In my last post, I had been pondering the consummate question. I was not inclined on that day to dig into the consequences of denying Jesus as the Son of God, so I sort of skipped past it with a reference to “the death that never dies.” Perhaps you’ve been wondering what I meant…
When I was a very young child, I remember hearing “fire and brimstone” sermons that terrified me. That was the intent, I’m sure, but not very healthy for a 5-year-old growing up with nominally-Christian parents. In other words, we never talked about it. When I reached confirmation age, that terror re-surfaced. This time, however, I was blessed to have a pastor that encouraged my questions and was happy to reassure me that I was avoiding such a fate by accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
I still shy away from the “fire and brimstone” idea of hell. Yes, I’m well aware that scripture speaks of it and that to interpret scripture literally leaves no doubt that such a place exists. Maybe it really does. Maybe it’s also a metaphor for something that, in my mind, is much worse.
When I really accepted Christ as Lord for once and for all, I was in my early 30s. I exchanged a life that felt hopeless for one that was full of promise. I remember thinking that the grass looked greener and the sky more blue than I had ever noticed before! Nature, music, people…everything was more vibrant! A deep joy began bubbling up within me, and my life took on more meaning and purpose than I had ever dreamed possible.
I want to be crystal-clear that my problems did not magically disappear. My children did not become little angels. My husband did not turn into Prince Charming and I did not become Cinderella! I didn’t find the perfect job, our debt didn’t suddenly disappear, our house didn’t turn into something out of Southern Living magazine or Architectural Digest. My church wasn’t perfect, either. In fact, nothing was perfect. Nor has it ever been since then. Jesus Christ is not some kind of cosmic vending machine that spits out whatever version of utopia we are looking for when we push the button that says, “Yes, I believe.” What Jesus Christ offers is hope, the promise of a better life than we can ever imagine. A life that is never again lived alone.
The death that never dies? It is hell, of course. Jesus described it as a place”where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), and I have no reason to doubt what He says is true. But in my mind, hell is not just a place reserved for the future. Hell can be here and now. Hell is any day not lived in the company of Jesus Christ. That is an unbearably lonely existence. And, in my experience, that version of hell is much more terrifying than the threat of some future place.