"Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, Pope Benedict XVI has said."
That's the lead paragraph in an article by Richard Owen in The Australian.
The article was linked by the Drudge Report--which raises a question: why?
Saying that hell is real to a long-established Christian is like telling him or her that the sky is blue. In other words, proclaiming the existence of hell is nothing new.
But the doctrine of hell these days has--in a matter of speaking--gone to hell.
In our pluralistic society--where every belief is equally valid and no action should judged too harshly--hell just isn't a popular concept. It implies judgment and accountability. God isn't mean. He's nice.
Within the evangelical, Bible believing church, hell isn't a subject that gets mentioned much from the pulpit. I admit that mine is included. Among liberal Christians, the idea of hell is repugnant, so much so that I once heard a preacher boast, "I preached a sermon titled, 'Get the Hell out of my Bible.'"
But extracting hell from the Bible is difficult. In fact, it's that pesky guy Jesus who insists on talking about it. In Matthew 7:13-14, he declares: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction." And Jesus sure doesn't show much sensitivity when he immediately adds, "and many enter through it." In Matthew 10:28 he tells his disciples, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." And in Matthew 25, he talks about wedding party attendees "shut out", servants tossed into "darkness", and goats sent off to "eternal punishment."
So why does Jesus talk about hell?
The bottom line and hard truth is God is holy. We're each accountable to Him. And He takes justice very seriously.
The Good News that the Church celebrates during this Lenten season is that God in Jesus Christ has given us an escape hatch--the righteousness of Christ, secured on our behalf through his death and resurrection, and made real in your life and mine through trust in Jesus.
As Andy Stanley says, it's not good people who end up heaven, it's forgiven people.
And that's one hell of a statement.