“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
Hell is everything that heaven is not. While usually people imagine hell as a blazing inferno filled with devils and pitchforks, the sure reality of the place is that it is devoid of God.
This is much worse than God’s absence from Eden once sin entered the world. Every good thing in this world that we know comes from God (James 1:17). So imagine taking everything good that we have experienced out of the picture, and you have hell. No family, no feasts, no intimacy, no comforts, no gifts, no encouragement, no recreation, and no hope. God’s absence from this place is what makes it hell.
Due to God’s absence, hell is characterized as a place full of intense physical and mental anguish. Not only does a person realize that what he or she chose not to believe on earth is actually real, that person was able to behold Jesus at judgment in his glory. That person is aware of what he or she is missing. While in heaven, a person’s sinful nature is done away with finally, in hell, a person’s sinful nature progresses in depraved thoughts and actions.
Hell is final. While we may feel better if we hoped there was a second chance for people who did not choose Christ, there is no scriptural evidence that such an opportunity exists after death. While we would love for these people to have a chance to receive Christ at judgment once they behold his glory, the reality is they had numerous chances while on earth.
“We should also observe that God does not send anyone to hell. He desires that none should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). God created humans to have fellowship with him and provided the means by which they can have that fellowship. It is a human’s choice to experience the agony of hell. His or her own sin sends the person there, and his or her rejection of the benefits of Christ’s death prevents escape.
“As C. S. Lewis has put it, sin is the human being saying to God throughout life, ‘Go away and leave me alone.’ Hell is God’s finally saying to the human, ‘You may have your wish.’ It is God’s leaving the person to himself or herself, as that individual has chosen” [Erickson’s Christian Theology, p. 1247; adapted from Lewis’ The Problem of Pain].
If hell is truly as bad as it seems to be, then we probably should make sure that we do all we can to show people another way.
“Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
Could you echo Paul? Are you innocent of the blood of all those around you? Can you enter eternity knowing you did what you could to point people to Jesus?
For more info, check out Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology.
Any questions? Comment below and I will answer the best I can.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.