By Dave Stone
A young soldier sat in front of a campfire on the night before a Civil War battle. The others noticed he appeared nervous. Someone asked him, “What’s the matter, are you afraid to die?”
The young man replied, “I’m not afraid to die; it’s what’s beyond death that frightens me.”
There is more to life than can be squeezed between two dates on a tombstone—there is eternity. We don’t enjoy talking about death; it can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you are uncertain of your final destination.
Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.”
We don’t talk a lot about Hell these days. The topic of grace abounds, and sermons about Heaven are much more frequent. Eternal punishment doesn’t find its way to the top. But regardless of whether Hell receives a lot of press or a little, the bottom line is that someday everyone will receive the free gift of Heaven or the punishment of Hell.
Back in the 1970s I heard Olin Hay say in a sermon on Heaven and Hell, “I willingly admit to you that I speak to you from a limited intellect attempting to describe a limitless eternity.”
That makes two of us! So we would be wise to turn to the Bible, the authority on the afterlife.
A Literal Place
Some believe Hell is merely a quick annihilation. Others are convinced Hell is some fairy tale conjured up in the minds of ministers attempting to motivate people at invitation time to walk down an aisle. In recent years, Hell has lost some sting due to apathy in the pulpit and ignorance in the pew. But I believe Hell is a literal place because the Bible says so.
If God states even one time there is a place called Hell, then Bible-believing Christians should accept it as truth. But the Bible doesn’t talk about it just once; Hell is mentioned 54 times!
C.S. Lewis said, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power, but it has the full support of Scripture and especially of our Lord’s own words.”
The Bible teaches that Hell is a place of punishment that God prepared for Satan and his angels. “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
Jesus believed in Hell, describing it as a furnace of fire, a place of torments and eternal punishment, a place where people pray and scream for mercy with weeping and wailing, a place of outer darkness, and a place where the worm never dies and the fire isn’t quenched.
Why would Jesus talk so much about Hell? I think it was because he doesn’t want anyone to have to go there.
Justice demands that there is such a place. Any justice system involves punishment for those who break the rules. We sometimes say, “Don’t worry. What goes around comes around.” That’s justice.
I left my car unlocked one night and came out the next morning to discover my stereo had been stolen. I couldn’t stop laughing. That stereo hadn’t worked in over a year! It was a constant source of frustration to me. I pictured the thief giving a great sales pitch only to have the prospective buyer try it and find it didn’t work! Now that’s justice!
I called my insurance company, and they said they would reimburse me. Now that’s miraculous!
The next night I locked my car doors because I was afraid the thief might try and bring it back! Already I felt like the justice system was in process . . . and if the thief gets caught he’ll have to face the music (no pun intended).
But what about the people who never get caught or who recognize their sins but continue to reject God’s plan? Through the principles of logic it seems there would be some type of retribution. Even unbelievers would agree there must be a reward for the obedient and punishment for the disobedient. Justice demands it.
If there is no Hell then Calvary was a tragic mistake. For if there was no pending punishment there would be no need for a pardon.
Hell is painful because of the emotional suffering. You will realize the opportunities to accept Christ you wasted.
Lou Gehrig was a legendary New York Yankee and a true gentlemen. He never argued with an umpire, but one day he was called out on strikes to end a baseball game.
The stadium was dead silent, and Gehrig turned and said something to the umpire. Reporters rushed to the dugout to ask the great star what he’d said. Gehrig replied, “All I said was, ‘I’d give anything to have that pitch again.’”
If I could characterize Hell in one word it would be regret. Having the knowledge that in your lifetime you could have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior but you didn’t. You would cry, “I’d give anything to have that opportunity again.”
But it’s not just emotional pain, there’s physical suffering. Jesus confirms this in Luke 16. He tells a story or a parable of a rich man in Hades who pleads for a beggar named Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch his tongue. Just a drop would provide a second of momentary relief. Six times in Matthew’s Gospel Christ is quoted as speaking of Hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The intensity of Hell is underscored through relational suffering. How many times have you heard those outside of Christ flippantly talk about their intentions to “party forever” in Hell? The problem is there are no parties there because there’s no fellowship with others. There’s no community or sense of companionship. The biblical picture is one of separation and solitary suffering. But even worse than being separated from others is being separated from God.
I remember as a child getting separated from my father in a large grocery store. The more aisles I searched the more panicked I became. After a few anxious moments, I heard someone in the next aisle sneeze, and I recognized the sound! The sound of the falling cereal boxes led me straight to my dad. (My dad’s sneeze will rival the sound of the trumpet when the Lord returns.)
That was a terrifying experience for a child—not the sneeze, but being lost. I was separated for just a minute from my dad, but can you imagine what it’s like to be eternally separated from your heavenly Father? Bill Hybels says, “In Hell, God chooses to be conspicuous by his absence.”
Perhaps the worst part of Hell is that it’s eternal suffering. In Matthew 25:46 Jesus says, “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The Bible says in Hell there is no hope for escaping. Revelation 9:6 speaks of a time when men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. Physical anguish will go on forever.
Twenty years ago the rock group Wham had a hit single entitled “Freedom.” In the song George Michael talks about his great love for a girl, and how he would do anything to prove his love for her. In one section, he sings, “You could take me to Hell and back just as long as we were together.”
There is no woman worth going to Hell for, and there is no guy worth going to Hell for, because once you go there, you cannot come back. It’s eternal suffering. That’s not freedom; it’s wishful thinking on the part of the unbeliever.
God “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9).
The welcome sign to Hell should read, “The Point of No Return.” There is no end and there is no exit in Hell. Reject Jesus Christ, walk away from his saving grace, and you will seal your fate in Hell. But no one has to go there.
A Personal Choice
You have a say in where you spend eternity. Dr. Louis Evans Jr. says, “Hell is God’s final surrender to the will of those who are determined to be without him.”
We are in the middle of a battle, a tug-of-war. Satan knows he is doomed to Hell for eternity, so he tries to get a tight hold on your life. He knows he can do nothing to change his fate, so he says, “If I’m going to Hell, then you’re going in with me.” Misery loves company.
Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Accept his free gift of salvation and trust that it is yours when you completely surrender to him.
Jesus’ words call to us, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). I agree with G. Campbell Morgan when he said, “I believe the promises of God enough to venture an eternity on them.”
Many years ago in the old West there was a father who had done his best to raise his son. He taught him morality and a high standard of pure living. But gradually the boy began to do his own thing. He even purchased an old building with the plan to turn it into a saloon.
On the day of the grand opening, his father stood in front, and as people started to walk toward the saloon he’d say, “You don’t want to go in there. Alcohol will ruin your family. It will destroy you.” He successfully dissuaded many from entering.
His son was furious when he saw what was happening. He went out and yelled at his dad, “Stop it, you are ruining my business.” Another customer approached, and the father did it again. The boy was so angry he hit his father in the face and knocked him to the ground.
The father said, “Son, you can hit me, you can spit on me, you can even kill me, but if anyone goes in there, it’s over my dead body!”
Sometimes people ask me, “Would a loving God send someone to Hell?” The answer is “No.” We send ourselves by rejecting Jesus Christ. At different junctions in life we have opportunities to accept or reject Jesus Christ. And he hangs on a cross before the entrance to Hell and says, “The only way you will go in there is over my dead body.”
When you’re walking down life’s path and you see the cross, you have a personal choice. You can say, “I’m not going to bow and just walk right over the sacrifice,” or you can say, “Lord, since you died for me I want to live for you!”
We all know John 3:16, but I love the next verse because it reminds us that God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”
Dave Stone is senior minister at Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky.