Are you comfortably numb?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hell

At the moment I'm catching up on the huge backlog of copies of 'The Briefing' that lies, plastic-coated, on the bookcase by the front door. I am grateful to my grandparents for the gift of the subscription to this magazine for my last birthday. Each edition includes many helpful articles that often stir up thought that would otherwise have been left dormant. On the whole, I'd say its contribution to the modern evangelical scene is invaluable. However, one brief sentence I read in there today provoked a train of thought I was not expecting to arise from 'The Briefing'.

The comment referred to Peter's first letter:

'...Peter is saying: "Of course you behave like that with each other. Now start behaving in exactly the same way with those who know nothing of Jesus - even the ones who mock you, despise you and make your life feel like hell!"'
(The Briefing, issue 328)

I've noticed that the expression 'like hell' has recently siphoned its way into the conversation of evangelical Christians. Admittedly, its use is not yet widespread, but compared to a few years ago, it is heard far more often than one would expect. (I speak as one guilty of using the phrase on occasion.) Why is this such a damaging turn of speech?

For one simple reason: because it completely undermines and trivialises exactly what hell is. Hell is not a version of earth with just slightly more misery or discomfort. Hell is not life with more funerals and fewer weddings. Hell, in Biblical terms, is the complete absence of God's presence, and thus the 'darkness' where there is 'wailing and gnashing of teeth' (Matt 22:13).

No situation on earth can ever be described as 'hell' because God's presence, whether it is through common grace or a personal faith in him through Jesus, is always here. No matter how desperate the situation, it cannot compare to being in hell. Thus when Christians go through the worst kind of physical, emotional or mental persecution, they are about as far from hell as they possibly could be because God's presence is not only around them but living within them by the Holy Spirit.

So not only does this flippant use of the word hell lighten its true significance, it also ignores the fact that whilst on earth, God's presence is always accessible (although many choose to deny it).

Hell is a subject that is touched on little by Christians, and even less so by people in general. For many it is symbolised by a red cartoon devil with novelty horns and a pitchfork; a place where people can be 'naughty', a place where Satan lets people do what they want and have their fun, as opposed to a 'boring' heaven where white spirits float around playing harps and doing, well, not much really. But the Bible's view of hell is far more serious, and what is more, far more REAL. Hell is not a faraway land where The Simpsons' take on life will be realised. It is a real part of God's kingdom where real people will really suffer, because a real God has taken away his presence from them. Hell is not a word to bandy around in conversation.

The ultimate danger of this usage of the word is that our urgent call to telling people the good news of Jesus will be diminished in our own minds. If hell becomes a triviality via our thoughtless conversation, then why go out and tell people how they can avoid it? What is more, our own concept of what we've been saved from can fade. We, sinners who deserved to be in this real place of ultimate suffering, have been wonderfully rescued by the God whose dominion it is. And so we should devote every aspect of our lives to living in gratefulness to this God and in telling others how to know him too.

5 Comments:

  • Good point, Bec. Write and let them know.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 10:07 pm  

  • Problem is they don't reply. I tried drawing their attention to the awful phrase "cream of the crop of evangelicals" to describe the people who read the Briefing. The silence has been deafening.

    By Blogger Cora, at 5:30 am  

  • This is possibly the first time I've read your blog and not had anything to question.

    Good point well made!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:06 pm  

  • Who are you, anonymous?!

    By Blogger Bec, at 2:08 pm  

  • actually, further to my complaint about not getting a reply, I see that the recent Briefing has changed the advertisement about Advertisements. So - perhaps worth writing after all.............

    By Blogger Cora, at 7:00 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home