Monday, June 16, 2014

3 Reasons Why Hell Must Exist

When I was a kid I remember seeing cartoonist Gary Larson’s parody of hell in a Sunday comic strip. It was a picture of several demons whipping people as they lined up to get coffee. Flames danced in the background. One man with his coffee cup full turns to another and says, “Oh, man the coffee’s cold! They thought of everything!”

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, reported that, “Only 50 percent of theology faculty believes that hell exists. Nearly half of all seminary students believe that it is in ‘poor taste’ to tell unbelievers that hell is their destination if they reject Christ. While nearly 60 percent believe in some kind of hell, only 4 percent believe they are going there.”[1]   

Perhaps, one commentator in U.S News and World Report explained it best when he summarized the redefining of hell like this, “Johnathan Edwards would scarcely recognize the hell of today. After decades of near obscurity, the netherworld has taken a new image: more of a deep funk that a pit of fire, suggesting that hell might not be so hot.”[2]

Whether we eradicate the idea of hell altogether or simply attempt to renovate it by turning down the temperature we do so against the teaching of the Bible and to our own peril. A devious lie that Satan has blinded people with is the notion that hell doesn’t exit—that it is an outdated teaching let over from the Middle Ages used by the Church to frighten simple-minded people into good behavior.

However, thirteen percent of the 1,850 verses in the New Testament that record the words of Jesus deal with the subject of eternal judgment and hell. In fact, Jesus had more to say about hell that He did about heaven. Given Jesus’ extensive teaching on hell it’s contradictory to say, “I accept Jesus as a great moral teacher or even the Son of God, but I refuse to accept His teaching about Hell.” So why must Hell exist?

We must remember that God did not arbitrarily choose His attributes. He cannot cease to be holy or just any more than water can cease to be wet. Because of who God is there must be a hell. God didn’t crate hell because He’s a manacle sadomasochist who enjoys torturing people. Oddly enough, hell exists to glorify the attributes of God. 

1.      Hell must exist to vindicate God’s justice

If hell does not exist then God is ultimately not just. It would be totally unjust for God to let the sins of the world to go unpunished. That would be like opening the doors of every maximum security prison in America and letting the felons walk free. Can you imagine God saying to Hitler, Stalin or Osama Ben Laden at the final judgment, “For all your rebellion against Me and your unspeakable crimes against humanity, your punishment is to no longer be conscious.” The pain of non-existence is no pain at all. To cease to exist is not to be held accountable for sin.   

On a spiritual level, we are all convicted felons, guilty of breaking God’s moral law.  By God’s perfect standards we are all guilty of murder, theft, adultery and blasphemy. If God did not bring to account every human thought, motivation and action then He is not a just Judge.

Erwin Lutzer writes, “We all agree that heaven is a comforting doctrine. What is often overlooked is that hell is comforting too. Our newspapers are filled with stories of rape, child abuse, genocide and a myriad of injustices. Every court case ever tried on earth will be reopened; every action and motive will be meticulously inspected and the exact retribution will be meted out. In the presence of an all-knowing God there will be no unsolved murders, no unknown child abductor, no hidden brides or crimes.  No one is getting away with anything.”[3]

People often object by saying that eternal punishment is not a fitting penalty for finite sins. For instance why would God lock someone up and throw away the key just for not believing in Him. However, we must keep in mind that the Bible teaches that Hell is not a one-size-fits all. Hell will have degrees of punishment that are proportionate to a person’s sins.  Crimes committed against an infinitely holy God cannot be paid for by finite measures of time.

As Johnathan Edwards argued, “The heinousness of any crime must be gauged according to the worth and dignity of the person it is committed against. And since sin is against an infinite God then it is worthy of a corresponding punishment.”

2.      Hell must exist to validate God’s love

A few years ago there was a video clip that went viral of a young man proposing to his girlfriend at a UCLA basketball game. Thousands of fans were watching on the arena’s Jumbo-tron screen as he got down on one knee and popped the question. However, they didn’t ride off in the sunset together. The girl covered her face, shook her head and walked away. He was jilted and now the whole world would see his humiliation.    

Imagine if that young man continued to pursue that woman, he bought her lavish gifts and treated her like a princess but she continually rejected his love. Finally, the young man bursts into her home one night, holds her up and gun point and says, “I love you so much I'm going to force you to marry me.”

How long do you think that relationship would last? Likewise, there are no shotgun weddings in heaven. Forced love is a contradiction in terms. God's love is persuasive, it's convincing, but it's never coercive. God will not force anyone into heaven kicking and screaming. God is going to allow each of us the freedom of choice. In fact, what would really be unloving of God is if He forced people to be with Him forever. So by creating hell God pays the ultimate compliment to human autonomy. Those who do not wish to love God, must be given the dignity to choose separation from God.

3.      Hell must exist to value God’s sacrifice

In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” Again in Mark 10:45 Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The central focus of Jesus mission on earth was to die for the world’s sin.

If there was no Hell then Calvary was the blunder of the ages. It is incomprehensible to the think that God would let his only Son to be killed and battered for a punishment that does not exist. Jesus’ sacrificial death is robbed of its eternal significance unless there is a Hell from which people need to be delivered.   

Hell may be a paralyzing doctrine for many, but it can energizing because it magnifies the beauty of the cross.  Hell is the backdrop that reveals the profound and unbelievable grace of God.  The cross brings to light the enormity of our sin and portrays God’s mercy in full color.  

Many Christians seem embarrassed about hell. They refrain from speaking about it to non-Christians lest they be branded as fire-and-brimstone Bible-thumpers. But omitting the reality of hell from our conversations doesn’t not make us more tolerant or loving; on the contrary it makes us deceptive and unloving. If you had a doctor who refused to tell his patients they had cancer because he couldn’t handle delivering bad news, would that make him a good doctor? In the same way, if we know the only to escape God’s judgment and don’t share that then we are not being very compassionate. 

The truth is that hell is our default destination and if we don’t do anything that’s where we will end up. Jesus reminds us in John 3:17-18, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Fortunately, the good news of the Gospel is that God has done everything possible to make a way for us to be in heaven. He sent his Son to die on the Cross. He wrote a book telling us how to be saved. He gave the Holy Spirit to prick your heart and enlighten you to the truth. And he’s brought you here today to hear the message of grace and mercy that He offers through His Son.

 Henry E. Erwin won the Medal of Honor for his incredible act of heroism during WWII. Erwin worked as a bombardier on a B-29 bomber. Erwin's job was to drop phosphorus smoke bombs through a chute in the B-29's floor. On April 12, 1945 Erwin was flying over Japan when he got the order to pull the pin and drop a bomb into the chute. However, the fuse malfunctioned, igniting the phosphorus, burning at 1,100 degrees. The canister flew back up the chute and into Erwin's face, blinding him, searing off one ear and obliterating his nose. Smoke immediately filled the aircraft, making it impossible for the pilot to see his instrument panel.

Erwin was afraid the bomb would burn through the metal floor into the bomb bay. Partially blinded, he picked it up and feeling his way, crawled around the gun turret and headed for the copilot's window. His face and arms were covered with ignited phosphorous and his path was blocked by the navigator's folding table, hinged to the wall but down and locked.

Erwin couldn't release the table's latches with one hand, so he grabbed the white-hot bomb between his bare right arm and his ribcage. In the few seconds it took to raise the table, the phosphorus burned through his flesh to the bone. His body on fire, he stumbled into the cockpit, threw the bomb out the window and collapsed between the pilot's seats.

The smoke cleared enough for the pilot to pull the B-29 out of a dive at 300 feet above the water and turn toward Iwo Jima where Erwin could be given emergency treatment. His horrified crew members extinguished his burning clothes and administered first aid until medics stabilized his condition. Amazingly, Erwin managed to survive. He was flown back to the United States, and after 30 months and 41 surgeries, his eyesight was restored and he regained use of one arm.[4]  

The Bible says, in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” Erwin’s body was burned head-to-toe, but his sacrifice saved the lives on the men on board the B-29. Just so, Jesus suffered the torment and shame of the cross. He was beaten and bloodied so that we wouldn’t have to face the flames of hell.

God has wrapped yellow caution tape around Hell’s porch and posted a million and one red flags outside the entrance. To descend its stairs, you’ll have to cover your ears, blindfold your eyes and ignore the most epic sacrifice of history—Christ on the cross.  

[1] Robert Jeffress, Outrageous Truths (Colorado Springs: Random House, 2013), 72.   
[2] Jeffery L. Sheler, “Hell Hath No Fury,” U.S. News & World Report, 23 January 2000
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[3] Erwin Lutzer, One Minute After You Die (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 111.

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