 2014

Does Hell really exist?

Scream Cropped
Scream Cropped (Wikipedia)
(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

The New Testament teaches that sin has consequences in this life of punishment after physical death. It has images of unquenchable (Matt. 3:12), eternal (Matt. 25:41, 46; Jude 7) fire (Matt. 5:22, 29,30; 18:8-9) and phrases like “lake of fire” (Rev 20:15; 21:8) and “second death” (Rev 20:6). It is described as a place of darkness (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13; Matt 8:12), weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:42, 50; 22:13), and separation from God (Psalm 9:17; 34:15-16; 2 Thess 1:9; 1 John 1:5) with continuous torment (Matt 3:12; 25:41; 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 7) and conscious agony (Matt. 10:28; Rom 8:29; Jude 7), perhaps with degrees of punishment (Mark 12:40; Luke 12:48).

However, many, even some who claim to be evangelical, deny the reality of hell. Some believe that 
unsaved people who have not had a chance to hear the gospel will be saved by believing whatever divine revelations that they have or that they will have a change after death to trust in Jesus as their Savior.

The classically liberal position on hell is that it does not exist. They are universalists, believing in universal salvation, that eventually everyone will be in heaven. Isn’t God a loving God who would never allow anyone to suffer after death (1 John 4:8)?  Most recently former pastor Rob Bell in his book, Love Wins, denies the reality of hell in that classically liberal position. He can’t imagine a loving God sending people to hell. Many think it is more civilized, humane, and compassionate to deny the existence of Hell

Professor Clark Pinnock wrote in the Criswell Theological Review, “I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine. . . . How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God.”[1] 

What is actually more like Satan than God is the arrogance that we, as created beings dare that the moral high ground is to oppose our Creator’s own revelation in the Bible. There is no Scriptural evidence that any morally responsible person can be saved after death. Death ends a person’s opportunity to receive the gift of salvation. Beyond this life, there is only eternal judgment for the unsaved (Heb. 9:27). Now is the day of salvation, thus the urgency of missions and evangelism (2 Cor. 6:2).The idea of universal salvation is on its face ridiculous anyway. The whole idea of being saved is to be saved from something that is undesirable. If salvation is not from something undesirable, then what is it for (Luke 19:10)?

If we understood God’s holy nature and our sinfully depraved one, we would be more shocked that anyone goes to Heaven than that anyone goes to Hell. If we have no belief in eternal punishment, then there is no need for Christ’s vicarious atonement on the Cross. Denying the endlessness of Hell is minimizing the work of Christ on the Cross.  

No verse of Scripture backs up universalism. God is indeed love (1 John 4:16), but he is also just (Neh. 9:32-33; 2 Thess. 1:6). God is eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Tim. 1:17), and he punishes the evil doer (Isaiah 11:13). Universalists counter that a good and loving God would not reject forever his creature. That idea assumes that the creature is the highest intrinsic good, but the highest good for God is not humanity. Humanity was created for God, to glorify Him (Psalm 73:24-26; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:16), not the other way around. This is why Jesus insists it is idolatrous to make God humanity’s servant (Luke 17:7-10). Yes, God is love. Yes, He loves us. But God and His love existed in completion for infinity before humanity was created.

Dorothy Sayers writes that “there seems to be a kind of conspiracy to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of hell comes from. The doctrine of hell is not ‘mediaeval priestcraft’ for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ’s deliberate judgment on sin. . . . 
We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.”[2] 

C.S. Lewis writes of Hell, “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, specially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”[3] 

Yes, Hell is a dreadful reality that we don’t enjoy thinking about. Christ wept over Jerusalem, and believers are troubled over the destiny of the lost. But the doctrine of Hell is important as a foundation stone of doctrine. Once the doctrine of hell slips out of belief, others inevitably follow.

Jesus Christ talked more about Hell than anyone else in all Scripture, (Matt 5:22, 29-30; 7:19; 8:12; 10:15, 28; 11:22, 24; 13:40-42, 50; 18:7-9; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30, 46; Mark 9:42-49; Luke 12:46-47; 13:28-30; 17:26-29; John 15:6), and his testimony should validate its reality more than anything else. Jesus said it was a literal place and he describes it in graphic terms (Matt. 8:12). Jesus taught that in Hell the wicked consciously suffer horrible punishment, retain their memories and reasoning, want relief from the torment but cannot get it, and dwell in hopelessness (Luke 16:19-31). 

C.S. Lewis said, “I have met no people who fully disbelieved in Hell and also had a living and life-giving belief in Heaven.”[4] If we choose not to believe in Hell, if we choose to make up our beliefs according to what we want rather than what is revealed, then I am a follower of myself and my culture, not a follower of Christ. The nineteenth century English theologian wrote: “If Christ intended to teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, could he possibly have taught it in plainer terms?”[5]

[1] Clark Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally impenitent,” Criswell Theological Review 4 (1999): 246-47, 253.
[2] Dorothy Sayers, A Matter of Eternity, ed. Rosamond kent Spargue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 86.
[3] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 118.
[4] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1963), 76.
[5] ISBE, Vol IV, 2502, 1956.