Summary: As much as even some in the church at large desire to "air-condition" hell, the doctrine of eternal punishment is a foundational doctrine for believers in Jesus

Air Conditioning Hell

Why is the Gospel Good News?

TCF Sermon

March 21, 2010

Have you seen this t-shirt? Heck is where people go who don’t believe in Gosh.

Or heard this story:

There was a Christian lady that had to do a lot of traveling for her business so she did a lot of flying. But flying made her nervous so she always took a Bible along to read, because it helped relax her. One time when she was flying she was sitting next to a man. When he saw her pull out her Bible he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing. After a while he turned to her and asked “You don’t really believe all that stuff in there, do you?” The lady replied, “of course I do. It is the Bible.”

He said, “well, what about that guy who was swallowed by a whale?” She replied, “Oh, Jonah. Yes I believe that. It’s in the Bible.” He asked, “Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time in the whale?” The lady said, “Well, I don’t know really. I guess when I get to heaven I’ll ask him.” The man asked sarcastically, “What if he isn’t in heaven?” The lady replied, “Then you can ask him.”

You know, it’s hard to find good, usable jokes about hell. Why do you think that is? Because clearly, the idea of hell isn’t very funny. Most of the jokes about hell you can find somehow mock the very idea of hell’s existence.

You don’t hear much about hell anymore, even in church settings. That’s in large part because fewer and fewer people believe in hell anymore. For some who do believe, it’s almost as if we’ve somehow managed to air-condition hell. Even Christians seem embarrassed about this doctrine.

The move away from, and undermining of, the doctrine of eternal punishment in a place called hell, has been going on for quite some time. Today we find Christians who deny the doctrine entirely. Consider this quote:

How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself.*

-- Clark Pinnock, Professor and Noted Evangelical Author

I think it’s important for us to think about hell. I think it’s important for us to remember why the gospel is good news. The gospel isn’t good news because it makes our life better. In fact, for some of us, that’s pretty far from the truth.

Yes, there’s joy in the Lord. Yes, God provides. Yes, God gives us emotional and spiritual resources for the challenges of life.

But, try telling the Muslim in Yemen who converts to Christ that the good news of the gospel means his life will get better. Try telling our Chinese brothers and sister in Christ that being a Christian means only good things will come into their lives from now on – they’ll be healthy, wealthy and prosperous.

No. The good news is that Jesus paid the price for our sin, when we are absolutely incapable of doing so. Because of that, we can have eternal life, and escape the eternal death that awaits all of us in hell unless we receive the amazing grace offered us in Christ.

As I prepared for this message, I quickly realized that if any subject ever called for sober, serious consideration, this is it.

Do you recognize this famous sculpture? It’s called The Thinker, by Rodin. Most people, and until a few days ago, I was included in that category, don’t know what the thinker is pondering so deeply. I’ve always thought it was just a general, deep thinking. But Rodin did this sculpture as part of a larger display. The theme was The Divine Comedy of Dante and Rodin entitled the portal The Gates of Hell. Each of the statues in the piece represented one of the main characters in Dante’s epic poem.

The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. In the final sculpture, a miniature of the statue sits atop the gates of hell, pondering the people who were in hell.

Dante wrote The Inferno in an era when people did think more often of the horrors of hell. Here’s a brief segment from Dante’s famous work:

I am the way into the city of woe.

I am the way to a forsaken people.

I am the way to eternal sorrow.

Sacred justice moved my architect.

I was raised here by divine omnipotence,

Primordial love and ultimate intelligence.

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