“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us’ ” (Luke 16:25,26).
IF WE DEPART FROM THIS LIFE ALIENATED FROM GOD, WE WILL SPEND ETERNITY IN THAT CONDITION. Once our sojourn here is finished, there will be no more opportunity for reconciliation with our Creator: we will be forever banished from His presence.
Heaven and hell, of course, are not physical “places,” but even so, Abraham said that there is a “great gulf fixed” between these realms. As much as those who are away from God might like to cross over and be where He is, even for a moment or two, that will not be possible. To end up in hell is to end up in a realm where there can never be any contact with God ever again.
Does the possibility of such a destiny impact our thinking with much power? Do we fear to go where God is not? We certainly ought to. Indeed, there is something seriously wrong with our thinking if we don’t fear it. Like the foolhardy man whose courage is nothing more than ignorance of the real danger that he’s in, if we don’t fear the prospect of being separated from God, it’s because we don’t understand what that would be like.
We may think we’ve tasted being “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But in this world, even those who refuse God’s redemption are still surrounded by touches of His grace. For now, the lost can still enjoy beautiful sunrises, friendly people, and civilizations based on moral principles, more or less. But in hell, there will be no trace of God whatsoever. All that will be left will be the soul-racking memory of the love that we have lost forever.
Concerning heaven, the best thing about it is that God will be there. And concerning hell, the worst thing about it is that He won’t be there. That ought to be what we fear, far more than the fire and brimstone. The bottom line is this: a right relationship with God is what we were created for, and if we lose Him, nothing else can take His place. Without God Himself, hell would be hell even if we could keep every lesser blessing we’ve ever enjoyed.
“If God should give my soul all he ever made or might make, apart from himself, and giving it, he stayed away even by as much as a hairbreadth, my soul would not be satisfied” (Meister Eckhart).