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Heaven and Hell

By Steve Lammers

I hate hell.  Sure, I check off all the boxes of right theology regarding the doctrine.  But I honestly hate even the thought of hell.  In fact, having had several loved ones die without (to my knowledge) trusting in Jesus, I write this blog in tears.  In the words of the apostle Paul, I often “have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for those who have died not trusting in Christ (Romans 9:2-3).
This is on mind my because of a conversation I had on my way back from visiting (yet another!) relative who doesn’t yet seem to know Jesus.  As I sat in row 16b on my way back to Gainesville, a young woman told her story:  She grew up in church, but soon after graduation, she and her sister “deconstructed” their faith.  So she now rejects Jesus for several reasons, but one of them included these tearful words: “If I accept what Jesus taught, that would mean that I would go to heaven while leaving my sister behind in hell.  So even such places exist, how could I enjoy heaven knowing my sister is being unjustly punished in hell.”
While I don’t share her premise or conclusion, I feel her pain.  And a brief blog post can’t do justice to respond to her claim about God’s injustice.  But I received a good reminder yesterday while reading a chapter in Rebecca McLaughlin’s book 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) About Christianity.  Mclaughlin describes how heaven is not as much about the place itself, but more about the gracious presence of our Savior.  That’s not to say God is entirely absent from hell.  To be sure, his justice is very much present (Revelation 14:10).  But his just presence is very different from his presence as bridegroom at home with his bride.
To illustrate, McLaughlin says “I live with my husband and three kids.  The place I live in isn’t just a house, it’s a home, and the foundation of our home is my marriage to my husband.  If I had said no to my husband when he asked me to marry him thirteen years ago, I wouldn’t be living with him now.  It’s like that with Jesus.” 
Then McLaughlin goes on to describe how Jesus “proposes” to each of us, and if we reject his offer to be with him, we should not expect the corresponding blessings.  Instead, if Jesus is who he says he is, we should expect the misery of being outside his gracious presence.  For example, if Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), then being without him means living in terrible darkness.  If Jesus is “the way” (John 14:6), then being without him means being eternally lost and confused.  If Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), then being without him means experiencing “the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14).
Do these truths remove our tears?   I don’t believe so.  But I do believe they should make us long to be at home with Jesus – where he himself will remove our tears (Revelation 21:4).  Just as importantly, it should spur us on to share the good news that Jesus offers that same home to all who would accept his proposal (John 14:1-3).