Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Will we see hell?

No... I have no idea what he's saying!
     I was studying with a friend the other day when he asked this question with trepidation:  "Will we be able to see people in hell?  Will we see them suffering?"  I had done some research on the topic of eternal damnation in the past;  both because of my own curiosity and due to the hubbub of that handsome heretic Rob Bell and his foray into universalism, "Love Wins".  Also, from an apologetic standpoint, the concept of God's justice and its consequences is among the most revolting to our modern mindset:  if we aren't bothered by our little white lies and adulterous glances (to say nothing of the gargantuan black lies and more substantive acts of sexual immorality), why should God?  Especially if He's soooo forgiving and all!  So if we know the doctrines that will be most offensive to our culture, it behooves us to be able to explain them biblically, accurately and with a spirit of love, first for God and His holiness and then for the person headed for hell right in front of us.
     One of the hell myths I love debunking most is the idea that hell is a New Testament invention, concocted by that meanie Paul, who's also homophobic and a chauvinist, and John for its fear factor in Revelation.  Two O.T. texts mention hell pretty clearly;  when I showed them to my favorite atheist, he immediately switched subjects... that usually means "Wow, you're right and I have no response!"  Dan 12:1-2 and Isa 66:22-24 say:
"At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.  And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.....  For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain.  From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.  And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
What the Cross felt like...
     It's that latter passage that begins to provide an answer for our title question;  you'll notice that after worshipping, the seed of Israel (which Israel? the elect in Christ!) goes and views the corpses of the damned in what seems to be an eternal object lesson.  I think it's clear from the context that "corpse" is used figuratively... undying worms and fire don't cause much pain to dead people in the local morgue, so Isaiah probably refers to those who are spiritually estranged, incapable of communion with God and on the business end of His wrath as "dead", much like Paul in Eph 2:4, or Jesus in John 11:25.  What could God teach us with such a vivid, grotesque display?   His zeal for His holiness, the consequences of transgressing against Him and instilling and renewing the love, joy and praise we must have when considering where we could have, where we should have ended up.  Most importantly, a vision of hell gives us a better understanding what Christ endured on the Cross:  imagine seeing that place, hearing their screams and smelling the charred flesh... and then looking into the dark brown eyes of Jesus (He is Jewish, after all!) and hearing:  "I took that for you."
"...but bad guys go to hell!"
     The other relevant passage that comes to mind is Luke 16:19-31;  it's a familiar parable, so I won't cite it all; I'll just highlight the relevant points that seem to further reinforce Isa 66.  Though Abraham and Lazarus are in heaven and the rich man in hell, with a "great gulf fixed" between them, they can still see each other... what's more, Abraham and the rich man are even able to converse!  Abraham's didactic "moral of the story", that the earthly status of an individual is no sure measure of his eternal destination, flows along the same current as Isa 66:24, which forces us to consider the eternal consequences of rebellion against God.  The fact that this punishment is often delayed until death, that the godly often are afflicted in this life and the wicked often prosper (Ps. 73:17-23), both causes the elect to trust God instead of conventional wisdom (like the saying "Nice guys finish last!") and seals the doom of those without divinely-given eyes to see and ears to hear God's truth.  Many commentators have noticed that this parable is unique in that Jesus names one of the characters;  all the other individuals in His other object lessons are generic ("men", "bridesmaids", "servants", etc.).  Some speculate that this was because Jesus was using real people in this case... that there was a real beggar named Lazarus who sat at the gate of well-known rich man.  It makes sense to me:  Jesus would have intimate knowledge of the afterlife (having created it and all!), and using actual people known to His audience would add impact to His teaching (e.g. Lk 13:1-5). 
     So what would you say to someone in hell?  More to the point of my friend's question, can you
imagine what it would be like to see people you know in hell?  "Yep, there's Bob, my neighbor (no surprise there with the drinking and domestic violence!), and Janice my secretary, and is that... no!  Darrell!?!  We were in choir together for years!"  Seeing your family, friends, coworkers... people from every walk of life, from every socio-economic category, with one fundamental thing in common:  they hate God and deserve His wrath.  As I pondered that and thought about all the people I know, I was dumbfounded.  The thought of that great crowd...  I remember a great sermon by Paul Washer on Rev. 20, where he evangelistically asked the lost in his audience:  "Did you know you're in the Bible?"  Then he read vs. 12:  "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne... that's you, if you're outside of Christ."  If you're not speaking to people now about their eternal destiny, don't wait until they're in hell to do so.

Photos courtesy of gbrenna, Creativity103, brentbat

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