[b]"That HIDEOUS DOCTRINE"[/b]
-by John Thomas.
That hideous doctrine of hell is fading. How often have you thought
of it in the past month, for instance? Does it make a difference in
your concern for others, in your witness? Is it a constant and
proper burden? Most believers would have to say no. But the
individual isn't the only one to blame. After all, the doctrine no
longer gets its float in the church parade; it has become a
museum piece at best stored in the shadows of a far corner.
The reality of hell, however, demands we haul the monstrous thing
out again and study it until it changes us. Ugly, garish, and familiar
as it is, this doctrine will indeed have a daily, practical, and
personal effect on every believer who comes to terms with its force.
Our Lord's words on the subject are unnerving. In Luke 16, He tells
us of a rich man who died and went to Hades (the abode of the
unsaved dead between death and final judgment). From that story
and a few other revelatory facts, we can infer several characteristics
First it's a place of great physical pain. The rich man's initial
remark concludes with his most pressing concern: "I am in agony
in this flame" (Luke 16:24). We do not make enough of this. We all
have experienced pain to some degree. We know it can make a
mockery of all life's goals and beauties. Yet we do not seem to
know pain as a hint of hell, a searing foretaste of what will befall
those who do not know Christ, a grim reminder of what we will be
spared from. God does not leave us with simply the mute fact of
hell's physical pain. He tells us how real people will respond to that
pain. Our Lord is not being macabre; He is simply telling us the
truth. First, there will be "weeping" (Luke 13:2. Weeping is not
something we get a grip on; it is something that grips us. Recall
how you were affected when you last heard someone weep.
Remember how you were moved with compassion to want to
protect and restore that person? The Lord wants us to know and
consider what an upsetting experience it is for the person in hell.
Another response will be "wailing" (Matt. 13:42). While weeping
attracts our sympathy, wailing frightens and offends us. It is the
pitiable bawl of a soul seeking escape, hurt beyond repair,
eternally damaged. A wail is sound gone grotesque because of
conclusions we can't live with. A third response will be "gnashing
of teeth" (Luke 13:2). Why? Perhaps because of anger or
frustrations. It may be a defense against crying out or an intense
pause when one is too weary to cry any longer.
Hell has two other aspects, rarely considered, which are both
curious and frightening. On earth we take for granted two physical
properties that help keep us physically, mentally, and emotionally
stable. The first is light; the second is solid, fixed surfaces. Oddly,
these two dependables will not accommodate those in hell. Hell is
a place of darkness (Matt. 8:12). Imagine the person who has just
entered hell - a neighbor, relative, co-worker, friend. After a roar of
physical pain blasts him, he spends his first moments wailing and
gnashing his teeth. But after a season, he grows accustomed to
the pain, not that it's become tolerable, but that his capacity for it
has enlarged to comprehend it, yet not be consumed by it. Though
he hurts, he is now able to think, and he instinctively looks about
him. But as he looks, he sees only blackness. In his past life he
learned that if he looked long enough, a glow of light somewhere
would yield definition to his surroundings. So he blinks and strains
to focus his eyes, but his efforts yield only blackness. He turns
and strains his eyes in another direction. He waits. He sees
nothing but unyielding black ink. It clings to him, smothering and
oppressing him. Realizing that the darkness is not going to give
way, he nervously begins to feel for something solid to get his
bearings. He reaches for walls or rocks or trees or chairs; he
stretches his legs to feel the ground and touches nothing.
Hell is a "bottomless pit" (Rev. 20:1,2 KJV); however, the new
occupant is slow to learn. In growing panic, he kicks his feet and
waves his arms. He stretches and he lunges. But he finds nothing.
After more feverish tries, he pauses from exhaustion, suspended in
black. Suddenly, with a scream he kicks, twists, and lunges until
he is again too exhausted to move. He hangs there, alone with his
pain. Unable to touch a solid object or see a solitary thing, he
begins to weep. His sobs choke through the darkness. They
become weak, then lost in hell's roar. As time passes, he begins
to do what the rich man did - he again starts to think. His first
thoughts are of hope. You see, he still thinks as he did on earth,
where he kept himself alive with hope. When things got bad, he
always found a way out. If he felt pain, he took medicine. If he
were hungry; he ate food. If he lost love, there was more love to
be found. So he casts about in his mind for a plan to apply to the
hope building in his chest.
Of course, he thinks, Jesus, the God of love, can get me out of this.
He cries out with a surge, "Jesus! Jesus! You were right! Help me!
Get me out of this!" He waits, breathing hard with desperation. The
sound of his voice slips into the darkness and is lost. He tries
again. "I believe, Jesus! I believe now! Save me from this!" Again
the darkness smothers his words. Our sinner is not unique.
Everyone in hell believes. When he wearies of appeals, he does
next what anyone would do as he assesses his situation and
attempts to adapt. But then it hits him -this is forever. Jesus made
it very clear. He used the same words for "forever" to describe both
heaven and hell. Forever, he thinks, and his mind labors through
the blackness until he aches. "Forever!" he whispers in wonder.
As the rich man pleaded for a drop of water, so, too, our new
occupant entertains a similar ambition. In life he learned that even
bad things could be tolerated if one could find temporary relief.
Perhaps even hell, if one could rest from time to time, would be
more tolerable. He learns, though, that "the smoke of [his] torment
goes up forever and ever; and [he has] no rest day and night" (Rev.
14:11 NASB). No rest day and night - think of that.
Thoughts of this happening to people we know, people like us, are
too terrifying to entertain for long. The idea of allowing someone to
endure such torture for eternity violates the sensibilities of even the
most severe judge among us. We simply cannot bear it. But our
thoughts of hell will never be as unmanageable as its reality. We
must take this doctrine of hell, therefore, and make sure we are
practically affected by it.
A hard look at this doctrine should first change our view of sin.
Most believers do not take sin as seriously as God does. We need
to realize that in His actual plan, sin deserves eternal punishment
in hell. We can actually learn, by comparison, to hate sin as God
hates it. As the reality of hell violates and offends us, for example,
so sin violates and offends God. As we cannot bear to look upon
the horrors of hell, so God cannot bear to look upon the horrors of
sin. As hell revolts us to the pont of hatred for it, so also God
finds sin revolting. The comparison is not perfect, but it offers a start.
Second, the truth of hell should encourage our witness. Can we
ever hear a sigh of weariness, see a moment of doubt, or feel pain
without being reminded of that place? In all honesty, can we see
any unbeliever, watch his petty human activities, realize what he
has in store, and not be moved with compassion? It encourages
us to witness in word and in deed. That hideous doctrine may grip
our souls in dark terror and make us weep, but let us be sure it
also prompts us to holiness and compassion. [~Moody Monthly/Sep 1985].
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon