Summary: Reconciling a loving God with an awful hell is not easy for many people. In this sermon I try to resolve this dilemma.
A. A church was looking for a new preacher.
1. They asked their top two candidates to preach a trial sermon.
2. Both candidates were assigned the same topic – the topic was “Hell.”
3. Both candidates preached and did an excellent job, but one was hired and the other was not.
4. The man not hired asked the chairman of the search committee why he did not get the job.
5. The chairman said, “Well, when the other minister preached on hell he had a tear in his eye, but you preached on hell as if you were glad that people were going there.”
B. Today, as I preach about hell and the question: “How can a loving God send people to hell?”, I hope I come across as someone who is saddened by the fact that hell will be the destiny of some people.
1. The biggest problem that many people have with the Christian faith is the thought that a loving God would send people to hell.
2. Everything else about Christianity makes sense to them.
a. They like the idea that a loving God created the world.
b. They like the idea that a loving God put on flesh and dwelt among us.
c. They like the idea that a loving God wants us to live with him forever.
3. But they recoil against the idea that a loving God would send people to hell.
a. They wonder if the punishment fits the crime.
b. They wonder if any sin deserves eternal torment.
c. They picture hell as a place with flames of fire and evil beings with pitchforks.
d. And they wonder if this sort of place could be the work of a loving God.
C. The great Christian thinker and writer, C.S. Lewis wrote that, if it were in his power there is no doctrine he would more willingly remove from Christianity than the doctrine of damnation.
1. But he concluded that the teaching about hell is so firmly planted in Scripture and in the words of Jesus that it cannot be removed.
2. Besides, he argued, the idea makes sense: if human beings are free, they must have the freedom even to walk away from God if they choose to do so.
D. As I address the question: “how can a loving God send people to hell?”, I want to answer several other questions as well.
I. What is Hell Like?
A. In The Divine Comedy, Dante described hell as a great funnel-shaped cave lying underneath the northern hemisphere.
1. Around the edges of this funnel were ledges called the circles of hell.
2. The greater the sin in life, the lower one’s level in hell.
3. Engraved in stone above the gate to hell were these words:
I am the way into the city of woe. I am the way to a forsaken people.
I am the way into eternal sorrow…Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
B. Is that what hell is really like? How can hell be described?
1. Believe it or not, Jesus discussed hell more often than anyone else in the Bible.
2. He associated hell with the most miserable of human conditions: an odor of burning flesh, the anguished cries of men and women, and piercing darkness.
C. The name of the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem was “Gehenna.”
1. Jesus used that word as descriptive of hell.
2. In that Gehenna dump, there were the smells of rotting trash, maggots and worms aiding decay, and smoldering fires.
3. In that day, the mere mention of Gehenna would turn people’s stomachs.
4. But the real hell was not outside the gates of ancient Jerusalem, and the Gehenna garbage dump did not exhaust the description of hell.
5. Jesus used it as an image to describe a place that is in a different category than anything we know.
C. Another paragraph in the New Testament describes what will happen to those who go to hell, Paul wrote: “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power…” (2 Thess. 1:9).
1. “Everlasting destruction” is a mind-boggling concept.
a. If we destroy a building, we can replace it with something else, even though the original building is gone.
b. But the destruction in hell goes on without end.
c. It is not merely an annihilation, but an everlasting sense of total devastation.
2. The other image in this passage is even more threatening: “shut out from the presence of the Lord.”
a. Hell is knowing that you will never see the Creator’s face, never hear His voice, and never feel His touch.
b. Hell is the absence of the One who makes and sustains life.