Thinking Out Loud: If hell is for real, it changes everything

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice Chaplain

Not many people want to talk or write about hell, except maybe a few fire-and-brimstone preachers bent on scaring people into the kingdom. Personally, I love to think, talk, and dream of heaven, but hell is another story. As much as we don’t want to think, talk or write about it, maybe we should. Jesus talked about it. There are 46 verses in the New Testament that describe or refer to hell. We’ve all heard scary words about the “fire of hell” (Matthew 5: 22), the road to hell in Matthew 7: 13-14, the description of hell in Matthew 8: 12, and where the worm never dies and where the fire is never quenched in Mark 9: 43.

If hell is a real place, it changes everything—how I live, how I relate to others, and how I share the Good News of Jesus Christ! Allow me to ask you a couple of questions: “Would you watch a burning building with your family in it without calling 911, or calling out to them in warning, or running into that burning building to rescue them? Would you stand idly by when one of your children or grandchildren or maybe a total stranger is walking toward a cliff with the bottom being several hundred feet below without yelling at them to stop? Hell is far more dangerous, and this reality pushes me (and maybe you) to new urgency about sharing the Good News of the Lord. Eternity is not something you roll the dice about, and it’s not something you ignore. Even chance encounters can become opportunities to share truth and life. Everyone needs to have answers to the biggest question in life: “If you were to die today, do you know where you would spend eternity?”

Every family and individual faces issue of heaven and hell. I think about the grandfather I never knew. The strapping, handsome, French American, who was a share-cropper farmer in Northern Florida, loved his family dearly. He also loved to sing spiritual songs, but no one ever said anything about him making a personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. After eleven children and during WWII with five sons in the service fighting, he died of a massive heart attack. My grandmother loved the Lord and accepted Him as her Savior at a young age, but I always wondered about my grandfather. My father never accepted Jesus, and I always wondered why, unless an example of his father was set before him, and he chose to follow that one rather than his mother’s lifestyle.

It turns out few people admit thinking about hell. It might be because they have reserved that path for a place in time far in the future. But eternity isn’t something you take chances on. According to a recent research group survey, 80% of Americans believe in life after death. 79% believe in heaven and 70% believe in hell, but percentages shrink when people home in on the biblical definition of hell. Just 40% of adults believe that hell is a “state of eternal separation from God’s presence” and 32% say it is “an actual place of torment and suffering where people’s souls go after death.”

Just as people often invent a god of their own making, one who never would send people to hell, so they create a softer, gentler hell that either doesn’t exist or is something far different than the biblical description. Americans who believe in hell don’t expect to experience it. Just .05% said they expected to go to hell when they die. About 67% believe they will go to heaven. 5% believe they will come back in another life form while 5% believe they will simply cease to exist when they die. It’s a strange mix of beliefs.

I have a friend whose 19-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver recently. Jason, my friend's son, was a dedicated young believer who loved the Lord Jesus with all of his heart, and people he met knew where he stood in his relationship with God. His mother went to each of his friends (and he had many), and shared with them that Jason was ready to meet Jesus face to face, or you ready? Please be sure that your life is right with God through Jesus Christ. I want you to spend eternity with Jesus and Jason in heaven.”

I would like to close with a reading by an unknown author called, “My Friend?”

“My friend, I stand in judgment now and feel that you’re to blame somehow…On earth, I walked with you day by day and never did you point the way. You knew the Lord Jesus in truth and glory, but never did you tell me the story. My knowledge then was very dim; you could have led me safely to Him. Though we lived together on the earth you never told me of the second birth, and now I stand here condemned, because you failed to mention Him. You taught me many things…that are true; I called you friend and trusted you, but I learned now that it’s too late; you could have kept me from this fate. We walked by day and talked by night, and yet you showed me no light. You let me live, and love and die…you knew I’d never live on high. Yes, I called you “Friend” in life and trusted you through joy and strife. And yet coming to an end, I cannot now…call you MY FRIEND….”

Maybe that’s the message we need to hear today! Heaven is for real, and so is hell. Jesus’ sacrifice for sin opened the door to heaven; could today be your day for taking a step of faith through that door?

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or