Hell: What Do You Really Believe?

Hell: What Do You Really Believe?

By George W. Sarris

It’s been said that the best indicator of what people really value is what’s written in their checkbook! 

That’s because what we do speaks louder than what we say.  Proverbs 20:6 is a clear example of that truth –

“Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?”

When it comes to the issue of Hell, what we say often doesn’t match up with what we do

What I mean is that many Christians say they believe that Hell is a place of conscious, never-ending suffering, but don’t live their lives in ways that would indicate that they really believe it to be true.  They don’t exhibit any serious concern for the billions of people supposedly destined to end up there.  They have to be taught to “just walk across the room,” instead of running as fast as they possibly can to tell their lost relatives, friends, and coworkers of the horrific danger they face.  And, very few seem to care enough for those they think are heading toward endless misery to go out of their way to try to stop them. 

The lost may be destined to experience the “fires” of Hell.  But, the saved often don’t seem to have enough of a “fire” in their belly to actually do anything about it.

So, what do most Christians really believe about Hell?  Or, more importantly, what do you really believe about Hell?

The Real Issue

We, in our time, are not as bold about communicating our belief in Hell as many of our predecessors were.  Consider the words of one of the best known, most learned, and well respected preachers and theologians of Protestant Church history, Jonathan Edwards.  His sermons began the First Great Awakening in America in the 1730s and 1740s, and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest thinkers America has yet produced. 

Do but consider what it is to suffer extreme torment forever, and ever to suffer it day and night, from one day to another, from one year to another, from one age to another, from one thousand ages to another, and so, adding age to age, and thousands to thousands, in pain, in wailing and lamenting, groaning and shrieking, and gnashing your teeth; with your souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, with your bodies and every member full of racking torture, without any possibility of getting ease; without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without any possibility of hiding yourselves from him; without any possibility of diverting your thoughts from your pain; without any possibility of obtaining any manner of mitigation, or help, or change for the better any way.

. . . when after you shall have worn out a thousand more such ages, yet you shall have no hope, but shall know that you are not one whit nearer to the end of your torments; but that still there are the same groans, the same shrieks, the same doleful cries, incessantly to be made by you, and that the smoke of your torment shall still ascend up, forever and ever . . .

Is that what you believe?

A little over a century later, another great preacher and theologian, Charles Spurgeon, challenged his audience with these words:

There is a place, as much beneath imagination as heaven is above it; a place of murky darkness, where only lurid flames make darkness visible; a place where beds of flame are the fearful couches upon which spirits groan; a place where God Almighty from his mouth pours a stream of brimstone, kindling that “pile of fire and of much wood,” which God has prepared of old as a Tophet for the lost and ruined. There is a spot, whose only sights and scenes are fearful woe; there is a place . . . where the only music is the mournful symphony of damned spirits; where howling, groaning, moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth, make up the horrid concert. There is a place where demons fly, swift as air, with whips of knotted burning wire, torturing poor souls; where tongues, on fire with agony, burn the roofs of mouths that shriek for drops of water—that water all denied. There is a place where soul and body endure as much of infinite wrath as the finite can bear; where the inflictions of justice crush the soul, where the continual flagellations of vengeance beat the flesh; where the perpetual pourings out of the vials of eternal wrath scald the spirit, and where the cuttings of the sword strike deep into the inner man.

Spurgeon was the foremost preacher of the nineteenth century and is still the most widely read preacher in history.  In 1861, before the modern “mega-churches” of today that seat thousands, Spurgeon’s congregation built The Metropolitan Tabernacle which seated 4,700 people.  In that same year, he preached at London’s Crystal Palace to a congregation of 23,654 people without the use of a microphone or any other means of amplification.

Do Spurgeon’s words reflect the belief that exists in your heart?

Most people today, including many devout Christians, feel embarrassed when they read or hear such hellfire-and-brimstone preaching.  We don’t like to talk about Hell, and, when pressed by someone who questions it, we usually try to change the subject or explain that it is not a place of literal fire and torment.  We would prefer to describe the suffering and pain of Hell more abstractly as a state of loss or separation from God.  Many of us feel more comfortable if we say that it may not be inflicted pain, but simply felt pain. 

But, any way you look at it, what people generally claim to believe is that Hell is a place where countless billions of people will experience unending agony, pain and anguish.

Words vs. Actions

The common and traditionally held belief within Christendom is that Hell is a place of conscious suffering that never ends, established by the God who talks of turning the other cheek, forgiving sinners who know not what they are doing, and loving enemies in this world, but who withdraws His hand of mercy in the next. 

But, is that what we really believe?  Is it what the Bible really teaches?  Has it always been held by those who were considered true believers in the Church? 

Is that what you really believe?

If actions really do speak louder than words, could it be that our actions are actually telling us something important that we should listen to?  Are we instinctively questioning within ourselves whether or not what we have been told all our lives about the nature and duration of Hell is actually true?  Is it an issue that we should take time to reconsider?

In 1742, British poet Edward Young published a lengthy poem titled, Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality in which he eloquently expressed a question on behalf of the “lost” that we would do well to ponder:

Father of Mercies! Why from silent earth
 Didst thou awake and curse me into birth,
 Tear me from quiet, banish me from night,
 And make a thankless present of Thy light,
 Push into being a reverse of Thee,
 And animate a clod with misery?

The nature of Hell is an important issue.  In light of what our actions are telling us, maybe we should give more thought to what we say we believe