Hell Under Fire

In their 2004 book, Hell Under Fire, general editors, Christopher Moran and Robert Peterson write,

A business was opening a new store, and a friend of the owner sent flowers for the occasion. The flowers arrived at the new business site, and the owner read the card, inscribed “Rest in Peace.” The angry owner called the florist to complain. After he told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: Somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note that reads, “Congratulations on your new location.”

They then add,

Hell is under fire. In one sense that is nothing new. It has been the case ever since the Enlightenment, but the past fifty years have seen a noteworthy turn of affairs. Attacks on the historic doctrine of hell that used to come from without the church are now coming from within.

If we believe the message sent by the contemporary media, the “new location” of everyone who dies is heaven. At first glance, popular polls seem to disagree with that conclusion, for they reveal that a large majority of Americans believe in the existence of hell. However, the same polls show that almost no one thinks that he or she is going there. Everyone hopes for heaven.

 

In his book, Souls and Bodies, David Lodge, puts it succinctly, where our contemporary mainstream opinion of hell is concerned:

“At some point in the nineteen-sixties, Hell disappeared. No one could say for certain when this happened. First it was there, then it wasn’t.

 

No one in their right mind enjoys talking about the biblical doctrine of hell.

Most remember how celebrity preacher, Joel Osteen, side-stepped Larry King’s straight-forward question:  “What if you’re Jew or Muslim and you don’t accept Christ at all?”  (Begin watching at 1:16)

Although many were disappointed at Osteen’s cowardice, he does remind us of what is largely true:  no one likes talking about hell.

I wish it wasn’t in the Bible.

But it is.

Further, if the Bible is our sole authority on life and the afterlife, we do not have the right to address a clear teaching of the Bible based on how we feel about it.  To quote the reformer, Martin Luther – “I am bound by the Scriptures…and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

 

So, to the Bible we go…

 

First of all, according to the Bible, hell certainly exists.

Based on the clear testimony of scripture itself, even a cursory reading of the New Testament presents the existence of hell as fact in crystal clear fashion. The gospels, alone, are replete with references. (cf. Matthew 5:22; 8:12; 23:33; Mark 9:48; Luke 3:17; John 15:6)

There is simply no getting around it.

 

Manipulating the Bible

“Manipulating the Bible” means making the Bible say what we want it to say rather that what it actually says.

Certainly, one may try to explain it away the biblical doctrine of hell or even ignore it.  But choosing to twist a clear, biblical doctrine into something that better suits our mere human logic, reason and intellect doesn’t remove  or lessen what Jesus says about it.

Rob Bell became a popular teacher and author due to his engaging speaking style.  Granted, he does often teach sound doctrine.  But, on hell, he lost his way.  Badly.

In his best-seller, Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived, Bell writes,

“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love…

Bell continues,

“…Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?  This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God; it raises questions about the beliefs themselves…If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or of the few who escaped this fate?… What kind of faith is that? Or, more important: what kind of God is that?”

Bell’s words are dangerous on a number of levels.  First, his logic contradicts every single passage about hell in scripture.  Second, many people believe what he writes.

And Satan is loving it.

 

“But we shouldn’t ‘scare people into heaven’.”

The above argument is a common one.  And has some truth to it.  But, to swallow it whole exposes an ignorance of the Bible.

Jesus had no problem “scaring the hell” out of people.

Jesus not only talked about hell,  he talked about it a lot.  (cf. Matthew  23:33; 25:41; Mark 9:48; Luke 12:5)

Search the gospels and you’ll discover Christ talked about hell more often than heavenno doubt as a dire warning to those who would reject him.

As Jesus was warning his disciples of the persecution to come, he encouraged them not to be afraid of what man can do to them, rather focus your reverent fear on the terrifying God.  In other words, don’t let your fear of man outweigh your fear of God:

But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!Luke 12:5

If Jesus fails to get our attention in the gospels, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, clearly describes the final destination of those who choose to reject Christ as the lake of fire.

And the following must be mentioned.

Even some pastors/authors today are “softening” hell by suggesting its horror and punishment is merely temporary, not eternal.  They use the term “annihilation,” meaning those who go to hell suffer for a brief season and then are simply terminated from existence.  In other words: “Even if I end up in hell I’ll just have to suffer a little bit, and then it’s over.” But Jesus taught just the opposite:

[Jesus said], Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… And these will go away into eternal punishment. – Matthew 25:41-46

The 4th century theologian, Augustine, commented on the above passage:

Moreover, is it not foolish to assume that eternal punishment signifies a fire lasting a long time, while believing that eternal life is without end? For Christ included both punishment and life in one and the same sentence when he said, “So those people will go into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go into eternal life.” [Matt. 25:46] If both are “eternal,” it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long-lasting but finite, or both as endless and perpetual.

What Augustine is rightly saying is that we can’t have it both ways.  Either both heaven and hell are eternal, or they both aren’t.  Jesus makes it clear both are eternal.

 

A closing word:

Recently, I ran across an article written as a warning to church leaders titled, Question the doctrine of hell at your peril. It could tear your church apart.

The author, Sam Hailes, cites the demise of celebrity pastors, Carlton Pearson, Steve Chalke and Rob Bell, as well as others.  He rightly asserts,

For many Christians, questioning the existence (or nature) of hell is tantamount to denying the gospel. “If everyone goes to heaven, then what was the point of Jesus dying on the cross?”

I will confess to you: there are things in the Bible I do not understand and, as such, I wish were not in there.  But, I’m not God.  My logic is fallen and corrupt while he is perfect, holy and righteous.

Hailes also does a wonderful job of helping the reader to have compassion on, and pray for, those who would attempt to rewrite scripture – including church leaders.  No one in their right mind loves the biblical doctrine of hell.  Nonetheless, as Hailes bluntly writes,

Some things are true whether we like them or not.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

What Happens When We Die?

I once saw an interview with actor, Anthony Hopkins.  Asked about life & death, he, like many others, said  he believed, in essence: we live, we die, and then – that’s it.  Nothing else.

Of course, no one can, with authority, satisfy the question, “What happens when we die?”

Studying for a talk I gave recently, I stumbled across a Time Magazine article I’d kept in a file since 2008.  The title of the article is simply, “What Happens When We Die?”

The article begins…

A fellow at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Sam Parnia is one of the world’s leading experts on the scientific study of death. Last week Parnia and his colleagues at the Human Consciousness Project announced their first major undertaking: a 3-year exploration of the biology behind “out-of-body” experiences. The study, known as AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation), involves the collaboration of 25 major medical centers through Europe, Canada and the U.S. and will examine some 1,500 survivors of cardiac arrest.

What intrigues me about this article is how much the scientific research supports what the Bible has taught for millennia.  I’ll come back to that in a moment.  Back to the article.  When asked, “What was your first interview like with someone who had reported an out-of-body experience?”, Dr. Parnia replied:

Eye-opening and very humbling. Because what you see is that, first of all, they are completely genuine people who are not looking for any kind of fame or attention. In many cases they haven’t even told anybody else about it because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. I have about 500 or so cases of people that I’ve interviewed since I first started out more than 10 years ago. It’s the consistency of the experiences, the reality of what they were describing. I managed to speak to doctors and nurses who had been present who said these patients had told them exactly what had happened, and they couldn’t explain it. I actually documented a few of those in my book What Happens When We Die because I wanted people to get both angles —not just the patients’ side but also the doctors’ side — and see how it feels for the doctors to have a patient come back and tell them what was going on. There was a cardiologist that I spoke with who said he hasn’t told anyone else about it because he has no explanation for how this patient could have been able to describe in detail what he had said and done. He was so freaked out by it that he just decided not to think about it anymore.

So, does the Bible have anything to say about what happens when we die?  Plenty.  I once heard someone wisely state, “If we want to know about ‘life after death’ it would be wise to consult someone who’s been to the other side – and back.”  In the book of Revelation, John recorded Jesus Christ saying, I am the first and the last,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore,…”

According to Jesus, physical death is not the end – far from it.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

In Luke 16, Jesus told a most disturbing parable of two men.  Each died, one man going to heaven, the other to hell.  The point I’m making here is that, after death, both men were very much alive.

Finally, moments away from, himself, dying, Jesus, from the cross, looked at the crucified thief next to him and assured him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be [alive] with me in paradise.”

Perhaps, you’re reading this and you are one who dismisses the idea of “life after life.”  I completely respect your position.  But, please consider this:  what if the Bible is true?

I read a story once of a son (a Christian) asking his father (not a Christian) if he ever worried about what happens after we die.  “The next life?” the father said. “I’ll worry about that when I get there!”

But, what if “when I get there” is too late?

The author of Hebrews pointedly warned, And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.”

We all, regardless of what we believe, have an appointment with death.  Are you prepared for that appointment?

In 1997, Edwin Lutzer wrote his classic, One Minute After You Die. Lutzer writes, [According to the Bible], “one minute after you slip behind the parted curtain you will either be enjoying a personal welcome from Christ or catching your first glimpse of gloom as you have never known it. Either way, your future will be irrevocably fixed and eternally unchangeable.”

John – a disciple and eye-witness of Jesus – wrote, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

Christ calls out to you, “Come to Me. Trust Me. I died for you. And then I rose again. I love you.”

Tomorrow is guaranteed for no one.  Will you trust Him today?

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

For Further Study:  Never placed your faith in Christ but interested in investigating His claims?  Check out the evidence put forth in these two resources written by former atheists:  “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell; “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel

Pascal’s Wager

When we die, what do you think is on the other side?  (good question)

Recently, I read a story of a son (a Christian) asking his father (not a Christian) if he ever worried about what happens after we die.  “The next life?” the father said. “I’ll worry about that when I get there!”

But, what if “when I get there” is too late?

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and inventor.  He was also a Christian who is famous for what is commonly known as Pascal’s Wager:

If Christianity is false, both non-Christians and Christians have nothing to gain and nothing to lose.  But what if Christianity is true?  For, if Christianity is true, the Christian has everything to gain (heaven) while the non-Christian has everything to lose (hell).

Does one really want to wager that Christianity is false and risk spending eternity in what the Bible calls hell?

Pascal’s Wager is not without its opponents.  Writing for Christianity Today, Michael Rota cites atheist, Richard Dawkins, who asked whether God might not respect a courageous skeptic “far more than he would respect Pascal for his cowardly bet-hedging.”

Fair enough.

Make no mistake though.  Christianity is not an unreasonable option when one is considering whether or not it is true.  Taking together the order of the cosmos, the intelligent design of the human body, the historical reliability of the gospels, and the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the cumulative evidence for Christianity is, to say the least, compelling.

Contrary to how Dawkins may respond, Pascal was not a coward but rather quite courageous, himself, in posing such a pointed question to whomever will pause long enough to consider the gravity of what he is asking: What if the Bible is true after all?

Certainly, Christianity requires faith.  But, make no mistake: so does atheism. 

In his article, Rota concludes, “If I find myself thinking that Christianity might be false, I remember that it [also] might be true.  Do I want to take a real risk of turning my back on Jesus?  Never.”

Nor do I.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

23 Minutes in Hell

“In hell, where [the rich man] was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side, [and the rich man said],….I am in agony
in this fire.” (Luke 16:23-24)

There is supposedly an actual “Sunday Bulletin Blooper” stating: “At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What is hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.” Our society gives us a lot to laugh about when it comes to the topic of hell. But really, hell is no laughing matter.

In 2006, Bill Wiese wrote what would eventually become a New York Times Best Seller: “23 Minutes in Hell.” (No, it’s not a story of being stuck in DFW
Airport). The sub-title states: “One man’s story about what he saw, heard, and felt in that place of torment.” Based on a life-like dream he had in 1998 (that scared him to death), Wiese recounts what he believes was an actual experience with hell itself.

It’s a compelling story—and easily readable. (I read it in one sitting.) As I’ve mentioned in previous devotionals, it is critical that we don’t base our theology and/or doctrine on stories, but rather on Scripture alone (Solo Scriptura). However, Wiese spends the latter half of the book listing over 150 different Bible verses referencing hell.

It is common knowledge that Jesus spoke more of hell than He did of heaven. In Matthew 8:12, Jesus describes it as “outer darkness.” In Mark 9:48, He describes it as a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” In Luke 16:24 (the only parable Jesus told that included a proper name), it’s described as a place of “agony in this fire.” And in Revelation 20:10 & 14, the disciple, John, describes it as a “lake of burning sulphur & fire.”

In 1993, Dr. Maurice Rawlings wrote a fascinating book entitled, “To Hell and Back.” Rawlings, a cardiologist, decided to begin recording testimonies of those patients of his who’d had near-death experiences but, instead of seeing the proverbial “bright light,” experienced something more akin to the hell described in the Bible.  The testimonies are chilling.

Satan is not satisfied with people dismissing the idea that he exists. He wants people to dismiss the idea of hell as well. Make no mistake: hell is every bit as real as heaven. And right now would be a good time to drop to your knees and thank God Almighty for the Cross of Christ, through which we’ve been saved from it.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

A Letter from Hell

“…and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes…” (Luke 16:23)

A friend (actually a former youth of mine from the late 80’s) sent me a link to a video clip the other day. The name of the 6-minute video: “A Letter from Hell.”

Having seen my fair share of cheesy videos over the years, I wasn’t expecting much. But, after watching it, those low expectations evaporated. The video is not sensationalized (although the producer does take some dramatic license). However, the descriptions of hell are all exact phrases that Jesus, Himself, used to describe hell. The video is graphic and disturbing – which, I’m certain, was the intent of the producer.

The narrator who, both, introduces and follows up the letter, is Greg Steir, president of Dare 2 Share Ministries. I’ve met him. Solid guy. His heart passion is to tell the world about the gospel of Christ. Since Jesus included the topic of hell in the gospel, we must do the same.

For those who dismiss hell as mythology, or simply something made up in the “nutty” minds of Christians, all I know to say is this: In regard to “life after life”, either the Bible’s right, or not. If the Bible’s wrong, I lose nothing. If the Bible’s right, you lose everything. I wouldn’t wager against the reliability of the Bible.

Last thing – Jesus included His own “letter from hell” in a story He told in Luke 16:19-31. In Jesus’ story, the man who went to hell desperately wanted to contact people on earth – just like the fictitious teenager in the video. But, according to Jesus, there is no “outgoing mail” from hell – which, it appears, is part of the torment.

May this brief video clip (1) remind us afresh of the reality of hell, and (2) give us motivation & courage to tell our friends/family, etc. about Jesus Christ. The link to the video is below. Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Hell of the Mind

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” So wrote Dante in the 14th century as he did his best to describe hell.

I have found, at least in my personal experience, that Satan doesn’t tempt me (often) to “recklessly run off a cliff” i.e. do something that I know would hurt or kill me.  He’s too smart for that.

What Satan does is much more subtle. Insidious. Ingenious. He simply methodically, little-by-little, dulls my awareness to the presence & power of God. It’s the “frog in the kettle” analogy.

Since Jordan passed away, this has been Satan’s primary strategy with me.

Early on, Satan was having tremendous success – you’ll remember the numerous “cries for help” I posted on Facebook. You immediately responded with prayer to the King and, as the angel Gabriel told Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray an answer was given.” (9:23) Almost immediately, my heart rate would slow, my breathing would return to normal, and i could, again, recognize the presence & power of God.

I don’t have these attacks as much anymore. But, I did have one yesterday (12/26). In hindsight, I had worked so hard to prepare my mind for our first Christmas without Jordan that, the morning after Christmas, I was emotionally spent – and Satan (who never takes a “day off”) was waiting.

I began losing my mind – which I’ve found to be a sort of “psychological hell” (panic-attack, rapid heart rate, paranoia, fear, confusion, etc.) I didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask for prayer on FB. But, my family fought for me. More specifically, what they did was “invite God into the battle” and then – the battle was over

James, the half-brother of Jesus, rightly wrote, “The fervent prayer of the righteous is powerful….” (5:16b)

I believe in hell as much as I believe in heaven. After all, Jesus spoke often about hell. We don’t hear the topic of hell preached very often from church pulpits. Maybe we should.

Jesus describes hell in terrifying ways. But, i wonder if part of hell – the “complete and absolute separation from God” part of hell – is the worst part of all. As I began to regain my mind yesterday, recognizing again the presence & power of God Almighty who is also my very personal Savior & Shepherd, I wondered, “What if there were no ‘regaining my mind’? What if the confusion, rage & terror that flooded my mind this morning never subsided?? Ever?!”

That would be hell.

To all of you, as you continue to write notes, messages, texts, etc., telling me you’re praying for me/us – THANK YOU. It matters.

“His mercies are new every morning.” (Lam. 3:22-23)

I love you all, Nick

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 – “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Hallelujah