A few weeks ago I finished teaching a series on heaven. What a wonderful topic that is and what a glorious future that awaits those who are going there. A place of unimaginable beauty, a place where there is no pain or suffering or tears or sorrow; a place where every residue of evil is eradicated and where peace and righteousness reigns. I tell you, it was 7 weeks of sheer bliss!
Afterwards someone suggested that I also teach a series on hell. “That’s not a bad idea,” I thought. “After all, if you’re going to address one it’s only right you tackle the other.” Little did I know what I was in for. I preached my first message on it this morning. But the week leading up to that was for me… hell.
It started with the restless sleep – two nights in row. It wasn’t like I was having visions of Satan or anything (heaven forbid), but the dreams were unpleasant, confusing and disturbing. At the same time was I getting some new appliances installed in our kitchen by a friend who kindly offered a helping hand. But nothing seemed to go right. There were extra parts to fetch and calls to make and trips back and forth to home. Then half way through the week my wife started getting sick. She works in an environment that is old and musty and in winter it causes problems with her asthma. Her doctor helped with asthma medicine, but now her ears were starting to block up.
On Saturday afternoon, while putting my message on to notes, everything came to a head. The kitchen was in a mess, my friend was getting frustrated, and then my mobile phone went off. It was my wife, in near hysterics having lost her way in the middle of Auckland city (which is enough to send anyone mad), needing to pick up our eldest daughter. She had lost her glasses so she could hardly see, her ears had blocked up so she could hardly hear, her head felt like it was about to explode and so she just simply… unravelled. For the next 45 min. I walked her through – following google maps on my computer – how to get out of where she was and find where she needed to be.
I should have seen it all coming. I was warned of this by others who had either taught or wrote books on this subject. “Be prepared,” they said, “The enemy isn’t going to like what you’re up to.” He sure didn’t. If you don’t believe in a real place called hell and a real being called Satan, come walk with me.
Then there was the subject matter itself. Spending a full week facing the reality of eternal punishment for those who reject God, where they are fully conscious of their predicament and with no hope of escape was alarming to say the least. And like with my series on heaven, it began to alter the way I saw people. I couldn’t help but wonder when I looked into the face of the man at the BP station and the waitress at McDonalds, “Are you a Christian? Do you have peace with God? Do you know where you are going?” These things troubled me greatly. They continue to even as I write.
I realize that people have some serious questions about the reality of hell. I used to be one of them! How could anyone actually believe in such a place? Well Jesus did. In fact he spoke about hell more than he did heaven. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), a place where there would be “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and where “the worm does not die” (Mark 9:48). He spoke of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). He offers warning after warning about how easy it is to wind up there. And then he speaks plainly about the way of escape.
The only thing is, you have to take it now. Because it won’t be offered later.
So today and over the next few weeks I’m tackling what I believe are the 3 biggest issues:
- Is hell real? We looked at that today with the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Believe me, it’s real.
- Is hell fair? Does the punishment really fit the crime? And then thirdly,
- Is hell forever? Eternity is a very, very long time. It seems far more plausible that if there really is a God, and he does punish sin, they get cast into the lake of fire and are simply eliminated. Burned up. Annihilated. Plausible – maybe, but it’s not what the Bible teaches.
Over the next few weeks I throw up a few posts on things I’ve learned as well as clear up some confusion about this subject. If you are a Christian, I’d appreciate that you pray for me. I don’t really want to experience another week like the last one.