Whatever happened to hell?
By Kevin Probst
Dr. Andrew Schiller used data collected by the FBI to determine that a neighborhood in the city of Chicago is the most dangerous neighborhood in America. They average a violent crime per day and your chances of being a victim there are one in four. Ignorance and apathy are best friends to the criminal. If no one knows or cares then he has much more freedom to comb for victims.
As a minister of the gospel I’ve often wondered if Satan uses the same tactic. If we are ignorant of his power or his determination to damn us to hell it serves as a great advantage to him. If we are apathetic about evil and hell he has so much more freedom and power to destroy souls.
Ignorance and apathy seems to be flavor of the day. The Bible doesn’t mince any words when it comes to the truth of hell. “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15) Jesus believed in and taught a literal hell. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers…and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:41, 50)
Barna Associates have researched the question of hell and discovered that 32 percent of adults see hell as "an actual place of torment and suffering where people's souls go after death." That means that two out of three of us fail to believe in a literal hell. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that only 59% of Americans believe in some sort of hell, compared with 74% who believe in heaven.
It seems that John Lennon’s suggestion has become a reality. “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us….” So, why have we abandoned belief in hell?
I grew up in Northwestern Pennsylvania and almost all my friends were Catholic Italians. They reminded me often that I was going straight to hell because I was not Catholic.
Since moving to the deep south (Georgia) I have acquired many wonderful Calvinist friends. They are quick to tell me that God decided before the creation of the world who would and who would not make it to heaven or hell. This seemingly random, pick and choose method meets some sort of quota to satisfy the desires of God. Amazingly, God has chosen every one of my Calvinist friends and all their family members to go to heaven.
My Arminian brothers believe that God doesn’t send anyone to hell. God prepared hell for Lucifer and the fallen angels and a man never finds himself in hell as a result of an arbitrary decision made by God, he finds himself in hell because of his own decision to reject and disobey God.
There is a very strong movement that has been capturing the minds of our countrymen since the Revolutionary War. The Universalists believe that God is so good and so loving that he couldn’t possibly send anyone to hell, therefore, we will all make it to heaven regardless if we have been born-again and have developed a relationship with God or not.
It seems that common sense alone would convince us that there must be a hell. If there is a God, there must be a Satan. If there is light there must be darkness. If there is sin there must be such a thing as holiness. Why would anyone think that if there is a heaven there must NOT be a hell? It doesn’t make sense. Why do we believe that God is grace but God is not wrath? There is no grace without judgment.
Many Americans now believe that those who go to hell will get a second chance, and maybe a third and a fourth chance. This smacks of reincarnation to me. This belief contradicts Hebrews 9:27 “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.”
The Annihilationist believes that those who find themselves in hell will be quickly vaporized by the intense fire and heat to exist no more. This too is unscriptural because the Bible teaches us that we will live eternally either in heaven or in hell. John 5:28 teaches that those who have died will NOT be annihilated, rather, they shall be resurrected, “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice”
Perhaps Americans don’t believe in hell anymore because America’s preachers have bought into the creed of the culture. R.C. Sproul said, "I can't think of anything more politically incorrect to preach in 21st century America than the wrath of God, or the justice of God or the doctrine of Hell," Pastors are shying away from preaching on this difficult subject because they fear the culture will proclaim them irrelevant. Almost everyone in the culture believes most everyone is going to make it to heaven. “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16) Preachers are not to pick and choose what truth they want to preach, they are to preach the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
Would it be even possible to find any pastor in the United States preaching about hell and God’s justice this upcoming Sunday? It seems, by our silence, we are declaring we don’t believe in hell anymore or we just don’t have the courage, the backbone to preach a painful truth.
Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.