Since my last post was on heaven, sort of, I thought I'd cover the other end of the spectrum. I've been reading a really good book on Hell by Thor Ramsey. Now some of you may recognize that name and say, "Thor Ramsey? You mean the obnoxious comedian guy who used to host the Christian comedy show 'Bananas'?" And I would respond by saying, "Look, Cheryl, just because you're my wife doesn't mean you get to share your opinions on my blog. Besides, I kind of like Thor's comedy."
Actually, I would say, "Yeah, I was surprised a bit, too." Turns out this comedian is actually a pastor (shock!). Actually, that shouldn't be a shock. One of the most famous pastors in history, Charles Spurgeon, happened to be a pretty good comedian at times. To one critic who condemned Mr. Spurgeon for his smoking of cigars, he replied, "I cultivate my flowers and burn my weeds." (Of course, in this day and time with the controversy over legalized marijuana, maybe that's not the best quote, but I digress)
It also turns out that this comedian is a pretty decent theologian. And this book, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, proves it. Mr. Ramsey does an amazing job of showing how all the modern aversion to the doctrine of hell, even among evangelicals, results from a low view of sin, which in turn comes from a low view of God.
Here's the deal, folks. God talks about hell. He talks about hell alot. Jesus talked about hell. Paul talked about hell. Scripture is full of references to hell. And far from being "offensive" or somehow taking away from God's love and grace, hell magnifies and proves His love and grace. In fact, in order for God's love and grace to be real, hell is necessary.
If God is perfect in holiness and justice and righteousness, which He is, then sin must be dealt with. It must be punished. If the Universalist idea of "everyone gets to heaven eventually" is true, then this throws God's holiness and justice and righteousness out the window. If the child molester in town ends up in heaven alongside the rest of us, you would scream "where's the justice?" And you'd be right. If the Hitlers and Stalins and Husseins of the world eventually enter paradise alongside your sainted grandmother, you'd think "God isn't really just." And you'd be right.
Justice demands hell. Holiness, purity, righteousness, all which God is in perfection, all demand that sin be dealt with. Hell is necessary because sin is real. But what does that do to God's love and grace and so on? Well, that's why this is the perfect subject for Ash Wednesday, the day many begin to look forward to the celebration of our Lord's death and resurrection.
You see, hell is also necessary in order for the Cross to make sense. I've said this repeatedly. If I tell my wife I love her and to prove it I jump off a cliff, how does that prove my love? It's pointless. But if we are both hanging from that cliff, balancing on a limb that can only hold one of us, and if I let go so that she will then be taken to safety, then my actions have meaning.
Jesus demonstrates the love and mercy and grace of God by dying on that Cross in our place. He suffers the wrath of God that our sins deserve. If hell is not real, then wrath is just a lie and Jesus died for nothing. If hell is not real, the warnings about judgment and the need for repentance are wasted breaths, and God is a liar. But the warnings are real, God's wrath is real, sin really deserves that wrath, and hell is the place of that wrath for those whose sin is not dealt with in Christ.
The idea of atonement is at the heart of the Gospel. Without it, we have no "good news." As Mr. Ramsey says in his book, "Take away the vital connection of Jesus saving his people from their sins, diverting the wrath of God, and pronouncing sinners justified, and you have a nonsensical gospel." No atonement, no Gospel. No hell, no need for atonement.
So you see, hell is necessary and good. Necessary because sin is real, God is holy, and sin must be dealt with. Good because it shows us that God is perfect in righteousness, holiness and justice. But also it highlights the goodness and graciousness of our God as we see the atoning work of Christ.
The doctrine of hell is nothing for the church to be embarrassed by or to run from. It is part of what makes the Gospel "good news." It brings glory to God by showing the glory of His divine attributes; all of them. And the reality of it is what gives us motivation and passion to share the Gospel with our friends and family.
And the real kicker for those who deny hell, to end with a quote from Mr. Ramsey, is that "Clearly, proponents of these ideas have not come to terms with the greatest drawback to universalism: where do Universalists tell people to go when they're really mad at them?" And there you have it.