Thursday, April 19, 2012

THE PROBLEM WITH HELL

Christians who think about what they believe have usually thought about the problem of “Hell.” Why does a loving Creator allow such a place? Some try dancing theological circles around the doctrine of Hell revealed in Scripture. But Hell will not go away, and for a very good reason.

In my journey of faith, I’ve many times been helped by the writings of C. S. Lewis. While reading The Problem of Pain, I made a giant step in understanding Hell. Later, in his book The Great Divorce, I found these words that many will recognize:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

Before ever seeing that popular quote, I heard a sermon on the “love of God” which downplayed the reality of “hell.” During the message, I thought about how the words of Deuteronomy 4:24, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God,” related to 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8, where John says, “God is love,” and “God is light.” I got this sudden insight on Hell: God, as Light and Love, reveals the truth and is so passionately jealous of its integrity that He consumes the darkness of lies. Our God of fiery Love is also the God of consuming Light. Hell is not the result of His absence, but an effect of His ongoing presence. Love and Light are omnipresent.

Later, when studying the doctrine of Hell in graduate school, these previous meditations congealed into the following poem that describes God from two opposite perspectives:

HEAVEN AND HELL

“Consuming Fire, Eternal Light,
 Who shines Your grace to heal our sight;
 Life-giving Flame and Loving Blaze,
 Our open hands to You we raise,
 Secure within Your purging gaze,
 With joy we praise: we sing our praise!”

“Unquenching Heat, Infernal Light,
 That fries our souls, disrupts our night;
 Tormenting Blast and Burning Fate,
 Our fists we raise in stern debate,
 Enraged beneath your scorching Weight,
 In pain we hate: we scream our hate!”
 
— David L. Hatton, 3/8/1983
(in Poems Between Heaven & Hell © 1991 by David L. Hatton)

As C. S. Lewis explains, Hell is God’s last mercy to the unrepentant sinner. The perpetual pain of Hell is Love’s endless commitment to teach the truth to free moral agents who forever choose to ignore or deny it. Ignorant skeptics may zealously hate the concept of Hell. But in His own perfect hatred for it, God confronted the realistic results of humanity's misuse of free-will with the only remedy that could maintain human freedom: His personal incarnation, death, and resurrection in Christ. At His own expense, God offers us an escape from the self-made choices which brought Hell into existence and make it such a hellish place.

So, the familiar question stands: “Where will you spend eternity?” The Gospel of Jesus Christ lays the ultimate responsibility on each human soul for individually determining the answer.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you David for this post. Too many pastors fear the reaction of the congregation thus
    ignoring this so important teaching. I wish you would preach this at FLC some Sunday. That is a topic that would be talked about greater than even how loud the music is. Thank you for your obedient and faithful spirit and service. Here's loving you, John

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  2. One thing that I hear these days is universalism. A couple of guys in my bible study group say they cannot believe that God will allow anyone to go to hell. I have kept my mouth shut, but I just cannot believe in universalism which sates that no one will go to hell. My preacher rarely speaks about hell and he needs to. So many people are asleep in their pews

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