Brownsville Revival: Five Years Later, Part
By Steve Rabey
More people believe in hell today than in the
1950's. This is not without qualification though, for the hell of
today isn't nearly as hot as the hell of past generations. The danger
of such a notion of hell is that it camouflages the horror of the
Hell, it seems, is making quite a comeback these
days. It made the cover of U.S. News and World Report, January 31.
What was initially surprising in this article by Jeffery Sheler was
that more people believe in hell today than in the 1950's. This is
not without qualification though, for the hell of today isn't nearly
as hot as the hell of past generations.
In days gone by, the descriptions of fire and brimstone
written about on the pages of scripture were taken quite literally.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus describes the fate of unbelievers
as those who "shall be cast out into the outer darkness..." Later,
Jesus says that those who are committed to a lifestyle of lawlessness
will be "cast into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall
be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
On yet another occasion in Mark's gospel, Jesus
informs all that "if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two
hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire...where their worm
does not die, and the fire is not quenched."
While the particulars have been variously interpreted
throughout church history, in sum, the depictions of hell taken from
the Bible reveal it to be the final state of people who have not entered
into a right relationship with the living God. That place is unambiguously
But today's hell, in which the majority of the
population believes, is more "an anguished state of existence" rather
than a real place of perdition. As one scholar wrote, "Once we discovered
we could create hell on Earth, it became silly to talk about it in
a literal sense."
The danger of such a notion of hell is that it
camouflages the horror of the real thing. In so doing, it diminishes
the story of God's profound love and relegates the saving efforts
of God in human history to the status of pithy fairy tales good for
little more than putting the kiddies to bed.
In spite of the growing popularity of understanding
hell as "whatever you make it," God didn't send his son to redeem
mankind from a state of mind, low self-esteem or a lack of material
prosperity. He came to resolve the human disobedience issue (called
sin) once and for all such that all who truly believe would be qualified
to reside in the presence of a sin-hating God.
In a manner of speaking, there is a dress code
for heaven, and that code says only perfection will be allowed in.
Since there is not a single person who has ever lived who could qualify,
God himself took on human form to live in the midst of the same challenges
and temptations among which we all live, so he might do it perfectly
on our behalf. Succeeding, he offered his perfect life for our imperfect
The prophet Isaiah informs us metaphorically that
the dress code has been satisfied. "I will rejoice greatly in the
Lord...for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, he has wrapped
me with a robe of righteousness..."
Any who attempt to enter heaven without the goodness
only Jesus can offer will be turned away, not to a state of mind,
but to a place where the torment is beyond the goodness and mercy
of God. For the person who dies without Jesus, life on this Earth
will be as close as they ever get to experiencing heaven. For the
person who dies with Christ, this Earth will be the closest they ever
get to experiencing hell. Maybe that will help you understand why
that pesky co-worker seems relentless in inviting you to church or
why that annoying cousin of yours can't seem to talk about anything
but Jesus. You may not believe in a real hell where there is constant
agony and suffering, but chances are you know someone who does. And
because they do, they want to make sure you have every opportunity
to avoid an eternity of misery. They're not trying to be obnoxious,
they are showing you how much they really care.
More on the
More Spiritual Life
Adapted from "Revival in Brownsville" by Steve Rabey
(Thomas Nelson, 1998)
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