Sunday, October 15, 2006

Being Afraid of Hell

As I have been studying Revelation 4 and 5, which upon first read seems only to be a beautiful picture of heavenly worship, I have been somewhat haunted by the key role this passage plays in the coming judgment of God. I will be working directly from these passages when I preach in services on October 28-29. Though I will not be zeroing in very much on judgment and hell, I do admit that I have been a little troubled about how to handle its presence within the passage. I don’t consider revisionism to be an option.

For year pastors have been skirting around hell with the express desire of not making people feel overly “uncomfortable” with their teaching. The interesting thing is that Jesus spoke about hell a lot. Hell is mentioned by Christ 15 times in the book of Matthew alone. So how, like Jesus, can one be a friend of sinners and also tell them the truth about hell?

Below are a few statistics about what Americans feel about hell today that I pulled from a blog post on
Curiously, most Americans believe in hell according to the report, which said, “A Harris poll of our attitudes conducted a few years ago found that 94 percent of American adults believe in God, 89 percent in heaven and 73 percent in hell.”

But here’s the hook, nobody thinks they are going to hell because hell is for the other evil people like terrorists and relief pitchers who give up a lot of walks. The report said, “Fully three-quarters of survey participants felt pretty sure they will be going to heaven when they die, while just 2 percent expected they would wind up in hell.”
The reality that the majority of people believe in hell was somewhat surprising to me. Clearly the problem with this is that a lot of people who are facing hell do not realize what hell is and how it is one gets there.

It is my opinion that people, even unchurched people, do not want a “soft sell” when it comes to the hard teachings of the Bible, and there is no question that the glory of heaven is far more attractive when contrasted with the reality of hell. In the same regard, like Christ, we must love people so deeply that our warnings about hell are not perceived as judgmentalism, but rather as the warning of a friend who wants desperately to see them saved from a life of sin leading to an eternity of death and suffering.


Jim C said...

So true... it often seems like in an effort to avoid seeming "holier than thou" or judgmental, Christians water down both sides of truths - paint the pretty picture, but don't show the contrasting side.

We live in a society where nobody wants to be told they are wrong and where kids don't "fail", they simply have their "own path to educational success". It is no wonder that teaching eternal separation from God as an actual possibility for people is looked upon as a bad thing.

It fuels all the debates about "if your God is truly loving, why would he do such a thing?" or "I don't believe I'll go to Hell because I am basically a good person!"

One question though... does this mean we should start calling you "Fire and Brimstone Sterner"?

scooterpastor said...

Jim, you can call me anything you want, as long as it isn't "Lucy." That was the nickname I had for a few months after my mom thought it would be cute to give me a perm. Believe it or not, boys were doing that for a while when I was a kid.

Jim C said...

Wow... thankfully I escaped the whole "male perm" trend (remember: I'm the same age as you!!).

I did partake for a while in a French hair style known as the mullet (that's pronounce "mull-ay"). I of course would have denied it except for little pieces of evidence like senior yearbook photos.

Paul Gregg said...

Here's my "antiestablishmentarianism" 2-cents...

Perhaps the society we live in (America in the 21st century) cares less about rebellion and more about not caring at all. We are a comfortable society, far more me-centered than the near-socialists of the 60s and 70s. When I think about our reaction to Hell (even as a concept as opposed to a real destination) I wonder if so many Americans simply wonder what there is to fear, or be saved from for that matter. When people say that they believe in the existence of Hell, a good follow-up question would be, "Do you care if you end up there?" and if so, then "How much do you care? Enough to embrace religion?"

Here's where our comfort as a society really smacks up against the TV screen and leaves a big smear mark (ok, might have gone too far with that one...) I have to think that people living in ANY other country (except maybe Canada, which is like a big Coralville to the north) have a real notion of fear and insecurity. We had glimpses of it on September 11th 2001, and you saw the attendance at churches nationwide spike. But we don't really fear anything on earth in our comfort-zone on America... not REAL fear. So I have to think (especially as someone who works with high-schoolers every day) that Hell really IS just a concept or notion to most people. It's like if someone asked you if you wanted to go swimming through raw sewage full of sharks, floating razor blades and explosive mines. Your response would instinctively be no, with the caveat that you could not really even imagine yourself in that situation unless on a movie screen (fantasy/horror).

OK, I need to go to bed so I make it to church in the morning.

more later (?) er no.

scooterpastor said...


Firstly it’s great to hear from you. I think a high school teacher has a unique perspective on hell. (Ha!)

I also think you are right on. As you wrote, the September 11th event illustrated your point quite well. In the grips of suffering we embraced Bush’s use of the word “evil” and were willing to go blow the snot out of the Talaban. The idea of violent and eternal death beyond the grave is far more tangible to a culture that is regularly experiencing violence and death (especially when everyone feels it personally). Years ago Keith Green sung a song from the Devil’s perspective that said “no one believes in me anymore.” Of course, this is a highly strategic position for Satan. People who are lulled to complacency are the most venerable prey. God help us!