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The Reality of Hell?

In the modern times in which we live, I find that the doctrine of hell is not very popular. There are many ministers who never even mention it in their sermons because they do not want to upset their congregation. I truly believe that so many people arrive at their beliefs about hell, not on the basis of what is true, but what they find to be comforting and what makes them feel good.

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain, he has a chapter on “hell.” In regard to hell, he says, “There is no doctrine which I would willingly remove from Christianity than this (hell) if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of scripture and especially of our Lord’s own words.”

The thought of being eternally banished from heaven and sent to a place of torment is not an attractive message. So many reject this doctrine, even though Jesus speaks more of hell than He does of heaven.

The following is a great illustration from Randy Alcorn’s book; The Grace and Truth Paradox. It allows us to see that hell is logical and necessary if God is to carry out justice, remembering that justice is an essential part of God’s very nature (Psalm 89:14).

“In the midst of a great and generous king’s benevolent reign, he hears that some of his subjects have revolted. When he sends messengers to investigate, the rebels kill them. So, he sends his own dear son, the prince. They murder him viciously, hanging his body on the city wall.

What would you expect the king to do now? Send his armies and take revenge, right? Kill those rebels! Burn their villages to ashes! That king certainly has both the power and the right to avenge himself. But what if the king turned around and offered these criminals a full pardon?

He tells them, ‘I will accept my son, whom you murdered as the payment for your rebellion. You may go free. All I require is that you admit your transgressions, lay down your arms, live under my domain, and embrace my son’s purchase of your forgiveness.’”

We’d be stunned—blown away—to hear this, wouldn’t we? But the king is not finished.

“I invite any of you to come live in my palace, eat at my table, and enjoy all the pleasures of my kingdom. And I will adopt you as my own children and make you my heirs, so everything that’s mine will be yours forever.”

Incredible.

Then he says, “I won’t force you to accept my offer. But the only alternative is spending the rest of your life in prison. The choice is yours.”

Can you imagine someone responding, “How dare the king send anyone to prison? What a cruel tyrant”?

This is a picture of God’s incredible grace and mercy. It is the gift of salvation that He offers to all people. How could anyone refuse this incredible offer? Paul says many reject it because of their stubborn and unrepentant hearts, and that they, therefore, are storing up God’s wrath for themselves on the judgment day (Romans 2:5). C.S. Lewis logically puts it this way:

“In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”

Lewis goes on to say that “Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom. As Romans 1:24 says, ’God gave them over to their desires.’ All God does in the end with people is to give them what they want most, including freedom from Himself. What could be more fair?”

Finally, I believe author Henri Nouwen in The Freedom to Refuse Love, has articulated a very logical understanding of God and the existence of hell. He says:

“God is neither a policeman nor Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision, God gives us the freedom to move away from His love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God’s choice. It is ours.”

I am reminded of a story about Robert Ingersoll, the famous lawyer, and outspoken skeptic in the latter part of the 19th century. He once delivered a blistering lecture on hell. He called hell the “scarecrow of religion,” and proceeded to tell the audience how unscientific it was and that all truly intelligent people clearly believed there was no such place. There was a homeless drunk in the audience who applauded him afterward and said, “Bob, I really liked your lecture, I liked what you said about hell. But Bob, I want you to be sure about this because I am depending on you.”

When it comes to the issue of hell, whose opinion are you depending on?


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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