The other night, I was talking to a friend who has been one of the primary organizers of our upcoming trip to Haiti. He was telling me about a conversation he had with the representative of the organization that we will be working with while we are there. According to this individual, in the places we will be going to distribute these water filters, if you ask the people “if you were to die today, what would be the destination of your soul?” a large portion of them would answer very succinctly, “Hell.”
If that doesn’t give you the chills, then you better check your pulse.
But as followers of Jesus, does it really take an example that direct and shocking to light a spark in our hearts?
There seems to be two main extremes within the Church today in the way that we approach the topic of Hell; the “fire and brimstone” approach, or (often in response to that approach), relative silence. In my experience, it’s just not something that we talk about very often, or at any great length.
A few things right off the bat: I am in no way an advocate for “fire and brimstone” evangelism, the approach of trying to scare people into believing… I just don’t think it is conducive to showing people the real Jesus and the truth about Christianity. We serve a God who does not desire that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and who seeks to lead us to repentance through his kindness (Romans 2:4). We serve a God who has gone to great lengths to offer us redemption freely, but at great cost to himself (John 3:16). I am also not attempting to make any theological statements about the who/what/where/when of Hell, as I am nowhere near qualified for that… maybe that’s a topic for another day (probably not).
Here’s what I do believe on this topic; Heaven and Hell are real. And while I will not make any concrete statements regarding the nature of Hell at this point, I think that Scripture makes it pretty clear that it’s not a good thing, and it has never been what our Creator wanted or intended for us.
That being said, I think it is an incredibly important topic, to which we pay far too little attention. In my experience, the Church has grown afraid of the very difficult topic of Hell, and if we do speak of eternity we would much rather focus on Heaven (for obvious reasons). But I believe that there is a cost to this, as it seems that many Christians today are afraid to even think about the reality of Hell… and we risk becoming numb and indifferent to the reality that, as the people mentioned above would tell you, there are people all around us whose souls are currently bound for that destination and who need to hear the good news of the Gospel.
Penn Jillette, a vehement atheist, cut right to the heart of this issue when he said:
“If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward […] How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Now, I will be the first to admit that evangelism has never been my strong suit (it’s definitely not one of my top spiritual gifts), so if I’m pointing a finger at anyone, it’s first and foremost at myself. But as I’ve been preparing to leave for Haiti, this is something that has been pressing on my heart and I felt the need to share it. My brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot allow ourselves to lulled into comfortability and complacency, forgetting that the world that we live in is at war… I’m not talking about wars between or within countries, I’m talking about the battle that is being waged between good and evil. And when we fail to recognize the battle waging all around us, we fail to see OUR place in that battle. We do have a role to play, we are called to fight for the SOULS of the people around us.
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Not only that, but we do have an enemy, one who will stop at nothing to keep us from playing our part. And if I’m brutally honest, sometimes I don’t think he has to try very hard.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12)
There’s a quote that says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” I would add that it works in his favor when we are numb to the realities of Hell, or deny its existence altogether, as it serves to keep us out of the battle.
I think that the question we must all ask ourselves is this: when we look at the people around us, whether it be our co-workers, family, friends, or the homeless guy on the sidewalk, what do we see? Do we see “just people,” bodies walking around that we may or may not choose to engage and interact with, or do we see SOULS that are headed to one of two eternal destinations? I’ll be the first to admit that I often fall into the first category, and maybe that’s why God put this topic so heavily on my heart this morning.
There is a reality that is very present on my heart and mind as I prepare to board a plane for Haiti this evening, one that is far more apparent to me now than it was the last time I made this trip. When my team and I step off that plane tomorrow, we are stepping into a war zone. Although it has certainly diminished in recent years, the presence of Voodoo in Haiti is still very real and very pervasive… which means that evil has a very real, and sometimes visible, presence in that country. As one of the leaders of our first trip told us, you won’t find many atheists in Haiti… they are very aware of the presence of good and evil, it’s just a matter of which side they choose.
But here’s the thing, while this battle may be more apparent and visible in a country like Haiti, there is no less of a vicious battle being waged in our hometowns, in our places of work, our homes, and every place that we set our feet (albeit more hidden and discreet). A war is being waged for the souls of the people all around us, and we must decide if we will remain on the sidelines, or take our place on the front lines… If we choose to step into the front lines of this battle, we will be in for the fight of our lives… but we have a God who has promised that he will be with us, that he will not leave or forsake us, and that he will give us exactly what we need to fight this battle… and in the end, it is His power that will prevail. It may sound intimidating, but it simply starts with seeing the people around us not just as bodies and personalities, but as precious souls in need of a Savior.