As a parent, there is a long list of topics of conversation that I hope never come up in front of my children. In fact, “boyfriend” is the scariest term in the English language to this father of daughters.
At the same time, I recognize that while a topic may be awkward conversation, if it is important and appropriate for that audience, then it should come up. One of those topics, especially in today’s society, is Hell.
There has perhaps never been a generation who wants to hush up a subject more than this. In our sermons, modern people are OK if you talk about money, sex, food, faith, family, freedom or fun. Talk about Heaven all you want. Just do not mention the “h” word.
I realized only lately that my oldest, now 8 years old, has heard about “the bad place.”
“How do you explain something so terrifying to a child?” I wondered. So I went to the sources. In the Book of Common Prayer, long a source of inspiration and guidance to Protestants worldwide, it addresses the topic of Hell in its catechism portion.
“Question. What do we mean by heaven and hell?”
“Answer: By Heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God; by Hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God.”
It does not get much more succinct. Hell is an eternal place of separation from our Maker. What an awful thought.
While the topic is taboo, the reality is not going away even though some have recently tried to dissolve the very notion of its reality. Emergent church leader Rob Bell stirred up a media frenzy with his best-selling book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Al Mohler called the book “theologically disastrous,” as it downplays or attempts to erase the reality of Hell.
In a recent release, Erasing Hell, popular author Francis Chan tackles the topic. He says, “I decided to write a book about Hell. And honestly—I’m scared to death. I’m scared because so much is at stake. Think about it. If I say there is no Hell, and it turns out that there is a Hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist!”
While reading classic and modern books on the doctrine of Hell sparks our interest, our sole authoritative source is the Bible. As Christian writer Douglas Groothuis points out, if there is no Hell, why would Jesus warn His hearers of the eternal punishment awaiting those who reject Him (Matt. 13:40-42; 25:46)?
The Scriptures are clear about the reality of Hell throughout (see Matt. 10:28, Rev. 20:14 and Jude 13). The Baptist Faith & Message affirms the Scriptures and calls Hell “the place of everlasting punishment.” Consider also the parable of the Lazarus and the rich man who both died. The first lived an earthly life of agony but found comfort and eternal security in the afterlife; the second lived a lavish life of comfort but found only agony after death. So painful was his existence, that he pleaded with Abraham to go to his father’s house to warn his five brothers, “lest they also come into this place of torment.”
Bell and his chorus of fans would explain such texts away. In fact, they like to paint themselves as more enlightened and compassionate than the rest of us who affirm the doctrine of Hell. But we know the real compassion is to warn every person that God is just, and that we each will face judgment for our sins. We want to do this respectfully and in love, as the Bible tells us.
The Bible is clear, along with Christians throughout the ages who have affirmed the doctrine of Hell; therefore, it should spur us to evangelism like never before.
Estimates say that more than 150,000 people a day die and more than 100 people die every minute. That means approximately 500 people passed away in the time it took to read this column. This is a call to action. How terrible for a person to die separated from our Maker.
The good news is there is the good place, to borrow a term. We have been entrusted with the Gospel. God considered our fallen plight and sent His Son Jesus to pay our penalty on the cross, conquer death with His resurrection, and offer eternal life in Him to those who repent and place their trust in Him. This means we live forever in communion with our Lord. In this we rejoice!