A friend of mine sent me the link to Mingle2, a website which, amongst other things, rates pages on the Internet and gives them a cinema-style rating. Imagine my horror, then, to find that this very page had been rated 'NC-17', the equivalent of a British '18' Certificate!The problem? Well, in short the word 'hell' - which apparently appears 67 times on the blog (mostly in this article, I think). It seems that the 'h-word' is something that people just aren't able to tolerate. They hate it. I remember clearly being attacked by a guy in a bar at Lancaster University when I happened to tell another person there, in the course of a long conversation, that I believed that if he rejected Jesus then there was no other way of being saved from the torture of hell. I was told I had no right to say such a thing.
I can't say that I enjoy talking about hell. In fact, it would be a strange brand of Christianity that would. My stomach is turning even as I write now. But I am convinced that it is important to speak of hell as a reality when it comes to it. Jesus did. And nothing else conveys the seriousness of their predicament to a person who has turned from their loving heavenly Father onto the road of death. Without Christ, we are on the road to a hopeless eternity. Additionally, it is only when we see hell as a reality, that we appreciate the depth of love and grace shown to us in Christ. Tim Keller is brilliant on this, in his article 'Preaching hell to a postmodern age: brimstone for the broad-minded', available online here. He says:
Following a recent sermon on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the post-service question-and-answer session was packed with more than the usual number of attenders. The questions and comments focused on the subject of eternal judgment.
My heart sank when a young college student said, "I've gone to church all my life, but I don't think I can believe in a God like this." Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.
Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.
An older businesswoman said, "Well, I'm not much of a churchgoer, and I'm in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me."
Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus' tomb in John 11. "That text tells us that Jesus wept," he said, "yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That's helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he's both. He doesn't only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross."
The second woman nodded, "Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn't know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus' love. It's very moving."
It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.