Summary: Hell is a place of truth, where the true nature of the human condition will be exposed. If God is holy, there must be a hell. Whereas heaven consists of "whosoever will", hell is a place of "whosoever won’t".
¡§Fire and Brimstone¡¨
-Rev. Dr. Robert G. Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
A. The Function of Hell
B. The Symbolism of Hell
C. The Way to Hell
D. The Avoidance of Hell
This is my first sermon on hell, even though I¡¦ve been a minister for over 25 years. I¡¦ve often referred to hell in messages, but I¡¦ve been uncomfortable about devoting an entire sermon to the subject. I suppose I don¡¦t want to be regarded as a ¡§fire and brimstone¡¨ preacher...yet we do no one a favor by avoiding this unpleasant subject. Our discomfort won¡¦t change the facts.
We have a wide range of opinions about what hell is: everything from ¡§the big barbecue below¡¨ to ¡§a state of mind¡¨. When I was in the Army, for some soldiers--hell was their current duty assignment! I enjoy Far Side cartoons, and I admit I¡¦ve chuckled at ones depicting hell--like the one where a devil asks new arrivals, ¡§Smoking or Non-smoking?¡¨ The truth is that hell is no laughing matter. It is a place too horrible to imagine, and our humor is likely a nervous way of suppressing more somber thoughts concerning the place. Even the use of the word hell has been softened by its becoming a form of profane and casual speech, a four-letter metaphor for tough situations. When people say an injury ¡§hurts like hell¡¨ they are diminishing and trivializing the serious reality of hell by turning a very real place into mere street talk jargon.
A. The Function of Hell
The Biblical word ¡§hell¡¨ refers to a specific location southwest of Jerusalem known as Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnon, where pagans sacrificed children as burnt offerings to the idol Molech. It later became the city dump, a place to burn refuse. This location turned into a geographical metaphor for the place of punishment after death.
Jesus frequently spoke about hell, not wishing anyone to end up there. He described it as a place of ¡§outer darkness¡¨ where people will ¡§weep and gnash their teeth¡¨, and a place of ¡§unquenchable fire¡¨. It is a place of separation from God. Separations from people we care about are painful experiences; hell is permanent separation from God. The Apostle Paul warns unbelievers that ¡§they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power.¡¨ (II Thessalonians 1:8-10). The prophet Daniel describes hell as a place of ¡§shame and everlasting contempt¡¨ (12:2).
Hell is most of all a place of truth, where the true nature of the human condition will be exposed. Unbelievers do not view themselves as rebels, opposed to God, yet that is what they are. They have chosen to ignore God¡¦s salvation and have turned from the Truth to embrace lies.
In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis portrays Heaven as a place of permanence and stability, whereas hell is seen as a place of constant turmoil, change and uncertainty.
This sounds a lott like the Army! When I served in the 2nd Infantry Division, soldiers would buy T-shirts in Korean towns which announced, ¡§When I die I¡¦m going straight to heaven ¡¥cause I¡¦ve served my time in hell¡¨. When I was in Iraq, we would joke, ¡§This ain¡¦t hell, but you can see it from here.¡¨ When confronted with all this talk of afterlife punishment, some people sidestep the issue by claiming they¡¦re ¡§already in hell¡¨. People confuse this world with hell because the world is no longer the way God made it. Our fallen, sin-scarred world is now enemy-occupied territory, and we have only to watch the TV news to get a foretaste of hell. But no amount of suffering in this world will excuse anyone who has rejected God.
When confronted with thoughts of hell some people claim, ¡§I¡¦d rather be where my friends are.¡¨ Misery loves company, and though the lost are not fit for heaven, neither are they prepared for hell. C.S. Lewis also described hell as a place where people are forced to live with their unredeemed faults for all eternity. I¡¦m looking forward to having my faults be completely healed in glory. I don¡¦t like living with them now, and I sure don¡¦t want to hang onto them forever!
I don¡¦t wish to sound smug concerning hell. There is no one I would want to see in this place intended for the devil...and yet I understand that God is holy and just. Those who reject the notion of hell possess an inadequate, grandfatherly view of God, a view that falsely claims He would never condemn anyone. If God is holy, there must be a hell.
The Bible indicates that hell may not be the same for all people. There will apparently be degrees of punishment. Luke 12:47-48 points out that some will receive a harsher sentence than others. This means that the drug dealer who ruined young people¡¦s lives will be worse off than the agnostic who led a reasonably decent life. God will also take into account individuals¡¦ backgrounds and opportunities to hear the Gospel. God will be fair. But no one is innocent. The Bible teaches that unbelievers are spiritually dead, and unless they are drawn to the Cross of Christ they will suffer eternal death.