Yesterday I wrote about things that we know aren’t true about Hell from what the Bible teaches:
- Hell is not underground
- Satan is not in charge of hell
- Hell is not hot and full of fire.
I believe the image of fire (which is common in the Scriptures) is meant to operate on a number of different levels. The fire is meant as a metaphor to represent the refining of creation. The bad get’s thrown out and the good remains (see 2 Peter 3: 10-12 and the parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matt 13).
Fire disintegrates. It breaks apart on a molecular level. Fire destroys the bonds that hold things together. Likewise, we have all seen how selfish, self-centered attitudes can lead to self absorption, bitterness, envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts and other destructive behaviours. That is what sin is: it is self destruction.
Jesus comes and offers life – life to the full (John 10: 10). In redemption Jesus does more than just save our souls from a fiery prison. Jesus restores our humanity.
The idea of our humanness sometimes gets a bad wrap. We often hear people say when they mess up, “Oh well, I’m only human,” like there is a higher form of life and then there is this lower form of life, “humanity.” Our humanity is not at odds with God and his purposes but rather God wants to make us fully human. Jesus was the first truly human being and he seeks to restore the humanity we were meant to have before the fall. When God comes in contact with us through the Holy Spirit we don’t cease to be human but on the other hand the Spirit manifests in us a glimpse of our actual selves.
Sin on the contrary, dehumanizes. It takes what is created in God’s image and shatters it. Sin further mars and destroys this image until it is no longer recognizable. While in the grip of sin we become less and less human. That is what Jesus Christ came to set us free from: the continuous degradation of sin through idolatry to pleasure, moral excellence, power, influence and a host of other idols.
With all that in mind, what if this life isn’t all there is? What if life continues after we die? That is what the Bible teaches: that our physical lives set the stage for the eternal life that is to come (1 Cor 15: 51-57). Tim Keller uses this framework to make sense of what Hell is. He writes, “Hell then is the trajectory of a soul living a self absorbed self centered life, going on and on forever.” (p. 77 of Reason for God)
Hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce puts it brilliantly,
Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others, … but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us to hell.” In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.
People in Hell are miserable and Lewis shows us why. They are raging unchecked in the flames of their passions, their paranoia, their self-pity and bitterness. That’s why it is a travesty to say that God sends people to Hell. In truth people have chosen this path and wouldn’t have chosen any other way, even if they were given the chance.
Hell is not a prison that God finally throws the unrepentant in when He has finally lost His patience with them. Hell is the eternal state a person chooses in order to be their own master, rather than submitting to the rule of God in their lives.
If you think this is crazy and would say, “Nobody would choose Hell!” then I would encourage you to serve meals to the homeless sometime and take a look at the people in these situations. I have given supper to a guy on more than one occasion, let’s call him Bill. Bill is about 50 years old. He is an untreated diabetic who sometimes lives in an apartment with three other guys who are street pharmaceutical sales representatives (drug dealers). Bill did not graduate from High School, has no job prospects and can barely make ends meet on government assistance. Bill sometimes lives in shelters during the winter but will sleep in Montebello Park or Lakeside Park when the weather gets better. Bill has been to my church once, and is friends with a couple of people who go to church there. Bill is trapped in poverty but it is a prison of his own making.
While no one in their right mind would suggest that Bill chose this life, we can all agree that he did make lots of little choices that led him here. Nobody damaged his pancreas on him, but he makes choices everyday about what he eats that destroy its function. The last time I gave him an 8 oz cup of coffee he chose to put in no less than 6 heaping teaspoons of sugar in it. I told him that it wasn’t good for him to have so much sugar if he was diabetic but he shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and kept stirring.
Hell is the eternal trajectory of a person who in this life refuses to recognize the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. In place of Jesus, they put themselves on the throne of their life and it spirals out of control from there. C.S. Lewis points out that, “Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom.” In Romans 1: 24, Paul says that God, “gave them up to their … desires.” It’s true, in the end God gives everyone what they most desire.
Salvation comes through Jesus Christ because we accept that we are sinners (1 John 1:9)– our very nature is at war with God (Rom 8: 7) – and we cannot atone for our own sin. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and yet was unjustly convicted of our sin. Jesus atoned for our sin and granted us His righteousness. We trust the righteousness of Jesus Christ and not our own good deeds. In light of this salvation that belongs to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, Paul describes perfectly the trajectory that leads to heaven in Romans chapter 6. It’s a lengthy passage but it expresses the hope of a believer in Christ so well. In light of such grace (despite all evidence to the contrary 🙂 I am speechless.
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.