As a child in the 1940’s, the concept of hell was succinctly expressed in the hymns we sang. My family often attended revival meetings in country churches held for the purpose of bringing the unredeemed into relationship with Jesus Christ. Two of the most popular hymns sung at the end of the sermons were “Lost Forever” and “Eternity,” and the words are still with me today: Lost, forever! Lost, forever! Oh, how sad! Oh, eternity! Long eternity! Hear the solemn footsteps of eternity.
This era preceded the Rock and Roll take-over of “When the Saints go Marching in,” and I can still hear the congregation singing with gusto from Acts 2:20: “When the sun refuses to shine…” and “When the moon turns into blood…” As a little girl, I would come home at night and have nightmares because I wanted to “be in that number when the saints” went marching in. I didn’t want to be lost forever in long eternity.
Some of the evangelists openly confessed they wanted to scare the hell out of us, and for many it worked. Today with the emphasis on the Love of God, such a theme sounds brash, crass, and unloving—but their motive was admirable. They were exhorting us to move out of our sinful ways and into the path that leads to abundant life here and eternal life hereafter.
Hell? We find in the Bible that Hell appears as the English translation for Sheol and Hades—both alluding to the grave; Tartarus-darkness (2 Peter 2:4), and Gehenna-burning. In its primary description, it is the destination for non-believers after death. As soon as we hear this word, the picture that comes to mind most frequently is Fire.
However, we also read that it means a place where God is not (Matt.25:41); where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth as a result of bitterness, anger, and contempt for themselves and the bad choice they made to reject God’s love. Some people like the idea of being in a place where God is not but they haven’t thought through the consequences of their location nor the environment of that place.
In addition to eternal hell, we also hear about hell on earth which alludes to indescribable tragedy and incomprehensible abuse. The latter is often unavoidable as it happens when excessive weather phenomenon or disastrous accidents occur and when people exercise their free-will for evil which they inflict on innocent victims. For these situations, we have a verse of comfort in Isaiah 43:2 where God promises to go with us through these fires of life and through the floods of evil and tragedy that confront or immerse us.
In fact, we learn that in this life, we will have afflictions, persecutions, and problems that appear insurmountable. The Apostle Paul says none of them can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35). And Jesus Himself promised that He will always be with us even to the end of our life (Matt.28:20). To that promise I cling and determine to move forward and not get stuck in the hell-bent intentions of others.
Perhaps that’s the meaning of an expression I’ve heard all of my life: I’ll do it, Come hell or high water. My research has turned up assorted opinions about the origin of this expression but none appears to be authoritative. However, all agree it means no matter what happens; no matter what obstacle befalls me, I’ll stay the course; I won’t be distracted. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all who profess to be in the family of God would adopt this determination? No matter what life deals to me, I’ll pursue Jesus. I will not permit anything to stand in my way of completing my life with faith in Jesus. We would say with Paul, “I’ve fought a good fight; I’ve kept the faith. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming” (2 Tim.4:7-8).
We often hear people say: Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, I’ll do such and such. Lord willing is a biblical expression: You should say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’ (James 4:15). However, to add and the creek don’t rise seems to give us an excuse in case we can’t follow through with our commitment. On the other hand, Come hell or high water, I’ll do such and such, gives us no way out but to trust Jesus is with us and go full speed ahead serving Him no matter what happens.
Written in March 1958 at age 17 and still true! (My English teacher, Ms. Harris, pointed out that I misspelled Pilate. She was an encourager! I did student teaching with her and Mrs. Ball at Nitro High School, winter semester, 1961.)
(c) Yvonne Karl, 9 January 2013