Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Search For Hell

Could Someone Direct Me To Hell?

What is hell? Where is hell? Actually, the Bible has quite a bit to say about the subject. The only word that is translated as “hell” in the most literal translations is the Greek word, Gehenna. It comes from the name of a valley south of Jerusalem where, in New Testament times, refuse was thrown and kept burning continuously. It was called the Valley of Hinnom. In Old Testament times it was a place of hideous disobedience and sacrifice of children to Molech. It was considered irredeemable for any purpose but a garbage dump. Jesus is quoted using this word more than anyone else. But throughout the New Testament, others offer strong warnings and entreaties to turn from evil and accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation, thereby avoiding hell. Paul is not opposed to warning the people of the consequences of refusing Christ’s freely offered gift of salvation.

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.” Eph 5:6 (NRSV)

But what would that look like? What is God’s wrath, and what would someone experience if they became the object of that wrath? I believe this text gives us the most revealing insight into the nature of hell in the entire Bible.

“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” 2 Thess 1:5-10 (NIV) First of all, what would be the horror of being shut out from the presence of the Lord if they are annihilated and cease to exist? What better description could there be of hell than to be cut off from the presence of the Lord? Let’s pause for a moment to ponder the implications of hell as a state of being cut off from the presence of the Lord.

On Earth, we are told that God’s blessings fall on both the righteous and the wicked. God’s grace preserves all living things, and even those who have rebelled against him have the privilege of living in a world that retains the image and presence of God to some degree. What does His presence mean to the world? He is love, justice, goodness, kindness, courage, patience, wisdom, mercy, knowledge, holiness, might, strength, defender, protector, unchanging, steadfast, truth, faithful, life, light, health, peace, righteous and much, much more. His presence brings those attributes into being. There is no other source for them. He is all good.

There would not be one redeeming aspect of life, devoid of God.

Hell is the absence of all Good. Those who have chosen to reject God are also rejecting all that He is. Imagine what that would mean. There would not be one redeeming aspect of life, devoid of God. All there would be is hatred, injustice, corruption, meanness, fear, impatience, confusion, revenge, shallowness, evil, weakness, exposure, self-centeredness, defenselessness, uncertainty, lawlessness, falsehood, lies, betrayal, illness, darkness, dissipation, vengeance, victimization, anxiety and much, much more - corresponding to a lack of all of God’s attributes. A sense of entitlement has grown from the presumption that we deserve, or have rights, to good things with or without God. Hell will be a sober discovery of what it means to choose to be without His presence. Only then will anyone realize the full impact of rebellion. When Adam and Eve chose against God, they made a decision to reject all that He is, and to trust their own choices in response to the words of Satan. Is that not what God had in mind when He spoke these words thru Moses? "Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, 'Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?'” Deut 31:17 (NASB)

Does sin look a little different from this perspective? Does this give a powerful impetus for 'New Life' by Duncan Longsharing with the world who God is, and just what others are choosing if they reject Him? This is what Elijah was saying when he laid out the choices we all must make, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD” [has prepared for those who love Him] Deut 30:19-20 (NASB) He had a passionate fire in his soul to make the choices clear, and to use any influence he possessed to steer the world toward the God of life - and away from ruin and destruction.

Biblical Information About Hell

The following scriptures form the best information we have about hell, and serve to establish a foundation for our understanding of it. There are many more, but these contain the essence of what the Bible teaches on the subject. Some of them have been cited before in this study, but bear repeating.

1) "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." Isaiah 66:24 (NIV) Isaiah lived in a time when the fires in the Valley of Hinnom were actively burning. They never went out. He used that as an apt illustration of the fires of hell.

2) "’Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.’” Matt 18:7-9 (NIV) Jesus passionately tried to portray the seriousness of the consequences of sin not covered by His blood. Surely if Jesus had wanted to say that they would be burned then annihilated, He would have chosen other words than “eternal fire,” to avoid distorting the truth about God’s character.

3) "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand 'Life and Death' by Duncan Longcauses you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' Everyone will be salted with fire.’” Mark 9:42-48 (NIV) Jesus was not verbally challenged, and He became the most powerful apologist for an eternal, burning hell fire. I believe that He has it on good authority.

4) “All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (What? He will punish those who don’t know Him? There goes Universalism. It is the obedience to the gospel – to accept Jesus as the sin-bearer in our place.) They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” 2 Thess 1:5-10 (NIV)

5) “They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” Jude 1:13 (NIV) Remember the comparison between God and the absence of God that we are using as a definition for hell? If God is light, then hell is “blackest darkness.”

6) “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine 'Lake of Fire' by Duncan Longof God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’” Rev 14:9-12 (NIV) Did you expect to see the third angel’s message in this study? I’ll bet not. But, you see, when the veils fall off, and the truth comes into focus, the scriptures that were once confusing become clear, and the ones we thought were crystal clear don’t teach what we thought they did at all. This scripture describes something oddly akin to the same lake of fire that was prepared for the devil and his gang.

7) "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” Matt 25:41 (NIV) Jesus confirms that it is, in fact, the same destination for all the lost, including the devil.
A Passion for Souls

Our confusion about hell has contributed to our apathy about souls. Sin has been downgraded from a death sentence to a misdemeanor by our plea-bargaining with the enemy. “It can’t be 'Choices' by Duncan Longthat bad to do some of the things we do. Surely God won’t torture me for that!” we reason. But that line of reckoning presupposes a co-dependant God who will overlook our refusal to accept The Pardon for our stubborn rebellion and rejection of Life. Who will be able to stand before the judgment seat of the all holy God -you, or Jesus? Choose Jesus! Choose Jesus! We are all guilty as sin, and the penalty for sin is eternal punishment. There is no unfairness here; there is unfathomable mercy and grace. There is no vindictive joy in torture here. There is heroic suffering, unspeakable sacrifice to prevent a hair of our heads from being injured. We have accepted the world’s mindset about our God, which comes directly from the father of lies. Let’s set the record straight and stop perpetuating the enemy’s yellow journalism. God has made the choices abundantly clear, and has given us the dignity of free choice. Our mission is to clarify the choices and contrasts before the world.

Listen to Paul, the apostle of grace who understood the urgency. “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” Phil 3:18-19 (NIV)

Then there is John, the apostle of love: “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Rev 2:21-23 (NIV)

Jude: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." Jude 1:22-23 (NIV) Here is the balance God intends. We have turned deaf ears on the warnings, congratulating ourselves for preaching a God of love, not justice.

“God is love” falls far short of fully describing God. He is equally love and justice which explains the truth that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise… He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9-13 (NIV)

Because we are made in the image of God, there is a deeply imbedded sense of justice in our hearts. Even in Heaven our hearts will cry out for justice. “…And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’" Rev 6:10 (NASB) Does that sound like sin to your ears - to demand justice? Should it surprise us that God will conclude this earth’s history with both love and justice?

Our reluctance to speak of God’s righteous justice was not shared by Paul. “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, [justice] and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God 'Judgment Day' by Duncan Longand to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. [more justice] These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord (echoes of “shut out from his presence”) and from the glory of His power. [and more justice]” 2 Thess 1:6-9 (NASB)

What are we saying about God when we reject what the Bible teaches about the fate of the wicked? We are saying that there are parts of God we don’t like, and we feel justified in picking and choosing which characteristics are acceptable to us, and rejecting the things we don’t like. By doing this, we are refusing to share the whole gospel. Yes, hell is a part of the gospel. Do you believe that Paul stopped preaching the gospel when he wrote 2 Thess 1:6-9? No, it is all gospel; it is all good news about Jesus. Our views of God have become distorted by the ways the world thinks.

Coming back to the whole Bible adds the checks and balances we need for our true witness. It takes courage to stand for this absolute truth when much of Christianity is distancing itself from talk about the consequences of unconfessed sin. The vast majority of Christians, Christian denominations and Christian theologians believe in an eternal hell. But it is a risky proposition to say so in this age of church growth. It doesn’t rate in the top ten as a crowd pleaser, but then, I don’t recall Jesus picking his sermon topics based on popularity. Incidentally, did I mention that He preached more about hell than anyone else in scripture?

Anyone brave enough to tackle the subject of hell is usually denounced as being preoccupied by judgment. “Why do you want to go and preach about fire and brimstone anyway? Why don’t we just preach about God’s love?” Well, because Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, Jude and Isaiah led the charge. We are just following. By tracing their footsteps, we can be assured that we are in God’s will, as they were. We have chosen to stay below the radar by denouncing the immortality of the soul and eternal punishment and “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” Matt 15:6 (NIV)
Summary of The Search for Hell

1) The name for hell (Gehenna) is taken from a garbage dump south of Jerusalem where the fire of its burning never went out. In Old Testament times, it was used for sacrificing children to Molech.
2) There is strong biblical evidence that hell is: eternal, a place of punishment and darkness, and the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
3) Scripture indicates that the essence of hell is summed up by the horror of being shut out from the presence of God.
4) Therefore, hell is the absence of all of the attributes of God.
5) When we understand what people are choosing when they reject God, it compels us to make the choices clear.
6) This includes the story of the cross, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the beauty of Jesus and all that God is.
7) It also includes the reality that God created humanity in His image with a spirit that was never intended to die.
8) Our evangelism must make clear that God wants all people to live with Him in perfect joy for eternity.
9) Because He is not willing for any to perish, He has made eternal life available to all who choose Him.
10) The gospel presents the choices in stark contrast: an eternity basking in all the glory of God versus an eternity of choosing to be shut out from all Goodness.
11) God is equally love and justice - and both will prevail.
12) It takes courage to preach the whole gospel, but when we do, we stand with Jesus, Paul, Peter and all who have been faithful to His word.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Romans 1:18-19 (NASB)

Quiz for The Search for Hell
Choose the correct answers:

1. Gehenna is the word used in the New Testament for hell.
A. True
B. False

2. Gehenna was:
A. A town in Eastern Turkey
B. The name used for sewers in Israel
C. A real garbage dump outside Jerusalem where the fires never went out.
D. A temporary tattoo

3. Paul understood the horror of hell to be from:
A. Physical pain
B. Being shut out from the presence of God
C. Bad neighbors
D. Eternal hot flashes

4. Sin’s tragedy is the choice to be separated from goodness for all of eternity.
A. True
B. False

5. Isaiah, seeing into the future, was shown that:
A. The dead would be burned up and cease to exist.
B. God would send a flood to put out the fires of hell.
C. God would eventually kill the worms that torment the wicked.
D. The worm that torments, and fires that burn in hell, will never be satisfied or quenched.

6. Jesus was careful to correct the false doctrine of hell by teaching that it did not exist, was temporary and not eternal.
A. True
B. False

7. Understanding that hell is the absence of the presence of God gives us a heart of compassion for the lost, and causes us to make the choices clear.
A. True
B. False

8. In Jude 22-23 he:
A. Carefully avoids scaring people with mention of consequences for sin.
B. Says to snatch people out of the flames and save them.
C. Believes that warnings are improper for Christians to use.
D. Teaches Universalism

9. In addition to love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, God is also
A. Justice
B. Righteousness
C. Holiness
D. All of the above

10. Which of the following taught that Hell did not involve eternal suffering?
A. Jesus
B. Paul
C. Ellen White

D. Peter

Answers: 1-A, 2-C, 3-B, 4-A, 5-D, 6-B, 7-A, 8-B, 9-D, 10-C

Spirit Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: Redeeming Hell

The concept of an eternal hell has been the whipping boy of Adventist theologians from the beginning of its church history. It is felt that rejecting this doctrine may gain them entrance into Heaven. They feel that they are defending God. Are they?

No comments: