Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Awfulness of Life Reflects the Awfulness of Hell

I was taken to task by a commenter a little while ago about my assertions concerning hell and its purpose. Hell is an unpleasant and an unpopular topic--as difficult to talk about as it is to hear about. Perhaps as a result, there is not enough cold-blooded, biblically-accurate, analytical teaching on the subject. It requires a certain bluntness and fearlessness if one is to deal with it sufficiently and effectively. I've given it a shot before on this blog, but I think I need to visit it again.

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said that creation can reveal quite a bit about the person of God, particularly in regard to his power and the unchanging attributes of his divine nature. When I look at creation, even though I see exquisite natural beauty, I also see overwhelming ugliness. I see people die agonizing, untimely deaths; I see a tooth and claw natural realm which fights the living staying alive at every turn. If storms and quakes don't swallow the living whole, there's always sharks in the ocean (or on Wall Street) who'll get the job done. It's rough out there!

It's not at all unusual to find people who think life is unfortunate and unjust, and who associate those characteristics with the God behind it all. For some Christians, the most immediate response to such thoughts is that there is someone other than God working such mischief. Really, what does that solve? God is the creator of that mischief-maker too, so he's still on the hook for the way things are. The truth is that there's no avoiding responsibility for what is when one is omnipotent!

Folk treading water in the swamp that is life may think that things are terrible and unfair, and blast the Creator for making it so, but from God's perspective life is anything but. The God who sees all, knows all, and is everywhere would be doing himself and all he has made a disservice to allow what he knows is not right to exist. That may seem to necessitate the instant annihilation of anything that steps out of harmony with God, but that would miss God's ultimate, and ultimately righteous, redemptive purposes in creation. Instead, God has ordained that fallen creation take a slow spiral down to a crash and burn, which is the milieu of all that lives in the here and now, and then after the crash will come the appointed judgment.

Would it be better for everything here in life to be hunky-dory, totally blind to God's perspective on sin and the sinners of this world, only to have them surprised by the furies of hell afterwards? If life was pleasant, just, and right, we would never give God a second thought. We would never consider our death and suffering and its meaning and never know we were at odds with an eternal, ominscient God who can't pretend nor just forget. We'd live idyllically to a ripe, old age and die, and then, pow, be hit in the kisser with everlasting fires of eternal punishment.

We may find this life of suffering and death frustrating and unfair, but if life was going to continue for some measured time after the introduction of sin, it was actually good of God to give us at least a sensored preview of hell. The awfulness of life is a prophylactic demonstration of the utter awfulness of hell. Life is not meant to demonstrate that all is well in the world and that God is in his heaven, but that God is at odds with sinful humanity and his fury over it is white-hot. 

The only question that matters is whether or not the trailer has gotten your attention enough to take steps to avoid it?


  1. "it was actually good of God to give us at least a sensored preview of hell"

    Very good point. Just wondering if you have read or have an opinion on the popular book currently on the shelves, "23 minutes in Hell".


  2. I popped back and re-read the post "To hell with it". I understand the whole silencing of wills by unbelievable heat and the never satisfied worm. Isn't that the final judgement though? Hell will pass away at the final judgement. The description of hell by the rich man to Lazarus certainly tells of an awful place, in as much as, the rich man desired a drop of water and to be able to warn his friends. However the rich man was able to form coherent thoughts and ideas while in hell. Hell then is a waiting place for the damned until the final judgement. Maybe I am reading more into the word hell than you intended for but just making sure I am understanding things correctly.

  3. Ian.
    I've never heard of the Wiese book, until now that is. ;-) The last book I read in a similar vein was Baxter's A Divine Revelation of Hell. Of course I read Dante's Inferno when I was in high school. I have no confidence in the Baxter book whatsoever. It's fanciful and heretical as far as I can see, not worth the paper it's written on. Dante was completely out to lunch too, writing more for poetic and vengeful justice than truth. From the description of Wiese's work, I don't hold out a lot of hope for it either. Like the Baxter work, it's visionary rather than actual experience, and frankly that kind of thing is subject to the same kind of manipulation the fortune-telling slave girl exhibited in Acts 16. Such things serve the Devil's cause by producing the fear of punishment rather than the perfection of love (1 Jn 4:18), and bondage (Heb 2:15), imho.

    I don't think all experiences involving hell are false, however. When I was a pastor in Duquesne, a family started attending who were all saved for the same reason-- the drunken, miserable father died and went to hell. He was revived some lenthy time later and became a brand new man preaching Christ. A lot of people, particularly family and friends, became Christians, good Christians, as a result of the ordeal. Unfortunately, I never got to meet the man as he died with finality shortly before I showed up on the scene.

  4. Heanous,
    You are correct about the technicalities. Hell, or Hades, is only temporary storage for the souls of those dead without Christ. It does not seem to be comfortable, even though it is not actually the ultimate destination (the Lake of Fire) that we popularly associate with Hell. At the end of time, those souls stored there will be raised to faced final judgment. When that process is finished, Hell itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire along with all those people whose names were not found in the Lamb's Book of Life. I can find no reason for hope for those in Hades (i.e. if one is there, that one is definitely going to the Lake of Fire), and so generally do not make a point of working through all the confusion most folk seem to have in understanding the difference.


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