That hideous doctrine of hell is fading. How often have you thought of it in the past month, for instance? Does it make a difference in your concern for others, in your witness? Is it a constant and proper burden?
Most believers would have to say no. But the individual isn’t the only one to blame. After all, the doctrine no longer gets its float in the church parade; it has become a museum piece at best, stored in the shadows of a far corner.
The reality of hell, however, demands we haul the monstrous thing out again and study it until it changes us. Ugly, garish, and familiar as it is, this doctrine will indeed have a daily, practical, and personal effect on every believer who comes to terms with its force.
Our Lord’s words on the subject are unnerving. In Luke 16, He tells us of a rich man who died and went to hades (the abode of the unsaved dead between death and final judgment). From that story and a few other revelatory facts, we can infer several characteristics of hell.
First, it’s a place of great physical pain. The rich man’s initial remark concludes with his most pressing concern: “I am in agony in this flame” (Luke 16:24). We do not make enough of this.
We all have experienced pain to some degree. We know it can make a mockery of all life’s goals and beauties. Yet we do not seem to know pain as a hint of hell, a searing foretaste of what will befall those who do not know Christ, a grim reminder of what we will be spared from.
God does not leave us with simply the mute fact of hell’s physical pain. He tells us how real people will respond to that pain. Our Lord is not being macabre; He is simply telling us the truth.
2nd, there will be “weeping” (Luke 13:28). Weeping is not something we get a grip on; it is something that grips us.
Recall how you were affected when you last heard someone weep. Remember how you were moved with compassion to want to protect and restore that person? The Lord wants us to know and consider what an upsetting experience it is for the person in hell.
Another response will be “wailing” (Matthew 13:42). While weeping attracts our sympathy, wailing frightens and offends us. It is the pitiable bawl of a soul seeking escape, hurt beyond repair, eternally damaged. W wail is sound gone grotesque because of conclusions we can’t live with.
A 4th response will be “gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28). Why? Perhaps because of anger or frustration. It may be a defense against crying out or an intense pause when one is too weary to cry any longer.