In Recent years, America has crossed a new threshold of evil. Every manner of wickedness is not only embraced but celebrated as good. The architects of this new society should be afraid—very afraid.
Giorgio di Antonio Vasari’s Last Judgment in Florence, Italy
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and
after that comes judgment…”
I opened my Twitter app and there staring back at me was the bruised half-closed eye of an aborted baby girl, her head partially crushed, her little body wadded up like a piece of trash. A wave of grief mixed with feelings of rage washed over me.
I recall the births of my own children. They entered a world that awaited their arrival excitedly. I might as well have fired a confetti cannon such was my joy. This little girl should have been welcomed in like manner on this, the day of her birth. Instead, she entered a pitiless world of violence, delivered as she was into the hands of a physician who promptly punctured her skull and snuffed out her life. Looking at the photo again, a shudder went through me. And then a thought:
These people don’t fear God.
It’s the only explanation for the kind of evil we are seeing in America today. It isn’t that this is new. Abortions and even infanticides have been carried out by the millions in this country since 1973. It’s the sheer magnitude of the evil and the celebration of it.
The Fear of God
And I’m not just talking about abortion. The perverse LGBTQ+ agenda, mainstreamed by a handful of morally deformed radicals, now promotes masturbation, homosexuality, pedophilia, and sexual mutilation among children. Children. The current occupant of the Oval Office has championed it. Disney has made it central to their “Wonderful World” of celluloid. And many public school teachers, as ignorant as they are corrupt, have made the perversion of your children their mission in life.
Such people don’t fear God. They should. One day each of us will stand before him, an experience “so overwhelming,” wrote C.S. Lewis in his classic Mere Christianity, “that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.”
The fear of God.
It is a central theme in the Bible. Many have taken it upon themselves to round-off the edges of this biblical phrase that encapsulates a warning. “It means ‘A healthy respect,’” you’ll hear them say. No, I think it means fear—as in, be afraid, very afraid. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”
The Quiet Disappearance of a Christian Doctrine
The most powerful sermon I ever heard was preached by Dr. Charles Carter at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama circa 1991. I even remember what he titled his message: “Five Intellectual Reasons Why I Believe in a Place Called Hell.”
Even then, it was an eyebrow-raising choice of topics. People prefer sermons about themselves. Things like The Purpose Driven Life, where we each find our burning bush experience and personal fulfillment. One imagines the church growth consultants, every church seems to have them now, advising Carter to wave-off since, according to conventional wisdom, this is not conducive to church growth.
Carter’s sermon, uncompromising, relentless, was an iron fist in a velvet glove. It wasn’t cheap emotional manipulation. He simply laid out the biblical case and why he considered it reasonable. If the typical Sunday morning pew-sitter is snoozing, tapping his shoe impatiently, or thinking about how to beat the Lutherans and the Methodists to the cafeteria following the service, this was not that Sunday. You’ve never seen a congregation, believers and unbelievers alike, more intently focused. You could have heard a pin drop when he closed his Bible and invited people to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.
Hell isn’t exactly a popular topic for an article either. I won’t bother submitting this to my editors at Fox News, USA Today, or The American Spectator, fine people though they are. But for the sake of this country, it needs to find its way back into the consciousness of every American. To that end, it needs to become a theme in the pulpit and in every Christian’s evangelistic and apologetical efforts. Christians need to rediscover it. After all, the Lord made frequent reference to this place of Divine judgment and wrath. In fact, Jesus talked about Hell more than he talked about Heaven.
What is Hell?
Hell, if it is mentioned at all these days, is typically invoked as an expletive, a punch line, or as a swaggering demonstration of boldness: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
People have a way of speaking boldly about things in which they are wholly ignorant. Consider those who would so casually plunge us all headlong into war with Russia. The pundits, having never experienced the horrors of total war, seem to regard it as little more than a video game. The Far Side artist Gary Larson made Hell a frequent topic of humorous cartoons.
But Hell isn’t funny. It isn’t a video game. It isn’t a punch line. It isn’t a place that its residents regard lightly however they might have spoken of it prior to their arrival. In his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton offers this description:
A Universe of death, which God by curse
Created evil, for evil only good,
Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds,
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, inutterable, and worse
Then Fables yet have feign’d, or fear conceiv’d …
In Albi, France, one finds Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, an imposing example of Gothic architecture that seems more brick fortress than house of God. On the west wall covering some 3,200 square feet is a massive Last Judgment mural, second in scale only to Giorgio di Antonio Vasari’s Last Judgment beneath the cupola of the Duomo in Florence. It overwhelms the viewer be it his first or tenth time to gaze upon it.
Like those of the Italian painters Giotto, Michelangelo, and Vasari, it is graphic. But where the Italian artists used the bright, vivid colors common to the Mediterranean, the Flemish artists (their names are lost to history) commissioned to do the work at Albi used the muted, bleak, and almost colorless palette common to the cold environs of northern Europe. The effect is grim, terrifying.
At the center is a triumphant Jesus Christ, enthroned on His seat of judgment, surrounded by angels, their wings spread. To His right sit the Apostles. Beneath them the saints are resurrected, they kneel in adoration, the books of their hearts open to him. They are welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. To Jesus’ left we see a similar scene. The dead are likewise raised, the books of their hearts are also open to him.
But these have been found unworthy.
They fall back in terror, their arms shielding their faces as if seared by His holy light. At the bottom of the mural, from left to right if you are facing it, the artists have depicted the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth (missing due to the installation of a chapel and pipe organ), Greed, Gluttony, and Lust. In each, grotesque demons of Hell torment these unrepentant sinners as their crimes necessitate: some are bound and broken on wheels, others are boiled in cauldrons, and still others are force-fed frogs and what one imagines are stinking, putrid waters. I have personally viewed all of the aforementioned Last Judgments, but it is this one that commands my complete attention every time I see it.
If my late friend and atheist Christopher Hitchens dismissed any notions of an afterlife, his brother Peter, at one time an atheist and a communist like his older brother, was nudged to reconsider his Pascalian Wager upon seeing just such a mural in Beaune, France, some six hours to the north of Albi:
I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions. On the contrary, their hair and the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me, and people I knew.
I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.
One can mock the biblical claims regarding Hell, dismiss the accuracy of these artists’ characterizations of Hell, or write-off Peter Hitchens as a simpleton for believing in Hell. Do so at your own risk. While the Bible nowhere gives us a detailed description of Hell, it does not shrink from telling us what it is: a place of eternal torment, weeping, and gnashing of teeth for those who reject God’s goodness and righteous offer of forgiveness. No one goes there who does not, through a lifetime of rebellion, choose it for themselves. The God of the Bible is not arbitrary. Nor is it his desire that any should go there. In the end, our souls will reside eternally in the place of our own choosing.
But if Milton’s poetic description and the painting of Renaissance artists don’t frighten you, know that they are only shadows of the awful reality. Just as the Apostle Paul speaks of being in Heaven and experiencing things that cannot be described, so it is with Hell. It is infinitely worse that we can imagine.
“Hell is not ultimately about fire, but about God,” writes theologian Michael Horton. “Whatever the exact nature of the physical punishments, the real terror awaiting the unrepentant is God himself and his inescapable presence forever with his face turned against them.”
The End of God’s Mercy
Here, too, Christians often do their unbelieving neighbors a disservice. Uncomfortable with their own doctrine, they will soften it, or talk it up like it’s not so bad. The problem starts with a church that has created a god, not the biblical God mind you, but one that is in our own image, an image of what we want him to be. This god is a kind of celestial Santa Claus or an effeminate, emaciated weakling who “longs” for “relationship” with us like a dear old aunt who sends us a Christmas card each year, but to whom we never write back. And it is from this context that modern cozy notions of Hell are born. I cannot count the number of times I have heard Christians—preachers, no less—say that Hell is “a place of separation from God.” That frightens no one who does not believe in him in the first place. This doctrinal malpractice is a misunderstanding of Paul’s meaning in II Thessalonians 1:9.
Let me be clear: Hell is not a place of spatial separation from God, as if it were some cosmic dumping ground where he is clueless about what is going on there. Omnipresence is an attribute of God—and therein lies what makes Hell a place of torment: the Lord will be present in all of his righteous fury.
Hell is separation from God’s mercy.
Isaiah 55:6 says: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” The time will come when the door that is now open to his grace and forgiveness will close decisively. To quote C.S. Lewis again:
That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.
The Lord created Hell just as he created Heaven, and he will reign in both eternally. Those who find themselves in Hell—many who thought themselves on God’s side—will know that they have no one but themselves to blame. And as Romans 1:20 tells us, no one will have an excuse. The consciences of the damned will testify against them at judgment, condemning them.
And lest I be understood to be reveling in the idea of God Almighty casting sinners into outer darkness, I am not. Not at all. There is no self-righteousness in me. I readily accept God’s verdict against me: You deserve Hell, Larry Alex Taunton. But for the grace and mercy of God, I would get it, too.
The Necessity of Hell
Hell is a good place. A jarring thought, isn’t it? The Lord created it for the final destruction of evil. That should be comforting to everyone who knows Jesus Christ. Moreover, Hell is a necessity. Without it, there is no ultimate justice. It’s not just that the Hitlers, Stalins, and Maos get away with their respective holocausts, but also the millions of people who, both known and unknown to us, collaborated with the devil on a daily basis in his mission to spread evil and misery to all mankind—and celebrated it:
The judges who thought nothing of refusing justice to those who sought it; the countless bureaucrats who weaponized their posts against those they were meant to serve; the salesmen who cheated their clients; the preachers who perverted biblical teaching; the people who had it within their power to defend the weak and give them succor but instead chose to deny it.
This brings me back to where we started: the abortion doctors, the infanticidal physician who crushed the skull of that beautiful little girl. Were they to really understand what awaits them they would tremble with fear.
Were the bureaucrats, the politicians, and the donors who make that whole machinery of death possible to really understand the awesome wrath of God they would not lay their heads down at night peacefully.
Were the school teachers who warp the minds of children, the propagandists who promote evil among them, the pedophiles who rape them, and the parents who permit the mutilation of their bodies to really understand, as Oscar Wilde put, that “the soul is a terrible reality” they would not live another moment of their lives uneasily.
Someone should tell them.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the messaging of most churches. In his book Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700, Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch writes:
The founding fathers of the Reformation would … be surprised by what is missing from modern Protestantism. During the twentieth century Protestant Christianity quietly ceased to talk about one of the forces which had given its original urgency: the fear of Hell.
The Doctrine of Grace combined with the Doctrine of Hell fueled the growth of the early church. It fueled the Great Awakenings. It fueled global missions. It served to restrain evil even among those whose belief in God did not extend to an actual conversion. The absence of the doctrine has horrifying consequences, not only for life in the hereafter, but for life in the here and now. In his book The Devil’s Delusion, David Berlinski, an agnostic, writes:
What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing. And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.
Illusionist and atheist Penn Jillette, who once trashed me for a book that he had never read, nonetheless had this powerful response to a man who gave him the gift of a Bible and a sober warning after a show:
How much do you have to hate someone not to proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, bearing down on you, and you did not believe it, at a certain point I tackle you.
On a beautiful autumn day in October 2010, a dying Christopher Hitchens and I wended our way through the Shenandoah Valley. It was part of a road trip from his home in Washington, D.C. to mine in Birmingham, Alabama. For several hours we studied the Gospel of John together. He, with Johnny Walker Black Label pinched between his knees, read the text aloud as I pointed my Tahoe south. At this point, death hung over him like the Sword of Damocles. Naturally, it came up.
“When I told you that I had esophageal cancer,” Christopher began, “you said that you would pray for me. What do you pray for? I’m not trying to be funny or unappreciative, but is it for recovery, redemption, or remission of sin?”
“Christopher, God is not primarily concerned with our health and material comfort,” I replied. “I discovered this when I was diagnosed with cancer at twenty-three. Nothing so grave as yours, but it brought much into perspective. Similarly, I believe that in giving you a glimpse of your mortality, God is giving you the same chance he gave my father. Rather than yanking you by the collar into the next world, he has got your full attention and is, I think, asking you one last time: Are you sure you want to face me like this?”
Some of you have wagered that God does not exist. Claiming to be wise, you have, in the words of Romans 1:22, become a fool. It is with fear and compassion for your soul that I tell you that a truck is bearing down on you.
The Lord God Almighty lives, and he is not to be trifled with. And whether you take him seriously or not does not alter an inescapable fact: He is coming for you. It will come suddenly, and unexpectedly. 2 Peter 3:10 says, “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief …” On that Day, you will hear him say one of two things:
The choice is entirely yours.
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