The Problem of Hell

A message in our series The Problem of God. We are preaching on Faith to build your hope. Find all the Problem of God messages here and build your faith, so you can be filled with hope!

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How many of you have kids or grandkids playing t-ball or baseball? I never played t-ball, but I played baseball and the first year I played I was just awful. Not only was I awful, but I was on an awful team. We lost game after game. Baseball was no fun because all we did was lose, and it’s not like it was close, or competitive.

I didn’t like baseball. I didn’t enjoy it. How could I? Then we came to the last game of the season, and we were playing pretty well. We were still in the game, and we came to the final inning and we were tied.
Now, I’m competitive but I’m not sure as a kid I could have wanted to win that game anymore than I wanted to win in that moment. A couple of guys got on base and I came up to bat. I can still remember my dad standing behind the fence. The pitch came and I just kind of stuck my bat and made contact. I was so surprised I’d hit the ball it wasn’t until I heard my dad yelling “run!” that I started running. I not only got a hit but also got an RBI. We were in the lead, then we went into the field and kept them from scoring and we won!

That moment shaped me. I love for the underdog to win.

I love to see the team that is dog meat for years to make the playoffs, and I love for a team that hasn’t won a world series in decades to win the final game of the season…

When I moved to Virginia Beach, VA everyone there loved the Yankees, they won all the time (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000) and for those reasons I hated them. So, I started cheering for their rivals the Red Sox. The Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in over 80 years.

All of that shaped my preferences, who I cheered for, so when the Red Sox came back from being down 3 games to none against the Yankees in the playoffs and then went on to win the World Series in 2004, it was a wonderful moment.

Here’s the problem, immediately after that World Series in 2004, Yankees fans were suddenly history buffs.

They would also talk about the amount of World Series that they had won… 27 (Cardinals have 11).

I HATE that the Yankees have won 27 world series. I wish it weren’t true, BUT no matter how much I don’t like it, it’s true. It’s a fact. You see, my feelings on a subject don’t change the facts.

Our feelings don’t change the facts.

Of all the Problems of God I’m covering, I find this one, the problem of Hell to be the least emotionally satisfying. It doesn’t feel like a win. It feel rough.

In fact, you know I think I’ve been hogging the pulpit on these Problem of God messages, anyone want to take a crack at this one? Give the talk on hell a shot? Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

Honestly, I don’t like the idea of hell. I wish it weren’t true.

I think that’s where we need to start this morning, with recognition that our thinking on the issue of hell isn’t really thinking at all.

It’s feeling.

The problem of Hell is not an issue of evidence or logic, it’s an issue of our own feelings.

For many of us, these feelings are deeply personal. If hell is a reality, we fear that we have a friend or loved one who is experiencing hell. I want to be sensitive to that, because I’m there with you.

Having pointed out that often it’s an emotional response that we have to this question, I want you to see that if hell is real, and if God forbid someone that we care for is there, the last thing that they would want would be for you to ignore its reality.

Look with me at Luke 16 and we are going to read 19-31.

Luke 16:19-31

In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, the man who is in hell asks that someone would tell his family of this place, so that they would not go there.

As unpleasant as it might be for me to talk about this morning, I am perhaps carrying out the wish of someone who has experienced the torment of hell, who would hope that someone would tell you to turn to God and avoid that awful place.

With that in mind, let me talk to you about the problem of hell.

The Topic of hell is dificult.

Peter Kreeft wrote: “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, Hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe, and the first to be abandoned.”

Betrand Russel said, “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”

Charles Darwin pointed to hell as one of the significant reasons for his own abandonment of the Christian faith.

The idea of hell and that his brothers might be there drove him from faith, drove him to look for another explanation for life…

CS Lewis, the skeptic turned apologetic said

There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of scripture, and especially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.

I want to tackle this discussion from those the points that Lewis makes.

1. The doctrine of hell has full support of scripture.

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to find that the scriptures teach us of a places of everlasting punishment called hell.

We could talk at length about the veracity of scripture, how the Bible has been verified again and again and proven to be so very reliable-

Many people don’t struggle with the idea of the Bible having value, but they wish to discount the parts that they do not like.

Again, those are beliefs built upon emotion and not reason.

If scripture is true, it’s true.

For many people who fall into the camp of liking some of the Bible, but not all, Jesus is a popular character.

Even people who have nothing to do with the church like Jesus.

New Age thinkers like Deepak Chopra write books about Jesus as a mystic and guru and phenomenal teacher.

Deepak Chopra appeared on TV in an interview and said that the problem with Christians is that we don’t hold to Jesus’ central teaching of the sermon on the mount and emphasize all these other things about God’s wrath and judgment.

The problem there is that Jesus told more about hell than any other figure in the Bible, including in her sermon on the mount.

More than 10% of Jesus’ parables and stories and teachings like the one we read a few moments ago speak of hell and the judgement.

Jesus sermon on the mount includes admonitions like this one:

“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” 

– Matthew 5:29

People sometime think of the Old Testament as the portion of the Bible that portrays God as wrathful and judgmental, and that then in the New Testament God shows us his loving side through the person of Jesus. However,

“If we say that the love of God is emphasized to a greater extent in the New Testament, we have to acknowledge that the wrath of God also is ratcheted up.” – Mark Clark 

Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought, wow. Ok, I need to burn that shirt cause I look awful in it…

Jesus was as genuine as they come. Today we live in an age of filters, spanx, and age defying cream. We do our very best to look our very best, and these efforts don’t stop with our physical appearance, they extend also to our societal appearances.

We try to say and feel and believe things that will be widely accepted- we like to be on the right side of where debates are going- we try to forecast where popular opinion is going to be and get there before the crowd…

We try to be on the right side of history.

Jesus wasn’t on the right side of history. He didn’t try to make himself look a certain way… He just was.

Whoever he was in front of, he told it like it was. SO much so that it got him killed.

Jesus tells us like it is, and he tells us to avoid hell.

2. The doctrine of hell has been supported throughout Christendom.

We need to recognize that the reason we feel the way we do about hell is very much due to our culture moment and our place in the world. You see its only in the peace and prosperity of this current age in our current culture that this idea carries validity.

Go back 60 years to our grandfathers who watched the horrors of WW2 and ask them what they think about hell, and they believed most definitely there was a hell and that there were definitely people who deserved to go there.

Go to people in Africa who have had their children stolen away- their sons forced to be child soldiers, their daughters forced into prostitution. Whereas we struggle to believe in God because of hell, they hope in God because of hell.

While we are uncomfortable with the idea of hell, they take comfort in knowing that while there are forces of evil that we are unable to overcome in this life, God will deal with them fully and absolutely in the next life.

Christian theologian Miroslav Volf who witnessed great death and destruction in his country of Croatia said

“It takes the quiet of a suburban home for the brith of thesis… of God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.”

Miroslav Volf

You see, we are shaped by our experiences, by our culture, by our current age. Just as my pulling for the Red Sox and probably tied to my first baseball team, our current culture has impacted our perspective on justice, God’s wrath, and eternity.

3. The doctrine of hell has the support of logic.

Those influences don’t change reality or truth, just my perception of it…

The influences of culture and experience do not change reality or truth, just our perception of them.

In this skewed perception of the world, a couple of ideas have sprung forth.

Universalism – Annihilation – Figurative Hell

Universalism is the idea that we all end up in heaven. No one goes to hell. It’s born out of people who only understand or only want God to be a God of love.

Recently the Pope gave people reason to think that he believes in Universalism. That was popular news here in the western modern world. I doubt that was comforting to people in Somalia, Haiti, Croatia….

(is the Pope Catholic?)

Universalism – Annihilation – Figurative Hell

The idea that we just cease to exist is annihilation.

No reward for the evil people, but no punishment either?

Well the punishment of hell being the same for everyone is not what Scripture teaches. Jesus points to the fact that hell will be a place of greater punishment for some than others…

It will be far more tolerable….

A child that is born deformed, a baby that comes down with a critical illness… they just cease to be?

We don’t have a divine perception of justice, but we do have some perception. We give people greater time in punishment than the crime they committed took, we punish people more severely based upon the value of what they took, the worth of what they did…

(hit a cat versus hit a person)

Universalism – Annihilation – Figurative Hell

Jesus uses apocalyptic language. He speaks of fire and brimstone, however, the devil and his demons are spirit, so what will fire do to them?

Jesus speaks of hell in a couple of different descriptive ways…

If the flame of hell is merely figurative, it’s pointing to something greater and worse…

This warning label always makes me cringe…

They convey the idea of how bad that would be in the image.

That figure is cringeworthy, but’s far less painful than actual experience. The actual experience would be far worse than the figurative experience…

“we are living in hell” – common grace – no common grace in heaven…

I just can’t believe that a loving God would send someone to hell. I agree with you.

Hell wasn’t prepared for us. It was prepared for Satan and his evil horde.

Matthew 25:41

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

2 Peter 3:9-10

9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

When we look at the God of the Bible, we do not a see a God who uses hell to frighten people into submission, but rather a God who has gone to great lengths to call us back to him, but we continue to ignore him and run from him…

He does not force us to choose Him. God doesn’t send people to hell, He’s everything but force them to Himself.

It will not be a fear of hell that persuades you, but a love of the Savior who came and took hell for you.

Abraham told the rich man, they won’t believe if someone warns them of hell. Let them believe the word of truth.