What About Hell?
The Bible has much to say about hell. But some church people today have given up the biblical belief in hell and hold to ideas of a cozy afterlife in some sort of heaven where everyone goes! It isn’t fashionable to believe in hell anymore so our liberal theologians have searched for “acceptable alternatives” to hell. Believing in the hell described in the Bible doesn’t fit with their “scientific” understanding so they call it a “myth”. Mainstream theologians who still believe that the Bible is inspired by God search for ways to explain hell away.
The Bible describes God as a God of love. But along with love He is also a God of justice and judgment. We learn from the Bible that God is holy and righteous, the all-powerful God of creation and an authoritarian God who asks us to obey Him. A God of purity who cannot sin or do evil acts. Some modern pastors and church leaders today redefine God’s justice by human standards. These church leaders mainly talk about God’s redeeming love and leave out His justice and authority. Human freedom and choice are elevated above God’s holiness.
These church leaders re-make God into a god who can better fit their needs. Some even talk of up-dating God and Scripture every five hundred years as these needs will change! These church leaders talk of a god with more functionality – almost like God was a computer! A modernized god who isn’t so bothered by our sin. Maybe a jovial easy going god with a long beard and white robe just wanting all of his children to always have a good time! Certainly not the eternal God of the Bible. But a god who loves and doesn’t judge or condemn is easier to sell!
And selling is all important! A popular T.V. evangelist who has a church with 150,000 members insists that his sermons are never negative. He never preaches about sin or the need to repent. That’s one of the reasons he has so many followers he says. So we remake the eternal God of the Bible into a new improved god who goes along with our sinful lifestyle. We quote the Scripture verses that speak of God’s love and leave out the ones that deal with His holiness and His judgments. And we certainly stop believing in a hell.
We argue that God loves us so much that He would not send us to hell for refusing to confess the sin in our lives. But we forget that Scripture tells us that God loves us so much that He wants to take us out of the sin in our lives. He loves us so much that He wants us to be with Him in heaven where there is no sin. He has prepared a place (Heaven) for us but we have to be a prepared people to fit in to that place. If we aren’t willing to renounce our sin then we will not fit in to a sinless paradise. And it seems that God respects our will and won’t force us to confess our sins. Scripture says that the whole earth and all of nature groans under the curse of sin. If we refuse to confess our sins then we may die in our sins. Perhaps that is hell, but I am just guessing. Sin and hell are mysteries that are too deep and complicated for us to understand. We are to believe them on faith.
We gloss over sin and argue that it isn’t so bad after all. Even though the Bible teaches that when sin came into the world it caused the earth to be cursed with the “fall” bringing death, disease, sorrow, scourges, etc. Sin is deadly and brings its own hell. Only Jesus the Son of God can cleanse us from it. Our part is believing in Christ and confessing our sin. Then He will forgive us and cover us with His righteousness. (1 John 1:9) Sin is serious enough for Jesus Christ to have to shed His blood and die to cleanse us from it. We should take it seriously!
But confessing sin and obeying a holy God isn’t popular in some churches today. Since some of us have done away with hell we think we don’t have to worry about our sins having any consequences after we die. But when we stop believing in hell, we unscrew, unsettle, and unpin everything in the Bible. All of Scripture tells us of a God of justice and judgment. A God who loves us too much to leave us dying in our sins. A God who is holy and righteous and pure and who will judge the earth at the end of the age.
Many of Jesus’ teachings were about hell. One of Jesus’ stories or parables might have been told to warn us about hell. It was the parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Some of Jesus’ stories comfort us and draw us closer to Him, but some warn us to avoid evil and to fear going to hell. We don’t repeat those stories as often do we? Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus is one of those stories. Here it is:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and hoping to be able to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when Lazarus, the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where the rich man was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. The rich man called to him, ‘Father Abraham’, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.
But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things. But now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.
The rich man answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets: let them listen to them.’ ‘No father Abraham, the rich man said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Abraham replied to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
The Jews in Jesus time believed that riches are one of the marks of a good man and that the poor were poor because they did not live good lives. Jesus’ story or parable shows that the rich can be wicked and the poor can be godly. Jesus even gave the poor man in his story a name – Lazarus, but He failed to name the rich man.
Evidently the sin of the rich man was that he ignored Lazarus in his hunger and misery. Even the dogs may have done more for Lazarus than the rich man did. The rich man was perhaps only interested in his own pleasure and reputation. Scripture commands us again and again if we have the resources we are to do our part in helping the poor and sick.
When he died Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. Abraham was called the “Father of the faithful.” Scripture says that believers from all over the world will come to heaven and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. But the rich man went to a different place after death. Jesus says that he went to hell and was miserable. Jesus tells a scary story.
In this earthly life there is no gulf fixed between a sinful person who has rejected God and God’s open door of salvation. While we live we may easily pass from sin to God. But after death in the next life Jesus seems to tell a different story. In His story Jesus describes a “great chasm fixed between heaven and hell so that no one can cross over on either side.” (Luke 16:26) Did Jesus tell this story to warn us about hell?
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from James Garlow and Keith Wall’s book, “Heaven and the Afterlife.”