It’s not a word (or a place) I like to contemplate. But I’ve thought about it a lot lately.
It’s also not a topic people want to read about or discuss. In fact, many preachers even shy away from the subject of hell these days. But hell is a real place, and it cannot be ignored, not if we love our fellow man.
Love should drive us to discuss hell.
“Love?” you ask. “How could a supposedly loving God create a place like hell to eternally punish the people He created?”
Good question. And the Bible has a good answer. Several good answers, actually.
But before we get to scriptural answers, let me tell you a story that always reminds me of heaven and hell.
Granted, I was just a kid when I first heard this story over 50 years ago, so I may not get all the details right. And I’m apt to take quite a bit of license when telling a story, just like my Uncle Johnny did whenever he told us kids this tale.
Supposedly, it all started harmlessly enough with fishing, because Uncle Johnny and two of his brothers, Bob and Joe, loved fishing. In fact, that’s how the three boys usually spent their free time, after long, hard days of sharecropping beside their father.
Back then, every Mississippi farm had a cow pond. It was a necessity. So fishing holes weren’t hard to come by. But really great fishing holes were scarce.
As the story goes, the farmer who lived beside my uncles had a doozy of a fishing spot, a secluded little lake, tucked away behind lots of natural brush and surrounded by refreshing shade trees. And it was reported to be teeming with big crappie and bream, and even a few, nice-sized bass. It was a poor man’s paradise.
Unfortunately, the farmer next door was not a bastion of kind Christianity. In fact, he was an ornery ol’ cuss who didn’t fish but refused to let other people fish on his land. He had even taken the time and money to fence in the little lake and put up NO TRESPASSING signs all around it. Legend had it that he would chase people off his property with buckshot if necessary.
Needless to say, for a group of Mississippi boys with a hankering for good fishing, that posted land was a constant source of contention. As they plowed and hoed the long cotton rows beside that fenced-in lake, the thought of all those fish practically begging to be caught was a constant topic of discussion.
Truly, the thought of fishing in that posted lake was almost more temptation than they could handle, especially one day when their daddy left the farm for some important business in town.
All three of my uncles used to argue over who actually issued the dare, but one of them did. And soon, they all headed back behind the smokehouse to dig for some big, fat worms, and then they grabbed their fishing poles and headed to their neighbor’s lake.
They could hardly wait for their momma to fry up a fresh mess of fish for supper.
Even as grown men, they giggled and laughed as Uncle Johnny again told about how they quietly sneaked over to that posted land. Being the largest, Uncle Bob stretched the barbwire fence strands apart so his brothers could crawl in. Then, in turn, they held it open for him.
They ran to the pond and joyfully set to fishing.
I imagine they thought they were being nice and quiet, but sound travels well in Mississippi hollows. Plus, every Mississippi farmer worth his weight has a good hound dog. So, it did not take long for their neighbor to spy them at his lake. And he let ‘em know real quick that he was not happy, as he headed their way with his dog and his gun.
The three boys grabbed their poles and hightailed it out of there. They ran at full speed, with the irate farmer on their heels. They got to the fence, and Uncle Bob held it open.
His brothers hastily scrambled through, but they forgot about helping him. Uncle Bob was on his own.
Being a tall, lanky kid, maneuvering under a barbwire fence was no easy task on a good day, and especially tough with the possibility of that buckshot on his mind.
Now, the truth is, the irate farmer never even fired a shot. His booming voice and barking dog were terrifying enough. Yet, somehow, in the melee of making his way past the fence without any help, Uncle Bob tore his overalls and slashed his leg something fierce.
Now, torn overalls were a tragedy for a sharecropper’s son during the Depression years. Still, my uncles probably could have concocted a good tale to cover up that little mishap. At best, Uncle Bob might have gotten a licking or a few added chores.
But there was no mistaking that the injury to his leg had come from barbwire. So, the jig was up, and my uncles were in for a memorable trip to the woodshed. And it must have been a pretty rough trip, because 40 years later, they were still wincing.
Now, I know you’re wondering how fishing reminds me of heaven and hell.
Well, my uncles learned a very difficult lesson from that prohibited fishing excursion, one that came with physical consequences for my Uncle Bob. And we, as Christians, need to learn the same lesson about trespassing on land that is not open to us.
In Matthew 25:41, we read, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (ESV).
In this verse, we plainly see that hell and its eternal fire were not created for us as God’s children. It was prepared, instead, for the enemy of our souls, the devil, and his demons.
In fact, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God does not wish that any of us should perish, but that all should reach repentance. How amazing! God knew we would sin and fall short, and He realized our sin would forever separate us from Him.
So, God made a way for repentance through His Son when Jesus gave His perfect, sinless life on the cross as a ransom for our sins. His sacrifice paid the lien, so to speak, on our eternal home, as long as we repent and accept Jesus as our Savior.
The Bible expresses it this way in Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (ESV).
Hallelujah! Jesus took back the keys to death, Hell, and the grave in that “first resurrection” for us. What mercy! What grace! What love!
John 3:16 puts it this way, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV).
Ponder that verse for a moment. Let it soak in.
God is not willing that any of us should perish there in hell, so He sent His only Son to make sure we knew how much we were loved.
In essence, on that cross, God lovingly posted a huge NO TRESPASSING sign to keep us out of hell. So, if you or I die and go to hell, we will literally have to walk right past the cross of Calvary and bypass Jesus in order to go to hell.
Who in their right mind would do that? Who would ignore Jesus Christ’s offer of salvation and choose hell instead?
Well, if we’re not careful, we will.
Think about my uncles. That posted lake looked too promising to ignore. So, as soon as they thought their father wouldn’t know, they walked right past that NO TRESPASSING sign and headed into dangerous, forbidden territory.
Don’t we do the same thing?
The world and all of its trapping sometimes look enticing, especially in comparison to what we see other Christians enduring. And like my uncles, we’re tempted to ignore what we know is right, and choose instead the path that appears easier, the way that promises quicker, better results. In truth, we simply choose to fulfill our own selfish desires instead of serving Christ.
Be careful though – because that choice is a grave mistake. (Pun intended.)
Remember, this life is but a momentary flash. Eternity lies ahead, and our place in heaven was purchased with a heavy price.
What a terrible, wasteful shame if we spend an eternity in hell when it was never intended for us. So, do not trespass into hell. Instead, run on home. God is waiting there with open arms.