Hell is one of those topics that most people tend to shy away from. It’s unpleasant to think about, let alone talk about, and it’s a topic that has the tendency to result in hard feelings, arguments, and controversy. While it’s pleasant to think about heaven and eternal bliss, in reality no one really wants to think of the alternative. The problem though is that ignoring something’s existence does not change its reality.
As you probably know, most of my posts are reflections about things God has showed me, and are usually pretty lighthearted. However, recently I’ve been feeling prompted to take on this topic, and it will definitely be one of the most difficult that I’ve written, if not the most difficult one. Please understand that I am not condemning anyone to hell, or declaring their future destination, by writing this post. Nor am I writing out of spite, anger, hatred, bitterness, or with any ulterior motive. I simply want to provide some insight and clarity about a topic that has become increasingly muddled. A person’s eternal destination is between the individual and God, and not for anyone else to decide.
One additional subnote before I continue on. This topic has the high potential of becoming very broad, but I will do my best to stay focused and avoid tangents. I will, however, try to hit those very closely-related topics in future posts, if I have not already. Anyhow, with that said, let’s move on.
Between costumes at Halloween, cartoons, TV shows, and movies, the concept of hell is not a foreign one for most of us. However, rather than accurately reflect what we see in scripture, pop culture has skewed the truth, typically into one of three directions – one glamorizing it into a big party with all of your closest friends, another minimizing it into sunburned guys in red pajamas poking people in the butt with pitchforks, and the third dismissing it as nothing more than a myth to scare gullible suckers into acting good. The reality, however, is much different.
Scripture describes hell as being laden with fire and brimstone, punctuated by bitter weeping, perpetual torment, and the gnashing of teeth. Those words may seem harsh, almost antithetical to how we view God and His Goodness, and for many, the existence of hell does not seem plausible because it seems impossible for a loving God to create such a place. However, when we dig deeper, something stands out far beyond the authors’ attempts of describing what hell is like. The reason for such an unbearable picture is their attempt to give us a glimpse of what an existence is like that lacks the presence of God, and everything that includes. In other words – ultimately, hell is most defined not by what it contains, but what it lacks.
Something many people do not realize is that hell was not a part of the picture originally – it was created after the fact for a very specific reason. And it was never intended for people.
Scripture tells us that Satan is pretty much the most beautiful thing that God created. He was originally the worship leader of Heaven’s choirs, and is believed by some to have been the highest angel, second only to God Himself. However, over time, his beauty and position degraded into pride, and at one point, he decided to overthrow God. With a third of the angels behind him, he waged war in Heaven, which went about as well you’d expect. As a result, Satan and the angels that followed him in battle were cast out of heaven, and hell was devised to become their eventual home for the remainder of eternity – an eternity of separation from God.
Knowing full well what destiny awaits them, Satan and his fallen angels developed a hatred for God and all that He loves, desiring to cause Him as much pain as possible in the interim. As we know from the media, in order to cause someone the most pain, you don’t go after them – you go after what they love the most. Which, in God’s case, just happens to be human beings. Created in God’s image, and designed to live in continual relationship with Him, we are most precious to Him. And so, it follows that we would be a primary target of Satan’s wrath.
Contrary to popular belief, our focus and goal is not to follow a set of rules, or have good karma, or to make sure that the good deeds we do need to outweigh the bad, or anything like that. Rather, the focus of scripture is for us to have a relationship with Christ. This is not a foreign concept to us – throughout our lives, we choose to invest in relationships with some people, and walk away from others. We choose to spend time together, getting to know one another, and the depth of our relationships correlates directly to the amount of time and effort we invest in them.
In the same way, one moment at a time, we choose whether we want to be in a relationship with Christ. And just like we allow people to decide whether they want to be in a relationship with us, Jesus allows us to make the decision about whether we want to be in a relationship with Him. And once we have left this life, we make our decision permanent. In other words, ultimately, God does not send people to hell – explicitly or implicitly, we choose whether we want to be with Him, and God honors our choice.
And that is the line that our enemy most often plays, because, by keeping us away from Him, Satan is able to cause God far more pain than he could ever do by simply attacking Him directly.
More than anything, our enemy wants to keep us away from God. To deceive us – in whatever manner is most appropriate based on our history, environment, and character – into believing that we do not need to be in a relationship with Christ, and don’t want to. Whether distracting us through prosperity or popularity, embittering us through pain, deceiving us through other religions, disheartening us with the state of the world around us, or whatever – our enemy’s primary goal is to keep us from having a relationship with Christ. And more than that, trying to keep us from realizing that we need one.
Ultimately, that is the true definition of hell. An eternity spent without God – every moment spent in isolation, remembering and reliving every chance, every choice, every moment we had to make a different decision, and the realization that nothing we can do will ever change our present state.
If there were a definition for true, complete, agonizing hopelessness, this would be it.