By Martin Duffield, St John’s Annerley Presbyterian Church
A.C. Nielsen survey results published in 2009 showed that 56% of Australian respondents said they believed in Heaven, but only 38% believed in Hell. Life-after-death has, for nearly half of the population, been abandoned. Nearly two thirds of us see no place for Hell as a place of final justice, for unforgiven wrong-doing and permanent rejection of God.
We may well ask at this point, is our behaviour and belief really relevant to our eternal destiny after this life? Can we actually "raise hell" now and yet expect "Heaven" later?
Firstly, the most powerful argument for Hell's necessity comes from the simple demand for justice. Without an afterlife, mass murderers receive the same final fate as charity workers. Everyone receives the same for their wrongs in this life, no matter how serious they are – physical death, alone.
Further, if there is a Heaven but no Hell, there is still no complete justice. In the end the mass murderer and the petty criminal are punished the same – no Heaven. But Hell, with its preceding judgement, addresses all human evil as to degree and frequency through God who sees, knows and judges perfectly.
Secondly, what is it like? Jesus described it in very daunting terms. He said it was a place of "outer darkness". He spoke of sorrow in terms of "weeping and grinding of teeth". He said it was "prepared for the Devil and His angels" thus not designed for humans. The last book of the Bible, "the Revelation of Jesus Christ", calls the final place of the rebellious "the lake of fire".
Lastly, it is described in several places as a prison. Why? God has (ten) laws, as every ordered society does. And when God's laws are violated it is called "sin." The "wages of sin" is physical, death, after which comes the "second death" which is "the lake of fire" (Revelation 20, verse 14). However, Hell is also unlike earthly jails – there is no parole, no escape. The duration is forever and that is Hell's worst feature. Wishing Hell is not there will not help. Public opinion cannot change it; only avoiding it will – God's way.
English writer C.S. Lewis once said that "Hell is locked from the inside". In part, it is true because, as he says elsewhere, God has done everything necessary to enable you to avoid this place. You can avoid it, as you can earthly penalties, through a pardon.
While God is just and cannot ignore the guilty, He can actually satisfy justice and offer mercy. How? If you can accept that Christ went to Hell on the Cross as full payment for your breaches of God's Laws (justice), you can be forgiven (mercy). If you will cease from sin and submit to His will, you can avoid eternal "jail." If not, you must justly suffer for your own sins as He said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." •