How many times have people reacted to ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching?
By that we mean messages about hell and eternal damnation. The accusation is made of trying to scare people into Heaven. The pendulum swings to the belief that hell is not real or a temporary punishment.
I still believe in its reality and here’s why.
Every New Testament author speaks of the future punishment of the wicked. Jesus himself stands out as hell’s chief defender—no medieval preacher ever spoke as fearsomely about the horrors of hell as Jesus did. Those of us who call Jesus our Lord do not have the privilege of rejecting a teaching he so emphatically repeated.[i]
North Park University professor Scot McKnight has written, “What Christians have believed about hell has been constructed almost entirely out of what Jesus teaches in the gospels.”[ii]
Why would Jesus warn people about hell if he did not believe it existed? Was Jesus trying to scare people into the Kingdom by appealing to their fears? Those who reject or lessen the doctrine of hell often appeal to deductive reasoning. ‘If God is love and willing that none should perish, how can He punish His creation eternally?’ I have heard many theories and ideas that eliminate or modify hell into something less than Jesus describes.
Hell always leaves me feeling uneasy. Maybe, it is supposed to do that. We all have our reasons to soften Jesus’ words. After all, who doesn’t want Jesus to agree with them?
Timothy Keller said, ‘It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding. May we never lose sight of either in our preaching.’ [iii]
If we are to finally accept what Jesus says about hell, we need to believe that it is consistent with God’s character.
Hell emerges from a biblical understanding of God. It reminds us that though God’s love is central, it should not be viewed independently of his other attributes. His love is in unity with his justice and his holiness. God’s love is not sentimental, but a holy love and a just love. Therefore God’s love should not be viewed as an obstacle to his willingness to see justice executed.[iv]
The warnings about hell are always countered with the good news that God has made a way to escape His wrath. Jesus’ blood is a terrible price, but it satisfies the demand for justice. He died so we can live. There is nothing wrong with preaching what Jesus preached and believing what Jesus believes. Give me one good reason to doubt His Word.
[i] Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson, Is Hell For Real Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven? (Zondervan 2011), p.81
[ii] Scot McKnight, A New Vision For Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p.139
[iii] Timothy Keller, Is Hell For Real Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven? (Zondervan 2011), p.80
[iv] Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson, Is Hell For Real Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven? (Zondervan 2011), p.82