The topic of preaching on Hell was recently raised in an online forum for preachers of a particular church affiliation. The question was asked, and the statement made: "When was the last time you preached about hell?...Millions are going there...We must preach about this horrible place!"
The author of the thread was seeking some feedback concerning our lack of preaching conviction, hell, and the eternal damnation of the wicked.
Responses that he got were vague, non-descript, or completely off-topic. I was a bit taken aback by the lack of responses, and the casual attitude with which such a topic was addressed.
Here, then, as posted on that particular forum, is my own response.
I believe the reason that so little preaching is done concerning hell anymore is our own lack of revelation.
We have focused our attention on revelation of the Godhead, revelation of doctrine, revelation of salvation, revelation of victorious living, revelation of walking in the Spirit, et al...yet we have scarcely glanced at the reality of a Christless eternity.
We have no revelation of how lost the lost truly are.
We offer the unsaved hope in every imaginable shape, form, and fashion. Books are written touting hope, freedom, deliverance, victorious living, spiritual power, etc. Yet we skirt the issue of what happens if they choose to continue living in sin.
Find a preacher who believes that those who go into eternity unsaved will meet a Righteous Judge (and not necessarily "a just and merciful Saviour") and that they will be eternally damned, and you'll find a preacher who can preach hell as hot as ever a man used to preach it.
The enemy of the church is not compromise; it's apathy.
We have ceased feeling the hot flames of an eternal lake of fire, and oh-so-subtly, the ideaology of the "abomination of the wicked" has crept into our thinking. We would never preach nor teach such doctrine, but I think, in our human frailty, we subconsciously block out the thought of the lost truly being lost forever. To dwell on such thoughts would produce prayer meetings and altar services like we used to see, conviction like we used to feel, repentance that is unquestionable. Puffy eyes, snot on the carpet, wailing cries of "God have mercy on their souls" would replace the "God loves you just the way you are" theologies that have filled many pulpits...including UPC pulpits.
We have preached "God hates sin but loves the sinner" for so many years that the lines have been blurred. Does God love the sinner? If so, why does the scripture tell us "God heareth not sinners..."? What about "the face of the Lord is against them that do evil"? Or even stronger (and an excellent Bible study) "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
Jesus did not say that He came "to love sinners"; He said He had come to call sinners to repentance. Somewhere, the lines between "love" and "tolerance" merged into one faint shadow known as "acceptance". While I understand, believe, preach and teach that Christ died for the sinner, that does not mean that He tolerates their wickedness.
God still despises sin; it is contrary to His very nature. He died to save the homosexual and lesbian, the liar, cheater, whoremonger, fornicator, the child molester, the porn addict, the drunkard, the prostitute, the murderer; that does not mean, however, that He feels sorry for them...as we often do. Nor does it mean that He will tolerate such a continued lifestyle...even after repentance.
"Poor, tormented soul...they're bound by chains of sin." Yes, but many choose to remain in those chains rather than accept the key that salvation through the shed blood of Christ can offer them. And we silently accept their refusal to change, without warning them of the consequences. God spilled His own blood---innocent and guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever---so that they could be set free from their bondage. Is it any wonder His face is turned against those who refuse His mercy?
You can't truly preach hell without the stink of sulphur and the heat of the flames and expect to get results. People are hardened to every imaginable picture you can paint.
I will confess that, years back, when I was unsaved, I became enamored---addicted, actually---to what is known as "splatter movies". Nothing but torment, gore, murder, demonic activity, etc. (Please don't crucify me; I was not in church, and believe me when I tell you that this garbage will leave scars in your mind.) This was during the years of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies. There was a movie (I think there were a couple of sequels that came out, also) that came out entitled Hellraiser. It dealt with this trinity of demonic spirits that had been unleashed on earth. The way these movies were portrayed, especially being released to the public one right after another, each more brutal, grotesque, and hellish in its portrayal, it is no wonder that my generation---and the following---became so hardened.
Our little church drama teams in black robes and red pitchforks, blacklights and scary music, is no match for what Hollywood can portray. The problem is that Hollywood portrays it in a manner that is appealing to the brutish, carnal nature of a world that is more and more enamored with debauchery and demonic activity. The more gruesome, the better.
We will never produce conviction and/or results by attempting to portray hell even in our most graphic terminology. People have seen it all on the big screen, and no matter how hard I try to describe a black, godless eternity, they will conjure up their own image of what Hell will be like.
And it will be nothing like the reality of Hell itself.
As the people of God, we have lived in a Holy-Ghost cocoon for so many years, surrounded---even on our worst of days, in our darkest of moments---by the presence of our Saviour, that we cannot truly fathom what it will be like to spend an eternity with absolutely no hope, no peace, no joy. There will be no "light at the end of the darkness" because the darkness itself is eternal. There will be no hope of death to end the suffering, because the suffering itself is the "second death".
Until we receive a revelation of eternal damnation, we will continue struggling to portray Hell, and we will continue having little effect on the unsaved with such messages.
But when God opens our understanding---like I believe He did with men such as Jonathan Edwards, famous for his Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God sermon---we will preach Hell with a renewed passion, fear, anguish, and cry aloud for the unsaved to find God while they still can.
When such anointed, convinced preaching is delivered, I believe we will see results like the great revivals of old used to see.