When the pain we see is too overwhelming, or the evil we witness is too incomprehensible, our natural instinct is to look away. We try to shield our eyes and our consciences from seeing the worst this world has to offer.
The challenge of this instinct is to know when to listen to it and when to fight against it. If we never detach from the never-ending, depressing news cycle, we’ll forget that there’s still goodness and beauty in the world. Or if we hedonistically numb ourselves with pleasantries and never look at the brokenness all around us, we’ll never be moved to act or have compassion. As with much in life, we must balance our urge to look away.
We must especially strike this balance when it comes to the doctrine of Hell. One can focus on Hell too much, to the point where grace and mercy become mere theological subpoints. But that’s not the problem too many Christians face. If you’re like me at all, my gut reaction is to acknowledge Hell’s existence and then swiftly move on to other topics. However, if I do so, I’m depriving myself of truth that God saw fit to reveal. Let’s slow down and see what we can learn when we take the time to look at a passage on Hell.
The Temptation of Compromise
For this look at Hell, we’ll be in Revelation 14:911–one of the most sobering, vivid descriptions of Hell in the Bible.
“Then a third angel followed them, shouting, ‚ÄòAnyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.'”
Hell can only be understood if we begin by understanding why God is so angry and why He’s pouring out His wrath on sinners. The reason is because God is holy and just.
God’s holiness is hard to comprehend. His perfection and purity are beyond anything we can imagine. As A.W. Tozer puts it in his book Knowledge of the Holy, “God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable.” And with this high view of God’s holiness, the wickedness of our own unholiness starts to come into perspective. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re slightly better than the average human. We all fall tragically short of God’s standard of holiness because we’ve all sinned and defied God’s commands (Romans 3:23).
This leads us to the second attribute of God: His justice. In His holiness, God cannot ignore our transgressions. He can’t just laugh our sins off and act like nothing happened. We have sinned against a holy God, and for that, there must be consequences. We would be outraged at a human judge that refused to do his job and uphold a just law. Why should we then expect less from God? God must uphold His law and the way He created the world, which means eternal punishment for sin.
Hell is the natural consequence of God being holy and just. Therefore, if we avoid the doctrine of Hell, we are refusing to recognize the fullness of who God is.
The Temptation of Compromise
But, it doesn’t stop there. If we skip over Hell, we’ll also be skipping over part of how we’re called to live. Theology and its doctrines are meant to shape our thoughts and our actions. So, how would our lives change if we never look at passages on Hell? To see, let’s go back and reread verse 11.
“The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.”
Here, we see that Hell is not symbolic. Hell is a real place where real people will suffer the consequences of their sins forever and ever. Recognizing this should give a weightiness to how we live our lives today. It’s no small matter if a person is saved or not. For them, eternity is on the line. Will they spend it joyfully worshiping God? Or will they spend it suffering from His wrath?
When we consider these questions and their results, there should be a fire within us to share the Gospel. Evangelism is not reserved for a special few with a special gift. We are all called to trust God’s sovereignty and also be witnesses of Christ’s redeeming work. When you evangelize, just remember, salvation isn’t primarily about avoiding Hell, it’s about knowing God and enjoying his presence forever.
So, don’t look away from this passage. As uncomfortable as it may be, slow down and allow it to sink in. Through this acknowledgement of Hell, we can learn more about God’s character, become more grateful for His mercy and grace, and be moved to share the Gospel with others–all of which are worth not skipping over.