Countless people among us seem obsessed with subject of hell. Even irreligious individuals talk of “going to hell and back” for something they love. They speak of certainies as being “sure as hell,” or impossibilities as accurring “when hell freezes over.” And bad experiences are said to “hurt like hell.” Many otherwise polite people regularly inject color, emotion, and profanity into their conversation by adding a casual or angry reference to hell to almost any combination of words.
Yet ironically, the more hell shows up in casual conversation, the less it is actually thought about, even in religious circles. The more such a word is used in an aggressive, profane way, the less threatening it seems to the user. Accordingly, the subject of hell has become as prevalent in street talk as it is absent in Sunday sermons.
It wasn’t always that way. Historically, most religions have held openly to the idea of an after-death judgment followed by punishment for evildoers. In the New Encyclopedia Britannica, we read: The view that hell is the final dwellingplace of the damned after a last judgment is held by the western prophetic religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Some modern theologians have again questioned the literalistic view but still hold that hell is a state of separation of the wicked from the good (Volume 5, page 814).
Our present reluctance to think seriously about the reality of future punishment may stem in part from an inadequate concept of God. We have forgotten that He is a God to be feared. The Russian theologian Berdyaev said, “It is remarkable how little people think about hell or trouble about it. This is the most striking evidence of human frivolity” (The Destiny Of Man, Scribner 1937, page 33). What he wrote more than 70 years ago is even more true today than when he penned it.
We do not do people a favor when we remain silent about the subject of hell. Jesus, the prime example of God’s love, spoke of hell repeatedly. He said that some would rise from death to “the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29). He declared that those who go to hell enter the horrible place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44,46,48). He also depicted it as a place of “outer darkness,” where there “will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30).
Bertrand Russell said he decided to become an atheist when he read the words of Jesus about hell. But did he act wisely? Atleast he was consistent. He realized that hell deserves to be taken seriously. He knew that it doesn’t make sense to say you believe in Christ while rejecting what He and His book say about an eternal “lake of fire.”