Each week in my hometown paper, the Kansas City Star, a question is asked of some selected religious leaders in the area regarding matters of faith. Each week two of these selected readers address the weekly question in this column. Today's question was this:
Is hell a real place where people are sent?
Let's hear a couple of excerpts of what our panelists had to say:
The Rev. Duke Tufty, pastor, Unity Temple on the Plaza:
"I believe the concept of hell as a destination where we may or may not go depending on whether we have been naughty or nice to be pure, unequivocal bosh. To threaten people with the notion of hell,or even suggest it, is sinister manipulation and spiritual abuse of the highest degree. Is there a single person reading this column that would sentence their child, sibling or loved one to hell? I assume there isn't and I know God wouldn't. Our creator is a loving, accepting and forgiving God and would never do, or allow to be done, anything that would cast us into eternal suffering."
The Rev. Pat Rush, pastor, Visitation Catholic Church:
"The Catholic Church teaches that hell indeed exists. The church does not teach, however that anyone is necessarily in hell."
"Actually Pope John Paul II sketched a different picture of life after death. He stated that heaven and hell exist, but they are states of being and not physical locations."
"Hell is ... the pain of living forever without and outside of the love of God."
Before I go any further, please, please know that I am not trying to pick on or pigeon-hole any religion here with this post. I am merely pointing out that what we read or hear by ANYONE, including religious leaders should be tested in light of what the Bible actually says. Because the subject matter - our eternal destiny - is at stake, I felt that I had to address this topic of hell on my blog. If my own denominational leader would have said these words, I would have had no choice but to address him as well.
With that said, I wish I could say that I was surprised at what I read today, but I must say that I was unpleasantly not surprised. I was not surprised because it is a reality in our culture today that Christians are slipping further and further into biblical illiteracy. The danger in this is that since the Bible is truth, truth is getting lost in the rage of experiential spirituality.
What do you think about hell? Do you think it is a real place or is it just an imaginary place conjured up to scare people into submission to authority? Our Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is very clear in His belief that hell is a real place. In the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus is recorded as speaking of hell on nine different occasions (Mt 5:22, 5:29, 5:30, 10:28, 11:23, 16:18, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33). The major prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel mention hell ten times between them. John in the book of Revelation, mentions hell 4 times. Is the Bible true? Absolutely. We cannot merely accept only the parts that we like and discard the rest. Was Jesus telling the truth? Absolutely. Jesus is God and therefore cannot lie. Therefore, if Jesus says that hell is a real place, then hell is a real place. Who are we to question what God's Word says?
Hell is not just a tactic to me. It is a real place that I sincerely believe in and do not want the people I love to endure because they chose to reject Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their souls. I doubt that hell is a tactic to God either. God clearly doesn't want anyone to endure the eternal torment of hell (2 Pe 3:9), but His perfect love demands a hell. The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics describes this truth very clearly:
Hell. God's Love Demands a Hell.
The Bible asserts that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). But love cannot act coercively, only persuasively. A God of love cannot force people to love him. Paul spoke of things being done freely and not of complusion (2 Cor 9:7). Forced love is not love; it is rape. A loving being always gives "space" to others. He does not force himself upon them against their will. As C.S. Lewis observed, "the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to override a human will...would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo" (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 38). Hence, those who do not choose to love God must be allowed not to love him. Those who do not wish to be with him must be allowed to be separated from him. Hell allows separation from God.
Hell is a real place where people are sent. I don't like that idea any more than anyone else, but I must accept it as fact because my Holy Bible tells me so, no matter what anyone else says.