Taking Hell Seriously

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. -Hebrews 10:31

Recently someone put a Chick Tract on our car. The cartoon shows a well-dressed man who deceives a teen with various worldly philosophies. The teen follows him until he finally finds himself standing in Hell. He turns to the well-dressed man in shock, only to find that the man is ripping off a mask to reveal himself a demon.

Now, a cartoon is a really dumb way to talk about Hell, which has already been the subject of countless jokes, parodies, and album covers. People trivialize Hell enough as it is. Or they just avoid thinking about it altogether.

But consider this: Jesus must have thought it important, because he warns of damnation a dozen times in the book of Matthew alone. He describes Hell as a fiery furnace (13:42, 50), as outer darkness (8:12, 25:30), and seven times as anguish (“weeping and gnashing of teeth”). He describes its horrific torments in Luke 16. In fact, Jesus implies that most people will end up in Hell (Matthew 7:13: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction”). Think about that.

You can disbelieve in Hell for whatever reason, but you cannot wish it away. The Bible pictures Hell as a real place of pain, regret, unmet desires, hopelessness, and frightening darkness. It is “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9). Jonathan Edwards paints this picture:

We can conceive but little of the matter; but to help your conception, imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, or a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, and all the while full of quick sense; what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! and how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! And after you had endured it for one minute, how overbearing would it be to you to think that you had to endure the other fourteen! But what would be the effect on your soul, if you knew you must lie there enduring that torment to the full for twenty-four hours…for a whole year…for a thousand years! “Oh, then, how would your hearts sink, if you knew, that you must bear it forever and ever! that there would be no end! that after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, and that you never, never should be delivered! But your torment in hell will be immensely greater than this illustration represents.

Again, Edwards:

You have often seen a spider, or some other noisome insect, when thrown into the midst of a fierce fire, and have observed how immediately it yields to the force of the flames. There is no long struggle, no fighting against the fire, no strength exerted to oppose the heat, or to fly from it; but it immediately stretches forth itself and yields; and the fire takes possession of it, and at once it becomes full of fire. Here is a little image of what you will be the subjects of in hell, except you repent and fly to Christ. However you may think that you will fortify yourselves, and bear as well as you can; the first moment you shall be cast into hell, all your strength will sink and be utterly abolished.

This is serious business. Don’t delay another minute; you may not have another minute. “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you…” (Is 55:1-3)

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