Darkness and Weeping
Meditation on the horror of hell
When we come to the subject of hell we come to a horror that is beyond any human imagination. The thought of an eternal existence of darkness and sorrow, without the opportunity of escape, is so repulsive to our natural way of thinking that no one would ever hold this doctrine as true if it were not on the pages of the Bible. And the strongest argument for hell is made when we study the words of Jesus Himself. The most forceful statements about hell come, not from the pen of Paul or Peter or Matthew, but from the mouth of our Savior. It is for this reason we must not only read what He said, but consider it enough that the reality of hell sinks into our hearts and affects our thinking. If we do not think of hell as real, the truth presented about hell in the Bible, with all its implications, will never sink in.
A recent Harris poll revealed that only 58% of Americans believe in a real devil and a real hell. That is still a majority, but the number is declining, as is the number of people who believe there is a God and people who believe in heaven and life after death. What is curious to me is that we rarely hear of any mention of hell in our churches these days. We still believe that hell is real, but the subject has almost completely disappeared from our lessons and our discussions. This is unfortunate because the Biblical writers talk about the wrath of God on a regular basis.
Maybe preachers have reacted to the manner in which hell has sometimes been presented from the pulpit in the past … the proverbial 'hell fire and brimstone' sermons. Perhaps sometimes the truth about hell has been presented without compassion and in such a way as to angrily beat people over the head with it. Maybe hell has been preached in such a way as to manipulate people emotionally without any appeal to the mind and to reasoning so folks can see the theological basis which makes hell necessary in the overall scheme of things. And perhaps because hell has been presented in some unfortunate ways, we have become somewhat embarrassed about it and, as a result, have become silent.
Jesus repeatedly spoke of hell as being a place of darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk 13:28). The darkness is the darkness of loneliness. Jude 6 speaks of hell as "gloomy darkness." The weeping is the weeping of sorrow and eternal regret. The gnashing of teeth refers to distress and even anger (cf. Acts 7:54). 2 Thessalonians 1:9 describes hell as the place of eternal destruction, "away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." In hell there is no connection with life and glory because life and glory rest in God and people in hell are eternally separated from Him.
Hell is a place of consciousness in the torment. Revelation 20:10 speaks of hell as being a place where its inhabitants are "tormented day and night forever and ever." Jesus said in Luke 12:4,5 "Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but afterward can do no more. Fear the One who after He has killed, has the authority to cast into hell." The implication is that there is suffering after death for those who rebel against God.
Someone might ask the question, 'Why is hell necessary?' The answer to that question is that God is holy and just. His holiness is the standard of what is right and His justice demands that wrongs against His holiness be punished. Even though we don't put all offenses in the same category, we would also say that people who cheat on their taxes and students who cheat on their SAT tests and phone frauds who bilk the elderly out of their life savings, should all be punished for their deeds. This is justice and there is something in our hearts that long for it. Wrongdoing must not be simply ignored and wrongdoers must be punished. This is the very definition of justice, and there is something within all of us that wants justice to be done. If this is true of us, God is just and perfectly holy and therefore He cannot simply let offenses against His holiness pass. And the truth is that we have all offended God by our willful disobedience against Him. When a child deliberately rebels against his parents, it is an affront to the parents' rightful authority. How much more is this true of God, the Maker of everything?!
God's own personal holiness has been violated by our sins and His justice makes it necessary that these sins be punished, either by Jesus Christ on the cross or by the individual sinner himself. There is no third option. If someone rejects Christ, then God's justice demands a hell. Jesus is the mercy of God, extended to every listener. Without Him, in the day of judgment, every person will hear the warning Jesus sounded 2,000 years ago … "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:41). For believers, the deeper our understanding of hell, the deeper our gratitude to Christ … and the sweeter our joy in Christ for His sacrifice in our place. "Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity" (Psa 32:2).
Indescribably thankful to Jesus,