By Jesse Sumpter
In dark times like these, one of our great hopes is the reality of Hell. It might seem odd to say that, but in the midst of terror and destruction, Hell is a wonderful comfort for Christians to reflect on.
The doctrine of Hell also guards us against two common errors that we find in our culture in response to the evil around us. Those two errors are ignoring it or succumbing to it.
While it might seem good to ignore the pain around us, this is not the Christian response. God does not ignore these things. Jesus came into the world and he suffered in this dark world.
The other error–succumbing to it–is a strong and growing temptation in our culture. This response gives into the evil and embraces it. It says “This is just the way the world operates and so we should accept it.”
Two Wrong Responses
The first temptation–ignoring the evil–is one that we see in various places: Pollyannism, rosy colored glasses, and the quest for a utopian society. A Christian example of this perspective is Thomas Kinkade and his paintings of light. All light and no sin. Just sweety nice.
There are other secular examples of this as well, such as the song “Good Time” by Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl City. The song tells us: “Doesn’t matter when, It’s always a good time then…We don’t even have to try, it’s always a good time.” The idea here is that life is a party. Ignore the evil around and just have fun.
This view is all smiles and sunshine. Turn that frown upside down.
The other perspective argues that people should succumb to the evil. The world is evil and there is nothing to do about it. The answer is to be the strongest in the pack. If nothing survives around you, at least you should fight for your own survival. This is where you get fads like YOLO (You Only Live Once): there is evil in the world so do what you can to be happy before it all goes away.
This vision leads to and encourages the riots we see around us. Don’t think about what you are doing, just embrace the angry mob. You can get an adrenaline rush from breaking things and it can make you feel alive. Embrace the darkness.
In thinking about these two errors, I am reminded of a scene in a show which illustrates how both errors are really the same philosophy.
The main character, a man, has been hurt and gone through some really rough times. At one point, it seems like the man is going to commit suicide by jumping from a hotel room that is a few stories up. His friend watches him jump from the balcony and thinks he is committing suicide.
But it turns out the man was actually jumping into a large swimming pool. A bunch of other people jump in with him and they begin to party. The friend runs up shocked and asks: “What are you doing?” The man responds: “What do you do when you win?” The crowd answers: “Party!” Then he asks “What do you do when you lose?” and the crowd answers, “Party harder!”
This scene illustrates the way both errors ultimately collapse into each other: to ignore the evil is to give into it and to give into it is to ignore it. That is to say, both errors deny that there is an ultimate standard in the world. The first error denies the standard by ignoring the evil: all sunshine here! The second error denies the standard by giving in: this is not evil, this is just the way people are.
Imagine There’s No Hell
At the beginning of the Carona-Crazy, Gal Gadot and several other actors released a video with each person singing a line from John Lennon’s infamous song “Imagine.”
The song was offered as a message of hope to people in lockdowns at home. The actors sang these words: “Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky.”
The attempt to give people hope by erasing Heaven and Hell is rather ironic. The song forces people into a naturalist worldview, arguing that all we have is the physical world in front of us. There is nothing over us, just empty sky. There is no standard for right and wrong. This is all we have.
I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, where two prisoners in a gulag are talking about God. One is a Baptist trying to persuade the main character to pray to God. The main character resists saying, “I’m not against God, see. I’m quite ready to believe in God. But I just don’t believe in heaven and hell. Why do you think everybody deserves either heaven or hell?…That’s what I don’t like” (p 155).
This classic objection to God is one that people throw out all the time: I can’t believe in a God that sends people to Hell. But to deny Hell is to deny the standard we need to judge the evil around us. Denying that standard means that we are denying evil in the world. It means that we do not know if it is wrong for cops to kill innocent people or if it is wrong for crazy mobs to burn buildings.
It is actually ironic to say that you can’t believe in a God who sends people to Hell because this is an appeal to a standard. When people say that sort of thing they are passing judgement and saying that Hell is bad. So they are appealing to a standard to judge Heaven and Hell. But where does that standard come from? Themselves. It is their own standard. Which just leaves us with a bunch of individual standards that all conflict with each other. My standard is that killing an unarmed black man is wrong. But his standard was that it is okay. How do we judge between these standards?
To reject Heaven and Hell is to reject an ultimate standard for judging the actions and events around us. We try to replace Heaven and Hell with our own standard but then we end up with chaos between warring standards. All we have left then is mob rule.
The Reality of Hell
While the song Imagine is trying to promote hope by offering an image of world peace, it actually fails miserably. The song is not hopeful at all. It is arguing that all we have is this world. There’s nothing over us other than the sky. This means there is no universal standard and so all of this doesn’t really matter. If things do not matter then why care about a black man being killed by a cop? Why care about Jewish stores getting burned? Nothing matters.
But the reality of Hell reminds us that there is a standard. There is a judgement coming.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
This means that there is a righteous judge watching everything. He is seeing the murder and destruction in our nation. He is keeping track of all the deaths and violence and fires.
God will judge and His judgement will be perfect. Those who have done evil will receive it back on their heads. No one will get off the hook. No one will be wrongfully accused. It will be a perfect and just sentence and everyone will know it.
This means that everything matters. We are not living in a made-up world. We are living in the real world and it all matters. God is judge and that is a refreshing reality.