Friday, August 08, 2008

How should we feel about hell?

Sometimes evangelicals get described as advocating a caricature of God as mean and vengeful. Some will never accept that God would judge sin - though we do all seem to want justice. The difficultly of people accepting this is compounded by the perception of how those who believe in hell consider it. The idea being that we somehow speak of hell either with glee or cold detachment. I'm sure that happens. I've heard people do it, and probably been guilty of the latter myself. It shouldn't be this way however.

I think there are two key emotions with which to speak of hell, in no particular order.

Firstly, we should consider hell with anguish. On the one hand, the idea of people facing divine judgement forever is horrible. When Paul writes about this in Romans 9 he does so with unceasing anguish. It's a tearstained chapter. From a people-centred approach hell is heartbreaking. There's also a struggle in the heart of God who we know desires the salvation of all the people he has made. As Ezekiel is commissioned to preach to a people under judgement he is sick to his stomach at their peril.

But there is more at stake and that brings us to the second. We should consider hell worshipfully. All things were made for the glory of God. When God isn't worshipped it's abhorrent. It's the definition of evil for God not to be worshipped - because God is that glorious. For the worship of alternates to be eternally tolerated by the God who is sovereign over all would be for him to deny himself. When the victory of Jesus is completed his people will celebrate the vindication of his name.

I'd love it if no-one went to hell. I'd love it if everyone worshipped God. The absence of the second however means that hell awaits many - and I consider myself to deserve it. The glory of the Christian gospel is that though I did not worship God he provided a way for me to escape hell. Not only that but to come into personal eternal secure relationship with him forever.

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