Maybe you’ve seen the hashtag as people post on social media about their vintage record player not playing, their coffee not containing the right amount of soy, or the cable going out at an inopportune moment. These are issues that we, in an affluent nation, have the luxury of having. People in other parts of the world don’t worry about stuff like that, and it’s because their concerns are of a more immediate and drastic nature. But here – where most people reading this blog don’t have to worry about whether or not their house is going to stand up for another night or whether there will be something – anything – to eat tonight, we have the luxury of other concerns. It strikes me that maybe this luxury goes beyond problems with our wifi service or cell phone reception; they also delve into the theological realm.
A close friend of mine recently made a statement that has been ringing in my mind for a couple of weeks:
“The reason we don’t believe in hell is because we didn’t grow up in a war torn country.”
In other words, the questioning of the existence of hell is a first world problem because most of us have never come face to face, at least knowingly, with the kind of evil that is readily apparent. We’ve not been slapped in the face with the great propensity of human wickedness. But if we had, then believing in hell would not be a question of theoretical speculation; it would be an absolute necessity.
Think of it like this. Imagine you are in a country where there is no free speech. Where no rights are protected. Where you go to sleep every night fearing what might happen in the darkness. Where the authorities do not wield the sword in vain or otherwise, and every family is left to their own recourse. Imagine you live knowing that no matter what happens, it will simply pass below the radar and be forgotten.
Your child might be taken.
You might be imprisoned unjustly at any moment.
All your worldly goods might be impounded or burned.
Virtually anything could happen, and you are powerless to stop it. And what’s worse, you know that no justice awaits the perpetrators.
In that kind of scenario, the question asked in hushed tones behind closed doors shifts. No longer do you wonder something like, “How can a loving God send people to eternal punishment?” There, in the midst of your terrible anonymity, you begin to wonder something different: “How can a perfect God allow this kind of injustice to take place?” It’s then, in that moment, you don’t wonder about the existence of hell; you cling to it as proof of God’s ultimate authority.
The reality of hell is a component of the gospel message, but one that makes us realize that the gospel is really in the end about God. It’s not that we aren’t included in that message; we truly, truly are. We are deeply loved by God, so much so that He sent His Son Jesus to die that we might be made right with Him. But the necessity of that death shows more than our value to God; it shows and validates His perfect character. It emphasizes that because God is perfectly just that someday there will indeed be an accounting for sin. Evil will be brought to justice. Things will be put in their proper order.
The reality of hell reminds us that nothing really and eternally passes below the radar. Not here in this country, and not somewhere else.