To many people, the doctrine of hell seems inconsistent with the idea of a loving and merciful God. And when we think of hell, scary scenes of people burning in a fiery furnace come to mind with a red devil with horns running around torturing them with his pitchfork. Is that what hell is like? Would God, our loving Father, create a place called hell where people would burn forever?
But whatever hell is like, we believe in hell because Jesus often spoke about hell - a place of judgment and a place of “outer darkness.” And the Bible also has much to say about hell, calling it a place “where the worm dies not” (Mark 9:47-48) and a place “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42) If we believe what the Bible says, we have to believe that there is a place of judgment – a place called hell. And if we take Jesus’ words seriously we cannot dismiss the idea of judgment.
Adam Hamilton in his book, “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White” p. 115-116 writes: “I would encourage you to take the time to study what Jesus says about who is going to hell. Those who are going to hell, according to Jesus, are those who call their neighbor a “fool” (Matthew 5:22b);those who lust after women in their hearts (Matthew 5:27-30): religious leaders who are hypocritical (Matthew 23:1-36): those who are not good stewards of the gifts God has given them (Matthew 25:14-30); and religious people who refuse to help those in need (Matthew 25:31-46). …most of what Jesus says about hell seems reserved for those who are religious. …I think Jesus uses hell as a way of warning us to take our sin seriously,…”
Most of us have done the deeds that Jesus said would put us in hell! But of course even though we have sinned, Jesus has washed away our sin and paid our way into heaven. Is Adam Hamilton correct when he suggests that Jesus perhaps is using hell as a way of warning us to take our sin seriously?
In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) Jesus prays: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Scripture always portrays heaven as a place where God’s rules and where His will is obeyed. Adam Hamilton in “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White” p. 116-117 writes: “If heaven is a place where God’s reign is complete, where God’s will is always done, where people no longer hate, kill, steal, mistreat, go to war, or inflict pain on others, then those who enter must either have their freedom removed, or they agree to submit to God’s reign and will.
But what if someone is unwilling to live according to Gods’ will? Would that person be forced to dwell in the heavenly kingdom? I don’t think so. Such an existence would be a hell for them, and heaven would no longer be a place where Gods’ will would be done. Hell, it seems to me, is the place for all of those who do not wish to live according to God’s will and submit their lives to God’s reign. God wishes all to join Him and to live as His children and His subjects. He is a good King, a benevolent King, a loving King. But He will not force persons to be His subjects. He beckons all of us to choose, and to willingly follow Him. If one does not wish to do this, there is a place, a kind of dark kingdom, reserved for all who wish to do things their own way.”
If hell is indeed populated by people who refuse to submit to God and want to do things their own way then it is probably filled with folks who are selfish – narcissistic and willing to take advantage of others in order to meet their own needs. So hell might be a place where selfish people feed on other selfish people. A place where most goodness has been removed, the restraints from following God have been removed, and God’s presence is either dim, or totally absent. (Psalm 139 suggests that God is in the hell.)
Adam Hamilton writes on page 118: “What’s important to note in this concept is that hell is a nightmare, and the nightmare is not the result of something God has created, but the result of the exercise of freedom on the part of inhabitants who have chosen to reject God’s rule and reign.” In other words hell is the nightmare of people being free from God to “do their own thing.” Being free to do our own thing sounds good doesn’t it? But apart from God this freedom is lawlessness. This freedom is a nightmare.
A few months ago a shocking tragedy occurred in Sudan, Africa –Sword wielding men on camels were swooping down on the local villages, burning the homes, raping the women and brutally murdering anyone they could find. Thousands of men, women and children who escaped the bloodshed were forced to run for their lives across an inhospitable desert. And tragically, many of the babies and small children starved in the burning desert. These young men, swinging their swords, seemed to get sadistic pleasure out of torturing and killing the terrified villagers.
Do we believe that such depraved blood thirsty men would change their ways, submit to the rule of God and enter heaven? Could the horrors in
created by the actions of these lawless men give us a picture of what hell may be like? Sudan
C.S. Lewis in his book “The Great Divorce” writes: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end: that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” Lewis also says, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
Let’s make sure that we are the ones who always say to God, “Thy will be done.”
Notes: Many of the thoughts in this blog were taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.” Chapter 13- The Logic of Hell