Do you believe in hell?
Hell, no! A simple "no" would have done it.
Funny how when we want to give our words an emotional charge, we'll invoke concepts taught by the historic Christian faith. Not to mention how often we find "Christ!" or "God!" or "Damn it!" punctuating ordinary conversation. But I digress.
I do believe there's a hell. In fact hell witnesses to the true significance of human beings and God's respect for us. The true God is an awesome God indeed. There is abundant biblical support for the notion of hell, a place of eternal suffering. Jesus warned of hell frequently. But you'll not find me quoting Scripture here. If you believe the Scriptures, then hell isn't in question for you. If you don't believe the Scriptures, quoting them won't convince you of the existence of hell.
My purpose here is to show that the existence of hell is an eminently reasonable conviction to embrace.
You really do believe in hell!
In fact, if you are a wise parent you give your kids hell every day. When your child disobeys there are consequences. Right? Often the consequence is an angry look or emotional explosion. Not the best form of discipline, but we've all fallen prey to it. On our better days we calmly impose a consequence appropriate to the child's age. Time outs, docking allowances, holding back the car keys are all precursors to a more severe consequence to come if the behavior continues. Disobedience is, after all, a rejection of the parent. Children are naturally disobedient because they possess from conception humanity's sinful nature. Wise parents recognize and accept that. Their love and discipline is administered with the prayer that the gospel will take hold early on in their hearts.
But suppose the child grows up to adopt values and goals contrary to his upbringing. A sensitive parent will, no doubt, grieve such a development. But a wise parent will not continue to impose consequences that were appropriate to childhood. What to do? It doesn't come easily, but we let the person go. We don't own our children. Respect for them in their adult life requires that we accept their choices whether we approve of them or not. Often those choices will be unwise and hurtful, perhaps even self-destructive.
I'm getting along OK without God
Indeed there are many attractive atheists, agnostics and worldlings who aver to a very comfortable and happy life without any involvement with God. This claim shows how long-suffering and merciful God is. He indeed allows a life that is far more comfortable than we deserve. His call to follow him is like a still small voice often drowned out by the clanging claims of the world. Yet in the quiet of the night, alone with our ruminations we hear it. That's when we once again choose either to respond or to deny and drown Him out. One day there will be no more quiet nights in which to make that choice.
God, a wise parent
Should we expect anything less of God? During our earthly life we make choices that are either in line with His call or contrary to it. When we disobey we experience God imposed "time outs" or we don't get the "car keys." Ultimately, if we insist on living out our lives apart from God, He respects our choice by allowing us to live for all eternity without him. Whatever images you associate with hell, at its core hell is eternal separation from our Creator. When you consider that we were created for intimacy with Him there can be no greater suffering than forever being separated from Him. You may fault God for such a harsh outcome to disobedience. If he overruled a person's choice to live without him, would He not be like that frantic parent still trying to control his 40 year old son?