The reality of hell is difficult to accept, but we can't fully understand God and His world unless we grapple with it, says N.C. megachurch Pastor J.D. Greear, who has started a blog series on the doctrine of hell, a topic over which he once almost lost his faith.
"For years I've felt that if you were to give me a Bible, a divine eraser, and ten minutes, I would take hell out of the Bible," writes the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., in the first of a five-part series for "Between the Times," the official blog of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"As a young Christian, when I began to learn about hell and its implications, I almost lost my faith. It was that disturbing," admits Greear, but added that a Christian must grapple with it.
Greear begins the series with seven truths about hell.
One, hell is what hell is because God is who God is, he shares. "God tells us about hell to demonstrate to us the magnitude of His holiness. Hell is what hell is because the holiness of God is what it is. Hell is not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be."
Two, Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture, Greear says. "If we want to avoid the idea of hell, we can't ignore the problem by just focusing on "meek and mild Jesus."
Three, the reality of hell shows us the extent of God's love in saving us. Jesus talked about hell to help us understand what He was going to endure on the cross on our behalf, Greear explains.
Four, people are eternal. As C.S. Lewis once said, "Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse-so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be."
Five, we send ourselves to hell. "You keep telling God to leave you alone, and finally God says 'OK.' That's why the Bible describes it as darkness," the pastor writes.
Six, in another sense, God does send people to hell. Greear refers to Isaiah 45:24 to explain this, saying the prophet reminds us that all who are currently "incensed against God" will come before Him in the last day and be ashamed, not vindicated.
Seven, it's not enough for God to take us out of hell; He must take hell out of us, the megachurch pastor states. You can't enjoy heaven if you do not love and trust God, he says. "It would be like forcing you to be married to someone you didn't want to marry."
In the second part of the series, Greear deals with the apologetic problem hell presents to Christians. As skeptics often say, believing in hell is "morally reprehensible."
Greear deals with three common objections.
Some say God is too loving to send someone to hell, he writes. But if God lets us into heaven as we are, we'd turn heaven into the mess the world is in, the pastor argues.
"Some might also say hell is too extreme of a punishment for the crime. One can say this only if she or he believes that the universe is all about humans, and trampling on the glory of God is not that big of a deal," Greear says.
There are others who say, "I'm basically a decent person." In Jesus' death on the cross, we see God's verdict on the sinfulness of humanity. The pastor says to show the seriousness of sin in God's eyes. "Only when I first see myself as absolutely worthy of hell, then I am ready to understand the magnanimity of God's grace."
Greear concludes part two of the series by emphasizing that God's wisdom is far above our own.
In one strand of DNA there is encoded enough information to fill up 500 sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Greear shares. Juxtaposing it with our problem in even getting our DVD player to work right with our cable box, he writes, "Does it not make sense that a lot of stuff about Him may not make sense to you?"