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10 Questions That Skeptics Ask

Part 5: Would a Loving God Really Send Anyone to Hell?

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

Part 4: Why is there Evil and Suffering in the World?


I. Hell is a Repulsive Place

In the August 12th, 2002 edition of Newsweek Magazine, Kenneth Woodward wrote the following:

"The most famous sermon in American History was a graphic evocation of the horrors of the damned in hell. As Jonathon Edwards expanded on his subject, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," so many moans and cries rose from his proper New England congregation that the learned theologian had to pause while his listeners recoiled in fear of their fate in the life to come. That was July 16, 1741. Such a sermon could not be preached today-not even by Billy Graham, who has eschewed the fire-and- brimstone sermons of his youth. If the modern pulpit is any index, hell has but disappeared from the modern religious imagination, and so has Edwards angry God.

Historians tell us that hell began to fade, at least among liberal Protestants, during the 19th century. By the end of the millennium, it was a doctrine that most Christians cheerfully ignored. Today few Roman Catholics line up on Saturday night to confess their sins, even the, "mortal," kind. For born again Christians, hell functions mainly as a goad for the unconverted. Once saved, the twice born have only to worry-as Graham himself once put it-about how high a place they will reach in heaven. On television, celebrity preachers discourage negativity. Robert Schuller says he hasnít preached on hell in 40 years. Asked which kind of God they believe in, most Christians prefer to think of Him as a friend in high places, (Apparently no one reads Job anymore). And hell, for those who think about it at all, is a place for other people." (an excerpt from a longer article)

Although Hell is a teaching of the worlds three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), many people are finding it a repulsive belief, and are denying it altogether. The last 20 years has seen a revival of an old heresy that believes that the wicked will either eventually be saved to enjoy heaven, or will be annihilated out of existence like a soap bubble.

(Pause to recommend Francis Chanís book, Erasing Hell, as an answer to Rob Bellís, Love Wins, which implies that there is no eternal hell)

Many cults within the realm of Christianity deny the existence of hell.

  • Universal Unitarians believe that everyone will be saved
  • Christian Scientist believe that hell is just an error of the mortal mind
  • Jehovahís Witnesses believe that all be given a second chance after death and those who arenít saved will be annihilated. Hell itself is interpreted as being the grave. In fact, it was because of the Bibleís clear teaching on Hell, the Charles Russell came up with his own theology and started the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (J.Wís)
  • Mormons that believe in hell believe that it is temporary and that everyone will eventually make it one of the 3 levels of heaven.
  • 7th day Adventist believe that God will someday blot out all sins and sinners and create a clean universe once again.
  • Noted Theologians of the 20th century like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Bishop James Pike either denied or downplayed the seriousness of hell.
  • Many have concluded that since there is so much pain and suffering in this life, that hell must be the pain we endure before death here on planet earth.
  • Still many, if not most, have concluded that if there is a God and He is good and a God of love, He would not assign anyone to an eternal place of torment and suffering.
  • Many are repulsed by the idea that family members and friends that have died may well be in such a place of torment, or the ones we love, or the ones who have never heard of Jesus may well go to such a place to suffer for eternity with no possible escape or relief, ever.
  • Even the word, Hell, has lost its punch for most of us. When we use it, it is often as an expression of anger, or to make a point, or tell a joke. In anger we want people to go there. As a point, we say, Ďsure as hell,í or, "hell no," or, "when hell freezes over." Hell is for cartoons in the Far Side or for move lines like those of Ghost, Hell-Boy, Drag Me to Hell, or Ghost Rider.

The purpose of this sermon today is not to do an exposition of what Hell is like or where it is; instead, I want to show you that a literal hell is both reasonable and real, and to help you to be able to answer your friends or acquaintances that ask you if a God of love would really send anyone to there. Are you read? Here we go.

II. Hell is a Reasonable Place Ė Consider the following:

A. The Principle of Separation Ė In our Society we:

  1. Separate the living from the dead. Our dead are placed in cemeteries, or crypts or are incinerated
  2. Separate our refuse from our valuable things Ė Our valuables are keep in our homes or in a safety deposit box while our refuse goes to the landfill or junk yards to be buried or recycled.
  3. Separate our garbage from our good food. Garbage goes down the disposal or in the garbage can, etc., while our good food goes into the refrigerator or freezer, or in the cupboard or pantry until it is ready for consumption.
  4. Separate our well or water supply from our septic or sewer systems.
  5. Separate law Ė breakers from law-abiders. Our law breakers we put in jails and prisons. I have often used jail and prison as an illustration of hell.

B. The Principle of Natural Consequences; that is there are consequences for breaking the laws of:

  1. Nature. Try jumping out of an airplane or off a cliff without a parachute and see what happens.
  2. Remember the proverbs from your youth like: If you play with fire you will get burned, or if you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas, and law breakers are told, "donít do the crime if you canít do the time." Point being that there are unpleasant consequences for breaking the laws of nature and society.

C. The Principle of Restraint

  1. Knowledge of consequences or punishment helps to restrain us from breaking the law or the rules of society. We donít do certain things because the price to pay for being caught is too great.
  2. If there were no penalty to fear for lawlessness, there would be no end to crime.

D. The Principle of Government Obligation

  1. It is the role and duty of government to enforce the penalty for breaking the laws of the society. (Genesis 9 and Romans 13)
  2. Law without penalty is a farce as is penalty without enforcement.

Should we expect less from God than we do our government? Do we not expect God to deal with evil when men stand before Him. Should we expect that there would be no consequences in the next life for the laws we break in this life? Should we expect that hatred, and crimes against man will be overlooked because God is love? Letís turn the question back on ourselves. We are said to be created in the image of God. If God is love and if God wouldnít send anyone to hell for violating His laws, should we then not send anyone to prison because we want to be people of love? Should we not invite murderers, rapist, thieves, child abusers, drug pushers to enjoy the love of freedom and the benefits of society regardless of what they have done? Should we not close all prisons and let their inhabitants go free?

That there is a place and a punishment prepared for those who violate the laws of a Holy God is reasonable. Hell is a reasonable place.

III. Hell is a Revealed Place

The late Bertrand Russell was a renowned Philosopher, mathematician, educator and atheist. He said, that it was Jesusí teaching about hell that caused him to reject Christianity. One of our next questions is, "Who is Jesus, Really?í Today, letís agree that He is the central figure of our faith and His resurrection from the dead asserts that He is who He claimed to be and who other Bible writers claim Him to be; that is, God with us, or God in the flesh. If then, He is truth (John 14:6), and if He attests to the truth (John 18:37), and if the Bible which He declares is truth (John 17:17) says that there is a hell prepared for those who reject the authority of God and violate His laws, then we should pay attention. Consider:

  • 11 times the word, ĎHadesí is used in the New Testament for the place where the unsaved dead go to await the final Day of Judgment. Of these 11 times Jesus used it 5 times. Perhaps the best known use is the story that Jesus told in Luke 16 of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Both died and while Lazarus went to heaven, the rich man went to Hades or Hell. The man was tormented and wanted someone to go and tell his brothers of the awaiting torment, flames and thirst. Some think this was just a parable to prove some point. What point I donít know, but I donít believe this was just a parable but a real story about two people that were well known in the community as it is the only story that Jesus told that included a personís name. This is reality.
  • The word, ĎGehenna,í is used 12 times in the New Testament to refer to the place of final judgment referred to as the Everlasting Fire in Matthew 25:41 and the Lake of Fire in Rev. 20:10, 14-15; 21:8. Of the 12 times that Gehenna is used Jesus used it 11 times as the ultimate destination of the unrighteous.
  • It was Jesus that spoke of the Resurrection of Damnation in John 5:25-29.
  • It was Jesus who spoke of dividing people into two groups and assigning one group to the kingdom of God and the other to everlasting fire in Matt. 25:41.
  • It was Jesus who spoke of binding the unrighteous and casting them into outer darkness in Matt. 22:13.
  • It was Jesus that gave the parables of the wheat and tares and the catch of good and bad fish both of which call for the separation of the good from the bad and the bad being cast into a furnace of fire (Matthew 13:37-43 & 47-50).
  • And it was a voice that John says was from heaven that said, "But the fearful and unbelieving and the abominable and murderers and fornicators and sorcerers and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake the burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death. (Rev. 20:8)
  • These revelations declare to us, from the book that we have shown to be Godís word and the truth, that there is a place of conscious and on going tormented existence after death for those who have violated Godís laws. Hell may be a repulsive place, but it is both a reasonable and a revealed place.

IV. Hell is a Rightful Place because of the Nature of God

A. God is Holy Ė I want to start here before we examine the love of God, because although God is a God whose nature is love, His most emphasized attribute in the Bible is His holiness. Over 25 times in Isaiah alone, He is called, the Holy One of Israel. When the angels in His presence declare His glory, they repeat Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty (Isa. 6:3 and Rev. 4:8). Lev. 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:16 tell us to be Holy because God is Holy. To say that God is holy means that He is absolutely separate and distinct from anything that is sinful or evil or that is contrary to His purity. Habakkuk 1:13 reminds us that He can not look on sin or evil with approval. John reminds us that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Sinfulness can not dwell in the presence of Holiness as oil cannot be mixed with water. And:

B. God is Righteous and Just (Ps. 145:17; 1 John 1:9). From beginning to end the Bible reminds us that there is grace and peace and forgiveness to those who follow Godís ways and love him and embrace His salvation, but there are consequences for violating His holy laws (Gen. 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4). Romans 6:23 reminds us that, "the wages of sin is death." There was no bumper sticker on the Ark of Noah that said, Smile God Loves You, nor did the Israelites carry banners that said, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," as they destroyed the Canaanites in Exodus through Judges. God said that their iniquity deserved Godís justice (read Lev. 18 &20). Consider:

  1. That the Lake of Fire was prepared for Satan (Matt. 25:41) but because people choose to follow Satan and his self centered ways and ignore Godís holiness and plan for salvation, God has no choice but to assign man the same place as Satan. His justice demands it.
  2. When a person commits a crime against society he is judged by the state, but when a person commits a crime against a representative of the government like a police officer or the President, the punishment is greater because the crime is against the authority of the state. The greater the level of authority that is assaulted the greater the level of punishment. God is infinite and holy in His being and crimes against His holy authority demand an infinite penalty.

C. God is Love (1 John 4:8, 16). Listen carefully, The only religion and the only religious book in the world that declares that itsí God is love is Christianity. The Bible is the only book that speaks of a God that descended to rescue man because of His love. There is no other religion in the world that knows a God of Love. That He is love means that he seeks the highest good for the objects of His affection. He is the only God who stooped to our level to bring us up to His. Consider:

  1. It was his love that gave us the freedom to choose (John 3:16). He forces His salvation and heaven on no one. We are free to choose Him or to ignore Him, follow Him or forget Him. Universalism is a violation of that freedom. Throughout scripture we are told to make a choice like in Deuteronomy 31; 1 Kings 18; Joshua 24:14; and Matt. 7: 13-14. Consider George Wilson. In 1830, a man named George Wilson (not Dennis Mitchellís neighbor) was sentenced to be hanged for robbery and murder. Andrew Jackson, the President of the U.S.A. granted Wilson a pardon. Wilson, however, refused to accept it and insisted that unless he did so, it was not a pardon. The Attorney General said that the law was silent on the matter, and referred it to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Marshall gave this decision: "A pardon is a paper the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that one under the sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged." Those who refuse or who never embrace the pardon offered by God in His Son Jesus Christ must receive the penalty of their sins and the Bible declares that to be consignment in hell.
  2. Because God loves us He chooses to remove and contain evil in hell so that Christ Followers can enjoy an eternal peace, joy, and harmony. Thatís the point of Revelation 21:27, "And there shall in no way enter anything into it (heaven) that defiles, or causes an abomination, or makes a lie, but they who are written in the Lambís Book of Life."
  3. Hell is Right Because of the Cross of Jesus.
  • Jesus means, Jehovah Saves.
  • Jesus came to bring Salvation. To be saved is to be rescued from danger or harm. If there is no hell then what danger or harm did Jesus come and die to rescue us from? Why did we need a Savior? What is the Good News of the Gospel? What was the Cup that Jesus wanted the Father to remove (Matt. 26:39-43). It is exactly because of hell that the Gospel is Good News. It is exactly because of hell that Jesus died as our substitute and it was our hell that He paid on the cross. It was the cry of a tortured soul feeling the pain of hell that screamed, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." (Matt. 27:43).
  • You can not begin to understand the love of God apart from the cross of Jesus. It is only when you see the blood flow from His head, hands, back, feet and side, and hear His cry of being forsaken, on the cross of Calvaryís hill that you see Godís love. The cross is God yelling to us, "I love You, I did this for you, so you wonít have to." And God extends His love to us as a gift; a gift that is free, but not cheap.

Hell is a Repulsive place. Hell is a Reasonable place. Hell is a Revealed place. Hell is a Rightful place. The Holiness of God demands hell. The Love of God wants to rescue us from Hell. But the Love of God also allows us to choose whether we want heaven or hell (John 3:16; Romans 5:8: 6:23; 10:13).

V. Hell - a Reaction

A. Christians Ė Reflect and Worship God for your salvation

B. Christians Ė This is the reason God said to go into the whole world and tell people. They canít believe and receive His gift unless someone tells them what they face and how to they can be rescued. The purpose for this teaching is so you can learn and teach others. If you really believe that Hell is a reality, you should be praying, fasting, and telling everyone you can about Jesus and His love.

C. Seekers Ė The choice is yours. Will you receive Godís gift of salvation and let Him rescue you and give you eternal life? (Romans 10:9-13)

Read part 6: Who is Jesus, Really?

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman