Sunday, September 18, 2011

What is hell, exactly?

Tragedy.  Disease.  Killer heat waves.  Natural disasters.  Terrorist attacks.  Horrible circumstances.  Chocolate chip cookies without a cold glass of milk.  War.  Sitting through the movie “Creature.”  What do all of these things have in common? 

People say they are hell. 

While unpleasant things make our lives miserable, even hellish, they themselves are not hell.  We’ve all heard or been taught that when we die we either go to heaven, or to hell.  The difference between heaven and hell, to break it down to the simplest explanation, is this:  heaven is where God is; hell is where God is not.

To understand the nature of that, let’s take a look at the nature of God.  Yes, God is the Creator of the universe, knows all, has ultimate control, can do great and marvelous things.  And the purest description of God is found in the apostle John’s first epistle. 

God is love.

Heaven is where God (love) is; hell is where God (love) is not.

Have you ever imagined your life without love?  Any and all contact with family would be cut off.  No one would call you by your given name.  No one would smile at you, wave at you, hear your cries for help.  And you would treat others the same.  Imagine the loneliness, the emptiness, the anguish you would feel.  And not for a few days.  This bottomless pit of despair lasts forever.  Eternally.  Without the slightest glimmer of hope of escaping this … hell.

You may be thinking, “Gee, Mary, that’s pretty dismal.  But God always shows up in your posts, right?  When’s Jesus going to come in and save us?”

This is about hell, dear reader.  God does not show up.  Jesus can’t save you now.  Oh, they’re watching you, alright.  With broken hearts, because it’s too late for them to do anything.  You had your chances.  Jesus told you He is the way, and Him alone.  Others even tried to tell you, but you would not listen.  The street preacher.  The friend who invited you to church.  The “Holy Roller” TV channel you paused on for a minute while you were channel surfing.  The time when you heard a child singing “Jesus loves me this I know” or “Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”  Didn’t any of those tug on your heart?  Not even a little bit?  Yet you chose not to let that tug pull you into the arms of the One who was executed by having nails driven into his hands and feet, all to give you a way out.  You could have had love.  But you chose hell.

Hell is where love is not.

“But Mary, I’m a ‘good enough’ person.  Are you saying that’s not enough for me to get into heaven?” 

Remember what I said about “heaven is where God is”?  God is in charge of heaven, wouldn’t you agree?  Then God is the one who decides who gets in.  If it were my house, I’d be the one to decide who gets into my place.  Even though there are lots of people in the world who are honest, trustworthy, etc., if I don’t know you, if I don’t have some sort of relationship with you, whether you’re a friend or someone to do some work on my house, sorry bub, you are not welcome.  Same with God.  If you don’t have a relationship with God, you are not welcome in heaven.  You are shut out.  You are left in an existence where God is not.

“But I thought God loves me.”

He does!  He wants to have that relationship with you, so you don’t get shut out of heaven!  But your being “good enough” won’t do it.  No one is “good enough.”  Everyone falls short of the perfection that God requires of us.  That “falling short” is called sin.  The only way sin can be made right with God is by death.  Yet God still loves you and me and wants that relationship.  He’d rather have you alive than dead. 

What’s a deity to do?  

He’ll tell us what to do, that’s what!  The Bible, God’s instruction manual and love letter to us, makes it clear.  About ¾ of the way through the Bible there is this section called Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I’ll pull out the good stuff for you.  Remember – it’s not Mary from the Prairie saying what needs to be done – it’s in the Bible.

  • All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23)
  • Sin pays off with death.  But God’s gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 3:23)
  • But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.  (Romans 5:8)
  • So you will be saved, if you honestly say, “Jesus is Lord,” and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death.  (Romans 10:9)

Do you see it?  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”  You get to spend eternity in the presence of love, in heaven, where God is.

It’s like a “get out of hell free” card!  The catch?  You have to accept Jesus as Lord before your body dies. 

Once you’re in hell, the offer is void.

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