More and more "religious people" are rejecting the Biblical doctrine of hell. They contend that the God of love and mercy could not create such a place as hell and confine man, who is created in his own image, to such a horrible place for eternity.
If there is an eternal hell, you are entitled to know about it to be warned thereby. If the notion of a hell of torment is a doctrine of men, you are certainly entitled to know that. It would be morally wrong to teach the idea of a burning hell just to scare men into doing certain things. In the course of this study we will go to God, who cannot lie, and find the truth on this subject.
The fact of sin's existence proves that there is a hell. From the Bible we learn that sin is "the transgression of the law" I John 3:4. But if there were no penalty imposed for breaking the law, the law would be worthless. Take, for example, the laws that govern speed on our highways. Why do we learn these laws and take care to obey them? For one thing, we know that there are policemen on duty who are charged with arrested speeders. If there were no laws to regulate speed, men could drive at any speed they desired and not be guilty of crime. But there are laws and the speed limit is specified on every street and highway in the state. And, in order to make the laws effective, there are penalties for their violation and men charged with enforcing them.
In the very same way, the law of God would be meaningless if there were no penalty for its transgression. The fact of a penalty for the violation of God's law is an incentive for men to obey him rather than transgress his laws. Sin, the violation of God's law, is an unquestioned reality; therefore, hell, the penalty for sin, must be a reality. The Bible ascribes many characteristics to God. He is described as love; but he is also described as a God of justice. Neither of these characteristics should be so exaggerated as to exclude the other. Some have supposed that since God is a God of great love, he could not possibly bring suffering to anyone for any reason. But, because he is also a God of justice and holiness, he must punish sin.
The writer of the book of Hebrews makes this very same argument about necessary punishment for sin. Notice it carefully. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? Which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us bv them that heard him Hebrews 2:1-3. God must punish those who break his law. Since his law is the highest and holiest of all laws, it necessarily demands the greatest penalty for its violation. Hell does exist!
Furthermore, the reality of hell is clearly seen because Christ clearly taught it. He once said, "And if thy hand offend thee, cut if off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched" Mark 9:43. And, in giving a picture of future judgement, the Lord represented himself as saying to those on his left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" Matthew 25:41. We should not hesitate to say that we believe every statement that Jesus ever made to be a true statement. These statements that he made about a literal hell of torment cannot be dismissed as inconsequential to our study. There can be no doubt that there is a real hell, for Christ taught it. This doctrine is not, as some have suggested, from men; but it is from God and is clearly taught in the Scriptures.
What does the Bible tell us about Hell? First, hell is described as a place of fire and brimstone. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" Revelation 21:8. Someone will always ask the question, after reading this verse, "Will hell be literal fire and brimstone - as we know these substances?" Probably not. We don't expect heaven to be made of literal gold, pearls and precious stones. When the Bible speaks of streets of gold and gates of pearl, we understand that accommodative language is being used. Since heaven is a spiritual place which is composed of elements that we do not even know about, God had to describe it to us in human language and use descriptive terms which would impress us with the fact of heaven's beauty and grandeur. In the same way, we should understand "fire and brimstone" to be descriptive human terms which God chose to impress us with the fact of hell's horror.
Second, hell is described as a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth". "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" Matthew 13:41-42. There is no more heart-rending sound on earth than to hear a grown person cry out in severe pain and to literally grind his teeth together in anguish and suffering. The Lord warns us that hell will be a place where suffering will be so intense that men will not be able to restrain their cries. How frightening are the consequences of sin!
Third, hell is described as a place of outer darkness. In the Parable of the Talents, the man who buried his talent in the soil was called an unprofitable servant and was cast "into outer darkness" Matthew 25:30. There is no description of hell's horrors which more nearly impresses its terror as this. It is the nature of all living things to seek light. Men have even developed artificial light for use in times of natural darkness. Needing and wanting light as we do, try to imagine an existence in total darkness. Just to think of such a prospect as this is uncomfortable to the human mind!
All these descriptions of hell combine in our minds to paint an awful picture of doom and hopelessness. Indeed, hell is a place where there is absolutely no prospect of present or future blessings from God. It is a place of eternal punishment for all men who choose to reject Almighty.
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