Dan Popp
June 17, 2017
Hell is foundational
By Dan Popp

In recent essays I've said that Hell is separation and that Hell is good. I'd like to conclude this little series with some unconnected thoughts on hell.

If you wonder whether the doctrine of hell is foundational to Christianity, just look at the churches and preachers that have abandoned it. Those who "go wobbly" on hell end up preaching an alternate "gospel" of a lying savior who is just one of many ways into fellowship with a sin-condoning god. Sounds like the devil to me.



Christians today seem embarrassed by the doctrine of hell. We talk about it sheepishly, if at all. But Jesus certainly didn't have any reservations on the subject. We might fairly summarize Jesus' warnings like this: (1) Hell is much worse than you thought, (2) Most people will end up there, and (3) Many of them will be surprised.



C.S. Lewis developed a couple of different metaphors for hell. In The Pilgrim's Regress he mused that hell (allegorized as the "black hole") is actually a demonstration of God's mercy.
    [Guide] "...What do you mean by a hole? Something that ends. A black hole is blackness enclosed, limited. And in that sense the Landlord has made the black hole. He has put into the world a Worst Thing. But evil of itself would never reach a worst: for evil is fissiparous and could never in a thousand eternities find any way to arrest its own reproduction. If it could, it would no longer be evil: for Form and Limit belong to the good. The walls of the black hole are the tourniquet on the wound through which the lost soul else would bleed to a death she never reached. It is the Landlord's last service to those who will let him do nothing better for them.
In The Great Divorce Lewis walked us through a Twilight-Zone-like landscape to show us that those in hell would never have been happy in heaven, God being on the throne there instead of them. I don't read these as theological treatises, but as exercises to help us wrestle with the paradox of God's love and mercy on the one hand, and His wrath and justice on the other. Christians embrace many paradoxes; heretics simply dismiss one horn of the dilemma.



The question, "How could a loving God send people to hell?" is a perfectly legitimate question – after we recognize that the God of the Bible is a loving God, and the God of the Bible does send people to hell. Yes, it's a paradox.



Most historians estimate that hundreds of thousands were martyred for Christ in the early centuries. Why would so many of our brothers and sisters suffer persecution, torture and death to get the message of the gospel to people, if everybody's going to end up in heaven anyway?



Is it rational to believe that Jesus was lying when He said, "These will go away into eternal punishment," but telling the truth when He said, in the same sentence, "but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46)? If eternal punishment is not really eternal and not really punishment, why don't the heretics propose a temporary heaven that's just mildly pleasant?



The fact that we reject God's view of us in favor of our own flattering view, is surely evidence that we're more screwed up than we knew.



The judge of all the earth will do right. No one will be in hell who doesn't deserve to be there. And no one will be able to rightly accuse God of lacking compassion when we understand that He sacrificed His Son to prevent even some from going there.

The Cross alone should be a hint that to enter the next life in our fallen state means something almost too terrible to contemplate.

© Dan Popp

 

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Dan Popp

Dan Popp is a Christian, a husband, and a small-business owner. Writing has been part of his profession since the late 1970ís. He and his wife of more than 30 years, Vicky, live in Ohio.

On Twitter: @FoundationsRad

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