When Did Hell Disappear?
A meager boat ascended waves that rivaled the highest of mountains. The inertia of the vessel propelled it over the sea’s pinnacle. Setting speed records that would not be broken for centuries, it plummeted to its doom, only to begin the roller coaster all over at the bottom. The crew of this involuntary bull ride of sorts was already broken. They were convinced these were the last seconds of their lives. Survival instinct had already caused them to cast everything of value the ship contained over its sides. The open heavens rained vehement wrath, all the while the Mariners scurried the deck, endeavoring to appease the gods of the sea, nothing lessened the heavens rage.
The only factor yet unaccounted for was a small man who had boarded just before setting sail. Inquisition exposed the fact that this man was running from the One on the other side of the lightning bolts. As time moved in slow motion the answer to solving the storm became obvious: this runaway must become a castaway. In a mere second his feet left the safety of an outstretched plank, extending from a weather-worn boat, and protruded through the ruthless waters of a raging sea.
The sea swallowed him. Darkness consumed him. He was grappled by the hand of the ocean’s merciless flow. Like a magnet, he was drawn down into his watery grave. Jonah, already swallowed by fear, had no idea the horror that was about to digest him. Beneath the beauty of the sea’s shores, behind the repetitional lullaby of its crashing waves, lurked a beast; Leviathan, that great monster of the deep. Hell consumed Jonah (Jonah 2:2).
Getting swallowed by a whale was probably the last thing on Jonah’s mind when his feet left the security of the boat, en route to the ocean beneath him. He had no idea the horror that he would soon endure. Before he knew it, Jonah found himself trapped inside a vile, organic prison. Death permeated the air. Stomach acid would have instantly begun eating away at his flesh. The acid loomed in the air meaning every breath would have filled his throat and lungs. Before long he would have been burning, inside and out. The sheer pressure of the ocean above him would have forced him to his knees. His head would feel as though it were about to explode. His body would have starved for oxygen. Sunday school has skewed our perception of Jonah’s quandary. Jonah was in the belly of hell (Jonah 2:1-10).
Life above the sea continued. Children laughed and played. Merchants bartered. Memories were made on those days that were not forgotten. Jonah, however, disappear from the face of the earth. Mankind had forgotten about him. Humanity was too busy. Jonah was literally being eaten alive. Hell consumed Jonah.
Somewhere throughout the epochs of church history a paradigm shift took place. It did not happen overnight. You will not find a specific date on the pages of history to attribute the modified worldview. The alteration happened in the same way one boils a frog, slow, steady, one degree at a time. The point is quite simple: Hell disappeared.
Talk of eternal judgement doesn’t sell books or generate crowds, so step-by-step, one degree at a time, the temperature of hell dropped. Post-modern relativism has had its hand in dousing the flames; asserting the absence of absolute truth, hell being one such absolute. Eventually, the philosophical firefighters of our era triumphed; hell disappeared.
Now, do not misunderstand me. Hell is still out there, and it’s reality has not changed. An eternal lake of fire that does not consume (Rev. 20:14, 21:8). It’s real. However, like the young child that closes his eyes and covers his ears when confronted with fear, erroneously hoping fear would vanish into thin air (as if negating visual and auditory cognition would somehow make the fear pass along), many have done the same with hell. They have closed their eyes to its flames. Covered their ears to its screams. All the while silently wishing it alway to some other reality.
Mainstream Christianity has a lot to say about heaven. It’s in our books, our songs, sayings, and sermons. Heaven is good, so it has to be real. We like heaven. Embrace the happy thoughts. In doing so, we have neglected to realize that if God is saving us, then there must be somewhere from which we are being saved. After all, if heaven is real, then there must be a converse.
Humanistic reasoning has tricked us into believing we are the prime reality, the determiners of existence. We can remove hell from our books, our songs, sayings, and sermons all we want, but hell is still out there. Cliff Kneehole notes, “The fact that most people don’t believe in hell doesn't mean they won’t end up there.”
When we examine the account of Jonah we see that he was a was a literal sign of the judgement of God to those in Nineveh. For three days, he endured hellish conditions, and he did not leave unscathed. His body bore the signs of the reality of judgement. His body preached a sermon his lips could never utter. So powerful was the message that it brought an entire metropolis to its face.
Today, we are not faced with a modern day Jonah, but simply of one who bore the sign of Jonah, Jesus (Matthew 12:39-42). The brutality that Jesus endured makes Jonah’s plight look like a cakewalk. A detailed account of the crucifixion extends beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to note that the similitudes of Jonah and Jesus are extensive. One such being: Jonah was nearly crushed by the weight of the sea; an ocean of sin crushed Jesus as he hung from a cross. In short, Jonah’s judgement saved a city; Jesus’ sacrifice saved humanity.
I understand that a full, in-depth discussion of hell, and the concepts that espouse the term, is a broad and extensive one. However, I believe hell must not be neglected from our minds. Unfortunately, there are too many out there who do not know what lies on the other side of death. For the vast majority of humanity, hell has simply disappeared from cognitive reality. Erased one easy day at a time. My intent for this article is not to depress you but to awaken a burden. My friends, hell is real, and people are going there.
Revelation 20:18 of your Bible says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (King James Version). Jesus came, died on a cross and rose again, conquering death to save people from this terrible place. And yet its gates are full of those seeking entrance.
C.S. Lewis, in his classic work Screwtape Letters, says it best, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Too many men and women are blindly fanning the flames of their own fate. Hell disappeared when man stopped worrying about sin and started abusing grace.
My friends, hell has been conquered, but people are still going there. When was the last time you looked at a coworker, cashier, waiter/waitress, friend… as a soul? As someone who has an eternal destiny. Jesus is standing with nail-scarred hands as a sign for those who are seeking truth.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.” I’m thankful that I have been raised in the truth, but this Gospel was not given for my selfish consumption. The Bible calls us to spread the Gospel (Matt. 28:19) after we have received the power of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:8). There are people who are going to hell that don’t have to, and you have the power to prevent it. I recently heard it said, “Hell is truth seen too late.” I want to do my best to help as many people see the truth before it is too late. The magicians of our era have caused hell to disappear from thought, but you and I have the power to expose the flawed perception that has endowed such a delusion! The ball is in your court.