Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Heaven's Awful Alternative

"He will come with his mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don't know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power 10 when he comes to receive glory and praise from his holy people. And you will be among those praising him on that day, for you believed what we testified about him." 2 Thes. 1:7-10

Scripture is filled with references concerning heaven's awful alternative-hell. In fact, Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. He refers to it as a literal, physical place. Jesus says that unbelievers "will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and nashing of teeth" (Matt 8:12).

In one place he says that in hell people will suffer horribly, be fully conscious, retain memory and desire, long for relief, and live forever without hope. Some have speculated that we will experience the diminishing of our very personhod. C. S. Lewis said, "I have met no people who fully disbelieved in hell and also had a life-giving belief in heaven." Is it possible to fully appreciate heaven apart from understanding hell? Could this be why Jesus spoke so descriptively about it?

If I were honest, (I guess I'm about to be) I would admit that I have sometimes avoided the subject of hell in my teaching ministry. I have been afraid of what people would think or do in response to such a hard truth. Would they perceive God as unloving or unkind? Would they be offended and not come back to church? My faulty reasoning has been challenged of late. I am now coming to realize that it is not unloving or unkind to speak of hell any more than it is to speak of heaven.

We must love people enough to tell them the truth- there are two eternal destinations. The scriptures are clear that many will end up in hell, separated from the Lord forever. These people are your neighbors, coworkers, and family members. This awful truth should break our hearts and lead us to share the message of Christ's love and forgiveness to as many people as possible. I would never suggest that hell be at the center of of our Gospel conversation, but to omit it or minimize it does not serve the mission of the kingdom well.

It does us good to remember that our Lord desired for us to be eternally with Him in Heaven so much that He died a terrible death and went to hell in our place. May we never forget the incredible wrath and separation that Jesus experienced so that we and others would never have to. To downplay hell is to downplay the amazing truth of the cross and what Jesus achieved for us there. To actually think about hell has produced a much needed perspective and caused me to be grateful afresh for my gift of eternal life in Jesus.

Current series: "If I die before I wake"This weekend's message: "Hell No!".

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