HELL--AND HOW IT WILL BE POPULATED

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

The most effective way to encourage people not to take something seriously is to trivialize it. In recent decades such has been done not only with Satan but with the eternal domain which the Bible terms hell. The word has been introduced into everyday conversation and used so frequently that it has just about lost all meaning. While it still is used to mean "the bad place," it is also used in ways to indicate the exact opposite. Elton John, in one of his top ten songs of 1972, "Rocket Man," sang: "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids; in fact, it's cold as hell." Hell must be a versatile place if it can be hotter or colder than anything.

We also hear people changing the word into an adjective: less used is the suffix acious, which refers to something very brutal. More common is the adjectival form as in the following sentence, in which a car dealer says: "I'll make you a ____uva deal." What is that supposed to mean? If the word were being used in its Biblical sense, we would be smart to shy away from a contract that would bind us to a vehicle of eternal misery.

Today, there is little respect for the Scriptural definition of the word--and even less for the concept itself. In the July 19th Denton Record-Chronicle, readers were greeted with the headline: "Fire and Brimstone Fallen out of Fashion," followed by a subtitle: "Evangelists Say There's Less Preaching About Hell" (7C). Actually, there is no less teaching on the subject by "real" evangelists, who have as their aim preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27); only those seeking the praise of men have eliminated the doctrine from their weekly (weakly) fare.

The article opens with a brief description of a California "pastor" who firmly believes in eternal torment but never preaches on it: "It isn't sexy anymore." (7C). What? Paul gave Timothy and Titus many instructions about preaching, but where did he ever say, "Take heed to your doctrine, to make sure it's sexy"? Is that what it takes to draw crowds to "religion" nowadays--things that appeal to the lusts of the flesh? Whose side is this guy on? Is he trying to rescue people from the place he says he believes in but will not preach about--or is he trying to hasten them along to it?

In churches across America, hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves increasingly hesitant to sermonize on Christianity's outpost for lost souls.

The violence and torture that Dante described in the Inferno...have become cultural fossils in most mainstream Christian denominations, a story line that no longer resonates with churchgoers.

Hell's fall from fashion indicates how key portions of Christian theology have been influenced by a secular society that stresses individualism over authority and the human psyche over moral absolutes (7C).

The writers of this article, Mike Anton and William Lobdell, in this last paragraph have given a correct analysis. To be sure, our culture is influencing Christianity rather than being influenced by it. The generation that grew up defying authority (the police, teachers, parents) is now defying God. Apparently, they think that, since they could treat other authority figures in such a manner without consequence, God will also tolerate their insolence and forego holding them accountable. Wrong!!

No amount of human ingenuity will be able to circumvent the judgment.

For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:11-12).

No clever "spin" on the facts will be allowed:

"But his lord answered and said to Him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. Therefore, you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received my own with interest.... And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matt. 25:26-27, 30).

Satan must be applauding those who imagine they are stronger than (or can outmaneuver) the Creator of this universe. The father of lies (John 8:44) is an expert at getting people to believe his fantasies--perhaps because he tells them what they really want to hear in the first place. The Satanic creed runs something like this:

If you have some sort of vague concept of God, in which you hold a mild belief, then you need not do any good works, attend any church services, read the Bible, or even be a paragon of virtue. Just be a reasonable person who does not inflict very much harm on others, and when you die, you will go to heaven to be with all your family and friends. If you mess up, don't be overly concerned; God loves to forgive people. If you really mess up, don't worry; you may be punished briefly before going to heaven or be annihilated, but most definitely you will not be punished eternally.

No one has actually written a statement such as this one, but it is obvious by the way that people choose to believe and live that this brief ideological expression accurately sums up their thinking.

Why People Reject the Doctrine of Hell

The article provides several reasons for society's rejection of eternal torment.

"It's just too negative," said Bruce Shelley, a senior professor of church history at the Denver Theological Seminary. "Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented. Churches today need to be appealing rather than demanding" (7C).

If the mere concept of hell is too negative, what will being sent there be like? How will God view those who, on the Day of Judgment, whine, "You can't send us to hell: it's too negative there." How preposterous! Truth does not change simply because people dislike it.

Obviously, these "positive only" refugees from the Robert Schuller summer training camp are deluded into believing that concentrating on positive thoughts will cause hell to cease to exist, as if the Almighty could be swayed by those who reject Him in the first place. How many who disregarded Noah's preaching as too negative avoided drowning? How many remaining in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah escaped the negative fire and brimstone God cast down upon those wicked cities (Gen. 19:24)? No one had to believe Noah's negative preaching for it to be true. No one needed to regard Lot's warning for it to be fulfilled. If the whole world mocks the doctrine of hell, their attitude will not prevent even one soul from abiding there eternally. Truth has never required anyone's approval in order to be valid.

It is understandable that most religious denominations are trying to appeal to people for membership; but Jesus did not design His church to see how many people He could coax into it. He stated plainly that the majority of people are going to be lost (Matt. 7:13-14). If people are not motivated by love to obey Him and by fear of hell to despise Satan, presenting 15-minute messages full of positive pabulum, followed by a drama group and a rock band, is not going to inspire anybody to take up his cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24; Luke 24:27). The appeal of Jesus is the salvation from hell that is available in Him. The Lord did not invite people to variety shows. The writer of Hebrews never wrote: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, or you will miss your weekly entertainment."

"Once pop evangelism went into market analysis, hell was just dropped," said Martin Marty, professor emeritus of religion and culture at the University of Chicago Divinity School (8C).

Can anyone visualize Peter and the other apostles paying routinely "for market research on what will draw people to their ministries and keep them coming back" (8C)? Their public relations advisor would have had to caution them against getting arrested so often. "Just stick with the miracles, guys. The people love that. Lay off the doctrine: every time you say that salvation is only through Christ, people are offended, and our popularity goes down. The world today consists of many cultures. The Romans have their pantheon, as do the Greeks. And don't alienate the Jews and the atheists either--if you want to keep the crowds."

Hell and Cruelty

Some, like Wallace I. Matson (whom brother Warren debated), reject hell because it seems too cruel and inconsistent for the character of a loving Being.

Enlightenment would crack hell's veneer, undercutting all things supernatural and questioning whether a merciful God would be so cruel (8C).

All who agree do not comprehend either God or sin.

Sin offends the holy nature of God. He cannot fellowship one who is evil. He tolerates the existence of evil for the time being, but He never fellowships it. In eternity He will not tolerate it either. The domain of hell will in no wise intersect with the domain of heaven (2 Thess. 1:7-9). When we sin, we deserve to be separated from God (Rom. 6:23). The question is, "How badly do we want salvation--enough to be humble?"

How ironic for the creature to say to the Creator, in effect: "We know more than You do on this matter. We do not think we are bad enough to deserve hell, and You cannot send us there!" Man speaks out of arrogance and would dare to sit in judgment on God! Who do we think we are?! Just as Satan convinced Eve that God was holding back something from them that they deserved to have, so we have fallen prey to thinking that God cannot help giving us eternal life because we deserve it. God is not required by law to grant entitlements.

When we understand God better, we will not be so foolish as to call Him cruel. God is love and sent Jesus to endure real cruelty so that we could be saved from sin. We hate ourselves and are monsters of cruelty if we fail to take advantage of His love and grace. Hell is the absence of God, goodness, holiness, and love. When people prefer ugliness to the beauties of heaven, they have only themselves to blame--not God.

Theories of Hell

Amid this rethinking, more palatable theories of hell have developed: Souls not ticketed for heaven simply cease to be. Hell is a temporary state before heaven. Everyone goes to heaven (8C).

The first thing that ought to be noted is that theories is a good term for these assertions, since not one of them is grounded in the Word of God. First, consider annihilation. Some have assumed that the fires of hell will consume the soul that is damned. If it does, then why does it continue to burn forever? In the lake that burns with fire and brimstone the devil will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10). Impenitent souls will join Satan in the "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). Will Satan be forever tormented but his followers be consumed? No, they share the same condition he does. An everlasting fire is not needed for a quick consumption. Besides, Jesus did NOT SAY:

"Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which some who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, will remain where they are, having been annihilated" (John 5:28-29).

If nonexistent were true, the text should have read that way, but it does not.

Likewise, no verse of Scripture teaches that people will be punished for a time before entering heaven (a sort of purging process whereby souls are refined). We are either saved or lost, period. We either become serious about our spiritual condition, or we face the consequences. We either repent of sins and walk in the light or end up playing little philosophical games that we cannot possibly win.

The idea that all will end up going to heaven is Universalism and false to the core. Such a philosophy makes a liar out of the Lord many times over. Some confuse God's mercy with an inability to take NO for an answer. Those who wanted nothing to do with Him shall get their wish--forever.

Madness?

An Episcopalian in Garden Grove, California, asks, "How can something as wonderful as redemption--be based on fear?" (8C). This query can be answered with a simple question--"Redemption from what?" Sure, we are redeemed from our sins, but of what value is that if we receive no punishment for them in the first place? Without the reality of hell, we do not need redemption.

This "theologian" continues: "Can we accept a gift at gunpoint? This is total nonsense and madness." Really? Call me cooperative, but if someone points a gun at me and says, "Take this gift," I think I'll take it--quickly. Now, if he says, "Take this stick of dynamite" or "Drink this poison," I might see if it is possible to outrun a bullet. But why would anyone balk at taking a gift? One would be crazy to refuse to accept it.

The analogy is not an accurate one, however, because God is not a stranger, like some thug on a street corner. He has revealed Himself to us. He has shown us love. He has provided us reasons to trust Him. While it is true that hell inspires fear, it is not His only motivation; it is, in fact, supplementary. If fear were all that motivated us, our hearts would not be in our obedience, which is required (Rom. 6:17-18). Fear, by itself, might make us conform outwardly, but God would never own our hearts (Matt. 2:37-40). "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Incredibly, 71 percent of the public believe in hell, according to a 2001 Gallup poll (8C). If so, it is not causing significant changes in people's behavior. Where is the public outcry and hunger for Truth? Where are the reformed lives? Or do people just think they will obey God later on, when it is convenient? "Behold, the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2b). This percentage is high now, but without any emphasis from pulpits across the land, how long will it take for that number to fall significantly? With people preferring entertainment to the Scriptures, ignorance will soon prevail, which always proves fatal (Hosea 4:6).

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "HELL--AND HOW IT WILL BE POPULATED" (08/11/02)."


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