Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Undying Worm (Isaiah 66)

“For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched” (Isa. 66:24b).

Scripture portrays hell as a burning furnace. What does this tell us of the nature of hell? Summarizing Edwards’ teaching on eternal punishment, Gerstner writes, “Hell is a spiritual and material furnace of fire where its victims are exquisitely tortured in their minds and their bodies eternally, according to their various capacities, by God, the devils, and damned humans including themselves, in their memories and consciences as well as in their raging, unsatisfied lusts, from which place of death God’s saving grace, mercy, and pity are gone forever, never for a moment to return.”

Edwards admitted that words fail to capture the full nature of hell. It is something beyond the imagination. Yet, it is real. God created it, and Jesus taught about it. Yes, the gentle Jesus warned about hell repeatedly. He told His followers that the wicked would be cast “into the furnace of fire [where there] will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:50).

The furnace is both spiritual and material. The fire is obviously figurative regarding the torture of the soul, but the body will literally receive its due as well. “Spiritual pain refers to that which comes directly from the soul’s reflections. It is fit that man should suffer in body and soul because he was created such and sinned in both. In hell man is deprived of all pleasure derived through the sense; in fact, he is tormented through each sense (hearing, seeing, feeling). Still the torments of the soul will be greater.”

What is the source of this torment? God Himself. “The appearance of the presence of an angry God … everywhere round about them, can be represented by nothing better than by their being in the midst of an exceedingly hot and furious fire.” This is the theme of Revelation 19:15—in hell the reprobate faces the anger and loathing of a powerful and righteous God. As much as God is the joy of heaven, He is the misery of hell. “The all-important feature of heaven and of hell is God Himself. He is the one who makes heaven, heaven. He is the one who makes hell, hell. Indeed, according to Edwards, He is hell and He is heaven. Eternity for sinner and saint will be spent ‘in the immediate presence and sight of God.… God will be the hell of one and the heaven of the other.’ ”

Some people describe hell as a place where God is absent. Why is this statement inaccurate? While the condemned in hell do not enjoy communion with God (2 Thess. 1:9), He is there. How is He present in hell? What is the attitude of hardened criminals before a judge? How can you compare this to the reprobate’s attitude toward God?