In our daily meditations over the last couple of weeks, we have been studying the topic of eternity and what happens to people after they die. We come today to study the subject that is mostly avoided by pastors and teachers, and one that we would all rather avoid if possible—the topic of Hell. There is a story of C. S. Lewis' listening to a young preacher's sermon on the subject of God's judgment on sin. At the end of his message, the young man said, "If you do not receive Christ as Savior, you will suffer grave eschatological ramifications!" After the service, Lewis asked him the question, "Do you mean that a person who doesn't believe in Christ will go to Hell?" "Precisely," was his response. "Then say so," Lewis replied. Even though we may be uncomfortable in studying it, the topic is essential for all of us.
Some would say, "Can't we just bypass the topic of Hell?" Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, once said, "Think lightly of Hell, and you will think lightly of the cross of Christ. Think little of the sufferings of lost souls, and you will soon think little of the Savior who delivers you from them." It is possible that some people avoid the issue of Hell because they want to view death as the end when it is just the beginning. When we truly understand what is at stake, i.e., what was our destiny without Christ, we will much more appreciate what Christ did for us at the cross.
There is a great deal of interest today in the topic of life after death and near-death experiences. It is not hard to find a book on the subject. Dr. Maurice S. Rawlings, in his book, To Hell and Back, researching near-death experiences, reports that some people experienced Hell, but had the memory of it repressed in a few days' time. He said that, as a general rule, people remember that which is good and forget that which is terrible, and so, if the interview is delayed just a little bit, days, weeks or months later, only the positive experiences will be found.
Dr. Rawlings tells the story of a young man who recounted his experience after an operation to insert a pacemaker into his heart. He said that he experienced a place or state which he considered as hell. He was in a tunnel which led to light, then the tunnel caught fire. He had the sensation of moving fast toward a lake of fire, which looked to him like an oil spill on fire. There were elongated shadows of people walking back and forth, like animals caged in a zoo. The man was so distressed that he called out "Jesus is Lord" and then suddenly, he was aware that he was back in his body.
Dr. Rawlings also gives an account of giving CPR to a patient who had also had a pacemaker installed, and who was in the throes of death. The patient kept coming back, slipping in and out of consciousness and pleaded with Dr. Rawlings to pray for him, as he cried out that he was in hell. Dr. Rawlings did not want to pray for the man because he was not yet a believer himself, but finally, because of the man's distress, he did give the man a prayer to pray. He asked Jesus Christ to keep him out of hell. The man immediately calmed. He was no longer a screaming lunatic. Dr. Rawlings states that this incident impacted him so much that he gave his life to Christ. Dr. Rawlings is not a theologian or a minister; instead, he is an unbiased doctor who has written the findings of the patients he has resuscitated.
Many people claim to have had near-death experiences, but there is no way that we can know for sure which ones are valid. It is reasonable to assume that, if God allowed Paul to be caught up into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2), and if Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father before he died (Acts 7:55), then there may be those today who have been permitted a glimpse of what lies beyond this life.
Our faith, however, must rest on God's Word and not an experience. After all, there are those who would have us believe that everyone, regardless of their beliefs or regardless of the life they lived, will be welcomed by the brilliant light and ushered into a peaceful eternity. However, this does not agree with Scripture. Jesus personified both love and truth. He did not hold anything back from His disciples, and we should look closely at this topic, for none of us want to go there. Over the next few days, we will talk about what the Holy Scriptures say about Hell. Keith Thomas