“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?"Matthew 23:33
An uncomfortable subject
Talking about Hell will make you friends about as well as eating cheeseburgers will make you physically fit. It is an ugly subject and therefore not welcome in most circles--even in most Christian circles. As such, believers generally have one of three responses to it: (1) they use it to beat others down spiritually, (2) they ignore it, or (3) they deny it altogether.
Hardcore legalists can't seem to shut up about it. They grumble and complain about "sin" (which is something others do) and "sinners" (people other than themselves) and then pronounce that such people deserve Hell and had better repent. One almost suspects there is even a glimmer of hope that the sinner will actually get what is coming to them. Like the Pharisees that Jesus was referring to, there is a marked absence of love and grace in their message.
Yet most Western Christians don't seem to think about Hell at all, and one rarely hears a sermon mentioning the subject. After one funeral I was actually chided by a fellow minister because I mentioned it. He told me "That is not something people need to hear when they are grieving". This minister, like most Christians, would rather deny this reality than deal with it openly and honestly.
Still others, calling themselves Christian, try to deny Hell altogether. They speak incessantly about how a loving God would never send millions of people to such a nasty place. They redefine Hell as "not experiencing God's blessings" and deny that it is a literal place of eternal torment from which there is no escape. Never mind that Jesus spoke about Hell more than any other biblical figure--these false teachers would lead people to believe that Jesus died to save them from something that does not even exist.
But Hell is a real place and real people are currently suffering there. The Christian believer must never allow herself to sideline this essential element of the Gospel. The 'good news' is that Christ has overcome the 'bad news'. To withhold mentioning Hell is to withhold offering the wonderful joy of Heaven. Why is it that we think we are so much wiser than Jesus by refusing to mention that about which he freely and often spoke? As Christians we must remember that we live our lives on the shore of eternity and at any moment will be swept into its eternal waters. To refuse to warn other their impending doom--along with the opportunity of salvation from that doom--is the worst sort of apathy and hatred imaginable.
I am reminded of a quote by William Gurnall. In a sermon titled The Christian's Labor and Reward he wrote, "Your soul (poor man) is hastening quickly to its last and eternal state, which will either be in heaven or hell. The happiness of the one is invaluable, the misery of the other is intolerable, and both are interminable ["without end". If you do not stir yourself, and that soon, to take hold of eternal life, hell is ready to take hold of you."
You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter: twitter.com/JoshGelatt