One of the great changes in our society is the change in attitude to the doctrine of hell and Satan.
Many don’t believe that there is such a place as hell or Satan. This is reflected in an interview by New York Magazine with the Roman Catholic Antonin Scalia, who was a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United states for thirty years (http://nymag.com/news/features/antonin-scalia-2013-10/index3.html). Part of the interview went like this:
Reporter: You believe in heaven and hell?
Scalia: Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
Scalia: Oh, my….[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.
Reporter: You do?
Scalia: Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Reporter: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there…
Scalia: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it…
Reporter: Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
Scalia: You’re looking at me as though I’m weird…Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
As the reporter shows, himself included, many don’t believe in hell or Satan. Yet the Bible unequivocally states their existence. Not only that, our suffering physically reminds us that they exist as we even now feel God’s judgement on the world.
If life was pleasant all the time, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend even a little of the awful suffering of hell and the pain inflicted by Satan.
But because we suffer, we know what it feels to be in pain. Therefore the terrible depictions of hell in the Scripture have impact on us. For example, we comprehend something of what John wrote: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars– their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’ (Revelation 21:6-8).
As our bodies suffer bodily pain, we reflect that the lake of burning sulfur is something we don’t want to experience. We also don’t want to keep following Satan who hurts his followers. So by our knowledge of pain we flee to Jesus who welcomes us to drink from the water of life.
So when you suffer, does this help you to reflect on the suffering of hell? Has your suffering led you to trust in Jesus to escape that suffering? And if you have trusted him, when you suffer do you rejoice that your pain is nothing in comparison to what you deserve?