What I am not suggesting is that we preach fire and brimstone again. I am not in favor of squeezing out the Gospel in order to preach more of hell and its fire. What I am hoping is that there is a way that we can talk again about the reality of hell and about the consequence of unbelief. Ours is not a weak and frail God who will forget our sin. Ours is a God whose wrath over sin is as permanent as is that sin. Without the blood of Christ to cover those sins, they remain and stand as testament against the sinner. Having rejected the blood of Christ or our guilt, the sin remains and God's wrath remains. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin. Christ died for all, to be sure, but those who reject the righteousness of His life as their new baptismal clothing and who distance themselves from the suffering and death that paid sin's debt benefit nothing from His once for all sacrifice.
It is as if we have become embarrassed over hell. Have a couple of generations with a new lectionary helped us to forget the mentions of hell in the Scriptures? Have we skipped over this in catechism? Have Bible studies focused on personal interest or benefit skipped over this topic? I am not sure it matters but it is as if we have had amnesia when it comes to hell. We believe life is good and Christian life is better but we all go to God as spirits when we die and it is all good. At least that seems to be the common idea about what happens to the dead. Is it because that is what we want to believe or what we have come to believe without any real mention of hell anymore?
I have to admit I find it distasteful to talk about it. It is even harder to sing about it. Even I was taken aback when a missing stanza was restored to Lift High the Cross in Lutheran Service Book. We love to sing about lifting high the cross, proclaiming the love of Christ, and then about stanza 5 it all comes to a screeching halt with:
5 Let every race and every language tellHell? Ouch. You mean that outside of Christ there are consequences? More than judgment and some stigma but real pain and suffering? Where weeping and gnashing of teeth will never end? What? Really?
of him who saves our lives from death and hell.
Of course it is distasteful. Only a demented personality would enjoy the prospect of eternal pain and suffering. But air conditioning hell will not make it pleasant, avoiding it will not make it go away, and ignoring it will not make it disappear. Only the preaching of the Gospel, the power of the Spirit, the gift of faith, and the blood of Christ that avails for sin can take hell from us. Failing to talk about hell does no one any favors -- not the unbeliever secure in the grasp of sin, not the Christian wavering in the face of temptation, and not the power of the Gospel preached, taught, and sung.