By Edward Thal /
It’s not a very popular subject. The mere mention of the word in preaching or witnessing often draws a strong reaction from unbelievers along the lines of, “You Christians are so negative—always talking about hell!”
The truth is, we probably don’t talk about it enough. Seeker-sensitive churches virtually ban the word and it is an infrequent reference in most other pulpits, but unlike the bogeyman under the bed it will not go away if we just ignore it. So, let’s face it head on.
Hell is real. Unfortunate. Awful. But real.
The most objectionable thought about hell is that it is a place of never-ending pain. There’s just no way to find any comfort when these two ideas are linked: Eternal, and Pain. Anything can be endured for a season, but eternal pain just sounds so unreasonable – pain with no relief, no way out, no end. Forever.
The second idea that causes emotional heartburn is that God is not a friendly old grandfather in the sky if hell is real. “God is Love” and “God will send you to hell” are two statements that just don’t belong together in the minds of those who refuse to think too deeply about God. “Love is God!” is a modern preference that sees God as non-judgmental, ever tolerant, intensely understanding, deeply inclusive, endlessly patient and always kind. Just like we see ourselves.
Perhaps the simplest way to answer objections about the possibility of eternal hell as punishment by a loving God is to think of hell as a place where the eternal God is eternally not present. Then consider that it is a destination chosen by those who go there. If you keep God always at arm’s length—in word and in deed—you can expect Him to take the hint. He will leave you alone. Forever. We cannot imagine what it means to be left completely alone by our Creator (or the torment it would cause), but that does not count as an argument against such an unhappy possibility. Ironically, we can’t imagine it simply because we enjoy the benefits of His presence even as we choose to ignore Him and make our own way in this world. Whatever morsel of good we may find in the darkness flows from Him, and regardless of our actions the sun still rises and sets, the seasons go through their changes and the rain continues to fall on the just and the unjust alike.
Contrast that with an existence where God is entirely absent, where there is no light, no love, no compassion, no goodness or kindness or mercy and nothing to comfort our barren souls or to dampen the pain of negative emotions and fear and loathing and anger, regret and bitterness – all our awful thoughts and painful memories and frightening nightmares devouring us, completely unrestrained. Forever. That would be hell. Maybe not all of hell, but certainly enough to start with.
The pertinent question is, who but a willfully blind fool would choose to go there?