Skip to comments.The Hell of It. A Short Teaching on Hell
Posted on 07/30/2012 1:25:50 PM PDT by NYer
I have written here before on the reality of Hell, as revealed in Scripture. And though many dismiss Hell as either non-existent or a very remote possibility, no Biblical figure spoke more of Hell than Jesus, who also taught that “many” go there. It is a sober and straight-forward teaching of Scripture that there is a Hell and that many mysteriously choose to live apart from God and the values of God’s Kingdom.
Yet, while fully asserting all this, I do wonder why the teaching on Hell is so unambiguously “hellish” and why the focus of the Lord’s teaching is almost entirely on physical torments. There is very little subtlety in what the Lord teaches. Hell is described as a fiery furnace (e.g. Matt 13:42), an outer darkness (e.g. Mt 8:12), where there is wailing and grinding of teeth (e.g. Mt 13:42), where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched (e.g. Mark 9:48; Matt 25:41, inter al).
Let me be clear, the Lord is the Master teacher, and for reasons of his own he seems to have decided that speaking of Hell in more subtle terms was unnecessary. Yet we live in times when even many believers, consider the teaching on Hell as set forth in the scriptures to be cartoonishly excessive and hardly worthy of a God who is Love.
Thus many of us, pastors and teachers, who seek to reestablish the teaching on hell as both reasonable and necessary (in light of human freedom and our capacity to choose for or against God and his Kingdom values), also look for other ways to teach on Hell. We use these methods out of no disrespect for Scripture and our Master teacher Jesus. But these are “dainty” times and even many believers are easily offended and lack the spiritual strength and courage necessary to hear Jesus’ undiluted words and accept their straight-forward admonition. Both believers and unbelievers, just get stuck on the images and miss the teaching.
To my mind, no modern metaphor for Hell is better than the “Golf story” told by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is remarkable for its subtle yet clear teaching that the heart of Hell is ultimately to be lacking in the “one thing necessary.” It is from his book, Three to Get Married. Sheen repeats the following joke in his Book:
There is not a golfer in America who has not heard the story, which is theologically sound, about the golfer who went to hell and asked to play golf. The Devil showed him a 36-hole course with a beautiful clubhouse, long fairways, perfectly placed hazards, rolling hills, and velvety greens. Next the Devil gave him a set of clubs so well balanced that the golfer felt he had been swinging them all his life. Out to the first tee they stepped, ready for a game. The golfer said: What a course! Give me the ball. The Devil answered: Sorry….we have no golf balls. Thats the hell of it! (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition, Loc. 851-57).
Wow! Ouch! That IS the hell of it! To have all that, and lack the one thing necessary! Nothing else really works, or matters much, without the one thing necessary. In the joke, everything is in place and wonderfully set forth on the golf course, except the one thing necessary, the ball! The golf course becomes a golf curse.
In my last parish I lived in a rectory with a long hall. I used to putt a golf ball up and down the hall. I had an executive putt-putt set with obstacles, and golf goals with automatic returns, etc. But in the end, all I really needed was a ball to have fun. I didn’t even need a club, I could use a long umbrella if I had to, or even just kick the ball. My cat would also love to chase the ball up the hall and pounce. But all the other gizmos and gadgets I had meant nothing without the ball, they were useless. Without the ball even the cat wouldn’t show up.
The heart of Heaven is to be with God. Scripture says, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)
The heart of Hell is to lack God, to lack the one thing necessary. God is the sine qua non, the absolute requirement for every other joy or pleasure to make any sense or be operative. The heart of Hell is to have rejected God permanently, and to discover that the absolute and final rejection of Him is to experience the withdrawal of every other pleasure. Only in God will my soul be at rest! (Ps 62:5)
In fact, like the golf course in Hell, those pleasures look at the denizens of Hell and mock them, make the suffering more intense. Because, though the pleasures are near at hand, they may as well be ten thousand miles away. They are useless and their nearness only intensifies the pain and the frustration. This is possibly worse than any hell-fire and may well explain the wailing and grinding of teeth by the hell-bound described in Scripture.
In life, don’t miss the one thing necessary, which is not a thing at all, but is God himself. The Father, in the prodigal son parable came out and begged his second son to enter the feast and celebrate with him. The Heavenly Father does the same now….What is your answer?
There is an old FR thread on this as well:
It links to this site:
There is also a good discussion of the parable of Lazerus and the rich man at the latter link.
Is that Romney?
Hell as a golf course without balls is about the dumbest analogy i can imagine.
—Hell as a golf course without balls is about the dumbest analogy i can imagine.—
There was a great “hell” in a Twilight Zone episode. A ne’re do well died and went to “heaven”. It was amazing. He had everything he wanted. The “dames” were falling all over him and he gambled all he wanted and never lost. But one day he approached his guide and said, and I paraphrase, “this is great and all, but couldn’t I lose every now and then. This is really depressing to always get everything I want. I thought heaven would be better than this.”
To which his guide said, “Heaven? Why did you think this was heaven?!” Followed by an evil laugh. The end. :)
Here is a great analogy about the problem of hell as “eternal suffering” from my link above:
Suppose for a moment that a wonderful manMr. Right, if you willoffers a marriage proposal to the woman he loves. “Marry me,” he says, “and I will give you a life like you’ve never dreamed of before. You will be loved with the greatest commitment and passion that any woman has ever known. I will give you the finest house with all of the wonderful things you’ve ever wanted, and you will be happy for the rest of your days!”
Now suppose the woman is very flattered by the proposal, but is uncertain about whether or not she is ready for such a commitment. Asking for a few more days to think it over, Mr. Right answers, “You are welcome to take more time, but it’s only fair that I warn you what will happen if you decline my generous offer. Your only option, other than spending paradise with me, is to be thrown into my underground dungeon, have your eyes gouged from their sockets, and be subjected to unimaginable pain every hour, on the hour, for the rest of your long, miserable life.”
What do you suppose would be going through the young woman’s mind at a time like this? I imagine that would change the way she feels about the man considerably. She might have previously accepted Mr. Right’s proposal because of her love for him, but is there much chance of that now? Surely not. If she takes him seriously, she’ll undoubtedly marry him, but not as much for love as out of genuine terror at the alternative.
Is this God’s way of doing things? Does God want His people to turn to Him out of fear that they will be tortured otherwise? Where is the love in that? If everyone really believed in this doctrine, wouldn’t that properly tarnish their concept of the Savior? I would imagine some might even have a hard time calling Him “Savior” at all. How merciful can it be to create a never-ending torture pit for everyone and then save only a few from it?
God does not threaten, nor does God consign a soul to Hell. The rebellious soul itself insists on going there. As C.S. Lewis said in The Great Divorce, "All who are in hell, choose it."
Another quote from that marvelous little book, which may be his best. Sarah Smith comes down to the entrance to Heaven to meet her husband and try to persuade him to give up his narcissism in order to 'enter into joy'. He is a whinging little passive-aggressive worm who guilted her into misery. He refuses to give up his self-pity and vanishes from the entrance to Heaven - Sarah Smith rises and moves away, apparently unaffected by his damnation. The narrator objects:
And yet and yet said I to my Teacher, even now I am not quite sure. Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?
Would ye rather he still had the power of tormenting her? He did it many a day and many a year in their earthly life.
Well, no. I suppose I dont want that.
I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on Earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.
Ye see it does not.
I feel in a way that it ought to.
That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.
The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.
I dont know what I want, Sir.
Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it; or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject in themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say yell accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or yell make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe . . . . Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those that insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the worlds garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.
—Let’s change your account just a little bit, and you’ll see why. Instead of threatening her with horrible punishment, Mr. Right rescues her from Mr. Wrong, who wishes to see her confined in a dungeon and subjected to horrible tortures for the rest of her days. Problem is, Mr. Wrong looks very attractive before he’s got his hooks in you, and Mr. Right has to humble himself to persuade the young lady of this fact — which she doesn’t really want to believe because Mr. Wrong is so dashing, and so handsome, and so tempting . . . .—
To me, the analogy still fits - choose me or else. Satan did not create hell. God did.
And I tend to agree with the Lewis quote. As I spar with non-Christians I’m seeing a pattern - they are actually choosing to ignore God and his message of salvation.And they are doing it consciously. Many of them have an attitude of “even if what you say is true, I’m not interested. It is then that I leave them with Ecclesiastes. They shall eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor - and then they die like animals. The only exception is that they will be resurrected and go to death and destruction for they are not written in the book of life. And death and destruction are pretty final words. Eternally final. Something that dies and is destroyed by God does not come back.
BTW, “The Great Divorce” is one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I love the guys refusing to stay in heaven because they have to get back to church. I drastically simplify, but you know what I’m talking about. ;-)
Hell as a golf course without balls is about the dumbest analogy i can imagine.
Have to agree with you that this is just dumb. Annoying situation but not painful, I would think.
And Sheen was a brilliant man. Perhaps the rest of the section in his book tied it all together with something else.
I think the story of Sarah Smith in the book was a good one. I think it also touches on something that many have a really hard time with: How those that enter heaven will “feel” about those loved ones that didn’t make it.
I believe Lewis touches on something that definitely falls into the “now we see as through a glass dimly, but then face to face” sort of things. For all I know, assuming the annihilation thing is what happens, we may be able to fully grasp to the core of our being that what those that didn’t make it could have had doesn’t matter since, no longer existing, they are completely and utterly irrelevant. Forgotten as if they never existed.
I think of that when I think of God saying he chooses to forget things. At least I hope he does. ;-)
It’s called “A Nice Place to Visit.” Scared the crap out of me when I saw it as a kid.
The thought of Hell as described by Jesus is too terrible to comprehend. I rest in his grace. I’ve done some awful sinning and know I deserve whatever he gives me.
I remember really getting clarity about my feelings about the whole thing when I was in a prison ministry band and I first heard the phrase “turn or burn”. Really brought a clarity to the problem I had with the “fear of hell” preaching I always heard. It seemed so “wrong” to get people to go to church out of raw fear, completely absent of the concept of God’s love.
The annihilation message not only fits with the character of a loving God, but also better fits the description of the eternity experience of non-Christians as described in the bible.
We see through a glass darkly. I don't understand, but I throw myself on the mercy of God.
"My Jesus - I trust in You."
It’s been a decade since I read The Great Divorce. I’ve been thinking, the last month or two, that it was time for a reread. Your clearer recollection of the details has confirmed it.
“What is your answer?”
It’s, ‘Nope to Pope’ since he seems unfamiliar with the Biblical “hell”, yes, the same “hell” that both David and Jesus were in.
I really wish (hope) you are right. It is hard to imagine suffering continuing for all eternity or that God in his mercy wouldn’t put the wicked out of their misery.
Is this Gods way of doing things? Does God want His people to turn to Him out of fear that they will be tortured otherwise? Where is the love in that? If everyone really believed in this doctrine, wouldnt that properly tarnish their concept of the Savior? I would imagine some might even have a hard time calling Him Savior at all. How merciful can it be to create a never-ending torture pit for everyone and then save only a few from it?
On the other hand i would think it hard to take any one very serous when they start trying to describe Heaven or hell either one.
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