It figures that as soon as I finish writing a blog that preached a paragraph or two of hell, a massive explosion would erupt in a nearby neighborhood. A woman was airlifted to the hospital. Two men are dead. Their bodies (at this writing) have not been recovered. A juvenile escaped from a window, was taken to the hospital via ambulance, and thankfully released. The woman who was airlifted works with my son-in-law, as a fellow teacher. Word is, as I write this, that the victims who perished are the woman’s husband and brother, and the woman is in critical condition as a burn victim. The house is completely charred.
Fire is vehemently destructive. I can’t even fathom what it is like to witness the heat. The element of surprise. The smoke. The rubble. The loss of not only belongings, but loved ones. It’s nothing short of catastrophic.
I do believe that hell is a literal place. But in hell, people aren’t destroyed. They are fuel. It is a place plagued with relentless torment, pain, darkness, and perhaps most horrible of all, the absence of God. The realities of it is shocking. It’s all so brutal, and to think it goes on for an eternity is difficult to fathom. I have trouble fathoming the concept of eternity, let alone the concept of spending eternity in the worst kinds of torment.
Have you ever thought about what life would be like without the presence of God? Common grace, the grace imparted to all people, whether believers or not, is a very real blessing in life. It’s often overlooked and its existence is commonly not even realized by unbelievers. Nonetheless, it exists. The sun, the moon, the trees that clean our air, babies, rain, elemental properties we use to make plastic products, cotton we use to make clothes, medicine, clean water, the ability to survive tragic life events. It’s all common grace, undeserved.
Particular grace, the grace imparted to believers is equally astonishing. More astonishing, in my opinion. And also undeserved. To think that God would have mercy and love enough to save any of us should shake us up and make us awe-full. If it doesn’t, we are at some level ignorant of the gravity of our depravity, the seriousness of our sin, and the depth of Calvary love.
I used to be privileged to know a 90-something year old retired pastor back in the 1990’s. Just had dinner the other day with his grandson and granddaughter-in-law, in fact, and I saw the family resemblance — not physical, but spiritual. But anyway, the old pastor didn’t preach much when I knew him, being almost a century old and all. When he did preach, he’d sit in a chair behind a table as his feeble, weak body couldn’t take forty-five minutes behind a pulpit. I was always impressed with him though, because though he was weak and frail, his preaching was robust and forceful, but also delivered with humility.
(No easy feat.)
At the time, his preaching was a little too robust, in my young whippersnapper opinion. He preached hell, and hell always scared the bajeebers out of me, which always made me want to crawl under a pew to shake in my boots. Had I not been the church pianist required to stick around for an invitational song, I might have vacated the premises! But while I’ve never like hearing the realities of hell, I knew he was preaching Bible. His number one question to professing believers?Are you sure you’re saved?
Throughout his sermon, he kept asking it …
Are you sure?
Just how sure are you?
Why are you sure?
He wasn’t trying to be annoying or repetitive. It’s just that his heart was tremendously burdened for those who sit in the pew week after week, year after year, convinced they are saved but show no evidence of salvation. No fruit, as Galatians 5 defines it.
The unsaved are plentiful in number, in and out of the pew. For small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only few find it. (Matt. 7:14) The old preacher knew that verse well. And he knew the characteristics of hell that the Bible lays out:
-An abyss (Rev. 20:3)
-A lake (Rev. 20:14)
-Darkness (Matt. 25:30)
-Death (Rev. 2:11)
-Destruction (2 Thess. 1:9)
-Everlasting torment (Rev. 20:10)
-A place of wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30)
If you believe the Bible, you have to believe along with the preacher that hell is a literal place. That’s the very uncomfortable truth, and I sympathize with those who feel a strong aversion to that truth. Just writing about it gives me the fidgets. But fidgets and aversions don’t negate the truth. Hell is real. Hell is coming if repentance never does.
Whether we are saved or not is a good question to ask ourselves from time to time, even though it may seem harsh and unwarranted. Maybe you prefer to talk of the more “positive” attributes of God that draws folks to salvation. I understand that. Some souls are motivated by the positive. They ponder the love and mercy and grace of Christ, and that draws them to the Cross, which then drives them to repentance. And that’s all well and good. But some are motivated by the fear and possible punishment of hell, which is also meant to drive people to the Cross and repentance. This is also well and good. God is love. God is mercy and grace. But God is also a just Judge who will not and cannot accept unrepentant sinners into His kingdom. For those who repent, He is preparing a place in Heaven. For those who have never repented or asked forgiveness of their sins, He has reserved a place in Hell.
The explosion and subsequent house fire came like a thief in the night. Two men in a basement replacing a water heater had no idea they would die that morning. The two who escaped with their lives had no idea they’d be losing their loved ones and their home that day. Death has the potential to come rather unexpectedly. It’s shocking when it comes at all. It’s doubly shocking when it comes in the blink of an eye. But whether it comes slowly or suddenly, the fact is, nobody escapes it.
So, as the old and feeble preacher would ask:
Are you sure you’re saved?