What about hell?

Let’s take a little quiz:

How many people do you think will be or are now in hell?

A)    Zero

B)    About 100

C)    Hell is like Walmart on Saturday: crowded

The cover story on Time magazine, hardly a theological journal, asks the question if there is even a hell; and on The O’Reilly Factor on April 25, 2011, the argument was debated, with an evangelical arguing against hell, and Bill O’Reilly arguing that only the worst of the worst were in hell, and if you were a good person, even though you were non-Christian, you could be in heaven, for instance Gandhi would be in heaven according to O’Reilly.

Curiously in the argument on The O’Reilly Factor while vehemently disagreeing with each other over the existence of hell, they were basically making the same argument; and could conceivably even agree with each other at some point.

The premise of the argument against hell, or even for a very limited number of people in hell, is that God is a loving God and therefore would never condemn anyone to eternal suffering and punishment, i.e. hell.  At this point, O’Reilly’s argument breaks down because if you are willing to allow the non-believers out of hell and into heaven, well then you are just a short trip away from letting everyone else into heaven as well.  The same is true in reverse, there are some truly horrible people in human history, and so there must be a hell for them so long as everyone else gets to go to heaven.

This entire argument is based on human reason and human nature.  As humans we like giving second chances and third and fourth chances to even the worst people in society.  As a society we hate condemning people and using so called harsh methods of punishment such as hard labor or the death penalty.  It would only stand to reason than that since we are so averse to using harsh punishments on even the worst offenders, why would God use such harsh penalties.

But as humans we take it a step further.  Not only are we averse to enacting punishment on those who do horrible things, but we also do not want to pass judgment on those whom make any decision that may or may not be in accord with Natural Law, let alone God’s Word.

As a society we are hesitant to call anyone’s religion wrong, let alone their lifestyle.  We simply pat them on the head and try to make accommodations for their religion or their life style rather than even wondering for one second if they are wrong.  Time, and others, is fond of equating Judaism, Islam and Christianity, as though all three are correct, when the truth is that all three contradict. 

What are the Biblical standards for going to hell?  St. Mark 16:16 states quite plainly that whoever does not believe, i.e. have faith in Christ alone, will be condemned.  On the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief that today he will be with Him in Paradise, implying quite clearly that the non-repentant will not be in Paradise, but in hell.  In St. Luke 16:19-31, hell is described as a real place in which one experiences eternal suffering.

The thief on the cross does pose a catch on our condemning people to hell for the atrocities that they committed on earth.  It is possible, although not likely, that they have repented and are in Paradise.

What is the answer to the question about how many people will be in hell?  Ultimately, hell will be crowded.  There will sadly be many faces in hell that we recognize; either because they are more infamous, or even because we are related to them.  Good people will be in hell for their lack of faith just as bad people will be in hell for theirs.

God certainly does not desire His people to be condemned, and He certainly has issued the Gospel call to all people on earth.  But for those who reject His Word, for those who reject the Holy Spirit, there is a hell.  We cannot get people out of hell, but while on earth we can certainly do our best to keep people from going to hell.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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