What kind of ending will there be for you?
A church notice once read, “The sermon topic is ‘What is hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.”
Ideas about hell remain widespread in various cultures and religions, and widely differing views are held.
For some, it’s a real place where the condemned suffer eternal punishment; for others, it is a myth which can be completely discounted. One thing is certain: there is no laughter there, nor any hope, joy, purpose, love, or anything that we would regard as good.
The concept of hell is bound up with ultimate questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? What happens when I die? Is there right and wrong, good and evil? What about justice?
There are two things that Christians need to say about hell. The first is that the Bible is clear that life does not end when we breathe our last. We will all face our maker, and his desire is that we should spend eternity with him. However, not everyone responds to that invitation. Hell is where God isn’t: it is not just a place for the Adolf Hitlers of this world; it is life utterly without God’s goodness. Whatever this is like, it can’t be good!
Secondly, we need to say that “hell on earth” is not just a saying. There is a widespread idea that truth is relative; that there’s no such thing as absolute truth. ‘If it works for you, great, but don’t tell me how to live my life’. My problem with this is that it leads to hell—not to a horrible afterlife, but hell on earth. If there is no right or wrong outside our own subjective standards and preferences, then anything goes… and this simply frees us up to me as selfish as we like, regardless of the consequences to ourselves and others.
If there is no God, there is no hope for humanity. We are simply a rather clever, but decidedly frightening, animal. A philosopher called Nietzsche realised that if we did away with God, then we did away with any basis for morality, and the only thing that then counted was power. For him, life was all about the will to power—so Hitler and the Holocaust, Stalin and the gulag, Mao and the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot and the Killing Fields; genocide or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia or Rwanda; ideological war in Vietnam or Iraq; corrupt socialism or amoral capitalism… take your pick, but it’s a hell of a world.
Fortunately, that’s not the whole story, because there are deeply moral people of faith (including atheists!) who base their lives and actions on the sense that there is a greater good… a good that must logically have something to say about right and wrong, good and evil, about being persons, unique individuals in community, with conscience and a spiritual sense. Which brings us back to hell… or rather, to God, because our ideas about hell depend on our understanding of God.
Some emphasize God’s purity and justice, so heaven and hell are in strong focus. Others concentrate on God’s compassion, love and mercy, so hell is problematic. But what of wrong-doing and judgment? Our only certain hope is in Christ, so think and live carefully, and remember three things
- God can have nothing to do with sin (the abuse of ourselves, others and the environment)
- Outside of God, there is nothing good
- The Bible teaches that Jesus came into this world for one reason—to save people like you and me from the consequences of our sinfulness, here and for all eternity.
Pray: Lord, hell is a horrible concept, whether here on earth or as a hereafter. Hell means being apart from you, but right now I’m looking for you! Reveal yourself to me; rescue me from hell. And give me the faith to know for certain that those close to you have something amazing to look forward to. Amen.
Read about Christian ideas of hell
Look up hell in Wikipedia
Watch the movie Sliding Doors, which helps illustrate the impact of choices we make
Watch the movie Platoon, and note the struggle between good and evil in Sergeants Elias and Barnes
Read the book Lord of the Flies, for an illustration of what happens when we allow ourselves to live without self-control
Read the book God, That's Not Fair! by Dick Dowsett
Read the book The Message of Heaven and Hell by Bruce Milne
Read the book Heaven and Hell by Edward Donnelly
Read the book What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell?: Wrestling With the Traditional View by Randolph J Klassen
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