Research has shown an astounding fact: many Christians do not believe there is a hell. But if one believes in the full Gospel, then one has to believe Jesus when He spoke of “a fiery furnace” into which those who have been found wanting will be cast.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center, a renowned nonpartisan fact tank that polls the public about the issues, attitudes and trends in the US and the world, conducted a survey among nearly 6,000 Christians and found that over 60 percent of the respondents aged between the ages of 30 and 64 did not believe there was a hell.
In the movie The Usual Suspects, the villain says,“The devil’s greatest trick is to convince you that he doesn’t exist.”This is uncomfortably close to the truth, judging from the disturbing figures of the Pew Research Center study.
In fact, this very sleight-of-hand is what Christian author CS Lewis revealed in his brilliant book, The Screwtape Letters. In the book, a senior demon, Screwtape, teaches his disciple Wormwood the ways to turn his assigned human against the “Enemy” (Jesus). One of the key ways is to keep a low profile and let the man not realise that he is on a trajectory towards eternal hell.
So, the fewer people believe there is a hell and think about the consequences of their choices, the more people will be headed towards it. As the Bible says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
WHY BELIEVE IN HELL?
Well firstly, because the Bible says so. From the prophets of the Old Testament to the apostles in the New Testament, they have given us cause to believe in not just life after death, but heaven and hell.
In fact, Jesus talks about it more than anyone else. And that seems to be His primary purpose of coming to earth. He explained this to a Pharisee leader Nicodemus in John 3:16-18. He said, “He (Jesus) came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it.”
There is a death sentence for those who refuse to believe in Jesus.
Not to be confused with Hades or Sheol, which is the holding place for the spirit of the dead, hell is a place prepared for Satan and his demons. Jesus said as much in Matthew 25:41.
In that passage (Matt 25:31-46), Jesus was explaining to His disciples how He would “sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats” on Judgement Day. The “sheep” would enter the Kingdom of God while the “goats” will be herded to their eternal doom, which is the fire of hell.
Jesus often describes hell as a fiery furnace (Matt 13:40-42). This is supported by accounts of people whose spirits have reportedly gone to hell and come back.
TO HELL AND BACK
Many Christians and non-Christians have written about their personal out-of-body experiences in hell. An article on the website The Daily Beast, “Is Hell Real? People Who Went There Say Yes”, retold some of these stories. Matthew Botsford wrote in A Day In Hell, his account of his experience in the underworld, that he saw pairs of demonic eyes creeping towards him. In his book, My Descent Into Death, Art professor Howard Storm described angry creatures screaming at him “There is no God!’ when he tried to pray.
George Ritchi was dead for nine minutes during World World II and he claimed that he did a tour of hell with Jesus Christ in that period of time. He wrote in Return From Tomorrow that he saw spirits engaging in “what looked like fights to the death, writhing, punching, gouging”: “Even more hideous than the bites and kicks they exchanged, were the sexual abuses many were performing in feverish pantomime. Perversions I had never dreamed of were being vainly attempted all around us,” he recorded.
Choo Thomas, a Korean-American experienced, between 1994 and 1996, many experiences of heaven and hell. She chronicled what she saw, felt and heard in her best-selling book, Heaven Is So Real!, which features a foreword by Dr Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church. In one journey to hell, she saw family members that she had known who had passed away, whom she never expected to see.
In this excerpt, she wrote about seeing her family in hell:
It was so hard to look into the pit of hell, but immediately my attention was directed toward a figure who was waving at me. Through the smoky haze, I could determine that the person was a woman. Then I heard her voice. She was speaking in my native Korean tongue, and she began to scream: ―Hot! Hot!
I knew that voice. The smoke cleared, and I looked directly into the eyes of the tormented woman. I immediately recognized my mother! She stretched out her right hand and waved it at me, saying, ―So hot, so hot!I remember so clearly her eyes and my eyes meeting, and the way her eyes begged me to help her…My heart stopped. A knife of cold hopelessness stabbed at my heart… I wanted so desperately to reach out and take my mother‘s hand so that I could lift her from the licking tongues of fire that swirled all around her. It was the worst moment of my life.
There is no word in the dictionary that truly identifies what I felt at that moment. It was a mixture of fear, desperation, hurt, terror, sadness and hopelessness. Then I realized that these were the very emotions that my mother would have to experience throughout all eternity… I wanted to touch her, to hold her, to tell her everything would be OK, but I knew that these things had been made impossible because of her choices in life. I knew that I could not help her—that even the Lord could not help her because she didn‘t know Him…
I began to weep profusely. I had been crying the whole time, wailing like a child. So many of my loved ones and friends had made choices that had cast them into the fires of hell for all eternity! It was too much for me to bear!
Some of them, I‘m sure, had heard about the Lord, but I felt quite certain that no one had ever explained to them who Jesus was. I felt quite certain that if they had known who He truly was, then they would not have made the choices they had made. How I wished I could tell them about Him who said, ―I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6).
These are the personal experiences and visions of these individuals, not Bible truth. But while they may be hard to prove via Scripture, there is something to be said for the fact that so many reports seeing experiencing similar scenarios, from all over the world, from the very young to the very old, from believers to pre-believers.
THE WORST KIND OF HELL
2 Thessalonians 1:9 talks about another dimension of hell that people seldom talk about. It reads, “Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they’ve done. Eternal exile from the presence of the Master and his splendid power is their sentence.”
In his article “The Importance Of Hell”, Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, wrote, “In the teaching of Jesus the ultimate condemnation from the mouth of God is ‘depart from me’. That is remarkable—to simply be away from God is the worst thing that can happen to us!”
A person might think, “I haven’t had a single thought about God in my whole life and I’m doing pretty well in life. So I don’t really need God, right?”
Wrong. Keller went on to explain, “In this world, all of humanity, even those who have turned away from God, still are supported by ‘kindly providences’ or ‘common grace’ (Acts 14:16-17; Psalm 104:10-30; James 1:17) keeping us still capable of wisdom, love, joy, and goodness. But when we lose God’s supportive presence all together, the result is hell.”
God is the Creator. Acts 17:28 tells us that only in Him do we speak and move and have our being. Human beings are created to walk in God’s Presence. Outside of God’s grace, all is chaos.
As CS Lewis explained it, hell is the punishment that the rebellious choose for themselves. The doors of hell are locked from the inside, he wrote in The Problem Of Pain. These are the souls that, even when faced with the truth, use the free will God gave them to turn away from Him. In hell, there is no return from that choice.
Like a man longing for his beloved wife who died before her time. Like a mother who yearns for her child who went missing when he was just three. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God,” says the Psalmist in Psalms 42:1. What if the “unquenchable fire” that Jesus was talking about in Mark 9:44 was the separation from God our Creator forever?
Romans 1: 20-24 (MSG) reads, “By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So God said, in effect, ‘If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.’”
THE URGENCY OF THE GOOD NEWS
Pastor Satish Kumar, founder of the megachurch Calvary Temple, India, posed this question to the leaders of CHC at a recent meeting. He asked who believed that if a person has never heard the Gospel and he dies, that he would go to heaven. He then asked who believed that the person would go to hell.
Pastor Satish then expounded: if someone could still go to heaven if he hasn’t been saved in this lifetime, why did Jesus go to the cross at all?
The realization that anyone who has not repented and made Jesus his Lord and Savior was bound for hell, whether he had heard the Gospel in his lifetime or not, was a sobering one.
That is why, added the pastor, telling the world about Jesus is a matter of urgency.
We Christians need to tell people that their choices on this earth make a difference eternally. If they choose to reject Jesus, our only access to God, they will be separated from Him forever. The sense of loss and the yearning for love they feel in this lifetime will not go away, not even with death.
We need to tell them who Jesus actually is. He is not a religious God who passes judgments on all who fail to follow the rules in the Bible. In fact, He knows we are imperfect and that is why He came to die on the cross to pay for our sins. If they give Him a chance and get to know Him, He will erase all the bad things of their past and come and fulfill that longing in their hearts.
The way to heaven is a narrow path (Matt 7:14), but once you take the first step of inviting Jesus to be your Lord, He is with you every step of the way. Accepting Christ is simple: it starts with asking Him in a prayer like this, “Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Come and fill my heart with Your Presence and make me the person You want me to be. Amen.”