Even written in story form (see my last post), hell is an uncomfortable subject. Our post-modern culture tends to either scoff at the idea of hell, or, if someone insists that hell is a real place, skeptics fire back that if God is good, He would never send anyone there. So assuming God is good, is hell real?
C.S. Lewis in his famous work, “The Problem of Pain,” said this about hell: “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture, and specially of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held in Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”
One of the world’s timelessly embraced themes is the concept of good conquering evil, and I think this is the “reason” about which Lewis referred. Think back to the most ancient of times, before the creation of Adam and Eve. The Bible tells us that Satan and the demons are in fact fallen angels, spiritual beings created by God Himself before the universe was formed. Once powerful in the service of love and truth, these evil powers are now bent on evil and destruction. Wouldn’t we all cheer to see the all-powerful, holy and benevolent God lasso up the devil and his posse of demons and throw them all into a corral where they would serve a “life” sentence of punishment for their wicked deeds…out of which they could not escape? The Bible paints just such a picture.
Enter the human race, with its own capacity for evil. We watch it on the world stage in the cruelty of certain dictators, but as the crime beat reporter for a newspaper, I was daily shocked to discover the wretched actions men and women are capable of. Wouldn’t the same holy and benevolent God need to deal with the evil among us also? And if that corral called hell is already in existence – intended for the devil and his minions – might it also be a suitable place for those human souls that fail to meet God’s holy standards of attitude and behavior? According to the Bible, yes (Matthew 25, Revelation 20).
Jesus himself declared hell to be a place of “outer darkness” and “eternal punishment,” a place of “torment” and “unquenchable fire” likened to the Old Testament Valley of Gehenna (Hinnom) that many scholars believe was a perpetually burning garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem. A powerful physical as well as visceral object lesson.
But even if it is not exactly the burning caverns depicted in cartoons, I believe hell will be a place of psychological and emotional torment as well as physical pain. Besides the obvious anguish of getting to hell and realizing you were wrong about God, can you imagine being caged up in a never-ceasing battle against individuals ambitious to see their own self-serving agendas succeed? How frightening would it be to perpetually live in a place devoid of beauty, filled only with ugliness and fearsome shadows? What if you were an artist in life, but in death you find that while the artistic fire still burns within, all talent for expression is gone? Or a scientist who discovers that the orderly nature of mathematical equations is suddenly replaced with nonsensical chaos in the afterlife?!
These analogies may sound far-fetched but they can be helpful. Remember, John, in describing what he saw in Revelation, was writing about something he’d never seen before. At such times, words can fall short. So while we may snicker at John’s vision of a lake of fire, it is only because we have never seen a lake of fire and have a hard time picturing it. However, we all can relate to ideas that define our own worst hellish nightmare. And I suspect hell will be a lot worse than that.