What Makes Hell Hell?
It is perhaps the most uncomfortable aspect of Christian theology to talk about, but if we have any tenderness in our hearts, it should make us passionate communicators.
What is it? The belief in the existence of hell, a place of eternal punishment for the wicked.
We cannot escape this doctrine in the Word of God. If you live a life of unrepentant spiritual adultery, denying God’s existence, breaking his wise commands, and forsaking his glory for your own, you will spend eternity in hell.
What is hell, and what makes hell hell? For at least three reasons, this sad and ominous reality should produce both grief and motivation.
1. Separation from God
Every person, believer or unbeliever, benefits from the existence, power, and grace of God. The Lord’s presence is what holds the world together and gives the universe its order, beauty, and regularity. Imagine what would happen if, for just one moment, God withdrew his presence. Everything around us would explode into utter chaos!
Now, imagine that chaos, with absolutely no end. It’s impossible to communicate the horror of this reality. Hell is an existence far beyond any darkness that any human being has ever experienced.
Read Romans 1:29–31 and consider how far humanity has tumbled from the perfection that was the Garden of Eden: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (ESV)
The King James Version translates “heartless” as “without natural affection” – progressive loss of an individual’s humanity. Remember, the Apostle Paul was writing about his present society, where God was still exercising restraint. Imagine the inhumanity that would ensue if God allowed every wicked impulse free rein because he completely withdrew his presence.
3. Unending Torment
Jesus describes hell as a place where “the fire never goes out” and where “the worms that eat them do not die” (Mark 9:43, 48, NIV). God will say to some, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, ESV). It truly is a place of torment forever and ever (see Luke 16:23 and Revelation 14:11).
You might be thinking, “Isn’t Wednesday’s Word supposed to be a weekly devotional of encouragement? Why write such an explicit piece about the horrors of hell?”
The fact that we think eternal punishment is harsh and makes God less than fair demonstrates how far we have strayed from the biblical understanding of how destructive evil is and how gloriously holy God is.
The biblical description of hell’s torment is a gift to us from God, a mechanism for us to weigh the magnitude of the sinfulness of our sin and to remember what is truly important in this temporary life.
So yes, be encouraged (and sobered) by the warning of hell. Celebrate that all who have put their trust in Jesus (by grace alone) will never see the dark side of eternity. Agonize over the eternal, God-separated torment that awaits those who have rejected that rescuing and forgiving grace.
And then act. The doctrine of hell must shake us out of complacency. You should not be able to read what I have just described with a nonchalant passivity. Any genuine follower of Jesus will wish that no one would ever experience eternal punishment and want to participate in communicating the message of eternal salvation.
Today, ask the Lord to free you from your claustrophobic bubble of temporary comforts. Pray that the Spirit prompts you to prioritize eternal destiny over physical pleasures. Love your neighbors by telling them about heaven and hell.
Paul David Tripp
1. Do you believe, or have you believed in the past, that eternal punishment is too harsh and that God might be less than fair? What led you to believe such things?
2. How is the doctrine of hell, and the fact that God warns you about it, a comfort and a blessing? Be specific in your application to everyday life.
3. Where are you witnessing a progressive loss of humanity in your society today? How can you get involved and incarnate the righteousness, compassion, and justice of the Savior?
4. What temporary comforts and pleasures do you prioritize or idolize? How should the doctrine of hell change your relationship with those things?
5. Identify one or two people that God has placed in your life who do not yet know the Lord. How should the doctrine of hell shake you out of any relationship complacency you might have developed.