5/31/2009

WHY I STILL BELIEVE IN HELL

1. It is Biblical
2. It is reasonable and just
3. It is a necessary expression of God’s love
4. It has been confirmed again and again by the Holy Spirit

I recently received an email from a person in another state asking my thoughts on “hell.” She went on to explain that many of her Christian friends have dispensed with the idea of hell and have chided her for being “stuck in religion” for believing in such an old fashioned doctrine. Indeed, many evangelicals are giving up the doctrine of hell as a place of eternal punishment, arguing that such a belief is not consistent with a God whose chief characteristic is unconditional love. In my own city of Tulsa, Oklahoma one of the most popular Pentecostal-Charismatic preachers in America, Carlton Pearson, has publicly renounced his belief in hell and now preaches that everyone will go to heaven, an old heresy known as universalism. In this essay I will argue, to the contrary, that eternal punishment is a necessary expression of God’s love; that it is Biblical; that it is reasonable and just; and that the Holy Spirit has confirmed this doctrine throughout the history of the Church.

Reason #1
It is Biblical
Jesus talked about hell and warned His hearers to make every effort to avoid the place. Paul and other Biblical writers also warn their readers of the reality of hell as a place of punishment. In the KJV there are two Greek words that are both translated as “hell,” hades and ghenna. The NKJV correctly makes the distinction by translating hades as “Hades” and ghenna as “hell.” Whereas hades seems to be the location of the departed spirits of the dead, ghenna is the final condemnation and punishment of the unrepentant who persist in their rebellion against God.
Hades, as the place of the departed spirits of those who have died, corresponds to Sheol in the Old Testament. It is the word that is used by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This story is probably not a mere parable since personal names are attached to the different individuals. One thing the story teaches is that both the rich man and Lazarus were conscious in the after life, one in Paradise and the other in torment in Hades. Another thing we see is that the rich man could see Abraham and Lazarus in Paradise, but could not cross over to them. This, no doubt, added to his torment. Hades is also the word used in Matt. 16:18 where Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. In Rev. 20:14, at the end of the millennium, death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire, or ghenna.

The ghenna (hell) was a garbage dump south of Jerusalem where fires were continually burning. In the New Testament, ghenna is used metaphorically of the place of condemnation or punishment in the next life. It is the word used by Jesus in Matt. 5:30 where, to emphasize the horror of final condemnation, He exhorts His hearers that if their right hand causes them to stumble (or sin) to cut it off since it would be better to have only one hand in this life than to have two hands and be thrown into ghenna. This word is also used by Jesus in Matt. 10:28 where He exhorts His listeners to not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but to fear Him who has the authority to cast both soul and body into ghenna. Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon, the lexicon of choice by students of New Testament Greek, defines ghenna as "the place of punishment in the next life."

Some have questioned whether this punishment is eternal by arguing that the Greek word aionios, translated “eternal” and “everlasting,” actually refers to a long, but finite period of time. While it is true that the noun, aion, is sometimes translated “age” in reference to a period of long duration, the adjective, aionios, almost always refers to that which is eternal or without end. This is borne out by the fact that it is used throughout the New Testament to describe the gift of “eternal” (aionios) life to those who believe in Christ. In Rom. 16:26 Paul uses it in referring to God Himself as the everlasting (aionios) God. The same word is used throughout the New Testament to describe the state of the wicked, i.e., eternal punishment.

It is thus used in Matt. 25:46 where Jesus tells of the final judgment where a separation is made of the wicked to His left hand and the righteous to His right. Referring to the final state of both groups, Jesus says, And these [the wicked] will go away into eternal (aionios) punishment, but the righteous into eternal (aionios) life. If aionios means “everlasting” in regards to the life that comes from God, then it must carry the same meaning when used of the punishment of the wicked for they are obvious parallel expressions. Paul uses the same adjective, aionios, in II Thessalonians 1:9 where he describes the dire state of the wicked when Christ returns,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These will be punished with everlasting (aionios) destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
Reason #2
It is Reasonable & Just
It is self-evident that a person who commits a crime must be penalized with a punishment that is commensurate with the crime committed. For example, a person with no record who exceeds the speed limit by 5 miles per hour and is sentenced to a year in the county jail and a $10,000.00 fine is not being treated justly. We would rightfully be outraged at such a travesty of justice. The punishment is not commensurate with the crime committed. To use another example, suppose a sexual predator rapes, tortures and murders an innocent child. He is found guilty on all counts and then the judge sentences him to 6 months probation, a $500.00 fine, and lets him go free. We would not say, “Oh, what a loving and merciful judge he is.” No! We would be outraged and would demand that judge’s removal from the bench. The punishment must fit the crime.

In our finite thinking we cannot imagine the magnitude of sin. Sin is not just a finite injustice against a fellow human being; it is an infinite sin against our infinite Creator. God placed our first parents, Adam and Eve, in a wonderful paradise. They rebelled against Him and His righteous commands and went their own way. All their posterity has followed in their path of rebellion against God. As Paul says in Romans 3:10-18, There is none righteous, no, not one . . . they have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable . . . there is no fear of God before their eyes.

Because sin is infinite, it required an infinite remedy. God Himself, therefore, took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ and provided the redemption necessary to deal with the sin of all humankind. It is in Jesus Christ that the love and mercy of God is revealed toward the human race. It is also in Jesus Christ that the justice of God is maintained for Christ bore the just punishment that was due every sinner. In fact, Paul clearly says in Rom. 3:25-26 that the death of Christ was a demonstration of God’s justice and, as a result, He now can be both just and the justifier of those who put their faith in Christ.

This, however, intensifies the guilt of those who reject the infinite mercy God has shown in the person of Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews expressed it in these terms,
Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot and counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:28-29).

Reason #3
It is a Necessary Expression of God’s Love
Consider again the example of a wicked man who is found guilty of torturing, raping and killing an innocent child; who is then released by a judge on probation and the payment of a minimal fine. We would not say “Oh what a wonderful, loving judge he is.” No! We would rightfully be outraged because justice, you see, is a necessary attribute of love. There is no real love without the proper element of justice. The inhabitants of heaven, who see more clearly the ghastly ramifications of sin, would be rightfully horrified if rebels against God and His righteous government were allowed to go unpunished.

The well known 19th century revivalist, Charles Finney, who was a converted lawyer, preached a message entitled the "The Justice of Eternal Punishment" by which he saw many judges and lawyers converted to Christ. In this message Finney demonstrated that divine justice, involving eternal punishment, is a necessary expression of divine love. In another message entitled “The Guilt of Sin,” Finney pointed out that the end or objective of all sin, whether it is lying, stealing, adultery, etc., is self-gratification. In other words, the act of sin is merely a means to achieve the end of self-gratification. Finney then points out that this choice to gratify self of necessity involves a rejection of God’s infinite interests and that this is where the guilt lies. He said, “In other words, the guilt consists in rejecting the infinitely valuable well being of God and the universe for the sake of selfish gratification” (C. G. Finney, The Guilt of Sin, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1965, 16-17). Finney considered hell to be God’s eternal prison house where incorrigible rebels against God and his kingdom will be confined and not allowed to spoil the eternal bliss and happiness of those who have accepted the free mercy and grace God has shown to us in Jesus Christ. Yes, hell is a necessary expression of God’s amazing grace and love

Reason #4
The Holy Spirit Has Confirmed This Doctrine
There has never been any significant work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of universalism. I do not know of any example, past or present, in which the preaching of universalism inspired men and women to a greater love for God and a new determination to walk in His truth. On the other hand, preaching on eternal punishment has been a part—even if a small part—of the great revivals of Christian history. In the First Great Awakening, for example, Jonathan Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” captivated the minds and hearts of the masses. The Holy Spirit fell like rain when he read this message from the pulpit. In the Second Great Awakening sermons on hell and Divine retribution were preached along with messages on God’s redeeming love and grace. The masses were awakened. Finney’s pointed preaching about the Divine justice of eternal punishment turned the hearts and minds of many to Christ and lifted the Church to a new level of commitment and effectiveness. Numerous such examples could be cited from the annals of Christian history and revivalism.

One of the most somber examples comes from the pen of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards, pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, MA and one of the most prominent leaders of the First Great Awakening, tells of a wicked and intemperate man coming to him one day in a very solemn state of mind. This man related to Edwards an alarming dream he had experienced the previous night in which he had descended into hell and observed the horrors of that place. He was told, however, that he was being allowed to return to earth on a one-year probation, the condition being that he must change his manner of life during this time or he would have to return at the end of the year. Edwards was solemnly impressed with the man’s dream and assured him that it was a warning from God. Before retiring for the night, Edwards opened his journal and recorded the details of the dream and the date. Edwards said the man seemed to be serious in his new commitment, leaving off the bottle and faithfully attending church. However, before the year had ended the man returned to his former manner of life. One evening, in a drunken state, he turned to descend a set of stairs when he stumbled and pitched headlong down the stairs breaking his neck and dying instantly. When Edwards was informed of the tragic news he opened his journal and somberly noted that that very evening was exactly one year from the time the man had experienced the dream of his one-year probation from hell.

I rest my case.