The picture showed multiple columns of smoke billowing into great clouds of flame, ash, and dust behind what would typically be considered a sprawling urban neighborhood with houses lined up one after another. In the distance a helicopter could be seen flying in front of the roiling tumult showing the magnitude of the raging fiery torrent. The caption read, “Hell's Doorstep,” an apt description.
The word “hell” is used today to describe anything from stubbing one's toe to engaging in a combat operation. Frequently the word is used lightly with little or no gravity at all in respect to its subject matter. Comedians have used it routinely; the word is sprinkled generously in movies; and television hesitates not the slightest to throw it out if it will generate a mild guffaw.
In stark contrast, however, the use of it to describe the recent fires in California seemed appropriate. The intensity of the flames, the smoke enveloping darkness, the completely dismal portrait painted, all testified to exactly the kind of place described in the New Testament that awaits impenitent sinners.
Hell is not a popular subject. While a majority of Americans believe in heaven and believe they will go there, a far fewer number believe in hell. And even if they believe in hell, they don't believe in a hell like the one described in the Bible. For many, the concept of hell is like some ill-advised fraternity where you'll be mercilessly hazed for the rest of your life. While such a concept isn't pleasant, it nowhere near approaches the truth the Bible reveals about hell.
Hell is described in Revelation 21:8 as “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Mark 9:43 describes it as a place of “unquenchable fire.” 2 Peter 2:4 describes it as “pits of darkness.” Matthew 25:46 says it is a place of “eternal punishment.” Jude 1:7 calls it “the punishment of eternal fire.” 2 Thessalonians 1:8 says that it is Christ's “vengeance” “in flaming fire” upon those who “know not God, and that obey not the gospel.”
The pictures out of California this past week were stark. That is the exact image that we should consider when contemplating a life in rebellion to God. Let us not think that we can live rebelliously and escape God's eternal retribution. While we extend our sympathies to the people who lost loved ones and property, let us, with sober minds, consider what kind of place hell truly is.