I wanna write a few things before you jump into this blog:
- I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this. I feel like I need to, there seems to be a huge swell of conversation around this topic of late. I guess I’m trying track with it while offering some insight and resources for my readers.
- I’m not entirely sure where I actually sit on the issue of Hell. Like I mention in the blog, the Bible uses a lot of different language to describe its nature. I think it is real but what Hell actually looks like is still a bit of a mystery to me.
- I’m not really refuting any other position per se, rather, I am writing about this topic in order to work out in my own head and heart what this is all about. While there are certain positions on the doctrine of Hell I certainly reject, I am open to discussion and different perspectives.
Anyway, enjoy, ready, love and get back to me on your thoughts over the issue. Here we go.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
Hell. No matter where you land on the issue, it is perhaps one of the most dreadful of doctrines to discuss. Every Christian knows someone who will be found wanting on the Day of Judgement, and like God, we take no pleasure in the perishing of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). One should not be able to discuss such doctrines without feeling a sense of despair for the one who may go there. It is a heavy burden indeed to live one’s life knowing that not everyone’s future is so secure. Yet, it is a reality that every one of us must face, that we all must give due diligence to if we are to be faithful Christians who deliver the message of hope. For some, Hell is a place where fire burns eternally, where the stench of sulfur and ever rotting corpses permeate the underworld never ceasing. For others, Hell is fiction, perhaps a fairy tale used to scare children into being good little boys and girls. The truth, I think is somewhere in between.
When we grab one doctrine and start to study it we must consider it in light of Scriptures grand narrative, the bigger picture so to speak. Simplistically, the story of the Bible looks something like:
creation > fall > exile > redemption > new creation
The question is where does the doctrine of Hell fit into all of this? Systematically and traditionally, Hell is the consequence of rejecting God in this life so you suffer eternally and consciously in the next. Think torture, burning and wrath being poured out on the wicked for all of eternity. Usually, this fits in between redemption (the Cross) and new creation (as that’s sort of where we are currently in the timeline). However, I think the Bible paints a bit of different picture of Hell, and even the picture it does paint is messy, and not always very clear.
First, where does the idea of Hell even come from? A lot of work has been done on this, a great podcast you can listen to is here. In short, I’ll say this. Whilst the primary image and metaphor that is used to describe the nature of what happens to those in the afterlife, who continue to rebel against God is one of fire and torment, the New Testament also uses other images to describe this reality. Hell is firey, hot and tormenting (Matthew 13:42, 25:41; Mark 9:43; Jude 1:7; Revelation 21:8), but it is also dark, depressing and full of anguish (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30; 2 Peter 2:4). Because the Bible is using metaphors to describe to us what Hell is like, and hell can be both firey and painful, as well as dark and depressing. Interpreting these images is quite the task as they could have different meanings based on the context and on the literary structure of the Bible. What we can gather however is that this is not a place you want to end up. For me personally, Hell is more about what we do to ourselves as opposed to the everlasting wrath of God tormenting us.
Hell, I think, is more about the choices we make here in this life and how they carry over into the next. There is beauty in this life, a lot of it but it seems so often clouded by the chaotic choices humanity makes. We quickly turn against God, one another, and even true selves in order to get what we think is good for us (Gen 3). Picture this for a second. What is the New Creation? It’s where God dwells among His people, it is where people are in perfect harmony with God, one another, and the rest of creation. Love reigns, there’s goodness and perfect health. There’s light and laughter, flourishing and beauty. Therefore, Hell must be a place void of goodness, the opposite of flourishing, a place of darkness and anguish, sickness and death. Why does anyone go there? Because we choose to. The Bible is pretty clear, there are those that love the light and those that love the darkness (John 3:19-21). So lovers of darkness get what they love… darkness. Lovers of light, on the other hand, get light.
All that to say this – death and then judgement is something that happens to all of us at the end of the age. Jesus will judge all of us, He will separate the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), to those who don’t obey the Gospel God will judge with everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1) but will grant everlasting life to those who believe (John 3:16). We have to wrestle with this, meditate on it and work out the implications of what we believe. We must ask why does this matter, what does this mean, and how this affects our lives? Good luck.