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A letter from Hell

Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, Shusha, Azerbaijan
A man prays in Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shusha, Azerbaijan after it was partly destroyed by shelling in October 2020. |

It still both terrifies and convicts me every time I watch it.

A Letter from Hell! is a very short video that fictionalizes an exchange between a young guy named Josh who resides in hell and his friend Zach who is still alive on earth. Josh’s letter to Zach decries his friend’s neglect where telling him about Jesus is concerned. Josh’s agony and fury at his friend are summed up at the end where he writes, “P.S. Wish you were here.”

Even though I used the video nearly a decade ago when teaching through the subject of hell, it continues to chill me when I listen to it. It reminds me of the seriousness of hell and my responsibility to warn unbelievers about it.

A frightening reality

In a New York Times opinion piece, theologian/philosopher David Bentley Hart writes: “The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified.” Hart (a universalist) has plenty of company these days, which is not so surprising considering the very first Christian doctrine to be denied was judgment:

“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die … The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!” (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:4).

Lots of people say the same thing today. Even C.S. Lewis admitted, “There is no doctrine I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power…”

But hell is there in black and white in both the Old and New Testaments. Contrary to what some think, hell is referenced a number of times in the Old Testament (e.g., Dan. 12:2, Is. 66:24, Ps. 9:17, Ps. 16:10). Hell is also referenced by name 15 times in the gospels and mentioned in other ways too (e.g., eternal fire, outer darkness). We also find it in the epistles as well as the book of Revelation.

Simply put, there is no expunging hell from Scripture. It’s as if the Bible is impressing upon us that you cannot tell a person to be saved without answering the question, saved from what?

As to the charge that hell is not morally justifiable (a belief shared by many), the argument fails to recognize that God’s nature consists of attributes that are equal in kind. God is indeed love, but He is also righteous and just; He is not more loving than He is just.

Moreover, understanding the antecedent and consequent wills of God helps to negate the not-morally-justified contention. Thomas Aquinas explains it this way: “Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged.  In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts.”

Scripture and theology proper (the study of God) show hell to be a frightening reality and one that has no contradiction with Christian teaching. On an American troopship, soldiers crowded around their chaplain, asking, “Do you believe in hell?” “I do not”, he replied. The soldiers responded, “Well, then, will you please resign, for if there is no hell, we do not need you, and if there is a hell, we do not wish to be led astray.”

Our duty   

Charlie Peace was a notorious English criminal who lived in the 1800’s. When he was being taken to the gallows, a priest followed him reading about heaven and hell.

At the mention of hell, Peace reportedly said: “Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”

Charles Spurgeon captures that same sense of gravity when he says, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

This doesn’t mean that we necessarily sit unbelievers down and read through Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God message, but rather that we move ourselves far beyond the flippant take-it-or-leave-it attitude we often have about others' salvation. As A. W. Tozer wrote, we shouldn’t think of ourselves as neutral diplomats “but prophets; we are not delivering a compromise, but an ultimatum.”  

That sounds arrogant at first, but properly understood, it is anything but. In discussing the thorny subject of hell with others, it’s important that we convey to them that, contrary to what many believe, hell is not a place where God sends people who are especially bad. The truth is, it’s everyone’s default destination (including us).

Even so, many will bristle at the thought they deserve hell, but that’s been the historical reception to the warnings of all God’s prophets. For example, when Ahab finally came face to face with Elijah he said, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17).

That said, it helps when people get that the “ultimatum” we bring has the fear of hell as secondary, and the love/grace of God as primary. As I tell folks when we get on the subject, it’s not that I’m trying to scare you with hell, but more persuade you about heaven – an eternity with God, which is something so good I don’t want you to miss it.

Of course, there is a cost that comes from following Jesus (Luke 14:25-33), but as Søren Kierkegaard said, “It costs a person even more to go to hell.” That being true, it’s my hope that we all can take the subject serious enough so that we never are in a position to receive a loved one’s letter from hell.  

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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