The Hell You Say. . .
Vol: 117 Issue: 28 Tuesday, June 28, 2011
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. . .” (Mark 9:43)
The other day I was chatting with an old friend and somehow we got around to the topic of the afterlife. My friend isn’t a Christian, but is well aware that I am.
I used to Bible-thump him, but that only hardened his resolve – he was determined to hold out for the sake of holding out.
I planted the seed, but instead of letting the Holy Spirit water it, I kept replanting it, going over the same ground so many times that I scraped right down to the bedrock.
It isn’t that my friend doesn’t believe – I think that he does. But he isn’t saved. He doesn’t want to be.
“Heaven sounds too boring,” he says. “Besides, all my friends will be in hell.”
He’s both right and he’s wrong. He’s right about all his friends. I’ve known this guy since the ‘70s and I knew most of the same people.
And sometimes, I admit that heaven does sound a wee bit boring. Don’t look at me like that. It does. An eternity of no strife, no conflict, no pain, no sorrow, no tears . . . all that is wonderful and all, but if I had to eat chocolate cake for dinner every night for the rest of my life, I’d skip a lot of dinners.
It’s pretty hard to sell heaven to a lost sinner. How in the heck do you explain what even the Bible says is beyond imagination?
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
To my friend, that is the deal-breaker. He can’t imagine heaven being any fun, but (unfortunately for him) he has no problem imagining hell as being far more interesting than heaven.
We used to start into these discussions and get about half-way into them before things would shift from a conversation between friends to a debate between competitors, each defending his own position, parry and thrust, block and counter-strike, until exasperated, we’d agree not to ever bring it up again.
Until the next time. My friend likes the debate (when he is in the mood) and often tries to restart it when he thinks he has some killer new argument. He’ll ask a question, but it’s clear he doesn’t want to learn from the answer – he is just looking for a springboard issue.
When I think about it, my friend is not unique – I know several guys that find the battle more interesting than the topic under discussion, and others with whom I’ve agreed to disagree agreeably. Some are just flat hostile to the entire topic.
What does one do with a life-long friend who just flatly refuses to either believe or discuss it? It sounds like an easy question with an equally simple answer. At least, theoretically.
Some would answer in favor of immediate separation from that person, for “what concord hath Christ with Belial?” But Paul is talking about being “unequally yoked” – it can’t mean “only associate with believers” or who would we share the Gospel with?
“And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31)
The Apostle Paul confronted a situation in which a wife was a believer married to an unbelieving husband.
“For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16)
Granted, one’s spouse is a different case than a fishing buddy. But God puts people in our sphere of influence for a reason.
“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. (1 Corinthians 7:17)
“And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:45-46)
You’re probably wondering why I repeated myself by opening the assessment with the same verses about hell. Look again. They are two different verses. The next sequence is as follows:
“And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:48-49)
Three times in succession, the Lord tells us there is a place called “hell” — a place where “their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”.
Hell isn’t going to be ‘interesting’. And my friend isn’t going to find his buddies, even if they are there. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man. It isn’t a parable.
When the Lord taught in parables, He clearly identified them as such.
In this case, Jesus began, “there was a certain rich man” – a specific rich man of Whom the Lord claimed knowledge – and “a certain beggar named Lazarus.”
The Lord described the deaths of both men, whose bodies were both buried in the earth but whose consciousness continued, unbroken, into Paradise, where each had some form of spirit body recognizable by the other. Abraham also had a form of spirit body the rich man could recognize.
Finally, the rich man’s spirit body was real enough to feel pain. We learn all that from just one verse:
“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.(Luke 16:23)
So according to Jesus Christ, hell is real, the torments are real, and spirit bodies are tangible to be recognized from a distance and to feel pain while “their worm dieth not from “the fire that is not quenched.”
“Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-28)
The rich man, while in hell and in torments, remembered his father’s house, so his memories of his life on earth are intact. He not only remembered his brothers, but he was terrified at the prospect that they would end up there because “that’s where all their friends went”.
We cannot imagine Heaven and what little we can imagine is no doubt wildly out of synch with what it will actually look like.
Streets of gold with a tree standing in the middle with living water running through the middle of a garden, mansions, a giant apartment building with twenty-four doors, peace, joy, no more death, no tears, no sorrow . . . a man blind from birth would have an easier time describing the color red.
But hell – that’s a whole different story. Throughout history, man’s vision of hell has been clear enough to inspire generations of painters and poets like Dante. There is far more secular literature on the subject of hell than there is of heaven.
My friend’s other objection to hell is that, “If God was such a loving God, He would never send anybody to hell.”
That is a valid objection and one that I completely agree with.
Hell wasn’t created for sinners. It was created for Satan and the rebellious angels that followed him – when they were kicked out of heaven, they made their abode in hell.
Man is created in God’s image — as an eternal being. When the body dies, the eternal component lives on – somewhere – and the choices are limited to one of two possible places.
One choice is heaven, which is attained by recognizing oneself as an undeserving sinner that God loved so much that He stepped into time and space as a man, lived the sinless life God’s justice demands, and paid the penalty due for sin on behalf of sinful humanity.
To accept the pardon extended, one must repent of one’s sins and trust Jesus to keep them and preserve them whole into the next life.
Or they can choose to stand before the Judge the way they are, like my friend, who would rather take his chances in hell. But it is the individual that chooses – not God.
God’s choice was to die — so we wouldn’t have to.