I think it is safe to say that at best right now in our society life is inconvenient. The sports we like to watch are gone. Trips to the park or gym or zoo are gone. No dining in at your favorite restaurant, no movies or plays or shopping, not even a regular trip to the grocery store. Worse for Christians is the fact that we are not gathering for corporate worship or bible study. And this is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario for some people includes additional hardships like job loss, sickness and death. Some people feel they are living out their worst nightmare or experiencing something very close to “hell on earth”.
I want to take this sobering cultural moment to reflect on something that deserves far greater consideration than anything described above. Hell. Hell is a difficult topic to talk about. There are many Christians who do not want to think about it much less talk about it. My sermon this past Sunday on Adam from Genesis 2-3 covered the fall of mankind into sin and the catastrophic results that followed. I focused on how mankind’s relationship with God, each other, the earth, and the realm of angels (fallen angels) was ruined and subjected to turmoil. I spoke about physical death (the separation of two things meant to be together - body and soul) and spiritual death (separation of two things meant to be together - God and man). I stopped short however of discussing the doctrine of hell. That is, the eternal punishment and suffering of those who die physically in a state of spiritual death. I stopped short mainly because the text in Genesis does not spell this out specifically, rather this doctrine is developed throughout the rest of the Bible. But it is worthy of our consideration, and it is infinitely worse than anything being experienced in the midst of this pandemic.
If we are going to believe the Scriptures and act in accordance with the beliefs derived form God’s Word then we must consider the reality of hell. When we believe that hell is real we acknowledge the true danger people are in because of their sin. When we rightly understand the danger they are in then we can respond in an appropriate manner. I believe the right response is one of warning about the dangers to come and bearing witness to the only way of deliverance.
Imagine you are out for a hike in the wilderness. You come out of the woods to a very majestic and terrifying scene. A massive waterfall that is at the same time beautiful and fear-inducing. One wrong step and you could slip, fall in, and be swept away to certain death. After taking in the awe inspiring sights and sounds you decide to hike up river from the waterfall. Only a short distance away the river takes a sharp turn and then straightens out for a bit. Several hundred yards upstream you notice a raft further upstream with people on it. They look like they are having the time of their life. They clearly believe they are out for adventure and enjoying the rapids and seem to be blissfully unaware of what awaits them around the next bend. You have a decision to make. Do you attempt to warn them of the danger lurking around the next bend? Would they be able to hear you? Would they believe you if they did hear your warning? Would you be able to help them escape danger if they did hear you and believe you? Or do you allow them to continue on enjoying themselves as long as possible? Maybe you say to yourself, “surely they already know about the waterfall, I guess this must be want the want. I shouldn’t barge in and try to change their minds if they’ve already made their decision.” As they get closer to your position you realize that all the people on the raft are your closest family members. Those whom you love more than any other people on the planet. What would you do then? I imagine you would scream and yell and warn them about the waterfall. You’d probably look for a vine or tree branch or something to try to cast to them so that you could pull them to safety at the river’s edge. I know you wouldn’t just wave as they pass and say “have fun!”
Now, apply this analogy to real life. Hell is real (like the waterfall). Many people are unaware of its reality or simply do not believe it is real. They seem to be enjoying life just fine. Are we going to let that stop us from warning them and doing what we can to share the way of salvation with them? Warning people of the judgment to come is not popular and is often not received well, but it is absolutely necessary to the work of evangelism (of course it should be done with humility, compassion, and love for those in danger, never with haughtiness and/or insensitivity). People must first understand the eternal danger they are in before they see the sense and appeal of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Only through faith in Christ can we be reconciled to God, having our sins forgiven and granted eternal life in His presence. Remember God created humans to know Him and enjoy His presence. So rejecting God, in His infinite purity, love, goodness, and power, deserves an infinite punishment. The Bible teaches that this place and state of eternal punishment is called Hell. We would do well to contemplate its reality so that we are moved to action, warning those in danger (and who are suffering in very real ways right now, but not worth comparing to eternal damnation) and bearing witness to the redemption and salvation that comes through faith in Jesus our Lord and Savior. Join us for bible study Wednesday evening (April 8, 2020) as we study specific Scriptures on the doctrine of Hell.
May we be faithful in the task of bearing witness to all of God’s revealed will in the Holy Scriptures!