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?
March 21, 2010
Have you seen this t-shirt? Heck is where people go who donâ€™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 â€œYou donâ€™t really believe all that stuff in there, do you?â€ The lady replied, â€œof course I do. It is the Bible.â€
He said, â€œwell, what about that guy who was swallowed by a whale?â€ She replied, â€œOh, Jonah. Yes I believe that. Itâ€™s in the Bible.â€ He asked, â€œWell, how do you suppose he survived all that time in the whale?â€ The lady said, â€œWell, I donâ€™t know really. I guess when I get to heaven Iâ€™ll ask him.â€ The man asked sarcastically, â€œWhat if he isnâ€™t in heaven?â€ The lady replied, â€œThen you can ask him.â€
You know, itâ€™s hard to find good, usable jokes about hell. Why do you think that is? Because clearly, the idea of hell isnâ€™t very funny. Most of the jokes about hell you can find somehow mock the very idea of hellâ€™s existence.
You donâ€™t hear much about hell anymore, even in church settings. Thatâ€™s in large part because fewer and fewer people believe in hell anymore. For some who do believe, itâ€™s almost as if weâ€™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 itâ€™s important for us to think about hell. I think itâ€™s important for us to remember why the gospel is good news. The gospel isnâ€™t good news because it makes our life better. In fact, for some of us, thatâ€™s pretty far from the truth.
Yes, thereâ€™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 â€“ theyâ€™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? Itâ€™s called The Thinker, by Rodin. Most people, and until a few days ago, I was included in that category, donâ€™t know what the thinker is pondering so deeply. Iâ€™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 Danteâ€™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. Hereâ€™s a brief segment from Danteâ€™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.