What Ever Happened to Hell?

by Ted Kyle

The God our forefathers preached-the God of the Bible-is hard to recognize in our modern culture. Oh, He's still there, in the popular mindset, but He's changed… more like Santa Claus… more like the god everyone seems to want Him to be.

The change in popular thinking is reflected in how people view heaven and hell. Heaven has become the place where everybody goes-sooner or later, depending on whether one is influenced by Touched by an Angel or by Catholicism's purgatory. So the concept of heaven is ever-expanding.

Hell, meanwhile, is shrinking… almost gone entirely, according to some people's ideas. And not just on television or in the marketplace. We understand from Dateline: Heaven that "the newest Presbyterian (USA) catechism hardly mentions the subject at all. The diminution of hell in this version was a ‘theological choice by the committee that good news is more faithful to the gospel than bad news.'"

Isn't that a seductive proposition? "Good news is more faithful to the gospel [which means "good news"] than bad news." It is more faithful, all right, but not to the gospel. It is more faithful to the image of a god our culture is building.

Listen to Sukie Miller, who conducted a study on "after-death," published in Omni: "We feel it is our birthright to be happy. We are guaranteed it in the Declaration of Independence. We feel entitled to it, and we'll sue somebody if we don't get it." "Yes," comments Dateline: Heaven, "and we also will redesign hell with that cheerful blueprint in mind."

Part of the early fall-out is an increasing absence of the fear of death. Witness the successes of "Dr. Death," Jack Kevorkian. Witness the enactment of an assisted-suicide law in Oregon, with copy-cats active in most states. And if there is nothing to fear from death; if everyone goes to heaven; or possibly simply passes into non-existence; WHY NOT? Why not progress from assisted suicide to getting rid of our excess human baggage? Why should anyone have to pass through "this vale of tears"?

Why? Because hell has not shrunk nor been tamed, and heaven has not become bloated and easy. Hell is freighted with anguish and pain today as it was in the days of Jonathan Edwards and his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." That sermon moved his auditors mightily, because they knew that God was not to be trifled with. They knew-though they often buried the knowledge-that God is Judge as well as a Father to the faithful.

Today, even preachers who know better prefer to keep hell low-key. It's not good for attendance. It's not upbeat and cheerful.

Strange, isn't it, that our Savior had a lot more to say about hell than He did about heaven? Isn't it odd that He wept over Jerusalem and His people? And why would He let them crucify Him, if it didn't matter much anyway?

I don't know about you, but I sure don't want it on my conscience that I helped delude people into thinking there is a broad way to heaven, when I know full well that the broad way goes the other way. Think about it.