Churches go to one extreme or another when talking about hell. It’s either all Hell, all the time, with everybody going home having indigestion every Sunday or Hell is never spoken of at all in order to avoid looking judgmental or unsophisticated. A more balanced approach is needed!
Hell is a real place. Jesus actually gives us more details about hell than anyone else in the Bible. He called it “GEHENNA” after a valley just south of Jerusalem. In the days of Judahite Kings Ahaz and Manasseh, infants were sacrificed there to the idol Molech. During Jesus’ day, its reputation became so ghastly that people avoided it and the valley became a garbage dump.
Hell is a place of judgment reserved for those who reject Jesus. I think it’s also sign of God’s love for us. There are three reasons I believe this.
First, Jesus was willing to go there so we wouldn’t have to. On the cross, Jesus felt total separation from God as the sins of the world were laid on Him (see Matthew 27:46). The fire and brimstone of Hell are obviously part of its horror but the separation from God experienced there is even worse. The light of God’s love is not present there. Jesus was willing to experience this separation on the cross so that we would not have to. Jesus experienced the worst aspect of Hell, separation from God, on the cross so that we would not have to do so. Hell is an expression of God’s love because Jesus was willing to go there for us.
Second, Hell is an expression of God’s love because it is God’s way of separating us from evil (see Revelation 20:10; 14 and 21:7-8; 27). In Heaven, nothing that causes us pain will affect us ever again. Can you imagine never having to: be hurt by a cruel person again, live in fear of someone who wants to harm you, or be sexually abused again? Hell is reserved for those who reject Christ and do such things. It’s an expression of God’s love for us because everything that harms us will be placed there for all of eternity.
Finally, Hell is an expression of God’s love because He allows us to choose to go there or not. God does not force us to love Him. He does not treat us like robots, controlling every thought and action. He allows us to choose whether to love Him or not. This freedom of choice is one of God’s greatest gifts. Life would be meaningless if every decision and every thought were controlled by God. Our love for God would be meaningless because it would not be real. God loves us enough to allow us to choose life eternal with Him or life eternal in Hell. Hell is an expression of His love because we are not manipulated but free.
Hell is a terrible place. It was, however, designed by God because he loves His people.
Rob Morton is minister of First Christian Church Middlesboro. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.