What's So Bad About Hell?

I would like to thank my friend and fellow blogger, Laurie Mathers who posted this yesterday on her blog Beauty for Ashes.  I asked for her permission to re-post her entry here because I thought it was so profound and powerful that I wanted anyone visiting my site to have the opportunity to read this.  Also, please take the 9 or 10 minutes after you read it to watch Ray Comfort discussing the scene from ER with the dying man and the chaplain.  It is equally profound and powerful and went along perfectly with her post.

What’s so bad about Hell?
(by Laurie Mathers)

Is it the flames? Is it the darkness? Is it both those things wrapped up with the hopelessness of knowing there will be no end to the pain? The contemplation of just those things has been dreadful enough to lead vast numbers to reject the God of the Bible out of hand. It has led others, understandably, to try and interpret away the clear teaching of Scripture on the subject. It has led me at times to wish I could do either of those things. Yet, I’ve known all along, deep in my heart, that the horrible doctrine of Hell is true. Hating it, denying it, or wishing it weren’t so won’t change it, or make it go away. But as if that weren’t terrible enough, there’s more to Hell than flames and hopelessness. There’s something more, something more tormenting to a soul than flames are to a body – lovelessness.

I’ve recently finished reading Jonathan Edwards’ work, Charity and Its Fruits. It is a collection of lectures devoted to defining and describing authentic Christian love culminating in the a breathtaking discussion of heaven – “a world of love”. What makes heaven Heaven, is the presence of God, the Fountain of all love, and His people made perfect, once and for all, in love. “Their love shall be without any remains of any contrary principle, having no pride or selfishness to interrupt it or hinder its exercises. Their hearts shall be full of love. That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven….In heaven there shall be no remaining enmity, or distaste, or coldness, or deadness of heart towards God and Christ. Not the least remainder of any principle of envy shall exist…all the members of that blessed society rejoice in each other’s happiness, for the love of benevolence is perfect in them all. Every one has not only a sincere, but a perfect good-will to every other….”

What makes Heaven “heavenly” isn’t so much the streets of gold or the gates of pearl, though no doubt nothing on this earth that will compare to its beauty. It is much richer than that. It is the presence of God Himself and His redeemed people made perfect in love. Like a new bride, embraced by her husband for the first time, His people, purchased by His blood, will be enveloped for all eternity in the perfect love and joy which God has enjoyed in Trinity since before time began.

By contrast then, what makes Hell “hellish” isn’t so much fire. The fire speaks to something far worse than mere physical pain. In his message of heaven, Edwards takes a moment to speak of hell – the opposite of heaven. Where Heaven is the presence of God, Hell is His absence. Where Heaven is the place of God’s eternal loving embrace, Hell is the place of eternal separation from any experience of any love from God or anyone else. There is no mercy whatsoever to be found there, only wrath. There is no comfort. There is no more opportunity of reconciliation to Him.

“There are three worlds. One is this, which is an intermediate world – a world in which good and evil are so mixed together as to be a sure sign that this world is not to continue for ever. Another is heaven, a world of love, without any hatred. And the other is hell, a world of hatred, where there is no love, which is the world to which all of you who are in a Christless state properly belong. This last is the world where God manifests his displeasure and wrath, as in heaven he manifests his love. Everything in hell is hateful. There is not one solitary object there that is not odious and detestable, horrid and hateful. There is no person or thing to be seen there, that is amiable or lovely; nothing that is pure, or holy, or pleasant, but everything is abominable and odious. There are no beings there but devils, and damned spirits that are like devils. Hell is, as it were, a vast den of poisonous hissing serpents; the old serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and with him all his hateful brood. In that dark world there are none but those whom God hates with a perfect and everlasting hatred. He exercises no love, and extends no mercy to any one object there, but pours out upon them horrors without mixture. All things in the wide universe that are hateful shall be gathered together in hell, as in a vast receptacle provided on purpose, that the universe which God has made may be cleansed of its filthiness, by casting it all into this great sink of wickedness and woe. It is a world prepared on purpose for the expression of God’s wrath. He has made hell for this; and he has no other use for it but there to testify for ever his hatred of sin and sinners, where there is no token of love or mercy. There is nothing there but what shews forth the Divine indignation and wrath…

And as for Hell’s inhabitants, to use the same language of which Edwards spoke of heaven: That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-see, shall be as a great tree…:

“There are none in hell but what have been haters of God, and so have procured his wrath and hatred on themselves; and there they shall continue to hate him for ever. No love to God will ever be felt in hell; but every one there perfectly hates him, and so will continue to hate him, and without any restraint will express their hatred to him, blaspheming and raging against him, while they gnaw their tongues for pain. And though they all join together in their enmity and opposition to God, yet there is no union or friendliness among themselves – they agree in nothing but hatred, and the expression of hatred. They hate God, and Christ, and angels, and saints in heaven; and not only so, but they hate one another, like a company of serpents or vipers, not only spitting out venom against God, but at one another, biting and stinging and tormenting each other….”

Separated once and for all from God’s patient, merciful, and restraining hand, the inhabitants of hell find themselves finally free to express themselves without restraint, and to experience the fullness of their wickedness. And so, I return to my original question. What’s so bad about hell? I venture to say, it’s not the place (as dreadful as that must be) so much as it’s the people, the hatred, the complete absence of love for all eternity. People will suffer great things for the hope of love, but to suffer great things for the sake of hatred, now that is suffering indeed.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked….Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not him him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:1-6, 15-17 (See also, 1 John 4:15-21.)

It’s been a few weeks since I first read Edwards’ words about heaven and hell. They’ve had a tremendous impact on me, and several times I’ve wanted to post them, but didn’t. To be perfectly honest, the reason I’ve resisted is because of the offensiveness of the doctrine of Hell.  That never stopped Jesus, though; and if I desire to be as He is in this world, I shouldn’t let anything stop me from speaking the truth in love. What finally propelled me beyond my fear was this: Today I was walking through my kitchen, remembering Edwards’ words about hell and thinking how I wanted to share them with the world, but didn’t want to be offensive. I headed to my computer, sat down, and clicked this link on my friend Barry’s FaceBook page:

I want to be the kind of minister that speaks the truth, in love, because of love. May God grant me grace to let perfect love overcome fear.


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Filed under Doctrine, Gospel, Puritan, Scripture, Theology

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