Imagine being burned alive. The flames licking at your skin are so hot that you can hardly bear it. Profuse perspiration and unquenchable thirst make your throat so dry that you can barely scream out in pain. All around you, you hear the echoing moans and outbursts of agony. And you are not dying. You are doomed here for the rest of your life. No matter how long you lived on earth, you have been destined to live here forever.
Whether you call it purgatory, the underworld, or Dante’s Inferno — do you believe in a place like that? And if God is a God of love, would He even create it? This question is the root of the greatest battle the minds of men ever fought: Is God love, or does He delight in tyranny?
A studious girl was striving to enter the elite sector of her local public high school. She had big plans for life after high school, so she stressed herself over grades, standardized tests, and advanced placement courses. Meanwhile, her home life was crumbling. To cope, she centred her attention on the dating scene. After a string of disappointments, she was beginning to doubt that love truly existed. She was 13 years old.
Four years later, she was graduating with honours and even had a new boyfriend. An old classmate and fellow graduate, he was a professed atheist and often disseminated his views during their conversations. Both friends and family expressed concerns, but she did not see any harm in it. “He respects my beliefs,” she said. But though he applied no pressure, his influence was swaying. Within six months, the boy was long gone, and an unsettling change of worldview remained. She would say, “The world is just dark. No one can really have true love.” When challenged that God is love, she would respond, “Everyone claims to serve the real God, but no one knows the truth.”
Love — true love — is the only thing that can brighten a dark heart. And that is what she was looking for. She was crying out to the social world around her, saying, “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm! For love is as strong as death; jealousy is as cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” (Songs of Solomon 8:6-7) And that light is the very life of humanity. (John 1:4) Without this fiery love, you cannot help but feel like giving up on life.
But that is the problem with a world without God — it is devoid of love. This is what Job was talking about when he said, “Men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded crieth out…They are of those that rebel against the light; they know not the ways thereof, nor abide in the paths thereof.” (Job 24:12-13)
This is the great controversy: love versus death, light versus darkness. This war was fought and won at Calvary where life and death had a face-off. Darkness tried to enshroud the King of Glory. (Matthew 27:45-46) Pressed under the dense cloud of gloom, Christ felt utterly forsaken of the light of heaven. Yet it was here that the greatest demonstration of love was made: For “greater love hath no man that this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
But the fire was more ardent than that: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:7-9)
If all of this is true, then why will hell exist? If Christ drank our cup of the wine of the wrath of God undiluted; if He experienced for us the torment of the consuming fire — then why will anyone be going to hell? Because men loved darkness rather than light.
We don’t enjoy pitch-black darkness, but we operate in less-than-ideal lighting and less-than-fulfilling love. When God wants to give us the fullness of joy, we are content with the transient, the fleeting, the temporary, and the fake.
“How could He confront death, prove love victorious, and still be rejected by the sons of men?…”
Hell is a direct result of the lie that we can find love, create love, and enjoy love on our own, without God who is the essence of love. It was the lie of the beginning: “Ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Along with that lie is the greatest myth about hellfire: “Ye shall not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4). Take Eve. She had a loving husband, loving angel friends, and greatest of all, a loving Heavenly Father. Yet she sought love apart from God, falling for the lie that she could live forever in this “enlightened” state. But the Bible says that the candle of the wicked shall be put out. (Proverbs 24:20) This is not because God is cruel, but because that candle was never kindled with the everlasting burnings.
You see, it is not the wicked that will burn forever: it is the righteous! (Isaiah 33:14-15) When the Sun of righteousness is magnified in a life, that heart burns with the brightness of His glory. (Malachi 4:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:6) Everlasting life is promised to those who believe on the Saviour; “but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) Why are we condemned for not believing? Because “light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.” (John 3:19)
There was a girl who loved her darkness much more than the mere prospect of light. She was clinging to a false hope that the young man whom she had invested so much in would love her back. The pains of repeated rejections, the depressive thoughts of inadequacy, slowly ate away at her very personality, but she would not relent. Four years passed with no change. Then her sister erupted on her. “I know you are a nice person and all, but this guy is treating you like dirt! He obviously wants nothing to do with you. You need to give him some space.”
I was crushed. But her advice mirrored what my parents had been saying for years. So I did finally let go of him. But for months, I struggled with just one lingering question: How could I have loved him so much — so loyally, so unconditionally, as far as sinful humanity is concerned — and he never reciprocated?
Then one Saturday morning, the answer hit me. The pain of reject that I felt was a microcosm of God’s heart. How could He confront death, prove love victorious, and still be rejected by the sons of men? How could God do so much for me and labour four years with me and demonstrate His love to me in a thousand ways while I still chased a guy who hardly cared that I existed?
More unsettling for me, though, was the understanding of what hell really is. Yes, it is torment, fire, and brimstone. But more than physical or even spiritual torment is the emotional anguish that results from the realization that you have forever lost the person who would have loved for completely and cherished you unconditionally for all time. Though fire is a symbol of love, there is no fear in love, but when you recognize the consequences of rejecting that love, it’s scary.
But hell was not made for you. There is only one person that hell was made for, and only because he insisted on sitting on the blazing throne of the universe and being like the Consuming Fire. “Therefore,” the Lord says, “I will bring forth a fire from the midst of thee.” (Ezekiel 28:18) But instead of making him like the Most High, “it shall devour” him, and he shall be “brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:15) Then death and hell itself shall be cast into that fire so that such affliction can never rise again. (1 Corinthians 15:26, Revelation 20:14, Nahum 1:9)
So what about you? Will you choose to seek out love and happiness your own way and join the devil in his final self-destruction? Or will you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved to stand on the fiery sea of glass, forever to bask in in the love of Heaven? In the words of my dear mother, “If you want love, go to God.” He will never disappoint you.
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